Metro Louisville

Louisville’s library, zoo and parks workers will qualify for phase 1c of the COVID-19 vaccination. That’s welcome news for some Metro employees who say there’s been a lack of clarity about where they fall in line for the vaccine.

Staff from these departments weren’t originally listed as part of group 1c. When asked why during the mayor’s Tuesday COVID briefing, Metro Louisville Chief Health Strategist Dr. Sarah Moyer said it’s because 1c is “a massive category,” estimated to cover between 300,000 and 500,000 people in Jefferson County.

“It does include frontline government workers,” Moyer added.

Previously, employees at the Louisville Zoo, Louisville Free Public Library and Louisville Metro Parks weren’t sure they would be able to get vaccinated in phase 1c, according to local union representatives.

Ashley Nichole Sims, teen library assistant and union president of AFSCME Local 3425, which represents LFPL workers, said she had reached out to Metro Louisville Human Resources on Jan. 25 to learn when library workers could expect to be scheduled for vaccinations. 

The initial answer she got, she said, was that they did not fall into the “essential worker” bucket of the 1c tier. 

Over the weekend, however, Sims received notice from LFPL that library workers would be included in 1c.

In an email to WFPL, library communications director Paul Burns said they don’t yet know the timing of getting their workers vaccinated, “but the goal is to fully reopen libraries by including library employees in this priority group.”

In response to why LFPL and some other Metro workers just learned of their eligibility status, Jean Porter with the mayor’s office said priority vaccination groups were only “recently finalized.” She confirmed that zoo and parks employees are both in group 1c, too.

“Groups 1A and 1B were easily established by the guidelines provided by the CDC and state,” Porter said in an email. “Due to the breadth of the phase 1C category, careful consideration was made with all Louisville Metro Government departments… It is not just the classification of who is within a group, but also the sub-classifications within a group that must be determined.”

The city hopes to begin 1c vaccinations as soon as April, said Kathy Turner, director of communications for the Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness. 

Turner added that they are still developing a plan on how to roll out phase 1c, including creating a framework on how to prioritize within this large group. 

Vaccination Gray Area

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s online essential workers list includes the zoo, parks and library industries as “critical infrastructure,” based on Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency guidance

However, CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has delineated specific essential worker categories: such as transportation and logistics, water and wastewater, food service, media, legal and public health. Kentucky has used the specified ACIP categories for its “phased distribution” of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the state’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services. They are also the categories Metro Louisville lists in the infographic for its vaccination plan

The work of parks, zoo and library employees doesn’t clearly fit into these essential worker categories, even though many of them cannot do their jobs remotely, putting them in a sort of gray area. 

But according to LFPL employee Sims, libraries should definitely make the cut.

“We are an essential service,” she said, noting that the library system provides internet and copier machine access, as well as books and media.

“We have folks there that are filing for unemployment, they’re working for housing assistance, making sure that they don’t lose their house… very important utility assistance,” Sims said. “I’m not saying that we should get vaccines before, say, health care workers, but if there is a part of the vaccine schedule that’s labeled all essential workers, we definitely should be in it.” 

Stephanie Wolf is WFPL's Arts Reporter.