L.A. moves to exempt malls from COVID-19 vaccine verification requirements

L.A. moves to exempt malls from COVID-19 vaccine
verification requirements 1

The city of Los Angeles is moving toward dropping malls and shopping centers from its recently implemented COVID-19 vaccine verification requirements.

With no discussion, the City Council voted 10-0 Friday to ask the city attorney to revise the local ordinance to make that change, as well as to specify that the rules would apply only to those who are at least 12 years old.

It’s unclear, however, when those revisions might go into effect.

Any tweaked language would have to go back to the council for consideration at a later date. Until then, the existing rules remain in place.

Like Los Angeles County as a whole, city officials say they will initially focus on education and outreach to bring facilities into compliance.

The city’s program, dubbed SafePassLA, is among the strictest in the nation, requiring proof of full COVID-19 vaccination to enter not just indoor shopping centers, but indoor restaurants, movie theaters, hair and nail salons, coffee shops, gyms, museums, bowling alleys, performance venues and a host of other spaces.

According to the current language of the ordinance, specified indoor locations must “require proof of vaccination upon the patron’s first in-person interaction with staff.”

But that raised the question of how to deal with malls — which feature multiple points of entry and numerous storefronts.

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Would malls need to station employees at all primary entrances to check people’s vaccination cards, or would individual stores need to screen patrons’ inoculation status?

In response to such questions in late September, deputy City Atty. Dania Minassian said, “It would be really up to the mall operator to determine how to staff and what works best for them to comply with the ordinance.” But, she added, a shopper would not have to show proof of vaccination at a specific retailer “as long as you were checked before entering the mall.”

A recent report from the city chief legislative analyst’s office also noted that “the ability for a mall operator to effectively manage and control each entryway into their facility presents a unique challenge.”

While the vaccine verification requirement might be scrapped for malls in general, those rules would likely continue to apply to indoor food courts and other interior food and drinking establishments.

The latest maps and charts on the spread of COVID-19 in Los Angeles County, including cases, deaths, closures and restrictions.

L.A.’s rules took effect Monday, and city officials said they would initially focus on education and outreach to make sure businesses are complying with the requirements.

Starting Nov. 29, however, businesses or venues in violation will face penalties ranging from an initial warning to an escalating series of fines starting at $1,000 and topping out at $5,000 for a fourth or subsequent infraction.

L.A.’s rules do include exemptions for religious or medical reasons. However, businesses must require exempt customers to use outdoor facilities or show evidence of a recent negative coronavirus test to come inside if no outdoor area is available.

Customers who have neither proof of vaccination nor exemption can still enter briefly to use the restroom or pick up a takeout order.

With winter coming, health officials in California and other areas are pushing harder for COVID-19 booster shots.

How widely the verification requirements should apply also was brought into question earlier this month, when eligibility for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine officially expanded to include children ages 5 to 11.

As currently written, the city’s ordinance covers everyone who is eligible for a vaccine. But under the changes advanced by the City Council, it would be revised to specify it applies only to those 12 and older.

Times staff writer Emily Alpert Reyes contributed to this report.

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