Anyone who wants to eat a meal, order a beer, take a yoga class or watch a big concert indoors in Berkeley will soon have to show proof they have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
City officials announced late Wednesday, Sept. 1, that Berkeley is joining San Francisco in issuing a health order requiring that patrons of many indoor businesses show proof of vaccination.
The requirement goes into effect Sept. 10 for indoor services at restaurants, bars, clubs, gyms, dance and yoga studios, and events with at least 1,000 attendees. The rule will also apply at theaters or entertainment venues where food or drinks are sold.
The order also requires workers at those businesses to either be vaccinated or receive weekly coronavirus tests, starting Oct. 15. Employees in several other settings will be subject to the same requirement, including those at both public and private child care facilities, adult care facilities and day programs, dental offices and pharmacies, as well as home health care workers.
City officials have been discussing a proof of vaccination requirement for weeks, amid a surge of cases driven by the highly contagious delta variant. Some Berkeley bars, restaurants and concert venues have already implemented their own policies limiting entry to those who are fully vaccinated.
In announcing the order, health officials said it is meant to cut down on COVID-19 transmission in settings where the virus can spread most easily — indoor spaces where people are removing their face masks to eat or drink, breathing heavily during exercise or crowding together in large groups.
“Not only do vaccinations lower each person’s risk of infection and sickness, they increase our entire community’s safety,” Berkeley Health Officer Dr. Lisa Hernandez said.
The affected businesses will be required to check for proof of vaccination from all patrons 12 and older before allowing them access to indoor areas. There are some exceptions to the order for music venues where tickets were sold prior to Friday. The requirement for employees extends to contractors, volunteers and those in custodial or maintenance roles who perform work at facilities where workers must be vaccinated or tested.
Out with the carrot
Berkeley restaurant owner Diana Days isn’t opposed to a vaccination mandate for restaurant patrons, she told Berkeleyside last month. Days is the owner of Cafe Buenos Aires, a Shattuck Avenue restaurant with indoor seating and a brisk grab-and-go business of empanadas and coffee. “I’m pro everything, I’m pro vaccine, pro mask, pro everything it takes to keep people safe,” she said.
When Berkeleyside spoke with her regarding a potential mandate, there were eight people seated inside her restaurant. “I wouldn’t mind putting signs on my tables that tell people they need to be vaccinated to sit down,” she said. She worried, however, about how strictly the restaurant would be able to check for proof of vaccination and still handle the steady stream of masked delivery drivers and grab-and-go patrons who pass through the busy restaurant.
“We usually only have one or two people” interacting with patrons, so “it’ll be a lot more work if we have to check cards,” she said.
That extra work is also top of mind for Nick Cho, co-owner of Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters, which has locations in San Francisco and Berkeley. “Restaurants aren’t like bars,” Cho told Berkeleyside. “Bars have bouncers … None of my employees signed up to be bouncers. They signed up to make coffee.”
That said, Cho agrees that a vaccination mandate is “probably what it takes for the public good.” In addition to his coffee business, he’s recently developed an unexpected second career as a Tik Tok celebrity as “Your Korean Dad,” and has done paid work for California’s Department of Public Health to encourage vaccination through his social media platforms. But his relationship with state health officials doesn’t mean he’s afraid of discussing the complications that come with a mandate.
As long as each cafe and restaurant is forced to make its own rules on which patrons to allow indoors, “Every customer service interaction is a potential collision of debate, especially in Berkeley,” Cho said. An official rule to refer customers to (what some businesses call a “tap the sign”) will diffuse a lot of those confrontations, he said.
Like Days, Cho is worried about the additional resources it might take to check cards or a state-generated QR code for every indoor patron. So by Sept. 10, when the city’s mandate takes effect, the Wrecking Ball at 1600 Shattuck Ave. will become a window-service operation only. That way, the cafe won’t see any slowdowns in service, the or need to increase staffing to handle vaccination confirmations. “These are the sacrifices it takes,” Cho said.
Collin Doran, the owner of Berkeley standby Homemade Cafe, said that a vaccination mandate might be what restaurants need to stay open. “People aren’t responding to the carrot,” Doran said of the struggle to convince all eligible people to be vaccinated. “Maybe if we start taking some things away we’ll finally change some minds.”
Unlike Cho and Days, the majority of Doran’s business is sit-down dining, either inside or at Homemade’s recently completed parklet. Doran expects that Homemade will check for vaccination proof at the dining room door, “and we’ll tell everyone else they can eat outside,” he said.
Doran doesn’t anticipate too much pushback from customers, and said that his staff will likely be pleased when the mandate goes into effect. “All my employees were happy when the mask mandate was announced,” he said, “we’re all frustrated that that’s what it takes, but these rules might be the only way restaurants can stay viable.”
For restaurant owners like Cho, Days and Doran, this latest health order is just one more challenge to surmount as we work our way back to a semblance of pre-pandemic life, and one they hope diners will take in stride. “But you know what?” Doran asked rhetorically. “If you aren’t vaccinated and you’re mad that you can’t eat inside? Then we don’t want you here in the first place.”
Featured photo: Amir Aziz