It’s March 1, and the city of Chicago remains optimistic that restaurant workers could begin receiving COVID-19 vaccines by the end of the month. Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady is hopeful that the city will receive “a lot more vaccine” this month, and the city is able to hit the March 29 target when it projects Chicago could move into the next distribution phase for novel coronavirus vaccinations.
Chicago is currently in Phase 1B, the second stage of vaccinations which includes grocery and liquor store workers, as well as employees at food manufacturing plants — that includes breweries and distilleries. Phase 1C, set for March 29, would open the process to restaurant workers.
Last week, Arwady said that the city could advance to the next stage “sooner than expected,” but the March 29 timeline “actually continues to look pretty consistent with our numbers.” Gov. J.B. Pritzker has expanded distribution to those with underlying conditions — a cohort that includes pregnancy and obesity. With vaccine supplies scarce, Chicago officials haven’t opened up distribution to that group, preferring to focus on ensuring patients in nursing homes and frontline workers are inoculated.
The Illinois Restaurant Association, a state lobbying group that represents restaurants, has pushed since early February for state officials to expedite restaurant workers’ access to vaccines. Association President Sam Toia last month asked Pritzker to move the restaurant and food service workforce into the current rollout phase, especially in light of reopening limited indoor dining in Chicago.
Capacity limits in Chicago have grown in recent weeks to a maximum 50 people or 40 percent and may increase again soon. Restaurants workers waiting for vaccines continue to wrestle with fears for their own health while serving oblivious or even abusive, customers. A employee at an unnamed North Side cafe tells WBEZ she was fired from her job after a customer left her a negative Yelp review that mocked her nervousness. She says she’s been suffering from “panic attacks and crying fits” while feigning a smile and working through the pandemic.
There is good news as America’s health officials now have a third option to distribute. Over the weekend, the government approved Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine.
And in other news...
— Venerable beer bar Hopleaf is slated to reopen on April 1 after five months of pandemic-induced hibernation, according to a Facebook post. Owner Michael Roper, who closed the Andersonville staple for the second time in a year last fall when Chicago instituted an indoor dining ban, chronicled some of the the challenges his business faces during the pandemic in an essay for Eater Chicago.
— Andersonville Restaurant Week has grown into a month-long event featuring prix fixe menus at 17 neighborhood restaurants, according to a rep. The event begins Wednesday and will run throughout the month, with each week featuring meals from a different group of area restaurants, including Southern favorite Big Jones and pie destination First Slice. More details area available on the event website.
— The Black McDonald’s Operators Association of Chicago (BMOA) and Northwest Indiana (BMOA) will give away 10,000 of the brand’s new Crispy Chicken Sandwiches to essential workers and first responders starting Monday, according to a rep. The give-away event is set to run for two weeks.
— Lincoln Square Ald. (40th Ward) Andre Vasquez has introduced a zoning measure to unmask the company behind a planned grocery store at Lawrence and Western, according to Block Club Chicago. Neighbors and local grocery operators are worried that Amazon Fresh is planning to open a new location in the 45,000 square-foot site, potentially harming small and locally-owned grocery stores and food businesses in the neighborhood.
— Iconic Chicago dessert brand Eli’s Cheesecake aims to raise St. Patrick’s Day spirits with a collaboration with the city’s famed Green River Soda. Fans can expect to sink their teeth into a bright green cheesecake topped with lime gelee, and likely sport the neon lime color on their tongue all day long. It’s for sale at Jewel-Osco and online.