There’s a new motto when it comes to indoor dining in Palm Springs: No shoes, no shirt, no vaccine card or negative COVID-19 test, no service.
The city’s mandate officially went into effect Thursday, requiring patrons at indoor restaurants or bars to show proof of vaccination or a 72-hour negative COVID-19 test. Enforcement is up to individual establishments.
Some places, such as the bars on Arenas Road, have had the requirement in place for weeks now. But others across the city decked out their storefronts with signs letting customers know what was expected of them if they wanted to sit indoors.
Like with other requirements and restrictions related to the pandemic, there were mixed feelings and reactions among both customers and staff.
On Thursday at Manhattan in the Desert,several signs were displayed inside and outside of the restaurant notifying people of the requirement. A few customers had to run out and fetch their cards from their cars, Manager Kimberly Guzman said, while one customer asked if Guzman could just “take their word” that he wasvaccinated. The answer was no.
“We’re taking (the mandate) seriously,” Guzman said, who recently lost a longtime staff member to COVID-19, and who was sick herself. One sign read: “Not vaccinated, no entry.”
Other patrons were prepared. “Thank you for having that ready,” said Guzman toa customer who showed a digital vaccine record before being seated.
For the first few days, Guzman said managers will be checking for proof at the host’s station at the front of the restaurant. Once staff feel more comfortable with the requirement, they will then help man the station. Customers who are picking up takeout orders don’t have to show proof, but they still must wear a mask indoors.
Guzman admits the last few days haven’t been the easiest.
“People are getting crazy with us,” she said. One woman almost hit her a few days ago, a guest was saying the requirement was in violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and another individual said they would be getting an attorney to fight the rules.
That explains why Manhattan in the Desert has another sign inside saying: “Please do not argue with employees, we are following city mandates.” It also provides the phone number for Palm Springs City Hall if customers want to ask questions or voice concerns.
“I don’t have time to argue with people,” Guzman said.
Elmer’s on East Palm Canyon Drive was busy welcoming breakfast diners Thursday morning, and a host at the front of the restaurant was looking for vaccination or testing proof. If patrons don’t have either available, General Manager Rosita Garduno said they would still be welcome to eat on the outdoor patio.
She said she hadn’t experienced pushback from customers so far, and she was “keeping fingers crossed” that it would stay that way.
Though the restaurant will follow the rules that come from the city, Garduno said the mandate “makes it harder for any restaurant” to bring in customers, especially those who have not gotten vaccinated yet.
“This is only hurting us even more,” she said, reflecting on an already tough year and a half for restaurants.
In downtown Palm Springs,Tac/Quila is making following the requirement a bit easier for patrons. If a customer doesn’t have a vaccination card or a COVID-19 result handy, the Mexican restaurant will have rapid COVID-19 tests available, Manager Amanda Jasso said, though she did not say if they were free or there would be a charge. Most often, though, such customers are seated outside, she said, as the mandate does not apply to outdoor dining currently.
The mandate even applies to indoor dining at fast-food restaurants.
McDonald’s customers who want a 10-piece McNuggets meal or an Oreo McFlurry to beat the heat will have to rely on preorder pickup, take out, delivery or drive-thru options.
Local owner Dick Shalhoub said indoor dining will no longer be an option at his three Palm Springs locations. Chairs were placed on top of tables on Thursday at the Smoke Tree Commons plaza restaurant, and another indoor table had stickers notifying customers it was not available for use.
Eating outside on the patio, however, is still available.
At the McDonald’s location inside Walmart on Ramon Road, the lobby will also be closed, and the restaurant will take takeout and delivery orders, Shalhoub said.
Lobbies were previously closed for indoor dining earlier in the pandemic, Shalhoub explained, so employees are already familiar with the protocol.
“Our core is safety, that’s the key piece,” Shalhoub said. “Whatever we’re going to do, the safety of all of our folks, whether it be customer or employee, is most important.”
