California, NYC roll back COVID mandates for restaurants

Operations on the West Coast no longer have to require masks, and establishments in the nation's largest city can drop their proof-of-vaccine requirement as of Monday.
Photograph: Shutterstock

California eliminated a frequent flashpoint between restaurants and guests today by dropping its requirement that dine-in patrons either wear a facemask or present proof of being vaccinated against COVID-19.

New York City restaurants similarly learned this week that a common source of customer friction is ending. As of March 7, guests lacking proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID test will be allowed into dining rooms for the first time since mid-November.

The moves are the latest instances of problematic safety protocols being lifted off restaurants as the omicron surge wanes. They are far from the only examples. Atlanta, for instance, lifted its mask mandate on Friday, following the discontinuation of face-covering and proof-of-vaccine requirements for dine-in guests in Seattle, Chicago, Boston, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Newark, N.J., Minneapolis and Boston.

But the rollback of precautions in California and New York City hold extra significance. New York City was the first big city to announce as the delta surge hit nationally that it would require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID tests as a condition of entering a restaurant.

California has drawn attention because upswings and declines in COVID cases have been so quick and pronounced. Critics of Gov. Gavin Newsom have accused the Democrat of being erratic in his safety policies.

Plus, California is by far the nation’s largest restaurant market in terms of number of establishments.

Mask and vaccination requirements have generated considerable strife between restaurants and guests since the measures were first adopted as a way of combatting the spread of COVID. Many guests have refused to follow the rules while still pushing to dine indoors, leading to sometimes violent confrontations with restaurant staff members. Operators complained that they and their employees were forced to act as law enforcement agents, a role that often triggered staff resignations.

The rollback of restaurant precautions reflects the ongoing steep decline nationwide of new COVID cases. Infections have fallen during the last two weeks by 59%, to a daily average of 64,276 cases.

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