New health rules say that, when it comes to vaccines, the third time’s the charm. Or second, if you got Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine.
On Wednesday, Mayor London Breed and Department of Public Health director Dr. Grant Colfax introduced a heap of new updates to the city’s health order as the omicron variant courses through San Francisco. Indoor masking is temporarily required again, and now healthcare workers, staff in “high-risk settings,” and any attendee or staff member at a “mega-event” must be vaccine-boosted by Feb. 1. (The Warriors sent a notice saying Chase Center would verify boosters starting Feb. 1.)
In addition, the update recommends and “strongly urge[s]” indoor facilities that already check for vaccine status — gyms, restaurants, bars — to require eligible clients and workers to be boosted, and “to implement measures as soon as possible.” Although this part is a recommendation and not a requirement, local eateries are thinking about if and when they’ll require a booster shot for entry.
“I’m 50/50. I get that rule. I got my employees. If I lose them, my shop shuts down,” said Jay of Jay’s Cheesesteak on 21st Street.
This echoed other entrepreneurs’ concerns that health restrictions could hurt business. Jay worried that requiring a booster to patronize his store could deter customers. So far, just 55 percent of San Franciscans 16 or over are boosted, and 74 percent of San Franciscans 65 or older are, according to recent numbers released by the San Francisco Department of Public Health.
In the pandemic, “our business did drop,” Jay said. He paused to consider. “I don’t know if I’ll deny customers.” And omicron has him torn: “It’s getting bad out here. I don’t see an end in sight.”
Joel Cuomo, who works at La Copa Loca Gelato on 22nd Street near Capp Street, said he’s unsure if the gelato shop will enforce boosters before there’s a mandate. What about customers who haven’t yet received a booster, but already got two shots of Pfizer/Moderna, or one shot of Johnson & Johnson?
“I, personally, do not care if it is two or three. I feel safe,” Cuomo said.
And already, it’s difficult to get customers to follow pre-existing health rules, such as wearing a mask when ordering. “It’s the little things that make it harder,” Cuomo said. On crowded days, customers often don’t social-distance when waiting for a scoop. “I feel bad making people step outside,” he said.
Still, a few restaurants have started mandating boosters for indoor dining already. Esperpento Restaurant, on 22nd Street near Valencia Street, did so a few weeks ago, said Lucero Cabanillas, who was working Wednesday.
“For me, it’s very important. It’s for the safety of my customers, me, and my family,” Cabanillas said. Indoors, masks and vaccines are non-negotiable. “See that group of three out there? Two of them are not vaccinated. So I said, ‘Okay, but you’ll have to sit outside,’” Cabanillas said.
But that still comes at a cost. Cabanillas nodded emphatically when asked if she lost a lot of customers. And, like other establishments enforcing health rules, Esperpento, too, confronted negative attitudes. Cabanillas rattled off numerous would-be customers who challenged her: a group of three “big guys,” a woman, someone in their early 20s.
When asked for proof of vaccination, “one of the guys said, ‘Who do you think you are?’” Cabanillas rolled her eyes, recounting it.
More needs to be learned about omicron, but public health experts and preliminary data in the Mission suggest that a booster significantly helps to combat the more transmissible omicron variant. Hospitalizations are relatively stable, but rising cases and potential staff shortages have caused city leaders to tighten restrictions once again.
It’s unclear how many other establishments will follow the “strong urge” to check for customers’ boosters. This summer, and before any formal mandate, hundreds of San Francisco bars declared that only vaccinated individuals could drink at their businesses.
The jury’s still out at a lot of establishments. “That’s the ideal goal, to have everyone be fully vaccinated and boosted,” said Sylvia Ormeño, who owns El Porteño II Restaurant & Bar, at Mission and 19th streets.
The reality is, not everyone is up to date. “Some only have one, some none at all. If they have it, they have it,” she said nonchalantly in Spanish. She’s undecided on whether she’ll require the booster for her indoor diners anytime soon. “But at the very least … have one shot.”