San Fran eateries refuse to be "the vaccine police"

(AP Photo/Sean Murphy)

Today is the long-awaited day when California is lifting all COVID restrictions on bars and restaurants. Well… almost all of them. This has many owners and managers in the restaurant industry both happy and nervous at the same time. They’re glad to be able to finally go back to having no limits on the number of customers they can serve. But many of them have been unable to find enough workers to come back up to full speed. And even for those who have managed to get back to full staffing, other concerns remain. One of the big ones deals with the fact that not all of the restrictions have truly been lifted. The unlimited seating provision only applies to vaccinated customers. So how are they going to enforce that part of the rules? For some of the owners that CBS San Francisco talked to, the answer is easy. They’re not going to do it. They will have to put up signs saying vaccinations are required, but as one owner put it, they have no intention of acting as “the vaccine police.”

As the countdown continues to the state’s lifting of COVID-19 restrictions on Tuesday, San Francisco restaurant owners are still a little nervous as they preparing for crowded dining rooms.

On June 15 all limits on how many diners can be served indoors and outdoors will be lifted for the first time since March 2020. There is great relief, but also some trepidation, as the reopening date nears…

Some restaurants say they will require proof of vaccination, but for others it will be an honor system.

“We will not be the vaccine police,” [restaurant manager Pete Sittnick] said.

Laurie Thomas, the executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, said a choice of enforcement will be up to the owners and managers.

The guidance issued by the Golden Gate Restaurant Association was fairly straightforward. If a customer enters the restaurant without wearing a mask, “you are saying by your actions that you are vaccinated.” It is not the responsibility of a waitress or a bartender to figure out who is or isn’t vaccinated. What’s being discussed is a matter of enforcing the law and if that’s what the state wants done, they need to provide enough police to handle the job.

CBS has been hearing from quite a few of the wait staff in these restaurants and many of them are nervous about the situation. What if they ask a person about their vaccination status or try to refuse them service and they become violent? Just this week a grocery store clerk in Georgia was shot dead after asking a customer about face masks and vaccination status.

We encountered a situation similar to the one under discussion in San Francisco when visiting a local Home Depot this weekend. The rules around here have also been relaxed so that vaccinated customers don’t have to wear masks inside stores anymore. When we walked in, my wife was wearing a mask and I was not. The store was fairly busy and I would estimate that perhaps ten to fifteen percent of the customers were wearing masks. Roughly half of the staff seemed to be. Nobody asked about our vaccination status (we’re both vaccinated, for what that’s worth) and our shopping and checkout activities proceeded as they normally would in pre-pandemic days.

It seems like that was how this was always going to play out. You can’t turn people working in low-paying jobs into the vaccine police. The only way it would work would be if the entire country agreed to go along with some form of digital immunity passport system, but that idea has been roundly rejected in many places. If you wind up with some sort of patchwork system where proof of vaccination is required in some locations but not others, people are going to start voting with their feet and their wallets.

It’s been hard enough on both employers and workers for the past year and a half, and the economic recovery is already starting to bog down under rising prices and inflation rates. Driving customers away by badgering them about their vaccination status isn’t going to help. And at least in San Francisco, it sounds like many of the business owners have already figured that out for themselves.