Proof of vaccine or negative COVID-19 test soon required for indoor dining, Council decides

Palm Springs is once again mandating that people wear masks inside all city businesses, regardless of vaccination status. The city also will soon require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test before patrons can dine inside city restaurants.

Faced with overwhelming evidence that a spike in COVID-19 cases has come to Palm Springs, the City Council voted unanimously Wednesday evening to require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test in order to dine indoors at city restaurants. It also approved an order requiring people wear masks inside all businesses, regardless of their vaccination status.

The restaurant rules, which only apply to those eligible for a vaccine, will be phased in over the next three weeks. Enforcement will not be a priority for code enforcement officers, however, and the decision is seen largely as a move to back downtown restaurant and bar owners who are already putting the measures in place.

“If you don’t want to get vaccinated that’s your right. But it’s not your right to put other people at risk.” — Councilmember Geoff Kors

Also approved was a requirement that attendees at large-scale, ticketed events in the city, such as the upcoming Splash House weekends, show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. Large, non-ticketed outdoor events, such as VillageFest or city parades, are exempt, although masks will be encouraged.

“This moment did not have to happen,” said Councilmember Geoff Kors during deliberation on the requirements, discussed Wednesday during a special meeting. “And it’s happening because too many people decided not to get vaccinated.

“If you don’t want to get vaccinated that’s your right. But it’s not your right to put other people at risk.”

Similar measures have been approved recently in other cities in California and across the country as a variant of coronavirus spreads rapidly among the unvaccinated.

The moves will be welcome relief for many business owners in the city who pleaded with city leaders this week to put stricter rules in place to help them combat customers who balk at requests to wear masks in their shops. City staff on Wednesday presented the results of multiple polls conducted by business groups showing overwhelming support for indoor mask mandates and proof of vaccination.

“We’ve learned in the past that swift, decisive action works,” said Jeffrey Bernstein, owner of Destination PSP on North Palm Canyon Drive, during public comments Wednesday evening. “My staff is fully vaccinated, but many are older and some have underlying conditions. By requiring vaccination or a recent negative test it will be much better to deal with this all now than with potential risk in the future.”

This chart shows reported COVID-19 cases in Palm Springs during the past 14 months. An uptick in cases reported in the past three weeks can be seen on the far right.

Council members made quick work of approving the indoor mask mandates and the requirements for large, ticketed events. They struggled with requirements for indoor dining, however, acknowledging that proactive enforcement would place too much burden on an already-strained police department and city code enforcement officers.

Whether all city employees would be required to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test was also addressed at the meeting. The Council elected only to ask city staff to explore the issue.

“I believe strongly we have legal authority to impose vaccination requirements or frequent testing for employees and I feel very strongly that we should impose that rule,” said Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Middleton.

Earlier in the meeting, staff members showed evidence to support the requirements. Among that evidence was a report from city engineers that showed samples taken from city wastewater indicate as many as 5,700 cases of COVID-19 could be present in the city as of July 26, up from an estimated 1,700 cases the week before.

Digital proof of vaccine: Anyone in the state of California who has been vaccinated can get a digital record of their vaccine by using the online Digital COVID-19 Vaccine Record portal located here. After entering in a few details you get a link to a QR code and digital copy of your COVID-19 vaccination record.

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