LA’s vaccine mandate: How the rules affect you, and who’s exempt

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A woman at a restaurant shows her digital COVID-19 immunization proof to a waitress. Photo by Shutterstock.

The LA City Council passed a sweeping vaccine mandate on Wednesday, joining New York, San Francisco, and Berkeley in requiring businesses and city employees to check your vaccine status when entering many indoor public locations, large events, and city buildings.

LA Mayor Eric Garcetti has signed the ordinance, and it can go into effect as soon as the first week of November, though the city won’t actually start enforcing it until November 29. Individual businesses can take up the rules at any time.

WHAT PLACES WILL BE REQUIRED TO CHECK MY VACCINE STATUS?

  • Any place that serves food or beverages, including coffee shops, fast food joints, hotel banquet halls, restaurants, wineries, among others.
  • Any gym or fitness center that has indoor space.
  • Music, entertainment, performance and sports venues, which includes arcades and bowling alleys.
  • Personal care businesses, such as barbershops, nail salons and massage therapy, unless medically required. 
  • All city buildings.

WHAT DO I NEED TO BRING WITH ME TO ENTER AN INDOOR BUSINESS?

Proof of vaccination can mean a few different things. You must be able to show one of the following:

  • Your white vaccination card issued by the CDC or a similar card from another country, which includes your name, the type of vaccine you received (Moderna, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson) and the date of your last dose.
  • A photo of both sides of your vaccination card on your smartphone or other device.
  • Any documentation from your health care provider showing you did indeed receive a vaccine.
  • A digital COVID-19 immunization record provided by the State of California, another state or country. If you were vaccinated in California, you can get a digital record with a QR code at www.myvaccinerecord.cdph.ca.gov.

WHY IS THIS HAPPENING NOW?

The ordinance points out that the spread of COVID-19 will likely increase this winter because respiratory viruses spread more easily as people head inside. 

Infection rates in general also remain high as the Delta variant continues to circulate. 

City Attorney Mike Feuer also cites a social obligation for individuals to be vaccinated to protect one another:

“What about those 11-year-old kids who can't get vaccinated yet? Don't you care about them? What about the senior citizen who's been shut in and suffered tremendously from social isolation for months and months and months? You have some obligations to her too, don't you?”

WHO MUST FOLLOW THE RULES AND WHO IS EXEMPT?

Everyone who is eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine must follow the rules. That includes everyone ages 12 and up who don’t qualify for a medical or religious exemption.

Individual businesses can decide to grant such an exemption if a patron asks for it. In that case, the patron must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test and photo identification to enter the business or facility. 

If someone cannot provide proof of vaccination or a negative test with ID, they can only enter a covered location for a short amount of time to do things like use the restroom or grab to-go orders.

These new rules do not apply to employees at all the covered businesses. For instance, all the eligible diners inside at a restaurant will have to be vaccinated, but the wait-staff do not. 

HOW WILL THIS BE ENFORCED?

Enforcement remains an open question.

During last week’s meeting of the LA City Council, the City Attorney’s office mentioned that LA’s Department of Building and Safety (LADBS) could serve as the city’s enforcement team.

But Frank Lara, who serves as LADBS’s government and community relations director, says his department is already understaffed and, without additional information, he believes they’d be unable to enforce this mandate properly. Each city council district, Lara says, only has about two inspectors and one senior inspector.