LA could soon end Covid vaccine mandate for most businesses

Los Angeles, California - Los Angeles could soon ease city rules requiring indoor restaurants, gyms, bars, movie theaters, hair salons, and other businesses to check that customers are vaccinated against Covid-19 before letting them inside.

A Covid-19 drive-through testing site in Los Angeles, California.
A Covid-19 drive-through testing site in Los Angeles, California.  © IMAGO / Xinhua

LA City Council President Nury Martinez put forward a proposal this week to stop requiring such businesses to check whether customers are vaccinated, instead making the practice voluntary. The proposal would also drop requirements for major outdoor events in LA to check if patrons are vaccinated.

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

The City Council voted in October to require a range of indoor businesses to check that their customers were vaccinated. But officials said they would hold off until February on citing any businesses for violating those requirements, saying they wanted to focus first on education and outreach.

It is unclear exactly when LA might ease its rules, known as SafePassLA. To roll back the requirements, the City Council has to approve the proposal put forward by Martinez.

"We're in a different place today"

LA City Council President Nury Martinez, seen here at a 2017 Planned Parenthood rally.
LA City Council President Nury Martinez, seen here at a 2017 Planned Parenthood rally.  © IMAGO / ZUMA Press

LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer backed vaccine verification rules in certain businesses last fall. But on Friday, Ferrer said it was reasonable to lift those requirements in places like bars, given the trajectory of the pandemic. City and county officials began discussing a vaccine mandate for customers of certain indoor businesses in the summer, as the Delta surge swept the nation.

Over the summer, some local businesses began imposing vaccine requirements on their own, frustrated that unvaccinated people posed a greater risk of spreading infection, including being the source of breakthrough infections that sickened vaccinated people.

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

The lifting of vaccine verification orders is "a recognition that we’re in a different place today than we’ve been before," Ferrer said in an interview.

She is still suggesting that businesses continue to verify customers’ vaccination status, but, "as opposed to telling people what they have to do, we’re asking people to do them now."

In early August, 64% of LA County residents age 12 and up were considered fully vaccinated. By the end of February, 79% of residents in that age group were fully vaccinated. Ferrer said she thinks the public health infrastructure has made improvements since the summer, making access to vaccines easier.

Proof of vaccination to remain in place for some events and professions

LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer speaking in 2020.
LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer speaking in 2020.  © IMAGO / Xinhua

The idea of lifting the vaccination verification requirement alarmed some Angelenos. "An excellent way to make sure we never fully get this under control is to loosen restrictions before we’re at a place where it’s truly safe to do so," said Jesse Alson-Milkman, board secretary of the progressive organizing group Ground Game LA.

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

Proof of vaccination or a recent negative test is still required at indoor mega-events – those with more than 1,000 people, such as NBA games at LA's Arena – which remains a statewide requirement. Vaccination verification also is required for healthcare workers and employees at nursing homes.

Ferrer said she continues to support Governor Gavin Newsom’s plan to require K-12 schoolchildren to get vaccinated whenever the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) upgrades its emergency use authorization to distribute Covid-19 vaccines to full approval for each age group.

"Requiring essential lifesaving vaccines for children attending schools makes a lot of sense," Ferrer said. "These are places where children really have 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."

Ferrer also said it continues to make sense for municipal workers who work with vulnerable people – like police officers, sheriff’s deputies and firefighters – to be required to be vaccinated.

Cover photo: IMAGO / Xinhua

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