Bus drivers, grocery store staff, essential employees able to sign up for vaccines at Wisconsin Center

NOW: Bus drivers, grocery store staff, essential employees able to sign up for vaccines at Wisconsin Center

MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Many essential workers in Milwaukee have patiently waited to get the COVID-19 vaccine, and now, they're able to get vaccinated at the Wisconsin Center.

The Milwaukee Health Department announced the rest of Phase 1B is now able to sign up for appointments at the Wisconsin Center. That includes individuals enrolled in Medicaid long-term care programs, some public-facing essential workers, non-frontline essential health care personnel, facility staff and residents in congregate living settings.

Teachers and child care workers are still being given priority status, according to the health department's website.

"You may be eligible for vaccine and not even know it," said Dr. Ben Weston, director of medical services for the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management.

Weston further explained what he meant: "For food supply chain workers, whether you work in a food processing plant, you work in a grocery store, a convenience store, or even a gas station that sells food, you are eligible for vaccine. Utility workers -- if you're an electrician, if you're a plumber, if you work with other utilities that require you to work in people's homes, you are eligible for vaccine. And then there's congregate living. If you live or work in a group home or in a shelter or a treatment center, you're eligible for vaccine."

The Wisconsin Center vaccine clinic has previously only been open to people in one of the eligible groups that either live or work in Milwaukee. However, on Wednesday, March 10 the health department announced the site will be open to "people who live and work in a wider geographical area." The health department said that is due to added support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that starts on March 15.

Kristina Hoffman, the director of marketing and communications for the Milwaukee County Transit System, told CBS 58 in a statement: "All eligible frontline staff at the Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) have received specific instructions on how to schedule an appointment at the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management’s vaccination site. They also have the option of making an appointment at any other local vaccination site that has opened availabilities to public transit workers."

The local bus union, the Amalgamated Transit Union, said it wants the opportunity for its members to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

"It's absolutely vital because transit holds the community together," said Michelle Sommers, an ATU international vice president. "Hundreds of transit employees have passed away in the last year due to COVID around this country, and we don't want to be a statistic here in Milwaukee, as well."

The union said bus drivers are doing what they can to stay healthy to help both their own families and their passengers.

"(if they're not healthy) passengers won't get to their jobs, medical appointments ... a lot of people would suffer," said Michael Bautch, assistant trustee with ATU Local 998.

Transit workers are one of dozens of job titles now eligible to make appointments at the Wisconsin Center. The list also includes 911 operators, utilities workers, and food service workers like grocery store staff and hunger relief staff.

"We're getting to the point of almost herd immunity here at Hunger Task Force. About 70 percent of our staff have already received their first vaccine," said Sherrie Tussler, executive director of the Hunger Task Force.

Tussler said she received her first dose at Walgreens.

She said the Hunger Task Force is mandating its staff get the vaccine so they can continue operating the food bank that serves people across the area.

"It's been very stressful for everybody to try to meet the need, while simultaneously meeting all the restrictions and so the vaccine frees people to do their work again," Tussler said.

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