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Water treatment staff push to be vaccinated sooner

DUBUQUE, Iowa. (KWWL) ------ Calls from water treatment leadership: asking that public water technicians be considered "front-line essential workers," which would include them in Phase 1B of the COVID-19 vaccine's distribution.

William O'Brien manages the City of Dubuque's Water & Resource Recovery Center. He's advocating for workers at the plant to be bumped-up to the higher-priority tier.

Phase 1B of the plan includes "frontline essential workers," like teachers, first responders and food workers. 1C includes "All other essential workers," among these... customer-facing foodservice, bank tellers and, actually, media.

"We're out there 24/7/365 days a year," O'Brien said. "Most of our work is done behind-the-scenes. It might not be the front of mind for most people."

Calls to upgrade the workers to higher priority were echoed by the Iowa Rural Water Association in a December letter to the State and IDPH, before a 'Phase 1C' of the rollout plan was established mid-month.

Greg Huff (Iowa Rural Water Association, President) said today of the letter: "We just wanted to make sure we weren't forgotten."

O'Brien says business, hospitals, basically everyone relies on the continued good performance of public water. The water staff are highly-trained ---- their skills operating the plant machinery are extremely specialized.

O'Brien says only one of his employees has been absent due to COVID so far. If more were to get sick, they could look to other water treatment facilities nearby to sub-in.

"A typical operator would spend months learning the job," O'Brien said.

AJ Capuano

Dubuque bureau reporter, KWWL

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