Restaurant owners worry COVID-19 restrictions will confuse weekend visitors

Fewer and fewer people in Palm Springs are choosing to wear masks outdoors. The city removed rules around wearing them at large outdoor events last week.

Downtown restaurant owners preparing to welcome tens of thousands back to the city for the annual Greater Palm Springs Pride celebration this week fear city regulations in place to battle COVID-19 will only lead to frustration when those visitors enter their businesses.

“I just want everyone to think about what’s going to happen on Sunday,” said Willie Rhine, referring to the aftermath of the Palm Springs Pride Parade, held in person this year after being canceled in 2020. “We’re going to have hundreds of thousands of people outside. As soon as the parade ends, people are going to come rushing into our restaurants, and we will have to stop them and ask them for masks.”

Rhine, co-owner of two restaurants, was among a half dozen business owners who spoke about city mandates for masks and vaccinations during a Tuesday meeting of downtown business owners. Many said they appreciate elected officials acting with caution to help assure the safety of the community. Still, they asked if now wasn’t the time to end some of the requirements the City Council put in place for both their customers and employees.

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Specifically, they asked city officials attending the meeting whether Palm Springs should remain the sole jurisdiction in Riverside County that requires proof of vaccination when diners eat inside. They also questioned whether vaccinated employees should be required to wear masks.

“It’s getting old,” said restaurateur J.C. Constant of the mandates. “We all know that the numbers are getting better and better every week. “….I think it should be left up to the people to do what they want to do.”

“It’s a constant battle for me to walk through my hot kitchen and remind everybody to wear a mask,” Rhine added. “Are we helping? Are we actually making a difference?”

Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Middleton and Councilmember Geoff Kors, who attended the meeting Tuesday, said they were sympathetic to the fact there could be confusion among out-of-town visitors about mask and vaccine mandates. But, they said, any consideration of further altering the rules will need to wait.

At issue, they said, is that while Palm Springs may have stricter requirements, its population, which skews older, has different needs than neighboring communities.

“We realized at the very start of COVID 18 months ago that in our community, because of a variety of factors, we had a community of people that were disproportionately at risk,” said Middleton. “We changed the rules. We will change them again. This is coming back to us for reconsideration, and if we can’t justify that it’s making a difference, then we won’t keep the rules in place.”

Middleton said the earliest the Council could consider removing any of the restrictions would be December 9, its only regular meeting next month.

The latest COVID-19 data shows 32 cases of COVID-19 reported in the city for the week that ended Monday. There were 407 new cases reported in Riverside County last week.

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