Where and how Philadelphia’s vaccine mandate will be enforced
Philly's new vaccine mandate requires proof of vaccination in many indoor spaces in Philly. What places are affected? How will it be enforced? Here's what you need to know.
Proof of vaccination against COVID-19 is now required to eat and drink at indoor restaurants and bars, and in other places like sports venues and movie theaters.
“We know the most dangerous situation in the pandemic at this point is when someone is unmasked and around people from other households. This is what happens at indoor establishments that serve food every day,” said Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole. “Given the case rates we’re seeing, this is an important place to look to help cut our risk.”
Some places not affected by the mandate also require proof of vaccination. Here’s our running list.
So, what places are affected by the new vaccine mandate, and how is it enforced? Here is what you need to know:
When does the vaccine mandate go into effect?
Indoor dining venues began checking guests’ vaccination status on Jan. 3. For a short period of time — until Jan. 17 — venues were also allowed to accept a negative COVID-19 test in lieu of vaccination.
Who is affected by the vaccine mandate?
Almost everyone. Children under 5 and people with medical or religious exemptions are still able to dine indoors, but they must still show proof of a negative test if the venue holds more than 1,000 people, Bettigole said.
How does this affect employees of bars and restaurants?
Employees (as well as children aged 5 years and three months through 11) must have had one dose of vaccine by Jan. 3, and have completed the vaccine series by Feb. 3. They will also need to be tested weekly until the vaccine series is completed, Bettigole said.
What about the Philadelphia suburbs?
This is a city mandate; only Philadelphia County is affected by the new rules.
What venues are affected by the vaccine mandate?
The vaccine mandate affects any place “where you can eat together indoors,” Bettigole said. That includes:
Indoor restaurant spaces (except for masked people who enter indoors for a short period, such as to pick up food or use the bathroom)
Cafes inside larger establishments, like museums
Sports venues that serve food or drink (including the Wells Fargo Center and indoor areas at Lincoln Financial Field, such as suites)
Entertainment venues that serve food or drink, such as concert halls and theaters
Conventions where food or drink are served
Casinos where food or drink are permitted on the floor
Seating areas of food courts
Seated bars and restaurants in Philadelphia International Airport
What spaces are exempt from the vaccine mandate?
There are some places that are exempt from the new mandate, including:
K-12 and early childcare settings
Grocery stores (except in seated dining areas)
Convenience stores that sell food and drink for off-site consumption
Soup kitchens and “other sites that serve vulnerable populations”
Congregate care facilities and other residential or health care facilities
Philadelphia International Airport
Other places are not yet certain how the new vaccine mandate will affect them. For example, a representative of Reading Terminal Market said management is working through its options before making a final plan since it sells both groceries and prepared food for on-site consumption.
Does this affect indoor and outdoor dining?
No. The city’s vaccine mandate only covers indoor dining, Bettigole said. However, some local business leaders said they are concerned about the impact the mandate could have on neighborhood restaurants that do not have the ability to invest in areas that allow for expanded outdoor dining.
“The ones that can only use indoor dining are the ones that are going to feel the brunt of this decision,” Jabari Jones, president of the West Philadelphia Corridor Collaborative, told The Inquirer last week.
Jones also raised concerns over the vaccine requirement going into effect before new legislation that makes permanent the outdoor dining structures known as streeteries that have cropped up since the pandemic started. That legislation covers some, but not all, areas of the city, and restaurants not located in preapproved areas will need to remove any current dining structures that are built over parking spaces, or get individual approval from City Council to leave them up.
What proof of vaccination do I have to show?
You need to either show your vaccine card or a photo of it, unless you are part of one of the exempt groups listed above.
What if I lost my vaccine card?
If you lost your vaccine card, you can obtain a record of your vaccination status (not a replacement card, per se) by contacting a couple of different agencies — though it depends on where you were vaccinated. You may also be able to obtain a replacement vaccine card by contacting the provider of your vaccination — such as a pharmacy chain or health clinic — the CDC says. Otherwise, the Pennsylvania Department of Health says, your immunization record is also proof of your vaccination status.
If you were vaccinated outside of Philadelphia, the PADOH recommends visiting the Pennsylvania Statewide Immunization Information System website to request a copy of your immunization record. If you were vaccinated in Philadelphia proper, you can request your immunization records online through the city’s Health Department.
Additionally, if you laminated your vaccine card and are getting a booster shot, don’t worry. City clinics can place a sticker on it with your booster information when you get one, or may be able to replace the card altogether, the city notes online.
How is the vaccine mandate enforced?
The city is enforcing the vaccine mandate in the same way it has enforced other COVID-19-related mandates and policies, Bettigole said — meaning that it is done through regular food inspections, as well as complaints filed through the city’s 311 service.
“As with all of our COVID regulations and mandates, if you see an establishment not following the rules, you can call 311, and we’ll send out inspectors to education them on the new mandate, and to enforce, if necessary,” Bettigole said.
Enforcement of the mandate can include fines of up to $2,000 per day for businesses found in violation, though Bettigole said that the city is “hoping not to get there,” and prefers to first use education-based strategies.