CHICAGO (CBS) — More essential workers are eligible for the COVID vaccine in suburban Cook County.

Appointments are now open to the remaining groups in the 1C category. That includes restaurant staff, retail workers, clergy, energy, legal, transportation and logistics.

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Chicago is also in 1C. And restaurant workers insist they should be higher on the vaccine eligibility list than others in that group. CBS 2’s Jim Williams reports they said they’re at greater risk for COVID.

This is their argument: Restaurant workers have a lot of contact with customers. And those customers have to drop their masks to eat.

At Chez Moi, a French bistro in Lincoln Park, owner and chef Dominique Tougne has taken several steps to keep his customers and his staff safe.

“We are all wearing masks, to make sure every thing is cleaned constantly,” Tougne said. “We are the right distance. We manage the flow of people in the restaurant.”

But Tougne wants one more level of security for his workers that’s been, so far, elusive: the COVID vaccine.

“Ninety-nine percent of the people have not been vaccinated yet. So I hope the earlier this will be done, the better it will be,” Tougne said.

It is the hope of many other Chicago restauranteurs, and their plea to Mayor Lightfoot.

“The restaurant employees have to be prioritized in this 1C vaccination process,” said Roger Romanelli of the Chicago Restaurants Coalition.

The Chicago Restaurant Coalition argues employees have close contact with customers who have to drop their masks to eat.

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“We’re told basically that 75,000 restaurant employees need to get in line and wait along with millions of other new vaccine requesters.”

In Chicago, restaurant employees are in 1C, which does make them eligible for the vaccine now. But so are other workers, who the restaurant industry said do not face the same risk of getting COVID.

“Hardware store employees, construction, real estate, hotel workers now,” Romanelli said. “My concern is with hardware store employees being equalized with restaurant employees.”

Employees who’ve already suffered as restaurants curtail service or shut down altogether.

Dominique Tougne is fighting to keep his restaurant open and is looking for what he calls “peace of mind.”

“I think that would make you put a big smile on everybody’s face, no doubt,” Tougne said.

The head of the Chicago Restaurants Coalition said he’s disappointed in Mayor Lightfoot. Her office said they’ve been following the vaccination distribution plan to prioritize the most vulnerable individuals, but are partnered with the Illinois Restaurant Association to host vaccination events, set to begin in mid-April.

Here is the statement from the mayor’s office sent to CBS 2:

With limited vaccine supply, the City of Chicago has followed a vaccination distribution plan that has prioritized individuals that are the most vulnerable to the virus, including health care workers, the elderly and first responders. Earlier this week we moved to Phase 1c and opened the vaccine to essential workers and Chicagoans with underlying conditions.  CDPH has been working with industry partners across the City to ensure that businesses with essential workers are able to have access to a vaccine when it is their turn – this includes hotel workers and restaurant employees who kept our city running through the pandemic. We are currently partnering with the Illinois Restaurant Association to host a series of vaccination events which are set to begin in mid-April. Further details to follow in the coming days.

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