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San Francisco & Berkeley to drop vaccine mandate Friday for restaurants, bars, gyms

San Francisco & Berkeley to drop vaccine mandate Friday for restaurants, bars, gyms
Photo by Adam Gethin on Unsplash
By Laila Weir - Published on March 09, 2022.

Restaurants, bars and gyms in San Francisco and Berkeley — among select other businesses — can stop requiring proof of vaccination (or, in San Francisco's case, a negative COVID test) as of this Friday, March 11, both cities announced today.

"With cases and hospitalizations continuing to fall and our high vaccination rate providing a strong defense against the virus, SF is ready to further reduce COVID-19 restrictions and allow individuals to make their own decisions to protect themselves and their loved ones," San Francisco Health Officer Susan Philip said in the city's announcement.

"The proof of vaccination and testing requirements served their purpose in keeping these spaces as safe as possible for staff and patrons," Philip continued. "Rolling it back is part of coming out of crisis mode and learning to live with the virus."

Both cities emphasized that businesses still have the option to enforce their own vaccination (or, for that matter, mask) requirements, with Berkeley taking a particularly strong tone, framing the change as a move "from requirements to recommendations" to reflect "the current phase of the pandemic."

"Our COVID tools create a path to navigate the pandemic," Berkeley Health Officer Lisa Hernandez commented in that city's statement. "As this latest surge fades, the safe path widens but the risks haven't disappeared."

Vaccination requirements remain in effect for some other types of businesses, plus – per state rules – indoor events with 1,000 or more attendees. For example, Berkeley said "up-to-date vaccination" is still required at all childcare facilities, adult care programs, dental offices, and pharmacies, as well as for home health care workers.

The move comes almost a month after most Bay Area counties dropped their mask requirements (though people in many areas are still routinely seen in masks). Many school districts in the area are dropping mask requirements as well, although some like the crowded West Contra Costa Unified School Distrit are still requiring students and staff to mask.

Contra Costa County lifted its vaccine mandate Feb. 4, while Oakland began one for the first time Feb. 1.

The requirement for businesses to enforce vaccine mandates had led to some discontent among business owners, from In N Out's high-profile refusal to check vaccine cards to restaurant hosts quietly objecting to patrons to a veteran Berkeley restaurant owner blaming it in part for his decision to go out of business.

Other businesses may continue enforcing vaccination requirements. Bridges Rock Gym in El Cerrito, part of Contra Costa County, has continued to enforce masking and vaccine requirements after the county dropped them, and sent a survey to patrons this week to gauge support for continuing the measures. Similarly, some San Francisco restaurants told the San Francisco Chronicle they'd continue checking cards after Friday.