A statement from Jack in the Box’s public relations specialist Casey Middleton, said: “Jack in the Box and our franchisees are committed to keeping guest and employee health and safety as our number one priority. Due to this, our Palm Springs franchisees will determine how to safely adjust their dine-in operation in response to the new requirements and our drive-thrus will continue to remain open for our guests.”
There was no specific signage on the South Palm Canyon Drive location that alluded to the new city mandate, nor was indoor dining closed. Most customers were taking out their meals or using the drive-thru around lunchtime.
Next door at Starbucks, a few patrons were sitting inside, but it was not clear whether they had had to show vaccination proof or a negative COVID-19 test. A sign on the front door said masks were required, but did not mention the city mandate. The managersaid he was not allowed to answer media questions.
The mandate didn’t come without a bit of confusion, and not everyone felt comfortable with all aspects of it.
David Gomez, chef at La Bonita’s restaurant, had a few questions on his mind on Thursday: “How do I know if the card is real?” “What am I looking for?”
“I know how to check ID, but this I don’t know,” Gomez said, referring to vaccination cards and COVID-19 test results.
He also isn’t sure how to best carry out the mandate with a small staff. Typically, patrons seat themselves at the indoor bar. But with the requirement, Gomez is worried about how he’s supposed to check for proof while he’s busy taking care of food orders.
“It seems like if we don’t have a host, we now have to have a host who spends their time checking,” Gomez said.
What would have made the start of the mandate easier, he said, was if the city of Palm Springs “prepped us a week before” to clear up any confusion and provide businesses with the best practices to implement.
“We’re just in the blue,” he said.
Gré Coffee and Records owner Kelly Segré said she felt pressure to police customers. She described checking customers’ vaccination cards as “invading their privacy,” although she acknowledged that they don’t mind showing their IDs, which reveal plenty of personal information, at bars or restaurants.
Though she believes the city made the right choice requiring proof, she also wishes it was doing the enforcement and not leaving it up to businesses.
“It creates more tension with customers,” Segré said.
Not all customers are happy with the requirement. Palm Springs visitor Hannah Nik believes asking for vaccination proof or a negative test is a “HIPAA violation, and I could argue unconstitutional.” She further said it was a “violation of privacy in the name of an emergency,” and that it takes away people’s freedom.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states HIPAA is a federal law that protects a patient’s health information from being shared without the patient’s consent or knowledge. City Attorney Jeffrey Ballinger said at a City Council meeting earlier this month that HIPAA does not prevent a restaurant or bar from requiring evidence of vaccination as a condition for entry.
Nik also argued that proof for other vaccines, such as the measles shot, is not required at restaurants or bars, so she doesn’t understand why she has to show proof for the COVID-19 vaccine.
Her friend, Rachel Nas, said it’s a complicated issue overall and believes “no one is sure what’s the best thing to do.”
“It’ll be weird to show proof, but I understand, too,” Nas added.
Riverside County added 1,089 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, as well as seven hospitalizations and six deaths.
The county has reported more than 22,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases since Aug. 2. The month of August has surpassed the total case counts for all of February (14,487), March (5,011), April (3,989), May (2,251), June (1,005) and July (6,840).
The county’s case rate as of Wednesday was 35.5 per 100,000 people, and its positivity rate was 11.5%.
The current number of confirmed COVID-19 cases at the Palm Springs Unified School District is 87 students and 17 staff members. There are 48 students and eight staff members with confirmed COVID-19 cases in the last 14 days at the Desert Sands Unified School District. The Coachella Valley Unified School District is not posting information on COVID-19 cases on a public dashboard.
More than half — 52.9% — of Riverside County residents ages 12 and older are fully vaccinated, and 61.7% have been partially or fully vaccinated.
In the Coachella Valley, 65.7%, or 247,811 people, of residents ages 12 and older have been fully vaccinated as of Aug. 18, according to the Desert Healthcare District.
Riverside County on Thursday reported seven more hospitalizations, bringing the total to 652. That includes 135 patients in intensive care, two fewer than Wednesday.
Six more deaths were reported, bringing the total to 4,719. There have been 318,867 recoveries since the start of the pandemic.
Ema Sasic covers health in the Coachella Valley. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @ema_sasic.