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San Francisco to mandate vaccines for bar, restaurant patrons starting August 20

San Francisco issued a mandate that certain indoor venues must require proof of vaccination to admit members of the public, Mayor London Breed said on Thursday. 

Starting Aug. 20, businesses in “high-contact” sectors such as bars, restaurants, gyms and theaters, will be required to obtain proof of full vaccination from patrons prior to entry. Employees of such establishments will also have to provide proof of vaccination to their employers by Oct. 13. The new order also expands on existing state and local vaccination or testing mandates for large events of more than 1,000 people, high-risk workplaces such as hospitals and nursing homes, as well as a vaccination mandate for the city’s own workforce of roughly 35,000.

Breed and Dr. Grant Colfax, San Francisco’s Director of Health, described the new mandate as an added incentive for individuals to get vaccinated. 

“We very much hope that the incentive of eating at your favorite restaurant in San Francisco, or grabbing a drink, will remove any barriers you may have to getting vaccinated,” said Colfax.

“The good news is that we’ve made the vaccine exceedingly easy to get,” he added, citing the Department of Public Health’s (DPH) traveling vaccination units, in addition to the variety of other ways to obtain a vaccine. 

Numerous bars and restaurants have already begun requiring proof of vaccination for admission, with the San Francisco Bar Owner Alliance, a coalition of about 500 bars, that its member venues would require vaccinations several weeks ago.

Patrons can present proof of vaccination in one of a few ways: Either a hard copy of one’s vaccination record, a photo of the record, or a digital record such as those available through the California Department of Public Health. California residents can enter their information on that department’s website to generate an electronic record. San Francisco’s DPH also published a list of approved third-party sites that can generate vaccine records. 

Ben Bleiman, head of the San Francisco Bar Owner Alliance, hailed the new mandate as a necessary response to “alarming” breakthrough cases witnessed among bar and restaurant employees.

“This is a giant deal,” Bleiman said. 

Breed added that city agencies will take a light touch on enforcement, and largely leave it to business owners to enforce the vaccine requirements. A large majority of San Francisco residents are fully vaccinated, with 78% of eligible residents having completed a vaccine series.

“For the most part, people welcome this,” said Breed. “The goal is not to cite people or fine people or what have you…we’re going to trust the businesses in San Francisco to do their part and require vaccinations.”

The city’s vaccination order for its workforce⁠—which includes interns, fellows and volunteers⁠—goes into effect after FDA approval of at least one vaccine now in circulation. Under the most recent version of the order, all city employees must report their vaccination status by Aug. 12 and, if they have not yet been vaccinated, complete a vaccine series within 10 weeks of FDA approval. FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine is expected within weeks. 

The city’s vaccination mandate sparked pushback from at least one city union, with the San Francisco Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, which represents members of the Sheriff’s Department, warning last week that some of its workers would retire or quit over the order. 

“From my perspective, as much as I appreciate our city workforce for all that they do, to have an employment opportunity with the city is an absolute privilege,” said Breed on Thursday. “When we’re asking people to do something like this, it’s completely reasonable. This is a once in a century pandemic.” 

The city’s vaccination order does carve out limited exemptions for health issues or religious observance, but the majority of employees must comply with the order or face termination. 

“Unfortunately there are a number of employees who feel a certain way about vaccinations…but ultimately, I have a job to do for the people of San Francisco and I’m not going to deviate from that,” Breed added.