While other cities look at indoor vaccine requirements, Long Beach says it will look to the state for direction

While the city of Los Angeles and county officials weigh whether to follow San Francisco, Palm Springs, New York and others in requiring proof of vaccination to enter some indoor businesses, it appears that Long Beach won’t move on its own despite the city’s rising number of COVID-19 cases.

Long Beach has recorded over 5,000 new cases and 17 COVID-19 deaths since June 15, when the state largely reopened after months of restrictions.

Its case rate of 36.4 cases per 100,000 residents and 8% test positivity rate are significantly higher than the county, which has a case rate of 27.8 per 100,000 residents and a testing positivity rate of 4.7%. Long Beach hospitalizations have also climbed from nine patients on June 15 to 143 as of Aug. 13, the last day that city data was updated.

Both the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Los Angeles City Council could vote on motions this month to require proof of vaccination to eat, drink or workout indoors in the coming weeks, but Long Beach said it would align itself with the state. Los Angeles City has a test positivity rate of 9.9%.

In a statement, the city said it is monitoring local numbers and will implement new restrictions and vaccine requirements in accordance with state orders. The statement also said the city is monitoring county measures.

The state announced last week that it would require vaccinations for public and private school staff to be vaccinated or submit to regular testing, something most educational institutions in the city had earlier announced they would require.

Los Angeles County, the nation’s most populous according to the most recent Census data, is also reporting the fifth most cases of any county with over 100,000 residents, according to county data. It trails other hot spots like Miami-Dade County in Florida and Webb (Texas), Yuma (Arizona) and Whitfield (Georgia).

Because the county’s request to look at requiring proof of vaccination is coming from the supervisors and not the county health officer, it would only apply to incorporated parts of LA County.

For Long Beach, that would only affect a small residential neighborhood known as Carson Park.

Earlier this month Palm Springs announced it would require proof of vaccination or a negative test taken within 72 hours in order to eat at an indoor restaurant or drink at a bar.

It’s unclear what the LA City Council could ultimately vote on. The proposed ordinance still needs to be drafted by the city’s attorneys.

‘They’ve gone through hell and back’ 

Jeremy Harris, president and CEO of the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, said that it’s been tough for businesses to navigate the constantly evolving labyrinth of rules and regulations that businesses needed to enforce over the past 16 months.

Harris said there’s been confusion over which laws they need to follow. Does the county supersede the state’s order? What if the city does something different than the county?

Those are questions that the Chamber has had to address to its members, explaining that state orders often apply across the board, but the county and city can craft stricter rules.

“It’s frustrating to a business owner because you’re not only dealing with that but also the other parts of keeping your business open,” Harris said. “They’ve gone through hell and back.”

Harris said that the Chamber has heard a mixture of opinions when it comes to a possible “proof of vaccination” rule coming to Long Beach, but said businesses are focusing on what will prevent them from having to close down again.

What the enforcement would look like and what tools the city might provide to businesses to help them enforce a potential policy are all conversations that are being had.

In New York, persons or businesses violating its new health order could be fined $1,000, with increased penalties for repeat offenders. Persons trying to use fake vaccine cards could also be prosecuted for fraud.

In San Francisco, which will impose its new order later this week, people 12 and older wanting to eat indoors, go to a bar or gym or even a large event will have to show proof they’re fully vaccinated.

Violating the San Francisco mandate could come with a fine of up to $1,000 or imprisonment.

Harris said that if it comes to that in Long Beach, the effect on businesses could ultimately be decided on whether it’s applied across the board for all businesses, adding that there’s a preference that a proof of vaccine policy be a statewide order to ensure fairness.

“What are our friends in Orange County going to do? What about the other cities in LA County?” Harris said. “There needs to be a cohesive policy.”

Enforcing the health orders

While the city did not address how it might enforce a potential vaccination requirement in Long Beach, looking back at how it handled previous health orders could shed light on some of the city’s limitations to ensure that businesses are following the law.

In May the city announced it had issued 124 citations for violations of the city’s health orders since the pandemic had begun, with only 11 of those being issued to persons violating the city’s mask mandate.

Data provided to the Post through a public records request showed that enforcement was restrained as the city opted to go with an educational approach, rather than a punitive one.

The below map shows businesses that were cited by the city for violating COVID-19 health orders through May. The larger dots indicate repeat offenders.

 

The city performed over 18,500 educational visits before issuing the May 25 memo on mask enforcement, but issued just 138 citations, 12 of which went to Restauration, a restaurant that defied the city’s health order for months before ultimately closing in April.

“I believe we could have cited a lot higher number but our approach was to educate our businesses because our main priority was safety,” said Angel Arredondo, a code enforcement officer with the city.

Arredondo said that the multi-department task force that the city compiled from code enforcement, the health department and even the business licensing department was originally around eight people but grew to around 30 before winding back down after the June 15 reopening date.

Restauration was not the only business cited multiple times. The records show that Gold’s Gym on Pine Avenue was cited four times, Tracy’s Bar and Grill was cited three times and a handful of businesses including a residence and a church were cited twice.

Citations were issued for a variety of reasons, including restaurants allowing outdoor dining while it was prohibited during the winter surge of COVID-19, and others for allowing indoor dining when that wasn’t allowed. Gold’s and other gyms were cited for allowing people to workout inside, Arredondo said.

Gold’s has continued to violate the city’s health orders including the current indoor mask mandate. A representative from Gold’s said this month that the company has taken the stance that masks are optional.

Arredondo said that the city tried to connect businesses with programs that could help them pay for personal protective equipment and provide other aid. But some businesses were beyond education, Arredondo said, adding that “they already knew what they were supposed to be doing.”

This sometimes led to confrontations with business staff and the public, Arredondo said, making it harder to do follow-ups with staff.

“There was some yelling, cursing, people would start gathering up around our staff,” Arredondo said. “We want our folks to be safe, our businesses to succeed and the way to do it is for them to operate within the established health order.”

Long Beach has written 11 citations for people violating the city’s mask mandate

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.
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