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LA may soon end COVID vaccination mandate for restaurants, bars, gyms and movie theaters

Los Angeles may soon relax city rules requiring indoor restaurants, gyms, bars, movie theaters, hair salons and other businesses to verify that customers are vaccinated against COVID-19 before letting them in .

LA City Council Speaker Nury Martinez this week introduced a proposal to stop requiring such companies to check whether customers are vaccinated, instead making the practice voluntary. The proposal would also remove requirements for large outdoor events in Los Angeles to check whether patrons are vaccinated.

The decision came the same day the LA County Public Health Department lifted numerous mask requirements and stopped requiring vaccination verification in indoor areas of bars, wineries, breweries, distilleries, nightclubs and lounges, as well as at outdoor mega-events, including theme parks, SoFi and Dodger stadiums, the Hollywood Bowl and the Memorial Coliseum.

The city council voted in October to require a series of indoor businesses to check that their customers were vaccinated. But officials said they would wait until February to cite any company for violating those requirements, saying they wanted to focus on education and awareness first.

It’s unclear when LA might relax its rules, known as SafePassLA: To roll back the requirements, the city council must approve the proposal put forward by Martinez.

LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer supported vaccine verification rules at some businesses last fall. But on Friday, Ferrer said it was reasonable to waive those requirements in places like bars, given the trajectory of the pandemic. City and county officials began discussing a vaccination mandate for customers of some interior businesses this summer as the Delta surge swept the country.

Over the summer, some local businesses began to impose vaccine requirements themselves, frustrated that unvaccinated people were at greater risk of spreading infection, including being the source breakthrough infections that made vaccinated people sick.

Ferrer said it made sense to impose a vaccine requirement for businesses in high-risk settings at a time when coronavirus case rates were high, and it makes sense to relax them now that case rates have falled.

The lifting of vaccine verification orders is “a recognition that we are in a different place today than we have been before,” Ferrer said in an interview.

She still suggests that companies continue to check customers’ vaccination status, but, “instead of telling people what to do, we’re asking people to do it now.”

By early August, 64% of LA County residents ages 12 and older were considered fully vaccinated. By the end of February, 79% of residents in this age group were fully immunized. Ferrer said she thinks the public health infrastructure has improved since the summer, making it easier to access vaccines.

The idea of ​​waiving the vaccination verification requirement has alarmed some Angelenos. “A great way to make sure we never get it completely out of control is to ease the restrictions before we get to a place where it’s really safe to do so,” said Jesse Alson-Milkman, secretary of the board of directors. administration of the progressive organizing group Ground Game LA. .

The Los Angeles rules have been targeted by opponents, including leaders of the Los Angeles County Libertarian Party, who have sought to overturn the city’s ordinance through a campaign initiative.

Angela McArdle, county party chair, said if the city rolls back vaccination verification rules, her group would instead pursue a measure to prevent LA from reinstating those rules in the future.

McArdle said she and other naysayers wanted to “make sure this never happens again.”

New York City announced Friday that it will end vaccine verification rules for restaurants, gyms and other entertainment venues starting Monday.

In February, Contra Costa County — the third most populous county in the San Francisco Bay Area — lifted its vaccine or testing requirement for patrons of indoor restaurants, bars and gyms after 80% of its residents of all ages have been fully immunized.

Other cities that have retained similar vaccine verification rules include West Hollywood, Oakland and Berkeley. San Francisco requires patrons of places like restaurants and gyms to show either proof of vaccination and a booster, if eligible, or a recent negative coronavirus test.

Proof of vaccination or a recent negative test is still required at indoor mega-events — those with more than 1,000 people, like NBA games at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles — which remains a requirement at the statewide. Vaccination verification is also required for healthcare workers and nursing home employees.

Ferrer said she continues to support Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to require K-12 school children to get vaccinated whenever the U.S. Food and Drug Administration updates its authorization to emergency use to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to full approval for each age group. It’s unclear when the FDA will fully approve vaccines for the first pediatric group — those ages 12 to 15 — which would start the process of requiring vaccines for schoolchildren 12 and older.

“Requiring essential life-saving vaccines for school children makes a lot of sense,” Ferrer said. “These are places where kids really need to go, unless they want to be homeschooled, and because of that the obligation to provide as safe an environment as possible is really high.

“You don’t have to go to a bar if you feel it’s not a safe environment,” Ferrer added. “But school is an essential activity. And many, many children who need to go to school are also children who are at greater risk of serious illness.

Ferrer also said it still makes sense that city workers who work with vulnerable people — like police officers, sheriff’s deputies and firefighters — should be required to get vaccinated. “If you’re on a mission to support the most vulnerable people in the county, it makes sense for people to be fully immunized, especially during a pandemic,” Ferrer said.

“These are extraordinary times, I don’t think any of us should think it’s some kind of normal time here,” Ferrer said of the vaccination mandate for first responders. “We are in the midst of a pandemic. And COVID is not the flu and COVID is not a cold. Mortality data is so much higher with COVID. So I think with this higher mortality, and especially with all the vulnerability that people may be experiencing, I just think we’re in a place where it still makes sense to get vaccinated.

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Richard Dement

The author Richard Dement