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L.A. County plans to require proof of vaccination at indoor bars, nightclubs, breweries, wineries

An employee behind a counter checks a customer's phone for proof of vaccination
Bennett Erickson, left, general manager at Sunset Beer in Echo Park, checks for proof of vaccination with customers Caitlin Forst, right, and Anthony Trapanese on Aug. 10.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Proof of COVID-19 vaccination will be required at indoor bars, wineries, breweries, nightclubs and lounges in Los Angeles County under a forthcoming health order aimed at further armoring the region against the pandemic.

The mandate, which will be issued by Friday, will require patrons and employees to have at least one vaccine dose by Oct. 7 and be fully vaccinated by Nov. 4, according to Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.

L.A. County, like the rest of the state and nation, has for months been battling the latest wave of the coronavirus, which has been fueled by the highly infectious Delta variant.

Though there are indications that the latest surge is losing some steam, officials are already turning a wary eye to the fall and winter, when the busy holiday season will bring people together from all over and colder weather will increasingly push gatherings and recreation indoors.

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“This is a reasonable path forward that will position us to be better able to break the cycle of surges,” Ferrer said during Wednesday’s L.A. County Board of Supervisors meeting.

About 67% of Angelenos have already been at least partially inoculated against COVID-19.

Around L.A., some businesses are asking for proof of vaccination against COVID-19 to enter. Here’s what you need to know about vaccination records.

Under the new order, participants and workers at outdoor “mega events” with more than 10,000 attendees will also need to provide proof of vaccination or show that they’ve recently tested negative for the coronavirus, starting Oct. 7. That requirement is already in place for indoor events of at least 1,000 people.

Ferrer said county health officials were also strongly recommending, though not requiring, vaccination verification at indoor portions of restaurants.

The county’s requirement that residents wear masks in indoor public settings will remain in place, she added.

The requirement will apply to everyone 12 and older and goes into effect for customers on Sept. 22.

L.A. County is the most populous jurisdiction in California to announce a COVID-19 vaccination requirement to enter certain types of businesses.

The order would affect all areas of L.A. County except Long Beach and Pasadena, which have their own public health departments.

However, L.A. County’s order will not be as expansive as public health orders in some other parts of California. San Francisco and Berkeley require customers 12 and older in indoor restaurants, bars and gyms to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination. Contra Costa County, the Bay Area’s third most populous, has ordered those customers to show either proof of vaccination or a recent negative coronavirus test result. Palm Springs and neighboring Cathedral City have ordered patrons 12 and older to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a recent negative coronavirus test to enter indoor restaurants and bars.

Higher vaccination rates correlated with higher support for Gov. Newsom in the recall election, and vice versa, analysis of voting data shows.

The L.A. City Council is considering its own law to require customers of indoor restaurants and gyms to have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. City attorneys are drafting a proposed ordinance.

When asked about L.A. County’s move during a briefing Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said state officials “believe in localism and want to support local health decisions.”

Though conditions could change, he indicated that the state had no immediate plans to follow suit.

Lately, the state has seen promising declines in case rates and the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized, but Newsom pointed out that it “was around this time last year we started to see that stabilization and decline as well, yet to experience that winter surge.”

“We need to be vigilant,” he told reporters. “Of course, the best way to mitigate that ... is to continue our vaccine efforts, and if this encourages more people to get vaccinated, then I believe it’s the right thing to do, and I continue to encourage others to follow that path.”

West Hollywood officials issued an emergency order Friday that will require the public to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination in order to enter some businesses beginning in October.

About a month ago, Los Angeles County was averaging around 3,400 new coronavirus cases a day over a weekly period. As of Tuesday, L.A. County was averaging about 1,800 cases a day — a 47% decline, according to a Times analysis of state data.

Nevertheless, coronavirus transmission levels remain elevated in the county, and unvaccinated people are still at high risk of getting infected. Unvaccinated people are also at far greater risk of being hospitalized.

Of the hundreds of people admitted to L.A. County’s public hospital system since June 15 for a diagnosis primarily due to COVID-19, 93% have been unvaccinated. Most of the vaccinated people who have been hospitalized have compromised immune systems and thus “are not able to mount a sufficient immune response after vaccination,” said Dr. Christina Ghaly, the county’s director of health services.

Ferrer said L.A. County’s vaccination verification requirement was tailored to businesses that were considered to pose a greater risk of coronavirus transmission.

Although each establishment is different, Ferrer said, county health inspectors have noted settings where “for the most part, all of the patrons, all the customers are there without a mask on — mostly because they have a drink in hand. They’re walking around and there’s a lot of dancing, there’s a lot of close contact with lots and lots of people.”

“This isn’t all bars,” she continued. “I want to acknowledge that there are places where people go, it’s super quiet, you sit at a quiet table and the risk would obviously be less. But in general, the bars are higher-risk settings than restaurants.”

She also noted that the establishments covered under the county’s forthcoming order should already be well versed in checking identification to verify that patrons are of drinking age — making it easier to also screen vaccination status.

Ferrer said residents could demonstrate their inoculation history using digital records provided by either the county or the state, or by showing their vaccine card or a photograph of it.

Today’s newsletter looks at the some of the new ways restaurants and bars are trying to cope with the resurgence of COVID-19.

Some L.A. bars and restaurants have already implemented their own requirements of vaccination proof or a recent negative coronavirus test as a condition of entry.

Dustin Lancaster co-owns eight bars and restaurants in the L.A. area. In early August, he began requiring proof of vaccination for indoor seating at three of them.

“If you want to sit inside at a bar, it makes 100% sense to me that you should be vaccinated,” Lancaster said. “The science is there, we know that vaccinations help decrease this, and all of our customers — for the most part — have been incredibly supportive and say, ‘Thank you,’ and ‘I’m so glad you’re doing this.’”

The new health order, he says, should alleviate some of the pressure on restaurateurs who have been struggling to enforce such requirements. He said he wished L.A. County would have implemented it sooner.

He also supports the mandate’s stipulation that employees be vaccinated.

“With a labor shortage and breakthrough cases, running bars and restaurants right now is already so incredibly difficult, and we are under such immense stress,” he said. “I think anything that takes any pressure off of us and can be mandated at a higher level is good.”

Lancaster said it’s been easier to enforce proof of vaccination at bars — which usually require patrons be 21 or older — as opposed to restaurants, where families with children younger than 12, who cannot yet be vaccinated, might dine.

Given the new county health order, Lancaster and his business partners will start to enforce vaccination requirements for indoor seating at some of their other establishments, such as Crawfords in Rampart Village and Oriel Chinatown.

Holcomb and the Hermosillo, both in Highland Park, are likely to follow suit.

According to Sheriff Chad Bianco, “The government has no ability and no authority to mandate your health choices.”

In San Francisco, some bar owners also welcomed the local vaccine requirement to enter indoor bars and restaurants, which was announced in August.

As in L.A., some bars in San Francisco elected to impose their own vaccine requirement earlier in the summer.

California’s coronavirus transmission level has fallen from ‘high’ to ‘substantial,’ the second-highest tier as defined by the CDC.

Unvaccinated people are far more likely to be infected than those who are fully vaccinated, and bar owners were concerned about the health of their employees should they continue to allow unvaccinated people to enter their businesses.

Times staff writer Emily Alpert Reyes contributed to this report.


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