LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — More Nevadans are becoming eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, and among the newly-added groups are grocery store employees.

UMC announced Tuesday that the vaccine is now available for these individuals at its vaccination center at Encore Las Vegas. The sites listed on the Southern Nevada Health District’s (SNHD) page also have available appointments for them.

That is good news for the workers at Mario’s WestSide Market, a locally-owned grocery store located near M.L.K. and Lake Mead boulevards in Las Vegas. For nearly a year, the roughly 45 employees have been serving customers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Plexiglass was put up around the store to protect them. 

Owner Mario Berlanga says keeping his staff safe is the priority, since working remotely is not an option for them.

“We have to stock the shelves, we have to cut the meat, we have to serve and cook the food in our hot food section,” Berlanga said. “They can’t do that from home. Everything has to be done here.”

But the best safeguard against the virus is within reach. According to SNHD, grocery store workers fall under the Frontline Supply Chain and Logistics category. Also included in that group are employees in agriculture and food processing, utilities and communications infrastructure, the Nevada Department of Transportation and essential airport operations. 

First doses for those who qualify are available at UMC’s Encore site, as well as SNHD and partner clinics.

“I’ve had employees going and already making appointments,” Berlanga shared.

Dr. Marc J. Kahn, dean of the UNLV School of Medicine and vice president for health affairs at the university, says there is no doubt the COVID situation in Southern Nevada is improving. He points to the increase in vaccinations being distributed.

(Nexstar DC photo)

“As we expand eligible populations, we’re going to get closer to herd immunity,” Kahn explained.

He adds that when looking at the declining case numbers, it is important to pay attention to one main data point:

“We don’t look at the actual number of positives. We look at the positivity rate. So, if less people are being tested, the positivity rate corrects for that.” 

FILE – This Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021 file photo shows a BinaxNOW rapid COVID-19 test made by Abbott Laboratories, in Tacoma, Wash. After a year of struggling to boost testing, communities across the country are seeing plummeting demand for the service, in some cases shuttering testing sites or even trying to return supplies. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Kahn says the numbers for COVID-19 hospitalizations and ICU admissions are critical to examine, as well.

Berlanga and his staff at Mario’s are hopeful for the future, as they begin to get vaccinated.

“We’re just as important as everybody else,” Berlanga said.

Grocery store workers getting the vaccine will need to provide proof of employment, such as a work ID card. To sign up for an appointment and for more information, click here for UMC or here for SNHD.