A growing number of Los Angeles restaurants are requiring that diners be vaccinated against COVID-19 or show proof of a recent negative test.
That comes as new coronavirus cases continue to surge, fueled by the highly transmissible Delta variant, which now accounts for upward of 84% of specimens sequenced in California.
Conservatory in West Hollywood was one of the first L.A. restaurants to take the step, owner Paul Kalt said. Its requirement that diners show either proof of vaccination or a negative test result from the past 72 hours took effect Tuesday.
“We feel that it’s a really hard choice to make, to take this stand, because it’s not always going to be popular with everyone,” Kalt said. “But ultimately, we think that it’s the most responsible thing to do.
“Even though we may lose some guests, we’d rather take that hit right now than have to shut down again and put all our staff back on unemployment,” he continued. “Or even more so, take the risk of people getting sick.”
Although the restaurant has a security guard who works weekends and will help enforce the rule if necessary, so far people have been mostly complying, he said. Employees contact those who make reservations to inform them of the requirements before they arrive. They’ve had to turn away some walk-ins, but people have for the most part been understanding, he said.
Kalt expects more restaurants will start imposing similar requirements in an effort to both stop the spread of the virus and to avoid having public health authorities step in and pause operations completely again.
“We want to try to stay ahead of the game this time,” he said. “We want to be proactive and we want to put into place safe and secure measures that protect our staff, protect our guests and hopefully protect the restaurant industry as a whole from being shut down.”
Asian fusion restaurant the Formosa Cafe is also requiring proof of vaccination or a negative test, according to a list compiled by the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. The list includes multiple bars and performance venues, which have been quicker to implement vaccination requirements, including the Abbey, Harlowe, Beaches WeHo, Hi Tops, Trunks and the Comedy Store.
Italian restaurant Osteria La Buca, which has locations in Larchmont and Sherman Oaks, announced that as of Monday, guests will be required to provide proof of vaccination by showing a vaccination card, photo, scan or digital copy.
“We haven’t fought this hard, for this long, to let it go awry now,” the restaurant wrote on its Instagram page. “There will be a security guard out front checking all guests.”
Owner Stephen Sakulsky said that guests and staff are grateful for the new rule but declined to discuss it.
“We feel that it will only promote negativity from a select and small crowd that unfortunately is very loud,” he wrote in an email. “We don’t need that attention.”
In Hollywood, L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele opened an adjacent outdoor lounge that will require that patrons either show a negative COVID-19 test from the last 24 hours or submit to a rapid test, which will be provided onsite for $12, owner Francesco Zimone said.
The lounge, Caffè degli Artisti, is meant to provide a safe space for those who are eager to get out again but might not be ready to eat in a restaurant, Zimone said.
“We still have people that call the restaurant now and they say, ‘This is the first time we will get out of the house in a year and a half,’ and they’re super worried,” he said. “How are we accounting for these people?”
He said it has been alarming to watch people’s adherence to public health precautions like social distancing suddenly go out the window when California moved forward with a dramatic reopening June 15.
“The idea of creating a space like this one is pretty much like saying, ‘Can we please pay a little bit of attention for another little bit?’” he said. “Can we slowly walk before we run, to use the most basic line?”
The establishment is aiming to implement the testing requirement this week. The tests themselves have been difficult to find, and they are awaiting a shipment of 1,000 scheduled to arrive Monday, Zimone said.
Like many in the service industry, he has struggled with staff shortages — he was preparing to work a bartending shift Saturday night, and on Friday, he’d worked as a server. With a relatively small operation, it’s also been a scramble to stay on top of the various business restrictions, and he’s always on the lookout for more to be put into place.
“It feels like a game of chess,” he said.
Most recently on July 17, Los Angeles County started requiring all residents, regardless of vaccination status, to again wear masks in indoor public spaces as case counts ticked upward.
The county Department of Public Health on Saturday reported 3,318 new cases of the coronavirus and 11 related deaths.
“The tragic reality is that almost every single person hospitalized and dying from COVID-19 is unvaccinated and these hospitalizations and deaths are, for the most part, preventable,” Barbara Ferrer, the county public health director, said in a statement.
Public health officials said last week that the daily average case rate had risen to 15.7 per 100,000 people, compared with 12.9 cases per 100,000 people the week before. Still, officials said, that was a smaller rate of increase compared with the week before that, when cases increased more than 80% from the previous week.
There were 1,071 COVID-19 patients in county hospitals as of Friday. The number remains well below the peak of 8,098 patients recorded Jan. 5 but still represents an increase of nearly 283% from a month before, when there were 280 patients.
Hospitalizations have risen 45% since just last Saturday, the public health department noted. Still, they have not increased as rapidly as new cases, as vaccines prevent those who do end up with so-called breakthrough infections from becoming as seriously ill as they would have otherwise.
“The data overwhelmingly shows the vaccines to be effective at preventing serious illness that causes hospitalization, and death,” Ferrer said. “To really beat back transmission, however, we need to have higher levels of vaccination, particularly among our younger residents.”
There was another bright spot, officials said: For the second week in a row, the county saw an increase in the number of people who received the first dose of vaccine. L.A. County administered 69,558 first shots between July 19 and 25, an increase of about 7,500 from the week before. Before that, vaccination numbers had been steadily declining for weeks.
So far, 61.8% of L.A. County residents have received at least one dose and 54.1% are fully vaccinated, according to data compiled by The Times.
The increase in restaurants requiring proof of vaccination or a negative test followed announcements by at least 33 Los Angeles bars that they had also taken the step, according to L.A. Taco, which has published a running list.
And on Monday, the San Francisco Bar Owner Alliance also announced that it was recommending that its 300-plus member establishments to require such proof for patrons who wish to sit indoors.
At least 60 bars and restaurants are requiring proof of vaccination in the Seattle area, according to a list compiled by The Seattle Times. That came after at least a dozen bars were forced to temporarily close the week before after employees either contracted COVID-19 or came into contact with someone who did, the paper reported.
On the East Coast, restaurateur Danny Meyer announced last week that all of the restaurants in his Union Square Hospitality Group, which include Gramercy Tavern in New York City as well as Maialino Mare in Washington, D.C., will require that employees and indoor diners show proof of vaccination starting Sept. 7.
“We know that the vaccine works,” he said in an interview on CNBC. “And it’s time to make sure that this economy continues to move forward.”
Meyer also founded Shake Shack and is chairman of its board, but the chain is a separate company and is not requiring vaccination for patrons or employees at this time, a spokeswoman confirmed Saturday.
Times staff writer Luke Money contributed to this report.