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Chicago Restaurant Workers Will Have to Wait for COVID-19 Vaccines

Mayor Lori Lightfoot says the city has enough vaccine for food service workers at hospitals

Chicago officials say they need an increased supply of COVID-19 vaccines.
Photo by CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP via Getty Images
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

COVID-19 vaccines are now available to Chicago food service employees who work at hospitals, but those at restaurants will have to wait until at least February, city officials said on Tuesday. The city is focusing on vaccine distribution for frontline workers at safety-net hospitals that serve vulnerable populations, as Mayor Lori Lightfoot warns that the city doesn’t have enough doses and at this rate it would take a year and half to vaccinate all of Chicago.

“That is way too long, and frankly unacceptable,” Lightfoot said at a Tuesday morning news conference, adding that she hopes President-elect Joe Biden’s administration can improve on the federal government’s response to the public health crisis.

The city is trying to build awareness, and during Tuesday morning’s press briefing, city officials assembled at Norwegian American Hospital in Humboldt Park to show health care workers taking a second dose of the vaccine. The two vaccines approved by the FDA both require two injections within weeks of each other. Lightfoot described the vaccines as “the light at the end of the tunnel” but then warned Chicago is “months away from being at the end.”

While employers could legally require workers to take the vaccines, major Chicago restaurant groups are in a holding pattern and aren’t yet commenting about the vaccine. Reps at Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, One Off Hospitality Group, and Boka Restaurant Group tell Eater Chicago they’re not ready to comment on vaccine policies.

Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said this week the city received 33,000 doses, and that’s not enough for health care workers at clinics and at other outpatient sites. Health care providers have been filling out online forms and waiting for the city to respond so staff could receive vaccines. The mayor mentioned the Malcolm X College super site where vaccines are administered.

While the initial focus is at frontline health care providers — those who are directly exposed to the novel coronavirus — the city’s effort has now expanded to support staff. That includes hospital food service workers. Many hospitals shut down food operations during the pandemic, leaving frontline workers without in-house dining options after grueling shifts. Restaurants stepped up to fill the void by dropping off donated meals to hospitals.

The next phase of vaccine distribution will include older Chicagoans and frontline workers, a cohort that includes grocery store employees. Arwady said that she “does not anticipate that happening until next month at the earliest.”

Arwady mentioned a few factors in moving on to the next vaccine phase. She said the city’s been flooded with appointments. The city needs to see demand drop before offering shots to other patients. It also needs to see an increased vaccine supply. While waiting for more doses, Awardy encourages Chicagoans to get tested if they suspect exposure.

Restaurant workers are waiting for news as many upscale restaurants are in hibernation mode. Winter is a notoriously slow time for the industry with many Chicagoans not wanting to venture away from their warm homes. But still, take out and outdoor service continue for many with indoor dining remains suspended thanks to a state order that went into effect October 30. A segment of restaurant owners say they immediately need the revenue from dining rooms if they are to survive 2021.

While open-air patios are open for those brave enough to withstand the elements, other setups don’t inspire confidence. Some operators with tents are ignoring the city’s requirement to leave one side open for air. Others with retractable roofs are leaving them barely open, creating an environment without any real difference from dining indoors.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker hasn’t given any indication when indoor dining will resume. Now finished with the holidays, restaurant owners are growing frustrated and seeking clarity from elected officials on their futures. A renewed push to put pressure on the Pritzker and Lightfoot’s offices to reopen dining rooms is imminent.

  • Employers Can Require Workers to Get Covid-19 Vaccine, U.S. Says [New York Times]
  • Mass COVID-19 Vaccination Site for Health Care Workers Opens at Malcolm X City College [WTTW Chicago]
  • Independent West Town Restaurant Donates 1,000 Meals to Health Care Workers [Eater Chicago]
  • Bumble and Rapper Common Partner With Hyde Park’s Virtue to Help Health Care Workers [Eater Chicago]
  • José Andrés’s World Central Kitchen to Help Feed Chicago Health Care Workers [Eater Chicago]
  • Why Restaurants Are ‘Hibernating’ and What That Really Means [Eater]
  • Yurts, Igloos And Pop-Up Domes: How Safe Is ‘Outside’ Restaurant Dining This Winter?[NPR]

Lettuce Entertain You

5419 N Sheridan Rd, Chicago, IL 60640 (773) 878-7340

Boka Restaurant Group

820 West Lake Street, , IL 60607 (312) 238-9896 Visit Website


1462 E. 53rd Street, Chicago, IL