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COVID: San Francisco Restaurants, Bars Begin Checking for Proof of Vaccination

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX/AP) — On Friday, San Francisco became the first major city in the nation to require proof of COVID-19 vaccination for people dining inside restaurants, working out in gyms or attending indoor concerts.

Restaurants and bars posted signs and added extra staff to begin verifying people's proof of vaccination.

Friday evening, as patrons showed up to check-in at the restaurant China Live in Chinatown, they couldn't get an indoor table unless they showed proof they were fully vaccinated.

"We've seen digital records, we've seen physical records, we've seen the state ID QR code. There are multiple forms -- so far it's gone pretty well," said restaurant partner Doug Collister said.

Betty Pesci, owner of Betty Lou's Seafood in North Beach, was a bit nervous about how some customers would handle the new policy, worrying about "people getting angry at the door because they can't sit inside if they're not vaccinated."

Day one of the new policy eased some of her anxiety, thanks to customers like Kevin Keilduff.

"I'm glad they're doing that -- it protects everybody," he said.

"So far, so good," Pesci said. "No trouble. Everyone is willing and they're prepared. They walk in, show it and smiling -- that's nice."

Some people weren't thrilled about the policy.

"I'm going to have to go and get it [the vaccine], it's going to suck," Tylar Sanders said.

However, Betty Lou's and China Live didn't receive much of that pushback Friday night.

"Everybody is super positive. They've provided proof of vaccination and ID. We haven't had a single issue. Really happy about it," Collister said. "We also have outdoor dining -- there's no requirements there at this time. Whatever you're comfortable with, we'd love to have you join us."

Mayor London Breed and San Francisco director of public health Dr. Grant Colfax announced the plans for the proof of vaccination mandate on Aug. 12.

According to a press release issued by the city, the updated Safer Return Together Health Order requires businesses in certain high-contact indoor sectors -- including those that serve food or drink like bars, restaurants, clubs, theaters and entertainment venues, as well as indoor gyms and other fitness establishments -- to obtain proof of vaccination from their patrons and employees in order for them to go inside those facilities.

The mandate is the first of its kind in the nation, going farther than New York, which requires people to be at least partially inoculated for a variety of high-risk indoor activities and New Orleans, which requires proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for indoor dining or drinking.

It follows a number of tough COVID-19 measures San Francisco imposed since the beginning of the pandemic. The city and its neighboring counties in the Bay Area were the first in the nation to order residents to stay at home in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus and was the first big city in the nation to require all city employees to be vaccinated, without the option of testing regularly.

The majority of 36,000 city workers said they are vaccinated but about 4,300 have not. This week, the city sent letters recommending a 10-day suspension without pay for 20 employees in police, fire and sheriff's departments who refused to report their vaccination status by the Aug. 12 deadline, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has also had to tighten the rules after announcing the reopening of California's economy in June. He has required the state's health care workers to get vaccinated to keep their jobs and all teachers and state workers to either get vaccinated or submit to weekly testing.

Local business groups have supported the new vaccine mandate, saying it will protect their employees' and customers' health and keep them from having to limit capacity indoors. Some businesses that had taken it upon themselves to check for proof of vaccination at the door said a citywide policy helps set clear expectations for all customers.

When Vegan Picnic announced in late July it would only allow vaccinated customers, the deli quickly received one-star reviews on Yelp, many from internet trolls who had never eaten there, and threats from callers who viewed the requirement as a violation of their personal rights and privacy, owner Jill Ritchie said.

"The phone was ringing with people yelling at us, and at the same time we had an outpouring of support from people saying 'Thank you, I feel safe going to your store,'" Ritchie said.

She said checking people's vaccination status has been easy, and soon the computer software her business uses for online ordering and payment processing will handle the verification digitally and warn customers of the mandate ahead of time.

Online reservation systems such as OpenTable are also telling diners about the rule when they RSVP, and businesses that cater to the city's tourism industry launched a campaign called "Relax, We're Vaxxed" to get the word out to out-of-town visitors.

City officials said a paper card issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a photo of the CDC card, or a verified digital vaccine record will suffice. Proof of vaccination issued by foreign governments is also acceptable.

Pearce Cleaveland, co-owner of the Temple nightclub, said his security guards have been trained to check all forms of vaccination proof and they have caught some people with falsified copies of vaccination cards.

"We've had people who get upset at the door when they're turned away, but in general they're understanding," he said. "It's the tourists who are generally disappointed, when they're unaware of the requirement and can't get vaccinated quickly enough."

Workers have until Oct. 13 to prove they are fully vaccinated and Cleaveland said he expects to meet compliance by then. The mandate does not apply to people ineligible for vaccines, including children under 12.

After a sharp increase in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in the San Francisco Bay Area over the summer, the numbers appear to be leveling off but remain high, said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an expert on infectious diseases at the University of California, San Francisco.

He said reinstated restrictions have helped slow the spread of the coronavirus. For example, after Los Angeles County reinstated a mask mandate for indoor businesses, the increase in daily COVID-19 cases slowed significantly over the last few weeks, Chin-Hong said.

"There is no magic bullet, just a combination of a hard stick and soft stick," he said. "The proof of vaccination mandate is a soft stick because you can still eat outdoors, but if you want to hang out with people indoors you better get vaccinated."

© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. KPIX 5's Max Darrow and the Associated Press contributed to this report

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