PHILADELPHIA - Philadelphia has announced a new vaccine mandate for indoor dining establishments that will go into effect just after the New Year holiday.
Monday morning, the city announced that the new mandate will be effective on Jan. 3. They say the mandate is a response to a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks in Philadelphia, and across Pennsylvania.
Starting Jan. 3, any establishment that sells food or drinks to be consumed on-site will have to require that everyone who enters, including staff, be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
For the first two weeks, establishments are permitted to accept proof of a negative COVID-19 test, within the last 24 hours, as an alternative. After Jan. 17, proof of a negative test will no longer be accepted and everyone must have completed their primary series of vaccinations - one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, or two doses of Moderna or Pfizer.
The mandate allows some extra time for children ages 5-11 and employees to get vaccinated. The city is asking that those groups have a first dose by Jan. 3 and a second dose by Feb. 3.
Where does the vaccine mandate apply?
The mandate applies to places where patrons can eat together indoors, like restaurants, bars, sports venues that serve food, catering halls, and movie theaters. Exemptions include schools, day cares, grocery stores, hospitals, convenience stores, and soup kitchens that serve vulnerable populations.
Below is a full list of establishments that serve food that are subject to the mandate:
- Indoor restaurant spaces
- Cafes within larger spaces (like museums)
- Sports venues that serve food or drink for onsite consumption
- Movie theaters
- Bowling alleys
- Other entertainment venues that serve food or drink for onsite consumption
- Conventions (if food is being served)
- Catering halls
- Casinos where food and drink is allowed on the floor
- Food court seating areas should be cordoned off and have someone checking vaccine status on entry to the seating area
Bettigole said the mandate will apply to the Wells Fargo Center or other indoor sporting venues where people buy food and eat it in their seats. The rules will not change for now at outdoor sporting events, but will apply to indoor areas and businesses inside Lincoln Financial Field and similar venues.
The mandate does not apply in the Philadelphia International Airport, except in traditional seated restaurants or seated bar-style locations.
Who is exempt from the vaccine mandate?
The requirement does not apply to people who are exempted from vaccination including children under 5, or people with proven medical or religious exemptions, Bettigole said.
But those with exemptions and children between 2 and 5 years old will be required to present a negative COVID-19 test taken within 24 hours to enter establishments that seat more than 1,000 people covered by the requirement. That includes sports venues, movie theatres, bowling alleys or spaces like museum cafes inside of larger venues.
Why was the vaccine mandate implemented?
With colder weather driving people indoors and more holiday gatherings expected, Bettigole and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said the proof of vaccination mandate is meant to decrease the chance of transmission while preventing a shutdown of indoor dining like the closures in 2020 early in the pandemic.
Bettigole said the city has seen its COVID-19 infection rates double in the last few weeks and hospitalizations increase about 50%.
"We know that the most dangerous situation in the pandemic, at this point, is when someone is unmasked and around people from other households - like when they’re eating or drinking indoors. This is what happens in indoor establishments that serve food every day," Dr. Bettigole said Monday. "Since we can't make people wear masks when they're eating, we need to increase the vaccination rate of people in those situations. So today, we're announcing an indoor food establishment vaccine mandate."
Similar mandates have been imposed in New York, New Orleans, and San Francisco. Currently, in Philadelphia, if a business requires everyone who enters to be vaccinated, masks are not required.
Kenney said he visited New York two weeks ago, where dining and other indoor establishments have required vaccine proof since August, and found the requirements easy to navigate.
"I was in New York two weeks ago and it was not an issue at all. Bring your ID and vaccination card and everything went smoothly," Kenney said. "That’s why we’re doing this to stop the real serious thing which would be shutting down."
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During the summer, the last time Philadelphia officials toggled recommendations for dining it was in order to increase the capacity in which restaurants were allowed to operate. At the time, the focus of these efforts was to help businesses expand without jeopardizing the health and safety of the community.
Nearly a year ago, the city made changes to the ventilation standards expected of restaurants that wanted to remain open during the pandemic.
In reaction to the news of an impending mandate, some speculated how the decision would further impact businesses.
Ben Fileccia, of the Pennsylvania Dining and Lodging Association, said his organization is supportive of getting shots in arms but is concerned the mandate could harm an industry just getting back on its feet.
"They’ve gone through so much. Their revenue loss has been substantial. They’re finally clawing their way back out now. I don’t want to see anybody hurt," said Fileccia.
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