On Monday morning, Mayor Jim Kenney and Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole announced that proof of COVID-19 vaccination will be required to enter restaurants, bars, and sports venues in Philadelphia beginning Jan. 3.
As a longtime restaurateur in the city, I applaud our city leaders for taking this step, following similar action from leaders in New York City and San Francisco. The new vaccine mandate is good news for Philadelphia restaurants, bars, and nightclubs.
The only way to speed the end of the pandemic and protect the residents of Philadelphia is for everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated — and vaccinated Philadelphians need places to have social gatherings where they know they will not be exposed to an unvaccinated person who could get them sick.
The new mandate establishes restaurants and bars as such safe places, which is good for businesses and good for everyone.
After working in the hospitality industry for years, I know the importance social gatherings can play in people’s lives. Being together is a natural human instinct, one that can bring joy and community — and, sadly, one we’ve had to forgo over the many months that COVID-19 has dominated our lives. But now that many Philadelphians are vaccinated, it is safer for them to gather. With the new regulations from the Philadelphia Health Department, you can feel just as safe holding your social gathering at a restaurant or bar as you would in the home of someone you know and trust to be vaccinated.
When you venture outside your immediate circle of closest friends, family, and immediate coworkers, things can get tricky. That’s when you really don’t know who is vaccinated and who isn’t. It can be uncomfortable to ask. I’ve heard so many stories from friends who learn, after the fact, that they attended a social gathering with someone who was not vaccinated. Especially as the omicron variant becomes more prevalent, this is a scary experience. However, thanks to the indoor dining vaccine mandate, beginning Jan. 3, if you hold your social gatherings in a Philly bar or restaurant, this will no longer be an issue.
Restaurants and bars are good at operating under regulations. On a daily basis, we have to navigate the complex rules of the health code, Pennsylvania liquor law, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations, and fire safety rules all while providing hospitality to our guests. We can handle the additional task of enforcing a vaccine mandate and we are ready, willing, and able to do so.
I applaud Bettigole for holding meetings in advance of issuing the regulations with hospitality stakeholders. She clearly explained the problem and the reasons for the new regulations and, most important, made changes to the proposed regulations in response to industry input that minimized the burden on the hospitality industry.
Enforcing a vaccine mandate is a small price to pay to help avoid future occupancy limits. Case counts are almost certainly going to rise when Philadelphia is hard hit by the omicron variant. In the past, the Health Department, when confronted with rising case counts, put occupancy limits on restaurants which decimated our ability to operate profitably and keep our employees working. Under the new mandate, restaurants can become “COVID-19 safe zones,” and the Health Department may not need to inflict occupancy limits. The city regulators will know the restaurant and bars are likely not the source of the increased case counts.
Avram Hornik is the owner of Morgan’s Pier, Harper’s Garden, Rosy’s Taco Bar, Craft Hall, Parks on Tap, and other Philadelphia restaurants.