‘A new normal’: Local businesses reflect on proof of vaccination mandate

Photo of a vaccination record card
Matthew Gibson/Senior Staff
Local indoor businesses have noted both hardships and support from patrons after implementing proof of COVID-19 vaccination in compliance with a city health order.

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It has been more than a month since Berkeley implemented proof of COVID-19 vaccination requirements for indoor businesses, and local restaurants and gyms are slowly adjusting to the mandate.

The city health order defines “covered businesses” as those where eating, drinking or exercising occur indoors, or where events are indoors and attended by more than 1,000 people. Since Sept. 10, patrons 12 years and older have to show proof of vaccination and photo ID to enter these locations, according to the order. For employees, the requirement goes into effect Oct. 15.

However, when the mandate was first put into place, local businesses struggled amid labor shortages and other impacts of the pandemic, according to Downtown Berkeley Association CEO John Caner.

“I’ve heard from a number of merchants they would’ve really preferred to implement on a countywide basis,” Caner said. “There has been some worry that it puts them at a disadvantage to neighboring cities.”

Caner noted an initial loss in business after the mandate went into effect, but added that proof of vaccination is becoming “a new normal” for patrons and employees. Although he understands the public health need, he said the order is still an “additional burden” for local businesses.

Alex Knox, the executive director of the Telegraph Business Improvement District, added that there may be a need for additional clarification from the city about the details of the health order, but there is still a “high rate” of public compliance with masking and vaccination mandates.

Businesses in the Telegraph Business Improvement District have also struggled with the additional staffing required to check patrons’ proof of vaccination, according to Knox.

“Thankfully it seems that many businesses have been able to comply with the order without making significant operational changes,” Knox said in an email. “However there is still a cost and the challenges of complying can grow over time.”

For indoor exercise facilities, some of that burden is alleviated by membership checklists.

Kris Bates, owner of Grassroots Crossfit, said members are generally supportive of the mandate, and their vaccination status only needs to be verified once because of the member database. However, Bates added that because of the strict vaccination requirement, members are less supportive of masking while doing high-intensity workouts indoors.

“The general sentiment is–‘if everyone is vaccinated, we are all social distancing inside, and we have plenty of airflow, why do we have to wear masks?’” Bates said in an email.

Bates also echoed Caner’s concerns about the additional burden of the health order on employees, but said everyone at Grassroots Crossfit appreciates the “peace of mind” that comes with knowing patrons are fully vaccinated.

Like Grassroots Crossfit, bar and restaurant Jupiter has felt little effect from the mandate, according to general manager Michael Kalkanis-Ellis. Kalkanis-Ellis said some of that is owed to the outdoor dining options at Jupiter, noting consistent mask-wearing has been more of an issue for customers than vaccination status has been.

However, Kalkanis-Ellis added that the city has given little time for businesses to prepare for new COVID-19 health orders, citing capacity restriction changes earlier this year that took effect the day they were announced.

“They give you no preparation at all … they don’t give you any time to ask questions,” Kalkanis-Ellis said. “What they should be saying is, ‘in a month this is what’s going to happen.’ ”

In addition, Kalkanis-Ellis said some aspects of the proof of vaccination mandate are still unclear, such as the procedure for verifying employees and customers with medical or religious exemptions to the vaccine.

Kalkanis-Ellis added that restaurants are left to figure out their COVID-19 response by themselves because of the confusion surrounding city health orders, resulting in dining experiences that vary from restaurant to restaurant.

“Our restaurant is not the way it was pre-COVID, it’s just not,” Kalkanis-Ellis said. “It would just be nice if people were more respectful.”

Contact Riley Cooke at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @rrileycooke.