L.A. to require COVID vaccine proof for indoor restaurants, gyms, malls in one of nation’s strictest mandates

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Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti signed a sweeping mandate Wednesday requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter a wide variety of indoor venues across the city.

Under the ordinance passed by the L.A. City Council earlier Wednesday, patrons aged 12 and older will have to show proof of full vaccination at indoor areas including restaurants, bars, gyms, movie theaters, convention centers, card rooms, museums, malls, play areas, spas, salons and indoor city facilities beginning Nov. 4.

It’s one of the nation’s strictest vaccine mandates, according to the Associated Press.

The city’s ordinance expands on a countywide order that on Thursday will begin requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination at indoor bars, wineries, breweries, nightclubs, lounges and mega outdoor events.

There are exemptions to the city’s requirements: Those who self-attest to having a medical or religious reason for not getting vaccinated can instead provide a negative coronavirus test taken during the 72 hours before entering an indoor space.

Patrons who aren’t vaccinated and don’t qualify for an exemption can still opt to use outdoor areas of the venues. And they can be allowed to briefly go inside the location to use the restroom, order or pick up an item if they’re masked.

“No one is forcing anyone to get vaccinated,” L.A. City Council President Nury Martinez said last week. “But if you don’t, there are certain things you will not be able to do without showing proof of vaccination.”

The city’s ordinance passed with an 11-2 vote — not unanimously, which means it was approved without the urgency clause. It’s unclear whether that will delay when the vaccine proof requirement rules take effect.

The City Council was initially set to vote on the proposal last week, but it was postponed after mayoral candidate Councilman Joe Buscaino withheld his vote over concerns about enforcement, and that it could sow confusion since it differs from county rules.

Buscaino, along with Councilman John Lee, voted against the law on Wednesday.

Council President Martinez, who introduced the motion, said there are still too many unvaccinated residents and that those who have been vaccinated “deserve to go back to normal.” 

So far, 69% of L.A. County residents over the age of 12 are fully vaccinated, according to county data.

“We’re getting tired of protecting people who do not want to protect themselves and get vaccinated,” Martinez said last week.

Some business owners said they were concerned about having to turn away customers while still recovering from the economic downturn. 

“I feel like it’s necessary, but it is definitely going to hinder some regular business procedures,” said Curtis Park, owner of Coffee Memes cafe in Silver Lake. “I’m kind of happy, kind of worried.” 

Venues can be issued a citation for not implementing the requirement, and may be fined $1,000 for a second violation, or more for subsequent violations, according to the city’s ordinance.

Martinez said city officials worked with local businesses on best practices for implementing the requirements and there hasn’t been much pushback.

Some restaurants and bars throughout L.A. County had already started requiring customers to show proof that they are vaccinated against COVID-19 weeks ago.

And guests have been required to show vaccine proof at many large entertainment venues, like at the Hollywood Bowl.

L.A. County Health Director Barbara Ferrer said last week that targeted vaccine verification requirements will help the county break its “cycle of surges.”

As of Sept. 27, COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths both had declined by 45% from the month before. Officials said that while the declines are promising, the county still sees an average of 14 deaths a day.

“The reality is we’re not back to normal,” Ferrer said, adding that the city can’t wait until spread is high again before acting.

The vaccine requirement rules will stay in effect until the city’s Emergency Declaration for COVID-19 is lifted, the ordinance states.

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