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San Francisco's New Vaccine Mandate: When It Starts, What it Covers

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bar doorman checks patron's vaccine card
A doorman at Oasis checks a customer's vaccination card before allowing him to enter on July 29, 2021, in San Francisco. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

San Francisco will soon require proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 to enter public indoor spaces including bars, restaurants and gyms, Mayor London Breed announced Thursday. The mandate also includes employees.

"Why we are doing this is to protect the workers, is to protect kids. It’s to protect those who can’t get vaccinated, to make sure that we don’t go backwards," Breed said in a press conference.

While the requirement goes into effect on Aug. 20, employees of businesses affected by the mandate will have until Oct. 13 to provide proof of full vaccination "to preserve jobs while giving time for compliance," the mayor's office wrote in a statement.

Besides the obvious public health benefits, Breed also said vaccinations were important to ensure the economy recovers.

"We all have to do our part. We need to get vaccinated," she said.

An overview of the main details of San Francisco's new vaccine mandate:

  • Mandate starts on Aug. 20.
  • Proof of vaccination will be needed to enter crowded businesses like bars, restaurants, clubs, gyms and theaters.
  • Acceptable proof of vaccination includes your CDC vaccination card, a physical or digital copy or picture of that card, documentation from a health care provider, or a personal digital COVID-19 vaccine record issued by the state of California or by an approved private company.
  • Local business and merchant groups are largely supportive of the new requirements.
  • There are limited exceptions: People only need a mask to use a restroom at a business, for instance, and if a restaurant has a patio, proof of vaccination isn't required for outdoor dining.
  • Businesses can ask for vaccine verification in advance and simply check ID upon entry.

Read on for the full details of San Francisco's new vaccine mandate.

You won't need to brandish your vaccination card everywhere — city officials said the new rule applies only to businesses in "high-contact indoor sectors."

What does that mean? Essentially the order applies to places with crowds: those that serve food or drinks like bars and restaurants, theaters and clubs, and fitness establishments like gyms. The mandate does not apply to food pickups for to-go orders, officials said. Read more on how to get a digital version of your proof of vaccination if you don't already have a digital vaccine card.

There are some exceptions to the proof of vaccination requirement. For instance, businesses may allow patrons to use outdoor areas without vaccination verification and may allow patrons wearing a well-fitted mask to use a restroom indoors without vaccination verification. Businesses that serve food or drinks to go may allow individuals wearing a well-fitted mask to order, pick up or pay for food or drink without vaccination verification.

Businesses also have the option to ask for verification in advance, as long as they confirm the patron's identification when they enter the establishment.

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The mandate will be more stringent than the requirement announced by New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio last week. San Francisco will now require proof of full vaccination for all customers and staff, while New York mandated proof of at least one shot for similar indoor activities.

Los Angeles is considering a similar move requiring people to have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine before going to indoor restaurants, bars, gyms, movie theaters and other venues. City leaders there voted Wednesday to direct city attorneys to work out the details.

'A bold step'

San Francisco just took "a bold step" to prevent the spread of the delta variant, said Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, a professor of global health and infectious diseases at Stanford University School of Medicine.

"I think the city and county of San Francisco don't want to take any step backward in controlling this pandemic in the city," Maldonado said.

The announcement comes a day after Gov. Gavin Newsom said all employees at public and private schools in California will have to show proof of vaccination or face weekly testing.

Breed announced the mandate at the historic Vesuvio Cafe in North Beach, a favorite haunt of the beat poets. The cafe has been asking indoor patrons to show proof of vaccination since July 20.

Ben Bleiman, founder of the San Francisco Bar Owners Alliance, said the city's restaurants and bars, which have already been voluntarily requiring proof of vaccination, say it's a breeze.

"In actual practice, it actually was a little bit of a nothing burger," Bleiman said. "If anything, almost every single person who walked through our doors that we’re hearing about was happy about it. They were thrilled, they were thankful. They felt safer.”

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The San Francisco Independent Fitness Coalition, which represents more than 100 city fitness establishments, also said it supports the move.

Coalition board member Dave Karraker said in a statement, "We feel anything that can be done to avoid the capacity limits or the full shut down of indoor fitness that we experienced last year is in everyone’s best interest, particularly those small, neighborhood businesses that suffered so much since the start of the pandemic."

The new order also applies to large events at indoor venues and requires attendees age 12 and over at events numbering 1,000 or more to provide proof of vaccination. A negative COVID test is no longer the bar for attending these events — proof of full vaccination is a must.

Some San Francisco health care providers not already subject to the state's vaccination requirements will also now be required to show proof of vaccination. That includes workers at residential care facilities, adult day centers, and dental offices, as well as pharmacists and home health aides, according to city health officials.

The new rules are a response to the rise of the delta variant across the country, and locally. About 78% of San Franciscans are vaccinated, but the new surge shows a "need for additional measures to close the remaining gap of unvaccinated people," the mayor's statement said.

"We are now in a new phase of the pandemic," said Dr. Grant Colfax, the city's health director. "And even as we see a surge of cases, we have the powerful tool to fight this disease and to keep ourselves and each other safe. The vaccines, let’s use them”

The move comes after San Francisco city officials announced all 35,000 government employees are required to be vaccinated. More than 80% of employees already are.

In a letter to the city, however, roughly 200 employees pushed back on the city's vaccination effort, sending in "conspiracy-tinged letters," according to The San Francisco Chronicle. The employees were mostly fire department workers.

The Associated Press, KQED's Nina Sparling and KQED's Tara Siler contributed to this report.

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