COVID vaccine-proof cards no longer needed, but some restaurants cling to mask rules – Times-Herald
WALNUT CREEK — Downtown Burma 2 manager Darryl Wong has had one less worry since Contra Costa County last week stopped requiring restaurants and gyms to check customers inside for prove that they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
With the warrant now lifted, Wong no longer has to deal with disgruntled customers who don’t like to show their CDC cards or can’t get in because they haven’t gotten the hit. But at the same time, he acknowledges, the order has helped protect his staff and prevent virus outbreaks.
So even as COVID-focused health orders begin to be withdrawn — Contra Costa and nearly every Bay Area county followed California’s lead on Wednesday in relaxing mask rules — Wong is still charting a course. line.
Burma 2 is one of several restaurants in the county that will voluntarily continue to enforce mask-wearing indoors.
“If one of my employees gets infected or the infection reaches the kitchen, we’re out for the week,” Wong said. “If this happens, we cannot afford it. Our bottom line would simply die.
Although he had mixed feelings about the vaccine protection mandate, Wong decided to drop it as soon as the county did. It’s been far more controversial than any mask mandate, since Costa Costa became the first Bay Area county to impose it. San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland established similar orders, but other counties never did despite a surge of the highly contagious omicron variant during the holidays.
As uncomfortable as the situations sometimes were, businesses could at least tell customers that it was the county health department’s fault that they had to check vaccination cards. Now there is no one to blame.
“I think the county was trying to do whatever they thought to keep people safe, but it didn’t really make sense since we have so many people coming here from Alameda County,” Sean said. Harrigan, co-owner of Hazy. Barbeque in Danville. “It was really an impossible task for us to try to eliminate COVID from our restaurant or any other restaurant.”
When Contra Costa Health Services announced earlier this month that it would end the requirement for proof of vaccination, it noted that more than 80% of residents had received both doses.
But that percentage only included those who received the initial doses, not the booster shots, Contra Costa health chief Dr. Ori Tzvieli said at a meeting of the oversight board last week.
“The order asked companies to verify that they were fully vaccinated, but ‘fully vaccinated’ is no longer the best possible protection,” Tzvieli said. “Boosting gives you a lot more protection, both against becoming a case but also against hospitalization or even death.”
Less than half of county residents have received a booster dose. So rather than add booster shots to the definition of fully vaccinated for card verification purposes, the county decided to drop the mandate altogether.
“I just don’t see our health officials saying, ‘You have to be boosted or you can’t do this or that’ as a ploy to boost people up,” supervisor Karen Mitchoff said in an interview.
During a visit to Oakland last week to sign legislation extending COVID-related sick leave time, Gov. Gavin Newsom also indicated that recall warrants are not at the forefront of his mind.
“The main thing for us,” Newsom said, “is to keep encouraging people to get boosted, to keep making the case that boosters are key…to mitigate this omicron surge.”
If Contra Costa isn’t eager to return to vaccine-proof mandates, recent history suggests why. Some companies resisted the mandate from the start. In-N-Out Burger refused to enforce the rules at its indoor restaurants, prompting health officials to temporarily suspend the chain’s Pleasant Hill location.
And when county health officials quietly decided to educate recalcitrant businesses instead of enforcing the mandate, the oversight board criticized them after reading that news agency‘s report that no restaurant had been fined in November despite 80 public complaints being filed against them.
Members of the public continued to report possible rule breakers until the order was lifted. The county received 46 complaints in January — 27 for mask-wearing and vaccination check violations, and 19 for vaccination checks alone.
In follow-up visits, health inspectors fined a Fuddruckers restaurant in Concord $1,000 and notified 13 other businesses. They also determined that seven restaurants appeared to follow the rules.
By the time the omicron push was in full swing, however, even residents who had received two doses of the vaccine were catching COVID.
Miriam Gusta, manager of Telefèric Barcelona in Walnut Creek, said the holiday had seen many cancellations and several fully vaccinated staff had contracted the virus.
Health officials say enforcement and education have helped boost restaurant compliance. But it is unclear if they influenced people to go get vaccinated.
“I’m not sure it encouraged anyone to get vaccinated,” Mitchoff said. “I never saw it that way. It was a way to make sure that the healthy people were the ones who dined inside safely. And now, if you’ve had two doses, you you’re obviously told, ‘It’s important to get vaccinated.’ So why don’t you get your booster shot if you can?”