‘Are we actually making a difference?’ Restaurant owners question need for proof of vaccine

Some Downtown restaurant owners are hoping city leaders will consider removing one part of a COVID-19 emergency order they say is not only unfair but doing them more harm than good.

At issue is the burden placed on restaurant employees by requiring them to check potential diners’ vaccination status before eating inside. The rules, which the City Council will review during a regular meeting on Thursday, went into place in August. They are the strictest in the Coachella Valley.

“Is it right to put this on the restaurant industry alone, and only the restaurant industry in Palm Springs?” asked Willie Rhine, co-owner of Eight4Nine Restaurant & Lounge and 1501 Uptown Gastropub, during Tuesday’s Main Street Palm Springs meeting, held via Zoom. “It becomes tiring. It becomes difficult. It becomes challenging.

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“Are we actually making a difference? I would love for somebody to be able to answer that.”

Rhine and others pointed to the recent report of a restaurant employee who was attacked in South Palm Springs after asking a patron to show proof of vaccination. Their hope is that removing the vaccination requirement would lessen the burdens on their employees and decrease the chance a similar incident would occur in their establishments.

“We’re not opposed to the masks,” said Mindy Reed, owner of Zin American Bistro and Revel Public House, referring to another mandate currently in place. “People aren’t shocked by that, and they aren’t rebuffing them like they did last summer. However, with the vaccinations, putting that all on restaurants and no other business, it’s definitely not fair.

“If that was really making a difference, then Palm Springs’ numbers should be a fourth or a third or a tenth of Palm Desert or La Quinta. Are their numbers that radically different than ours?”

A case report for the week ending December 6 reflects 64 cases of COVID-19 were reported in Palm Springs, compared to 76 in Palm Desert and 51 in La Quinta. Those numbers may not be radically different than Palm Springs’, but given the weekend population surge in the city, they could be evidence the more restrictive rules are making a difference.

Greg Rodriguez, government relations and public policy advisor for Riverside County Supervisor V. Manuel Perez, said the city recently saw a “pretty significant increase” in the disease in samples taken from wastewater. That’s despite the fact the city’s full-time population is among the most vaccinated in all of the county, and it has been two months since the report of a COVID-19 related death.

“There’s no need for panic, but there is the need to stay vigilant,” Rodriguez said.

Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Middleton, who will be appointed mayor at the same meeting the COVID-19 restrictions are discussed, promised that vigilance would continue. She “took a page worth of notes” as the restaurant owners were speaking, though, and promised “a very robust conversation” Thursday evening.

“What I heard today is similar to what I see in my inbox of emails and the comments I’m getting on the street,” Middleton said. “There are those who are really tired and don’t believe they are making a difference and those who are really frightened as to the health implications of being around someone who is unmasked and unvaccinated.

“Those who are not vaccinated and are refusing to be vaccinated are putting all of us at greater risk. I don’t know what it’s going to take to see change. Even an increase in death rates seems not to be having an impact. There are over 700,000 people in our country who are dead, including some friends of all of ours.”

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