The government cannot require restaurants ask for vaccination status, says Michael Curran

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – San Diego County leaders and public health officials recommended Monday that all employers in the county begin requiring COVID-19 vaccines for their employees or require weekly testing for the virus.

Attorney Michael Curran from Curran & Curran Law joined KUSI’s Hunter Sowards on Good Evening San Diego to discuss the details of restaurants asking for proof of vaccination.

Curran clarified that restaurant owners can require patrons show proof of vaccination, but the government cannot require that restaurants ask their patrons for vaccination status.

The recommendation came a day before the county is set to begin collecting vaccination proof from its 18,000 employees before the requirement goes into effect next Monday. County employees unwilling or unable to receive the vaccine will be subject to weekly COVID-19 testing and are required to wear masks while indoors.

Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher mentioned the possibility of penalties attached to fraudulent proof, but said the county is still in negotiations as to what that might be.

The Delta variant of the virus is considerably more contagious than previous strains and now comprises 95% of the virus’ genome, Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer, said at a news conference Monday.

“We are in the middle of the surge right now,” she said, referring to a spike in coronavirus infections in recent weeks far outpacing last summer’s surge and matching the early trajectory of last fall and winter’s spike.

“It will get worse before it gets better,” Wooten said.

The county is far from the first entity to require proof of vaccination from employees, with the City of San Diego, Scripps Health, Sharp HealthCare and others requiring employees be inoculated, with few exceptions.

“Scripps is complying with the state mandate that those who have not been vaccinated will need to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 30 or qualify for a religious or medical exemption in order to be employed beyond that date here — or likely at any other health care organization in the state,” according to a Scripps statement.

However, Fletcher hopes the weight of the county government — as the fifth-largest employer in the county — will make some hesitant or recalcitrant residents change their minds. He said he had spoken to several large employers who hoped an extra push from the county could allow them to install a similar policy.

“There’s a segment of the population out there who are willing (to get the vaccine), but need a nudge,” