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SAN FRANCISCO — The large chalkboard sign in the doorway warned: “Masks and vaccination required!”
But as I entered a bar in the Richmond District this weekend, no one stopped me to ask whether I had been vaccinated. At the bar counter, I offered to show my immunization card, but the bartender shook his head.
The bar isn’t enforcing the vaccine mandate, he told me. Unless the city orders that all businesses check vaccination cards, the bar’s sign will merely serve as motivation for people to get their shots.
He handed me my drink. I decided to sit outside.
Among the businesses hardest hit by the pandemic, bars and restaurants are scrambling to stay open and hold onto customers as coronavirus cases surge in California and across the nation. But their approaches differ widely.
While some California cities are home to a growing number of businesses serving only vaccinated customers, many have none. And some restaurants require vaccination for indoor and outdoor seating, while others require it only for those sitting inside.
And at many establishments, enforcement of these new rules remains spotty, a mix of reluctance to drive away customers and poor implementation of unfamiliar rules. (The first time I went to a bar with a vaccination requirement in Los Angeles, the bouncer checked my friends’ vaccine cards but not mine.)
Still, public health experts say, the policies can’t hurt.
Vaccinated people are less likely to contract and spread the coronavirus, so the higher the percentage of immunized people indoors, the better. In California, about 53 percent of residents are vaccinated.
The new rules could also function like indoor smoking bans, which drove down rates by making life a little bit more difficult for smokers, said Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, an epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco.
“These are all things that are intended to make it more inconvenient to be unvaccinated,” Bibbins-Domingo told me. “I think that will move the people who need to make a different decision today than they made yesterday.”
As coronavirus cases spike nationwide, New York last week became the first city in the U.S. to announce that it would require that people would need at least one dose of a vaccine for a variety of activities, including indoor dining, gyms and performances.
Since then, officials in Los Angeles and San Francisco have begun weighing similar mandates. The San Francisco Bar Alliance has already recommended that all bars ask for proof of vaccination for customers who want to sit inside.
Though some businesses are reluctant to adopt a policy that could limit their clientele, others see it as a way to keep customers coming back.
Just over a week ago, Urban Mo’s, a gay bar in San Diego, began requiring that people show proof of vaccination to attend its drag shows and other indoor events. It is one of only two restaurants in San Diego with such a rule, according to NBC 7.
The move has prompted a flurry of angry comments on social media as well as threatening phone calls, the owner Matt Ramon told me. But patrons largely support the requirement because it makes them more comfortable, he said.
“We’ve just been kind of hanging up on” the callers, he said. “We’re not going to react to what we think is safe.”
“We don’t have a fear of hurting the business,” he said, “so we can take the stance for everybody.”
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Understand the State of Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the U.S.
- Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places within areas experiencing outbreaks, a reversal of the guidance it offered in May. See where the C.D.C. guidance would apply, and where states have instituted their own mask policies. The battle over masks has become contentious in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
- Vaccine rules . . . and businesses. Private companies are increasingly mandating coronavirus vaccines for employees, with varying approaches. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
- College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
- Schools. On Aug. 11, California announced that it would require teachers and staff of both public and private schools to be vaccinated or face regular testing, the first state in the nation to do so. A survey released in August found that many American parents of school-age children are opposed to mandated vaccines for students, but were more supportive of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff members who do not have their shots.
- Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine, citing rising caseloads fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their work force.
- New York. On Aug. 3, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York announced that proof of vaccination would be required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, becoming the first U.S. city to require vaccines for a broad range of activities. City hospital workers must also get a vaccine or be subjected to weekly testing. Similar rules are in place for New York State employees.
- At the federal level. The Pentagon announced that it would seek to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops “no later” than the middle of September. President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.
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Where we’re traveling
Today’s California travel tip comes from Damiana Aldana, a reader who lives in Claremont. Damiana recommends visiting the California Botanic Garden, also in Claremont:
“There are birds: red tailed hawks, hummingbirds, and lovely shiny phainopeplas. There are sages, redbuds, sagebrush and buckwheats. There are majestic shady oaks and pines. I haven’t been lucky enough to see the bobcat family that lives there, but I’ve had the experience of hearing the coyotes howl at dusk as I’m leaving. We are astonishingly lucky to have an institution dedicated to the unique plants of California.”
Tell us about the best spots to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected] We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: State that shares a border with British Columbia (5 letters).
Mariel Wamsley contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].
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