Workers and customers at restaurants, gyms and many other indoor businesses in Boston will be required to show proof of coronavirus vaccination starting Saturday in an effort to curb a rise in new cases across the city and state.
Last month, Mayor Michelle Wu announced B Together, an initiative to require vaccination in certain indoor spaces in Boston like restaurants, gyms, and indoor recreational facilities including theaters and sports venues, as well as some other businesses. Many businesses already have their own proof-of-vaccination requirements in place.
Similar indoor vaccine mandates are scheduled to take effect Saturday in Brookline and Salem.
Boston will also be requiring vaccination of all city employees on the same timeline (Jan. 15 for first dose and Feb. 15 for the second dose), unless granted a reasonable accommodation for medical or religious reasons. This is an update of its previous policy which allowed for an option for city workers to be regularly tested instead of being vaccinated.
Implementation of the vaccine mandate for indoor venues will begin Saturday and will phase in second vaccine doses and youth vaccination requirements. Patrons and employees will be required to show proof of vaccination upon entering the premises.
The city's indoor mask mandate also remains in effect.
Individuals can demonstrate vaccination by showing their CDC vaccination card or a photo of their card, any official immunization record or digital image from a pharmacy or health care provider, or on any COVID-19 vaccine verification app. The state recently rolled out a digital certificate people can use to show proof of vaccination, and will launch a new B Together smartphone app Saturday modeled on the successful Key to NYC app that has supported the vaccine requirement effort in New York City.
Businesses will also be required to post a notice at all entrances. Any found not in compliance will receive verbal and written warnings. Repeat offenders may be subject to fines.
Boston has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks due to the spread of the omicron variant. The city reported over 4,000 cases on Jan. 3, the highest point in the past year. Cases began steadily declining over the following week to around 1,000 on Jan. 9 before spiking back up to 2,400 on Jan. 10.
The latest COVID-19 wastewater data, however, shows that levels of COVID-19 in the Boston area appear to be dropping, a possible sign that the surge could be nearing an end.
While some small business owners attended last month's news conference in support of the indoor mask mandate, the state chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business called it an additional burden on already struggling businesses.
“It is unfortunate that, once again, private businesses are being placed in the unenviable position of having to enforce another government health directive,” Christopher Carlozzi, the organization’s state director, said in a statement.
Other businesses said they supported Wu's announcement.
"I think the small business community is waiting for a clear, consistent message on how we keep the residents of Boston safe and I think its about time that we can all be on the same page and move forward with this pandemic," said Mark Harrington with HealthWorks.
"I think it is a really good decision," added David Doyle, owner of Tres Gatos in Jamaica Plain.
But he did say that policing vaccination status will be an added stress for an industry already battling exhaustion and understaffing.
"I think that person is going to have on some nights, very difficult interactions with some parties," Doyle said. "One example is a party of six. Four of them have proof of vaccination, two don't. How do you deal with that party?"
"Would we do it on our own? Probably not. But are we going to respect it? Absolutely," said Jeremy Kean, one of four owners of Brassica in Jamaica Plain.
Kean has some concerns about making sure everyone feels unwelcome.
"However, we also want this to go away," he added. "We don't want it to keep spreading. We don't want it to mutate. We don't want to be part of the problem."
The Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau also released a statement, saying the announcement was not a surprise and they hope the policy supports, rather than inhibits, recovery from the pandemic.
"We have a really high nursing, doctor, teacher population, so vaccinations are really important to us," said head coach Jasmine Gerritsen at CrossFit in Jamaica Plain. "And so when we heard about this one, we were excited."
"I think we are all a little worried about having customers in here being affected if they don't bring their card," said Michelle Vasco at TacoMex, a restaurant in East Boston.
"I think it's a good thing that she did do this. And the reason is, it's to keep us safe," said Taya Roberts of Jamaica Plain.