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Health

Elation And Shock As Connecticut’s Vaccine Rollout Becomes Clearer

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Tony Spinelli
/
Connecticut Public
Rochelle Palache, vice president of SEIU 32 BJ on Feb. 24. Her union has lost seven members to COVID-19 in Connecticut.

Kim Steinberg had already registered her business in January on the state’s website so she could get her employees vaccinated. Now most won't qualify until May. 

“It’s very upsetting to think we could have had our vaccine and they took it away because it was too complicated to figure out,” said Steinberg, the owner of Allora Coffee and Bites in Norwalk. “These are businesses that have been hurt so significantly. I know so many restaurants that have had to close for multiple days because someone has gotten sick ,and then they have to contact trace and that is tons and tons of money they are just losing.”

Gov. Ned Lamont announced Monday the vaccine rollout will continue by age, with the exception of teachers and other school staff. For many in the state, including restaurant workers, grocery employees, janitors and bus drivers, the change is a bitter disappointment; they had been relying on being next in line for the shot under federal guidelines.

Meanwhile, teachers were the only essential worker group pushed to the front of the line, and they can start registering March 1. 

“I am very excited honestly,” said Missy Giandurco, a special education teacher at Cloonan Middle School in Stamford. “It's been a very stressful year. Every teacher’s worked really hard, and this is something that needs to come as soon as possible, and the governor made the right choice by moving it forward a little faster.”

Giandurco said she lives with someone who has an underlying health condition, and this will take away some of the stress of working inside a classroom.

No such relief for janitors and security guards in the state.

“We are disappointed and shocked,” said Rochelle Palache, vice president of SEIU 32 BJ. Her union has lost seven members to COVID-19 in Connecticut.

“Our members are deemed essential, but the way they've been treated and the resources that they've been offered just does not match up,” she said. “If they're essential, they should be prioritized for vaccination.” 

DeShawn Brownell
Credit Tony Spinelli / Connecticut Public
DeShawn Brownell, a security officer and SEIU 32 BJ union member on Feb. 24.

DeShawn Brownell, 46, has been a security officer for 11 years. He works in a state facility in Manchester where he said social distancing is difficult.

“I’m disappointed. I'm a little bit younger, but at the same time, I have epilepsy. I have high blood pressure,” said Brownell. “What if something happens to me? I’m the one with the main income. It would affect my kids, wife, and my outside family, like my mom, my dad. It’s like a domino effect.” 

Guadalupe Garcia, 49, has been out of work since the beginning of the pandemic. She was a housekeeper at Omni Hotel in New Haven. Along with her job, she lost access to health insurance when she was laid off. Recently, she’s been disinfecting a dental clinic two days a week to make ends meet. 

“I’d like to get vaccinated because I’m exposed at my workplace, but quite frankly, I already survived COVID-19,” she said in Spanish. “We already waited a year since the start of the pandemic, I think I can wait an additional 20 days, because pleading for a change to the governor feels like a lost battle. ” 

Supermarket workers are also among those disappointed by the change. 

Union leaders say their members continue to be exposed to coronavirus every day, selling food and supplies to shoppers who at times have refused to follow safety protocols. 

Ronald Petronella, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 371 said the order pushing his members back down the line for the vaccine also leaves the general public potentially more at risk. 

“Our members could have it unknowingly and could give it to you,” he said. “So I think the industry itself, no matter the age group, they should be vaccinated, because of the contact with the customer. Because, God forbid we gave it to a customer and then they brought it home to their family.”

Héctor J. Figueroa 32BJ Labor Center
Credit Tony Spinelli / Connecticut Public
The Héctor J. Figueroa 32BJ Labor Center in Hartford, CT.

He said since the beginning of the pandemic, about 600 of his members have been infected with the virus. He’s still holding out hope the governor will change his mind and move supermarket workers to the front of the line.

But that didn’t seem likely Tuesday as Lamont continued to defend the new approach.

The governor said it was too hard for the state to determine who was an essential worker or who had an underlying condition. And he also noted that had the state followed the CDC recommendations on prioritizing essential workers, nearly 1 million Connecticut residents would have qualified to sign up, starting next week.

“Everybody feels good -- ‘I'm on the essential worker list,’” he said Tuesday. “But you’re gonna be waiting two or three months to get that vaccination. And you saw websites crashing, around the country -- right next door in Massachusetts, for starters. So we thought we did better narrowing the aperture, being very clear about who was eligible. Being able to show up with a driver’s license, 55 and above is very easy as a metric to track.”

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