‘Tired’ San Francisco bars weigh COVID-19 vaccine proof as cases jump

·4-min read

As the country grapples with an increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations stemming from the Delta variant, businesses are working hard to reopen safely, and stay that way. In some cases, that has led to decisions about requiring proof of vaccinations.

In San Francisco, conversations are swirling about how bars might soon start carding all patrons — but for proof of vaccination status instead of legal drinking age. 

“We’ve had a huge number of staff coming down with COVID,” Ben Bleiman, the founder of San Francisco Bar Owner Alliance and the owner of two bars in the city, told Yahoo Finance in an interview.

“We know because the data doesn’t lie that unvaccinated people are much more likely to contract and spread coronavirus,” he added.

The proposal is the latest wrinkle in an increasingly polarizing debate about how to balance the economy's reopening against the coronavirus' persistence. In certain states and localities, some have floated the idea of a COVID-19 "passport" as proof of vaccination — an idea furiously rejected by civil libertarians.

San Francisco has one of the highest overall vaccination rates in the nation’s most populated state, with at least 83% of residents 12 and older receiving at least one dose.

With the recent uptick in coronavirus cases, however, San Francisco Mayor London Breed and two major business groups in the city are strongly considering new measures on how they can prevent another shutdown, or at least contain surging cases.

For its part, the 500-member bar alliance is considering a mandate that patrons show their vaccination cards to get into any one of the bars it represents.

“It’s actual selfish humans that are causing us to suffer and we’re tired,” Bleiman said, adding that 83% of the alliance members are in favor of the changes. “We need to be able to protect ourselves.”

Setbacks 'not good for us'

Emily Holloway, 24, and Brian Sussman, 23, speak with server Mikaela Arehart, 28, as they enjoy dinner at an indoor table at Canela Bistro and Wine Bar as indoor dining in the Bay Area resumes after being closed for months due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions in San Francisco, California, U.S. March 5, 2021. Picture taken March 5, 2021. REUTERS/Brittany Hosea-Small u000d
Emily Holloway, 24, and Brian Sussman, 23, speak with server Mikaela Arehart, 28, as they enjoy dinner at an indoor table at Canela Bistro and Wine Bar as indoor dining in the Bay Area resumes after being closed for months due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions in San Francisco, California, U.S. March 5, 2021. Picture taken March 5, 2021. REUTERS/Brittany Hosea-Small u000d

San Francisco’s Chamber of Commerce, which represents over 1,000 local businesses, told Yahoo Finance that it’s informally reaching out to its members about implementing such a mandate.

“We’re working out the details with our membership and what the solutions might be,” said Rodney Fong, CEO of the Chamber of Commerce. “We want to make sure the business community, employees and customers are safe, of course, but taking any kind of setback is not good for us.”

According to Bleiman, the alliance will most likely make a decision by Monday, but some members have already jumped the gun. One establishment, SF Oasis, posted on its Facebook page it will be enforcing proof of vaccination, or a negative COVID test, for entry to any cabaret or nightclub events.

As Delta variant-driven cases rise nationwide, a roiling debate has ensued over CDC-directed guidance that relaxed indoor masking for the fully vaccinated. In the Bay Area, eight of nine counties have recommended vaccinated residents to once again wear masks indoors in public places.

For now, the measure is voluntary, but comes in the wake of Los Angeles County requiring its residents to wear masks inside, regardless of vaccination status.

“A lot of us, we’d rather require vaccinations at the door than mandate masks inside,” Bleiman added.

While no major city has mandated businesses to require proof of vaccination for customers, San Francisco has plans to require all 35,000 city workers to be vaccinated against the virus when a vaccine receives full federal approval.

If workers refuse to get vaccinated and don’t get an exemption could be fired, according to the policy posted to the city’s website Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Breed has not ruled out a proof of vaccination mandate, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Her office told the publication it’s exploring “all options” to get more people inoculated.

Dani Romero is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @daniromerotv

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