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NY counties can vaccinate restaurant workers, drivers

February 2, 2021 Marina Villeneuve, Associated Press
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Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday that he is giving county officials the power to add taxi drivers and restaurant workers to the list of people eligible for a coronavirus vaccine.

If counties take the governor up on his offer, that would mean another major expansion of eligibility rules, even as the state struggles with an extremely limited supply of shots.

There are nearly 200,000 licensed cabbies and ride-hail drivers in New York City alone. Statewide, New York had an estimated 865,800 restaurant and food service jobs as of 2019, according to the National Restaurant Association.

Cuomo has spent days complaining that the rapid expansion of eligibility is making it harder for the people most at risk to get shots. Just Monday, the Democrat slammed elected officials for pushing to vaccinate restaurant workers when supply was limited.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

“It’s a cheap, insincere discussion,” Cuomo said. “Yes, I would like to see restaurant workers eligible. But what does eligibility mean when you don’t have enough?”

But Cuomo said Tuesday the federal government is signaling that it will send New York more doses in coming weeks, which could free up more doses.

“If they want to add taxi drivers, Uber drivers, restaurant workers, they can do that if they think it works within their prioritization locally,” Cuomo said.

“And again, they are getting more, so theoretically they would have additional supply to make those decisions, but that’s going to be up to the local government to add in the 1B category if they think it makes sense,” he said.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday he supports vaccinating restaurant workers.

The restaurant industry and unions representing taxi drivers have been urging New York to expand eligibility to their members.

The restaurant industry, which has also pushed to reopen indoor dining in New York City, applauded Cuomo’s announcement.

“Since COVID-19 struck New York City, restaurant workers have been heroes on the front lines, interacting with the public to sustain our city’s food supply, feeding our most vulnerable populations and helping maintain some sense of normalcy in our communities by offering limited dining options,” he said.

Bhairavi Desai, executive director of a union representing 25,000 taxi and Uber drivers, thanked state senators for pushing to expand eligibility.

“We lost over 60 drivers to COVID, from members who were among the earliest to face exposure to those who contracted the virus immediately after going back to work,” Desai said. “Having priority access to the vaccine will keep more drivers alive and healthy, no longer forcing them to choose between economic survival and survival from a pandemic, and give members of the public access to more transportation as more drivers will be able to return to steady work.”

The current eligibility list for the vaccine in New York includes health care workers, nursing home staff and patients, teachers, police officers, firefighters, public transit workers, grocery store workers, and every person age 65 or older.

“Some localities have already done a large percentage of their police, their fire, their teachers and they do have flexibility,” Cuomo said. “There is no one size fits all here.”

The state estimated that 7 million people were included in those categories, before this latest potential expansion.

Cuomo said counties can also vaccinate people with developmental disabilities living in congregate settings. Previously, the state had directed hospitals to vaccinate staff and residents of such state-run group homes.

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