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Austin's Service Industry Calls On Abbott To Prioritize Vaccinations Ahead Of Lifting Mask Mandate

Demonstrators hold signs in front of the Texas Capitol calling for essential workers to be prioritized to receive COVID-19 vaccines.
Gabriel C. Pérez
Demonstrators hold signs in front of the Texas Capitol on Monday, calling for essential workers to be prioritized for a vaccine against COVID-19.

Service industry workers railed against Gov. Greg Abbott's decision to lift statewide COVID-19 rules, arguing the state should prioritize vaccinations for frontline workers before completely opening up.

Monday's small demonstration at the Texas Capitol highlighted stories from bartenders and servers who expressed reservations ahead of the state's reopening Wednesday. It was organized by the Austin Chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, the Restaurant Organizing Project and the Amplified Sound Coalition.

Karen Hamilton, who has an autoimmune condition as well as a heart condition, quit her job as a server at an Austin-based chain after Abbott's announcement last week. She said her employer essentially went back to pre-COVID occupancy and her coworkers weren't being as vigilant about masking.

"[I've told them], 'I have a heart condition. I will die if any of you give this to me,'" she told KUT. "Even though I am only 27 years old. I'm in the category of people who look extremely healthy, but I'm just not."

A woman at a microphone points while addressing a small crowd at the state Capitol.
Gabriel C. Pérez
Jeannette Gregor, with Amplified Sound Coalition, demands that Gov. Greg Abbott keep a statewide mask mandate in place, at a rally for essential worker vaccinations at the Capitol on Monday.

The rally was punctuated by interruptions by the Austin-based conspiracy site Info Wars.

At one point, Jeannette Gregor, a bartender and event manager who co-founded the Amplified Sound Collective, had to shout over hecklers – one of whom had a bullhorn. Gregor argued their protest proved her point: Absent state rules on mask wearing, people are going to be more belligerent when a worker asks them to put one on.

"This is exactly what essential workers have been dealing with at our jobs!" she belted over interruptions. "It's people like you, and you, that argue with us nonstop!"

Gregor, Hamilton and other speakers pointed out that Abbott's move was not backed by his own medical advisors, a detail first reported by the Dallas Morning News. Gregor said if the state planned on opening up fully without vaccinating at least 70% of Texans, it was irresponsible to do so without first prioritizing vaccinations for frontline workers.

While Austin Public Health officials suggested late last week that the state could open up a 1C group for essential workers, it's unclear when, or if, the state will do so.

Abbott's statewide mask order and limits on business occupancy expire Wednesday.

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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