When presented with a study session on a potential vaccine mandate for indoor businesses, City Councilmembers agreed with staff that such a measure is not necessary at this time.
Such a mandate would be similar to those already in place in the cities of Los Angeles, West Hollywood and Culver City, which require proof of vaccination to enter indoor restaurants, gyms, entertainment venues and personal care services. All cities, including Santa Monica, must follow the County’s indoor vaccine mandate for bars, nightclubs and lounges.
Chief Resilience Officer Lindsay Call, who delivered the staff presentation, said that an expanded mandate is not recommended for several key reasons — vaccination rates are already very high in Santa Monica, there is a lack of data indicating similar policies have been effective in combating COVID-19 and the County Public Health Department has not deemed it necessary.
Councilmembers agreed with these conclusions and recommended that instead of forcing more indoor businesses to implement a vaccine mandate, the City focuses on calling attention to the businesses that voluntarily choose to do so.
“I think we should be highlighting those restaurants and those businesses that are checking vaccines. I 100 percent agree with it because someone like me, who is a cancer survivor and had a stem cell transplant, would not be going to a restaurant that’s not checked,” said Mayor Sue Himmelrich.
Public opposition to a potential mandate was strong with many residents calling into the meeting or submitting written comment and a group of protesters gathering outside Council chambers and chanting “no vax passport.”
“I strongly oppose the proposed vaccine mandate for restaurants, movie theaters, and other indoor businesses for the following reasons: They are unnecessary; they are ineffective, and they are detrimental to the Santa Monica economy,” stated resident Mary Duprey in written public comment. “Our economy depends in large part upon our small businesses. We should do all that we can to not only keep them afloat, but to help them thrive. In the end, I feel that it should be up to the individual businesses and the individual residents to take whatever actions they deem to be the most appropriate.”
Councilmember de la Torre did not think a mandate was a good idea and said that it was important to respect the decision of people who do not receive vaccines.
“I feel that, you know, there are constitutional rights in terms of people’s medical choice,” said de la Torre. “I think in some cases, you know, where people have real concerns, you know, whether it’s religious exemptions or medical exemptions, that we also allow for that type of choice for individuals to choose.”
In Santa Monica, where 91 percent of the eligible population has received at least one vaccine dose—compared to a Countywide average of 81 percent—such people are in the firm minority.
As motivating people to get vaccinated is one of the main goals of indoor vaccine mandates, Call cited Santa Monica’s high vaccination rate as a reason the mandate is unnecessary.
The other main goal of indoor vaccine mandates is to reduce the spread of COVID-19, and in turn the number of hospitalizations and deaths. According to the staff report, there is no evidence this has been the outcome in cities that have chosen to implement vaccine mandates for indoor business.
At the height of the Omicron surge, Santa Monica’s seven day adjusted case rate of 1,668 was comparable to those of Culver City and West Hollywood, which were 1,659 and 1,637 respectively.
The staff report did outline thresholds for when City Council would be advised to reevaluate an indoor vaccine mandate. These include if the definition of fully vaccinated changes to include a boost shot and Santa Monica’s associated vaccination rate is below 80 percent; if the County Department of Public Health expands its indoor vaccination requirement in response to data suggesting this would reduce COVID spread or increase vaccination rates; or if there is a surge of a new variant that shows increased susceptibility to vaccines.