Thousands of gyms, restaurants, movie theaters, shopping malls, salons and other indoor businesses in Los Angeles were required this week to start asking customers for proof that they had been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, under one of the nation’s strictest vaccination rules.
The law, which the City Council approved last month, allows people with medical conditions that preclude vaccination, or a sincerely held religious objection, to instead show proof of a negative coronavirus test taken within the preceding 72 hours.
Officials say that the law is meant to help revive a city that has been under varied levels of restriction for more than a year and a half, and that requiring almost everyone who enters an indoor public space to be vaccinated will help prevent a surge in cases as winter approaches.
“Our businesses can’t afford another shutdown,” Nury Martinez, the president of the Los Angeles City Council, said in a statement. “The goal of this mandate is to limit the transmission of the virus and save lives.”
But some business owners said they were frustrated that they might be forced to turn away customers as they struggle to bounce back from a devastating year.
Kim Prince, who owns Hotville, a popular Nashville hot chicken restaurant in the city’s Crenshaw district, said the vaccine verification requirement for indoor diners was just one more thing she had to worry about, along with staffing challenges and skyrocketing prices of ingredients like chicken and frying oil.
While she supports vaccines and has encouraged neighbors to get vaccinated, she said the mandate could put her employees in the difficult position of informing customers for the first time that they must be vaccinated or else eat their food outside.
“We become the villain. We become that target,” she said. “That’s not my role — I’m not a policymaker, I’m a business owner who loves working in my own neighborhood.”
It’s particularly difficult for historically marginalized neighborhoods like Crenshaw, where fewer people are vaccinated than in Los Angeles County overall.
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Ms. Prince said she thought much of the problem could be solved if the city did a better job of communicating the restrictions so that restaurant workers aren’t required to explain them to hungry, unsuspecting customers. She likened it to going to the airport: Travelers don’t expect to get on a jet without a boarding pass.
“You’ve just got to get it in their face in as many ways as possible,” she said. “If you’ve got to write it in the sky, then send the plane up.”
Some residents viewed the restrictions not as a mere logistical burden but as an unfair encroachment. At a protest outside City Hall on Monday, The Los Angeles Times reported that thousands of demonstrators voiced anger with vaccine mandates more broadly, especially those for public employees.
Still, across much of Los Angeles, the mandate took effect with little incident. Many bars, restaurants and fitness studios were already asking patrons to submit proof of vaccination if they planned to spend time indoors. In many cases, they said they hoped to lure back customers who might otherwise feel uncomfortable.
Allie Tichenor, the owner of Pilates Punx in the Echo Park neighborhood, said that even before the mandate went into effect, clients had asked whether instructors were vaccinated. Some volunteered their own vaccination status, and no one questioned the studio’s mask policy.
So, although she didn’t hear from the city about the new law until just before it went into effect, she quickly emailed clients asking them to send proof of vaccination.
“It helps the clients feel really safe,” she said. “I’m happy to err on the side of caution, and I’ve figured if somebody wants to push back, maybe this isn’t the studio for them.”