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Georgia Expands Vaccination Eligibility to Teachers, Restaurant Industry Workers Continue to Wait

It’s still unclear when Georgia’s food industry workers will become eligible to start receiving the vaccine

Governor Brian Kemp Tours Delta Mass Vaccination Site
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp speaking at the Delta Flight Museum mass vaccination site on February 24
Getty

Gov. Brian Kemp on Thursday announced the expansion of Georgia’s vaccine criteria to include teachers and K-12 school staff, including people working for private schools, preschools, and daycares, adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their caregivers, and parents of children with complex medical conditions. These groups become eligible for the vaccine starting March 8.

Phase 1A+ in Georgia currently includes healthcare workers, residents and staff of long-term care facilities, adults 65 years and older, and law enforcement and firefighters. With the state expanding this phase in January to include adults 65 years (not 75 years) and older and to first responders, Georgia strayed from the recommendations of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

The CDC vaccine distribution guidance classifies teachers, food, grocery, and agricultural workers, manufacturing workers, and people working for the U.S. Postal Service as essential frontline workers and should be prioritized for the vaccine. It’s now unclear when these groups will start receiving the vaccine as it appears the state is revamping the distribution plan.

People with severe underlying medical conditions could become eligible by the end of March, if all goes well with the latest vaccine expansion. The criteria for this particular group of Georgians might be finalized in the “coming days.”

“We still have way more demand than we do have supply,” the governor said of not expanding distribution further to include more people in the state.

An online tool with scheduling criteria for vaccine appointments at public health sites should be fully operational some time in March, Georgia Department of Public Health commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey said in the press conference Thursday.

Earlier in February, the Atlanta City Council unanimously approved a resolution asking the state to add corrections officers, teachers, food, grocery, and agricultural workers, manufacturing workers, and people working for the U.S. Postal Service to phase 1A+ eligibility. The resolution, co-authored by council members Antonio Brown and Dustin Hillis, states that these particular groups are “likely at highest risk for work-related exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, because their work-related duties must be performed on-site and involve being in close proximity (<6 feet) to the public or to coworkers.”

The resolution was sent to Kemp and Toomey for consideration. After Thursday’s press conference, Georgia’s food industry workers continue to wait for the vaccine, with no clear indication when they will become eligible.

While no statewide mask mandate exists for the public in Georgia, masks are required for all customer-facing employees at businesses across the state, including hosts, servers, bartenders, food runners, and bussers at restaurants and bars. By order of the governor, cities and counties are permitted to impose local mask requirements in public and on government property. However, owners of restaurants and other private businesses can choose to opt out of enforcing a local mask mandate on patrons.

Restaurants and bars are required to increase physical space between employees and patrons and not allow patrons to gather when not seated at a table. There are no capacity limits for Georgia restaurants. Bars and nightclubs must limit capacity to no more than 50 people or 35-percent total capacity.

The state health department features a website breaking down vaccine totals by state, county, race, and ethnicity. According to the February 25 update, Georgia has administered 1,885,179 vaccines or 81 percent of the 2,317,115 vaccines shipped to the state. Data is updated daily at 3 p.m.

Residents of Georgia can preregister for the vaccine here.

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