photo: Nitin Mukul

Dear Neighbor,

Indoor dining has resumed in New York City. Restaurant workers are eligible for the vaccine.

So the return to “normal” is upon us, right?

Think again. Epicenter-NYC writer Jade Stepeney spoke with a server at a Manhattan restaurant. She (and her frustration) represents many of the hundreds we’ve been helping get registered for their first doses. We’ll call her M; she asked to be identified by her first initial for fear of retaliation, about getting vaccinated and returning to work.

Like millions of New Yorkers have come to realize, scheduling a vaccine appointment isn’t easy, and M felt alone in the process. “I didn’t hear anything from my job,” she said. “It was like everyone had to fend for themselves in a way, and figure out how best to get that appointment scheduled.”

So, how did she figure it out?

“I turned toward TurboVax,” she said. “It’s a robot that gives out available appointment times.”

You can follow the bot on Twitter (@turbovax) or monitor the website here. We recommend turning on Tweet notifications so you can snag an appointment without staring at the website all day, because one thing most food industry workers don’t have is time.

“It took a few days of tuning into those Tweets and being able to line up the times correctly to be able to get one of those appointments,” M said.

That time of uncertainty was filled with unease. “I had to weigh for that amount of time if it was even worth it for me to return to work,” she said. “It was tough because it feels like we’re weighing our financial lives against our health and safety.”

She eventually booked an appointment with NYC Health + Hospitals in Manhattan.

M showed up to her appointment 40 minutes early. She waited “for about 2.5 hours,” she said. “Your appointment time doesn’t matter as much as the day because you’re going to be waiting in line anyway.”

Here are some things she noticed: 

  • Most of the other people waiting were people 65+ getting their second dose
  • Ample seating
  • Not a lot of social distancing

Coincidentally, M got her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Feb. 13, the day before indoor dining started back up. She had mixed feelings about Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision.

“From what I have seen and from what other service industry workers have discussed with me, it seems like there’s a lot of leeway in these guidelines that are issued to [restaurants],” she said. She experienced guests staying past curfew, no enforcement of social distancing and dismissal of capacity limits. Then, M’s greatest anxiety was realized.

“A fellow coworker tested positive for Covid,” she said. “We were not informed by the restaurant. We had to personally find out from this person and take precautions and get tested.”

No restaurants — or any workplaces — have to inform staff if an employee tests positive for Covid-19. 

“It was just a shame to see,” M said. “During such an uncertain time, it’s tough to be in a position where you’re seeing contact tracing and these extra steps taken for [guests], but the same safety guidelines and communication aren’t being used for the staff itself.”

What did she do? 

State guidelines required her to quarantine. She was eligible for partial unemployment during that time.

“My managers have been understanding in terms of when someone has to quarantine,” she said. “I know that for a lot of service industry workers, especially from our experiences in the past, it always feels a little bit stressful to have to call out of work.”

Luckily, M tested negative and was able to get her second dose.

Advice for those dining out:

“Be incredibly considerate of the position that service workers are in. It’s tough to be putting our health on the line to help give you an experience that is voluntary no matter how you want to see it.”

  • Follow mask and social distancing guidelines while inside the restaurant (keep your mask on for as long as possible!)
  • Avoid saying “you must be happy to be back!” to servers.
  • Be patient. It takes twice as long to do anything (be seated, prepare food, get drinks, etc.) because of extra precautions.
  • Be aware of how long you sit at the table past your meal.
  • Respect “last call,” (no, you can’t just have one more drink, even if you’re quick) and remember, your server isn’t the one making the rules.

DEAR READERS, please help us grow our community by hitting forward on this newsletter, spreading word about its existence in your networks and asking folks to subscribe. Follow us on Facebook and InstagramLike the work we are doing? Consider making a donation to help us continue to serve the community.

We want to thank Squared Away for donating hours and helping create order around our vaccine efforts and GC Stationery Store in Jackson Heights for the discounted printing of flyers to spread awareness. Our work is possible thanks to these neighbors.

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