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Restaurant workers push for higher vaccine priority, citing constant public interaction



FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Restaurant workers are listed under 1C in Arkansas’ vaccine distribution priority list. Now that capacity mandates are guidelines, and some restaurants are opening to full occupancy, some workers said it would be smart to protect customers and employees by making the food industry a higher priority for vaccinations.

Claire Hoskins is the general manager for Foghorn’s in Fayetteville, a local spot across from Baum-Walker Stadium where the Razorback baseball team plays. She said this past weekend was the perfect storm for a packed house: revoked mandates and Hog sports.

“We’re excited that things are starting to feel a little bit more normal, but we’re trying to be as safe as we can and keep everyone else safe, as well,” Hoskins said.

Throughout the pandemic, Hoskins has gone from bartender to general manager. She said changing mandates regarding capacity and unknowns concerning the virus were challenges the food industry in Arkansas faced.

“It’s been wild,” Hoskins said.

Despite coming into constant contact with a customer base that’s getting larger, restaurant workers can’t yet get COVID-19 vaccines. Hoskins cited that as a reason why they should move up on the state’s priority list.

“We have been here working with the public and everything throughout the entire pandemic,” Hoskins said.

Dr. Jennifer Dillaha is an infectious disease specialist for the Dept. of Health (ADH). She said their 1C status is firm at this point.

“We are not planning at this point in time to move them,” Dillaha said.

Though ADH guidelines are no longer backed by threat of consequence, Dillaha said she expects restaurants to continue adhering to them.

“We strongly encourage all restaurants and places of business to follow the appropriate guidelines,” Dillaha said.

Hoskins said people who work in her industry should have the opportunity to get vaccinated even if some choose not to, so the state should consider moving them up the priority list considering their circumstances.

“We’re all willing to do whatever we need to do just to get back to normal,” Hoskins said.