After denouncing the idea on Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo quickly changed course.

In a stark reversal from comments made just the day before, yesterday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the state would allow restaurants workers to join the current Phase 1b group for vaccine eligibility effective immediately, though when these workers can actually receive shots will be left up "to the local governments to make a determination of what fits their situation best," he stated in a press conference.

On Monday, when asked about the plan to reopen dining in New York City despite staff not being eligible to receive a vaccine, Cuomo said limited supplies meant that including restaurant workers would result in having to remove other groups from the pool. "It's a cheap, insincere discussion," he added, offering up a quotable rallying cry to his critics. Asked about his change of course on Tuesday, Cuomo said he had just spoken with the White House and more supply was becoming available, providing "additional flexibility."

A waiter delivers food to a table at Bottino Restaurant in Chelsea as New York City restaurants open for limited capacity indoor dining on October 1, 2020 in New York.
| Credit: BRYAN R. SMITH / Contributor /Getty Images

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio had called for the change to be made earlier that same day. "Restaurant workers now are going to be in enclosed places with people eating and drinking," he said in his own press conference discussing the return of 25-percent capacity indoor dining on February 14. "Every doctor [advising the city] or anyplace else will say that's an area of concern. We have to protect the people who work in our restaurants. So now that the state has made this decision, it follows that we have to protect those workers and they should be added to the 1b category."

That said, as of yesterday afternoon, it was not entirely clear how quickly De Blasio planned to act on the governor's newly announced flexibility. The official New York City government website has added "restaurant workers" under "Essential Workers" to its vaccine eligibility llist in a small new grouping listed as "Phase 1b (Expanded) As of Tuesday, February 2." However, in a statement provided to Eater New York, the mayor's press secretary Bill Neidhardt only said, "We're glad that the discussion around expanding eligibility for more New Yorkers continues to move forward. We need as many New Yorkers to be vaccinated as quickly as possible and the City is looking at these new allowances."

It would seem likely that we receive an update to the city's plan today.

Meanwhile, New York is far from the only area dealing with these issues. From a federal perspective, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention includes those in "food service" under the "other essential workers" designation in Phase 1c on their list. However, as New York has proven, different states have different systems, can adjust their priorities as they see fit and are progressing at different speeds.

Some states like South Carolina and Ohio have seen similar calls to bump restaurant workers up in their vaccine plans. However, according to the most recent data (though not necessarily the current data) provided by the National Restaurant Association's ServSafe team, though different states are using different vaccine phase/tier systems, beyond New York, only "several counties" in Arizona appear to have restaurant workers in their current vaccine phase/tier—meaning only a very small percentage of restaurant workers are currently eligible for the vaccine based on that employment status alone.

That said, some states have indicated that restaurant workers could be eligible as soon as this month including Delaware, Iowa, and Massachusetts. But on the other side of the spectrum, ServSafe lists the potential time frame for restaurant workers to be offered the vaccine as "unknown" in as many as 34 states.