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COVID: San Francisco Mandates Proof of Full Vaccination for Indoor Activities

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- San Francisco Mayor London Breed on Thursday morning announced that the city would require proof of full COVID-19 vaccination for a variety of indoor activities, including entering bars, restaurants and gyms.

Breed and San Francisco Public Health Director Dr. Grant Colfax made the announcement late Thursday morning as they stood outside famed North Beach bar Vesuvio.

According to a press release issued by the city, the updated Safer Return Together Health Order will require 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.

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The vaccination requirement will not apply to individuals ordering or picking up food or drink to go, officials said.

The health order requirement for proof of full vaccination for patrons of indoor public settings goes into effect on August 20. According to the order, those businesses must use their best efforts to ascertain the vaccination status of their employees by that same date. To preserve jobs while giving time for compliance, the proof of vaccination requirement for staff goes into effect October 13 for employees.

The health order is aimed at protecting against the continued spread of COVID-19, particularly among the unvaccinated, while keeping businesses open and helping to ensure schools remain open.

"Today's announcement is just about making sure people feel a little safer," said Breed. "It's important because kids under the age of 12 cannot be vaccinated, so we have to make sure we're protecting them. It's important because there are still people who are elderly and sick and those with underlying health conditions that may not even be eligible for the vaccine. We're doing this for them. What we are seeing now with this virus is very challenging and of great concern."

Breed noted that the city was following the lead of many small businesses -- including bars across San Francisco -- that have already instituted a vaccine requirement.

"Why are we doing this? As I said, it's to protect the workers. It's protect kids. It's to protect those who can't get vaccinated," Breed explained. "It's to make sure we don't go backwards. It's to make sure I never have to get up in front of you and say, 'I'm sorry, I know we just reopened, but now the city's closed again because we're seeing too many people die.'"

The health order additionally creates a new proof of vaccination requirement for large events at indoor venues, requiring attendees who are age 12 or older at events with 1,000 people or more to provide proof of vaccination.

Previously, state and local rules required proof of vaccination or testing to attend indoor mega-events with 5,000 people or more. Under the new order, providing a self-attestation of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test in lieu of proof of vaccination are no longer options for people 12 and older to attend these indoor large or mega-events. Sponsors of outdoor events with more than 5,000 people attending are strongly urged to require proof of vaccination for patrons and staff.

The health order also extends vaccination requirements to certain health care providers—including workers at adult day centers, residential care facilities, dental offices, home health aides and pharmacists—who are not included in the state health order on vaccinations.

The vaccination requirements for indoor events, both private and public, that have 1,000 people or more in attendance go into effect on August 20.

Laurie Thomas, Executive Director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association and owner of Rose's Cafe in Cow Hollow say this is how the mandate will be enforced in her restaurants.

"If someone wants to come in and either sit at the bar or in our dining room with us, we will be asking for proof of vaccination for everyone in the party, as well as a picture ID so we know that that vaccination card belongs to you. If that is not able to be provided, then you would have a chance to sit outside," Thomas told KPIX 5.

The owner of EHS Pilates in the Mission said her team has already done test runs to accept paper cards, photos or QR codes. "The cards are what a lot of people have, but we have found that the scan system that the state has, the database, would work really well for people to show and most of our clients say they are comfortable with recording that status in a note," said Tracey Sylvester.

Business owners told KPIX5 that the full-throated support from city public health officials gives them hope.

"We don't think requiring vaccinations will hurt our business at all, in fact they'll probably help because we know that there are a lot of people who've been asking us, when are you going to go to required vaccination," said Dave Karraker, owner of MX3 Fitness.

There is a limited exception for those events where tickets were sold before August 12 for events occurring by September 15; instead, those events may allow proof of negative testing as an alternative to proof of vaccination. The additional health care workers covered by the update to the order must be fully vaccinated by October 13.

The announcement made San Francisco the second major city in the U.S. to require a COVID vaccination for indoor activities. Last week, New York City officials announced that residents and visitors would have to show proof of vaccination for indoor dining, fitness and entertainment beginning next week.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the "Key to NYC Pass" on Aug. 4th. The mandate is similar to ones issued last month in France and Italy.

The mayor said it will apply to both workers and customers in those indoor spaces. The vaccine requirement is set to be phased in beginning Aug. 16th, with full enforcement by Sept. 13th.

San Francisco continues to have one of the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates across the U.S. with 71% of all residents receiving their shots as of the latest figures.

Despite that, the city has still seen a surge in new cases due to the Delta variant with an average of 247 new cases daily over the past week. There are currently 109 COVID-19 hospitalizations in San Francisco.

"We are now in a new phase of the pandemic, and even as we see a surge of cases, we have the powerful tool to fight this disease and keep ourselves and each other safe: the vaccines. Let's use them," said Dr. Colfax.

On Tuesday, the San Francisco Unified School District announced that all district staff would be required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine or undergo weekly testing starting next month, joining a growing number of employers issuing vaccine mandates.

Last Friday, Breed issued a statement praising a number of businesses that had already implemented vaccine requirements for employees.

"Every day, more and more businesses, both large and small, are stepping up to put stronger vaccine requirements in place, whether that's requiring their employees to get vaccinated, or requiring people who come into their places of business to have been vaccinated," the statement read in part.

The city and county of San Francisco is additionally requiring that all city employees be vaccinated 10 weeks after final FDA approval, with certain medical and religious exemptions allowed.

Late last month, the SF Bar Owner Alliance -- which represents hundreds of establishments in the San Francisco -- started requiring proof of a COVID vaccination or a negative COVID test from customers.

In a prepared statement, the group's founder Ben Bleiman said, "Effective Thursday, July 29th, 2021, it will be the official position of the SF Bar Owner Alliance that any customer who wishes to remain inside our establishments show proof of vaccination or a 72-hour negative COVID-19 test. Guests without these verifications are welcome to sit outside in parklets or other spaces we offer. It will be up to each individual bar to decide how best to enforce this for their customers."

Bleiman said the decision was made after polling the group's members and it was hoped the move would help influence others still hesitant about getting vaccinated.

"We understand that the only way our society (and our businesses) can ever return to true normalcy is through higher rates of vaccinations among our residents, not just in San Francisco but across the United States of America," said Bleiman.

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