BOSTON

Boston Implementing Proof of Vaccination Requirement for Restaurants, Other Indoor Venues

All city employees will also be required to be vaccinated on the same timeline

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Boston Mayor Michelle Wu announced new proof of vaccination requirements for restaurants and other indoor venues including gyms and theaters on Monday.

She also said all city employees must be vaccinated along that same timeline, eliminating a weekly testing option that had existed previously.

"This is just one step in an aggressive approach the city has already been working hard to implement," Wu said. "It is absolutely a necessary one. We're ready to take this step forward to protect our residents."

The proof of vaccination requirement for indoor venues will go into effect starting Jan. 15 for everyone ages 12 and up. All patrons and employees will be required to show proof that they have received at least one dose of vaccine. Beginning Feb. 15, everyone will have to show proof of two doses. Starting on March 1, children over age 5 will be required to be vaccinated as well.

The proof of vaccination requirement covers three categories:

  • Indoor dining, including bars and restaurants
  • Indoor fitness venues like gyms
  • Indoor entertainment, recreational and event venues, including theater shows or sports games

Acceptable forms of proof of vaccination include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccination card, a photo of the card, any official immunization record or digital image from a pharmacy or health care provider or on any COVID-19 vaccine verification app.

Boston officials said the city plans to create its own proof-of-vaccination app, modeled after the Key to NYC app in New York City. Wu said she has been in touch with New York officials, where a similar vaccine requirement has been in place for months.

Wu said the new requirements will not affect outdoor dining or outdoor events like First Night Boston.

"For too many months and years, our businesses have been forced to act on their own," the mayor said. "Many have already implemented proof of vaccination independently. Now we are setting clear standards that provide straightforward guidance for businesses and ease that burden."

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu announced a new proof of vaccination requirement for restaurants and other indoor venues including gyms and theaters on Monday.

Nancy Caswell, owner of Oak and Rowan in Boston and executive director of Massachusetts Restaurants United, called the last 22 months the most challenging ever for restaurant owners.

"Today we stand with Mayor Wu moving into this next chapter," she said. "If the public health experts and our mayor believe proof of vaccination is in the best interest of public health, we too stand behind that decision."

"We are not well if we are not vaccinated," added Heather White, founder and CEO of TRILLFIT fitness studio. "So we stand here proud to support Mayor Wu and her team's leadership as we trust in the science, we believe in the experts and we move forward to do what it takes to slow the spread of COVID-19."

Wu said over 90% of the city's 18,000 workers are already vaccinated, but anyone who is not will have to do so by the Jan. 15 deadline as a condition of employment.

"This is meant to keep each and every one of our city workers safe," she said.

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Even before Monday's announcement, union leaders told the Boston Herald that they were looking into their legal options. City employees, contractors and volunteers are currently required to provide either proof of vaccination or a weekly negative test result.

A group called Boston First Responders United, which opposes vaccine mandates, criticized Wu's policy ahead of her announcement, issuing what it described as "a call to action to our brothers and sisters in all law enforcement unions."

"We especially remind our fellow members of law enforcement that civil rights and worker's rights cannot be suspended, abridged, or revoked in America," the group said in a statement, which also said any ongoing contract negotiations should be suspended.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl, meanwhile, called the policies "clear violations of the civil rights of anyone who lives in, works in, or travels to the city" and said they "will make it even more difficult for Boston's economy to recover from the pandemic.

Many businesses have had some form of mandate in place already. Those who spoke to NBC10 Boston Monday night said they are happy to see the City of Boston take the lead.

From outside Monday's press conference at Boston City Hall, protesters could be heard chanting "U-S-A! U-S-A!" and even singing lyrics from "The Star-Spangled Banner," including the line, "O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave." At times the chanting made it difficult for those at the podium to hear themselves speak. Boos could be heard at one point during the announcement.

"Welcome to the people's building," Wu said at one point in response to the boos. "There is nothing more American than coming together to ensure that we are taking care of each other, that each and every one of our community members is safe and healthy and has access to the future and opportunities they deserve."

But protesters outside Boston City Hall were angry, arguing everyone should have the right to choose whether or not to get vaccinated.

”I am not against the vaccine, I am for the personal choice," said Charbel Kamel, a Boston police officer. "It’s supposed to be a personal choice.”

Protesters at Boston City Hall were angry over the new vaccination mandates announced by Mayor Michelle Wu on Monday.

"These are our rights. Our rights are not negotiable,” said Shanna Cottone, with Boston First Responders United. "Why is it vaccine or fire? Jabs or jobs. It’s not right. We are from the city. We live in the city. We work for the city. These are our communities. We want to serve them."

But Dr. Edward Nardell, a professor at Harvard Medical School, says it's more complicated than just saying vaccines are personal choices.

“The freedom not to get vaccinated isn’t just your decision," said Nardell. "It's your decision impacting other people.”

Nardell also believes an indoor vaccine mandate is overdue.

“We’re dealing with irrational behavior that’s not based on science," Nardell said, "and we need to get back to science which says the only tool we really have is vaccination.”

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Many of the protesters Monday were city employees, who up until now were able to keep working as long as they agreed to regular testing. But with Wu's announcement, that will no longer be an option.

"We know that as cases go up, it is necessary to protect everyone who interacts with city government, to have full vaccination among the workforce," Wu said.

Boston has been undergoing a major surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks. The city's first cases of the highly contagious omicron variant were detected last week. All three people were unvaccinated young adults, and all had mild symptoms, the Boston Public Health Commission said.

Boston Public Health Commission Executive Director Dr. Bisola Ojikutu said the number of COVID-19 cases in Boston has increased almost 90% compared to two weeks ago, with the city now averaging 369 new cases a day. She said hospital resources are "stretched thin" and that an estimated two-thirds of those hospitalized with COVID-19 in the city are unvaccinated.

Ojikutu projected that the city's case numbers will "rise significantly" in January based on the omicron variant's transmissibility.

Wu was joined for her announcement by municipal officials from Salem, Somerville and Brookline. Wu's office said those communities, along with Arlington and Cambridge, are also working to advance their own vaccine requirements.

State House News Service contributed to this report.

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