Proof of vaccine or a negative COVID-19 test within the past 72 hours will be required of patrons when indoors at restaurants and bars in Palm Springs amid rising case rates across Riverside County and the nation.
Restaurants and bars will have three weeks to implement the vaccination proof or negative COVID-19 test requirement. This does not apply to outdoor seating areas at those businesses.
The Palm Springs City Council unanimously approved the measure Wednesday in a special meeting where they approved a number of COVID-19 policies for city workers, the community, and events, including:
Customers and employees will be required to wear masks indoors at businesses, regardless of vaccination status.
Proof of vaccination or a 72-hour negative COVID-19 test will be required for ticketed and city-permitted large-scale events, including the upcoming Splash House festival.
Masks will be required at VillageFest, a free outdoor event.
Palm Springs city workers will be required to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.
City Manager Justin Clifton said Thursday the implementation and communication on indoor mask requirements likely will become effective “immediately,” but the earliest stages of implementation will focus on education and communication.
Mayor Christy Gilbert Holstege called the emergency special meeting so that the city could “keep our residents, workers, and visitors safe during this COVID surge,” she wrote in a Facebook post.
Later during the meeting, she said the council was making “hard decisions quickly to hopefully prevent much harder decisions in the near future.”
Councilmember Geoff Kors said “this moment did not have to happen,” but is because people are not getting vaccinated.
“If you don’t want to get vaccinated, that’s your right, but it doesn’t give you the right to put other people at risk,” Kors said. “We’re all allowed to drink, we’re allowed to drive, but you can’t drink and drive. So if you want to take risk for yourself, that’s fine, but it’s not OK to put other people in harm’s way.”
A number of survey results were shown during the virtual meeting with overwhelming support for masks in indoor settings and proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test at events. Public comments were also in favor of requirements.
Grand Central Palm Springs employee Garret Blanchette wears a mask while working at the restaurant in Palm Springs, Calif., on August 5, 2021.
Requirements at indoor bars and restaurants
Enforcement of vaccination proof or a negative COVID-19 test for indoor seating at bars and restaurants will be the responsibility of the establishment. However, those businesses can call police or the city if they need assistance. If those agencies are responding to other calls, those will take priority, city staff said.
Over the next three weeks, Clifton said Thursday “we’ll work on collecting questions from the business community, education, communication and collecting resources that will be needed – such as access to vaccination centers and testing locations.”
This requirement was the most debated issue during the meeting.
Councilmembers Geoff Kors and Holstege were in favor from the start, noting that businesses have contacted them and asked to have a vaccine or testing requirement put in place.
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“Businesses want us to do this, and they said they’d much rather be able to point to ‘The city’s making us do this,’ when they have customers who are trying to argue with them,” Kors said.
Councilmembers Lisa Middleton, Grace Elena Garner and Dennis Woods were initially more inclined to recommend, not require, vaccination proof or a negative COVID-19 test due to the strain on city staff and businesses.
“As we have heard consistently from our police and code enforcement staff over the course of the last year, they have been stretched and stretched and stretched incredibly thinly,” Middleton said. “It’s one thing to pass a rule and a requirement and to say that we’re going to impose restrictions, but if we do not have the staffing to responsibly be able to enforce those rules, we create an expectation on the part of some parts of the public that rules are going to be there and they’ll be enforced, and then we have other individuals who will test us to see whether or not we’re going to enforce the rules. When they find that we don’t, they will believe they will have permission to violate them.”
Middleton added that the “outcry that we will hear from the businesses who do not support these kinds of mandates is going to be extremely loud.”
Kors pushed back, saying “a vocal minority who doesn’t want to protect people’s health is not a reason not to act.”
Holstege also added that “recommendations just aren’t working” and that consistent policies across the city were needed.
There were also questions raised about Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act violations and discrimination.
City Attorney Jeffrey Ballinger said HIPAA does not prevent a restaurant or bar from requiring evidence of vaccination as a condition for entry. As for discrimination, he said it is “certainly not the discrimination that most laws and evolving norms apply to.”
Ultimately, the council unanimously supported the requirement.
Initially, Kors made a motion to make the requirement effective in two weeks, but Clifton said that was too soon and could present logistical challenges to businesses. He pointed to New York City’s new requirement for proof of COVID-19 vaccination for indoor dining, gyms and movie theaters, which will be implemented throughout August and September.
Kors changed it to three weeks due to the upcoming Labor Day holiday when “this town is going to be mobbed.”
Woods, during his vote, said the council would “need to give it time,” especially with fast food establishments that do not have staff members greeting guests at doors, which could require those businesses to hire additional staff to check for vaccination proof or a negative COVID-19 test.
What the restaurant and bar operators are saying
Some Palm Springs bars will implement a similar requirement sooner than the three-week window. Effective Friday, Quadz Palm Springs, Hunters Palm Springs, Blackbook, Eagle 501, Chill Bar Palm Springs and Stacy’s on Arenas Road will require proof of vaccination or a 72-hour negative COVID-19 test, according to Hunters Palm Springs’ Instagram account.
Grand Central Palm Springs employee Garret Blanchette listens to the food order from Arnold Asuncion of Eastvale inside the restaurant in Palm Springs, Calif., on August 5, 2021.
Restaurants had mixed feelings about the decision on Thursday. At Manhattan in the Desert on East Palm Canyon Drive, the staff has been grieving the loss of a 39-year-old employee, who died earlier this week after two weeks on a ventilator, said manager Kimberly Guzman. Though she agrees that vaccination proof or testing should happen, from a business side, she doesn’t see how it will be practical.
