Washington businesses are bracing for Mayor Muriel Bowser’s vaccine mandate that goes into effect Saturday.
The local order requiring customers 12 and older to show proof of vaccination before entering bars, restaurants, theaters, and other businesses has already spilled into the national spotlight, with federal lawmakers taking to Twitter to shame the capital city over what they say is a draconian infringement on personal liberties.
But business owners, already weathered by two years of the pandemic, are stuck in the middle. Most are just hoping for a return to normal as soon as possible
Matt Krimm says he started asking patrons at his popular barbecue restaurant Cinder in Northwest Washington for vaccination cards a couple of weeks ago, and says almost every customer, many of them regulars, have been amenable.
The sole exception was a woman who accused Mr. Krimm, his co-owners, and staff of trampling over the Constitution, and left a scathing review online, saying “how dare you require people get jabbed with an unknown substance to dine at your restaurant.”
“It was literally her saying we were unconstitutional,” he said.
Mr. Krimm said he started checking vaccination status as a way to gauge what the public reaction was going to be when the city’s new requirements take effect on Saturday.
“I don’t love the fact that we have to do it,” he said. “Like I said, if it was a business’s choice it is one thing. Having it mandated when a bunch of other locals [in Virginia and Maryland] are not mandated at all causes confusion, and not only fatigue for the staff, but consumer fatigue.”
Ms. Bowser announced the mandate in late December with the hope of curbing the spread of a virus which continues to rage nationwide. City officials also hope that the mandate will encourage unvaccinated residents to get the shot.
Customers will be required to show a form of identification and proof that they have had at least one shot before entering establishments. Beginning Feb. 15, two shots will be required. Establishments will be required to display signs informing patrons of the requirement.
The mandate applies to indoor facilities such as restaurants, nightclubs, and movie theaters. Retail establishments such as book stores; grocery stores; places of worshp and other essential facilities are exempt.
The order says the mandate does not apply at establishments “where people tend to be in motion and not standing or seated in close proximity to others for long periods of time.”
Businesses that do not comply with the mandate could face fines up to $1,000.
Not all businesses are as enthused.
“Everybody is getting the vaccine and still getting sick,” said Gum Tong, owner of Capitol Hill mainstay Pete’s Diner. “Whether you get a vaccine or you don’t get the vaccine, I do not know what the big difference is, to be honest.”
Ms. Tong said getting the vaccine should be a personal choice. She said she had more pressing things to worry about, given the slump in business due to the pandemic.
“We don’t even have one-third of the business right now because no employees are coming to work,” she said. “No tours. Nothing’s going on. And on top of all these crazy demands, who wants to come [to Washington]?”
Opponents are expressing outrage over the mandate.
Republican members of the House Oversight Committee have called on Ms. Bowser to withdraw the mandate.
“Like the Democrat lockdowns of 2020, the latest left-wing vaccine passport fad will not prevent the virus from spreading,” the lawmakers wrote. “This sweeping mandate, however, will harm the District’s economic recovery and lock many Americans out of their capital city. We urge you to withdraw the order.”
Rep. Thomas Massie, Kentucky Republican, blasted the mandate on Twitter Thursday.
“My office will not comply,” he wrote. “We will not show papers. We will not order takeout from restaurants that require papers for dine-in. We will get our food from Virginia or we will bring it to work. Shame has befallen our nation’s capital.”
But Washington business leaders including the District of Columbia Chamber of Commerce have come out in support of the mandate.
“I think that at the end of the day, it’s about safety,” said Angela Franco, president and CEO of the District of Columbia Chamber of Commerce. She said the mandate is a step toward ensuring local businesses keep their employees healthy and instilling confidence in consumers.
Gerren Price, director of Public Space Operations for the Downtown Business Improvement District in Washington, also supports the mandate and has focused on helping businesses in his neighborhood prepare for the new rules to go into effect.
“It’s an adjustment but I don’t think it’s an impossible shift,” he said. “We’ve gotten mostly good feedback from folks who feel like they’re prepared to do this.”
Like Cinder, several establishments have started rolling out vaccine requirements for guests ahead of the mandate.
The Dubliner, an Irish pub located near Union Station on Capitol Hill, and The Monocle, a high-end steak and seafood restaurant located on D Street Northeast near Senate office buildings, told The Washington Times that they had taken steps to prepare in advance.
Washington’s famous music venue, the 9:30 Club, began requiring guests to show proof of vaccination to attend concerts in October.
Audrey Schaefer, vice president of the National Independent Venue Association and communications director for the 9:30 Club, said the vaccine requirement was necessary to get people back in the venue after months of being shuttered.
“Our whole business has been based on welcoming people and letting them have a fun night safely,” she said. “And part of having a good time is to be as safe as possible in every respect.”
She said of the mandates, “They’re there to make sure that customers can have a good time.”
Mr. Krimm said the new rules are “well-intended,” and said Ms. Bowser and the city’s elected leaders are doing a good job of trying to strike a balance between public health and giving businesses a chance.
Still, he said, there is fatigue and the constant pressure that comes from navigating new rules and keeping a business afloat.
Eventually, though, he said things have to return to some sense of normalcy, and people have to understand that some people will never get vaccinated.
“It is just one more added thing,” he said. “After two years of this, of just changing the business model, almost getting back to normal, changing back to almost all carryout, having employees get sick and having to quarantine, then all of a sudden I’m working in the fry station in the kitchen instead of on the floor. It is just stress upon stress upon stress at this point.”