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San Francisco bars to require proof of COVID-19 vaccines for indoor patrons

A street view of the Vesuvio Cafe.
The Vesuvio Cafe is one of the San Francisco establishments requiring proof of vaccination to sit inside.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

A group of San Francisco bars has banded together to require proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or a negative test for the coronavirus taken in the last 72 hours for patrons who wish to sit indoors.

The move, announced Monday by the San Francisco Bar Owner Alliance, comes amid a sharp increase in the number of coronavirus infections in California.

The group of several hundred owners representing more than 300 bars “is extremely concerned by a recent uptick in cases of COVID-19 among our staff members, especially those who are fully vaccinated,” a statement released Monday said. “We believe we are obligated to protect our workers and their families and to offer a safe space for customers to relax and socialize.”

Can a journalist ask if I’m vaccinated? What about my employer? What about a bouncer at a bar? Yes, yes and yes. Here’s what HIPAA is and what it means for you.

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Guests without proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test will still be able to sit outside, according to the alliance’s rules. The new policy takes effect Thursday.

Individual bars will be able to choose how — or whether — they will enforce the policy. “It’s our official recommendation for members,” alliance founder Ben Bleiman said Tuesday. “I do think that most of them are going to follow suit, but I’m not keeping track.”

For example, showing a photo of a vaccination card is “100% OK” at Bleiman’s establishments, he said on Twitter.

The group said its vaccination policy came about after polling members. More than 80% of respondents supported the decision, Bleiman said.

Before the alliance’s announcement, the San Francisco Chronicle published a list of Bay Area restaurants and bars that require proof of vaccination. The L.A. Taco site has a similar list covering bars in Los Angeles that are turning away the unvaccinated.

The bar owners’ decision comes as the Delta variant continues to spread in California. In the last two weeks, the number of daily coronavirus infections has more than doubled across the state.

Earlier this month, Bay Area health officials recommended that everyone wear masks indoors in public places in an effort to stem the spread of the illness. Los Angeles County took the recommendation a step further, requiring residents to mask up inside.

One-third of California counties are now urging even fully vaccinated people to wear masks indoors as coronavirus cases continue to rise.

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Bleiman said he has spoken to many bar owners who are exasperated with customers who refuse to get vaccinated.

“The frustration is real. We were so tired of losing; we were just beat up over the last few years,” Bleiman said. The choice to refuse vaccination is “ruining our lives, both literally and figuratively.”

Though the alliance said its decision was based “solely on our need to protect our workers, customers and their families,” the group also said it hoped the policy would “influence some who have not yet received vaccinations to do so as soon as they are able.”

“We understand that the only way our society (and our businesses) can ever return to true normalcy is through higher rates of vaccinations among our residents,” the group said in its statement.

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“There’s been no pushback,” Bleiman said, apart from some “internet trolls” leaving one-star reviews.

“In fact, it’s been the opposite. People are really stoked,” saying they would be more likely to visit an establishment that requires patrons to be vaccinated, Bleiman said.

The guidance has received support from San Francisco Mayor London Breed. “This is a responsible decision by the SF Bar Owner Alliance that will help protect employees and customers,” she tweetedMonday. “We need everyone to get vaccinated, especially as the Delta variant continues to spread. It’s how we can keep our city and our residents safe.”

“All of us are seeing what’s happening with the Delta variant,” said Breed’s communication director, Jeff Cretan. “We’re super supportive of anything that businesses can do to encourage more people to get vaccinated and also to protect their customers.”

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Many who live and work in San Francisco have also taken to Twitter to express support, including San Francisco-based immigration attorney Karina Velasquez. “This is the real San Francisco in which business owners and community members come together to fix our own problems,” she said.


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