“I don’t see how we’re going to police people coming to check their vaccine cards. You see on the news people at Costco fighting physically just to not wear a mask,” Guzman said. “I guarantee you if we start asking people for proof of vaccination, they’re going to start fighting us in our lobby.”
The eatery is already understaffed due to the pandemic, she said, and has to “police masks and fight with people all the time that don’t agree with it,” so the new requirement will be another challenge. Because enforcement will be up to establishments, she doesn’t believe every indoor restaurant or bar will be keeping up with the requirement.
Eight4Nine Restaurant & Lounge co-owner Willie Rhine believes the requirement is a step to “become the solution to this (COVID-19) problem.” What he would like to see from the city is increased communication and education so that everyone is clear on expectations.
“The city has a responsibility to educate the public and our visitors and let them know, before they even end up at my door, that this is going to be enforced,” Rhine said. “That would make it much easier if we can let people know well in advance, before they even get into Palm Springs, that we’re going to ask for vaccination cards or a negative test result.”
Rhine added that he plans on calling people who have made reservations for indoor dining “to get the word out as much as possible so that they can make a decision before they even get here whether or not they want to adhere to what we’re asking them to do.
The next city council meeting will be on Sept. 9, but a special meeting can be called before then to address any issues.
Los Angeles also will consider a similar proposal, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Mask mandate for indoor businesses
Council members approved the indoor mask mandate for all businesses without much discussion.
A timeline was not given when the requirement would go into effect.
Masks have been recommended in indoor public settings by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the California Department of Public Health, Riverside County, Desert Healthcare District and the city of Palm Springs in the past week. Los Angeles County and several Bay Area counties have taken it a step further by announcing mask mandates.
City worker requirements
City workers will need to show proof of vaccination, or they will be required to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing.
The city manager said Thursday that conversations with city teams and labor groups will begin after the program for vaccinations or testing to enter indoor bars and restaurants is on track.
“I expect this piece will very likely occur after the three week time period everything else is being implemented,” he added.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Clifton asked the council to start with vaccination proof and frequent testing first rather than making vaccination a requirement for city employees.
“Anytime you have what can be deeply held convictions or beliefs, both those that might qualify for an exemption and some of those that may not, the consequence of making it an absolute is that we could lose some team members, and that may be OK,” he said.
Earlier this week, the city began requiring city workers and customers to wear face coverings indoors, regardless of vaccination status, at city hall and other city facilities. Additional face-covering requirements for city workers in different settings are also in place.
Additionally, committee and subcommittee meetings will continue in a remote format.
More:COVID-19: Riverside County adds 2,025 new cases, biggest one-day jump in months
Large-scale ticketed or city-permitted events
The council also voted unanimously to require proof of vaccination or a 72-hour negative COVID-19 test for ticketed and city-permitted large-scale events. The requirement is effective immediately.
Middleton said this will be a “much easier issue to take on … and a much easier one for us to responsibly enforce.”
The upcoming Splash House festival, which is anticipated to have 7,000 people daily spread out across multiple venues during the weekends of Aug. 13-15 and Aug. 20-22, would be impacted by this requirement.
“We are supportive of the city’s decision,” founder Tyler McLean said Wednesday night. “It’s the right thing to do. The health and safety of our guests and the community is our priority. We will be adding this new requirement to our protocols in place for Splash House.”
For a non-ticketed event, such as VillageFest, Kors said “it’s hard to do proof of vaccination or testing.” However, Clifton said city staff will discuss in the coming weeks if large-scale non-ticketed events will need to be covered by this policy as well.
In the meantime, masks will be required at VillageFest. Clifton was not sure if mask signage would be put up in time for Thursday’s event.The city said in a press release Thursday that face coverings will be required beginning Aug. 12.
Clifton said Thursday the city will be reaching out to Splash House and VillageFest to implement direction on vaccine/testing and masks, respectively.
The city will reconvene at a later time to discuss any requirements needed for parades and other events taking place in the fall and winter.
Riverside County Public Health will attend the Sept. 9 City Council meeting to provide guidance about large-scale events and which ones are most risky, Holstege said.
California public health guidance characterizes outdoor mega-events as those with more than 10,000 attendees and indoor mega-events as those with more than 5,000 attendees. The California Department of Public Health recommends attendees show proof of vaccination or a pre-entry negative COVID-19 test result at outdoor events, while they are required at indoor events. These recommendations will be in effect through Oct. 1.
COVID-19 rates in Palm Springs
The city has seen an increase in COVID-19 cases over the last few weeks. Palm Springs added 109 new cases between July 28 and Wednesday, which is 27 times larger than numbers seen six weeks ago, according to Emergency Management Coordinator Daniel DeSelms.
City engineer Joel Montalvo also noted an uptick in COVID-19 detection in wastewater. On July 19, there were 209,813 viral copies per liter, which represents approximately 1,797 estimated COVID-19 cases. on July 26, those numbers skyrocketed to 723,972 viral copies per liter, representing 5,698 estimated COVID-19 cases. Viral copy numbers have not been that large since the beginning of the year.
The delta variant was detected in the July 19 samples, while the delta and alpha variants were detected in July 26 samples.
Palm Springs reported zero deaths between July 28 and Wednesday.
In terms of vaccinations, North Palm Springs is at 64% fully vaccinated and 74% partially or fully vaccinated. Southern Palm Springs has rates of 72% fully vaccinated and 81% partially or fully vaccinated.
Riverside County’s case rate is 18.2 per 100,000, and the positivity rate is 9.8%. The lows seen in June were 1.5 cases per 100,000 and 1.1%.
Riverside County has a “high” community transmission rate, which is defined as having more than 100 total new cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID Data Tracker.