SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – As more vaccine sites set to open up across the state through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, essential workers across Tampa Bay are wondering when they’ll have a shot at getting vaccinated.
People who work in the food service industry hope to have some priority in Florida’s next phase. Servers, bartenders, cooks, and other food service employees work in close quarters with maskless guests enjoying food and drinks every day.
Since Florida has no restrictions on capacity limits at restaurants or bars, food service workers feel they deserve that extra layer of protection sooner than later.
“We are starting to get concerned as food service workers as to when we will eventually get the opportunity to get vaccinated. We are all for the healthcare workers and the seniors and everybody, obviously that is so important to us, but we are starting to get a little bit concerned because our business is actually increasing and the volume of people in here is very strong and our restrictions here in Florida are not as bold and as in deep, dark print as we would like it,” said chef and owner of Indigenous Restaurant Steve Phelps.
Phelps’s restaurant in downtown Sarasota is growing more and more crowded as season is now in full swing. He’s only operating at 75% capacity so guests and employees can still have a sense of safety and comfort.
“We know we are probably going to have the busiest time we have had in many years because everyone is escaping the weather and the virus and if they are going to come down here, let’s try to talk about making it safer for all of us,” said Phelps.
Under the CDC’s recommendations for the vaccine rollout, food service workers fall under group 1C.
He doesn’t want to see food service workers be forgotten, which is why he is speaking out on behalf of those in the industry.
“I would love to see us get pushed up a little bit quicker than we are right now,” said Phelps.
Sarasota restaurant owner Mark Woodruff welcomes a boost in business following a tough year for everyone in the industry, but admits it is a double edged sword.
“It is definitely great for the economy. I am all for it, but we don’t wanna die because of it either,” said Woodruff.
Woodruff is the executive chef and owner of Made Restaurant on Main Street in Sarasota. He admits a crowded house does get uncomfortable at times.
“It is such close quarters, between guests and tables, end line guys working next to each other, the hustle the bustle, the sweat, the blood, sweat and tears that we go through, it is tough,” said Woodruff. “I’ve got a new 12 week old at home, I’ve got a two-year-old son, I got a think about my in-laws that live next-door from us, they are 65 and older very immunocompromised so I have to think about all that, it is very stressful,” he continued.
Governor Ron DeSantis address the next phase in Florida’s vaccine rollout during a news conference in Jacksonville Tuesday afternoon.
“People ask, well when are you going to do this group or that group.. We will move on when we have done right by the seniors,” said Gov. DeSantis. “Once we start to see some softening in the demand, then we need to get the footprint wider. Obviously there are people that are 63 and 64 that would definitely want it and I know there are a lot of different occupations that have asked, so we want to do that as soon as we can, but we’ve got to do seniors first, keep our eye on the ball, standby the folks, our parents and grandparents,” he continued.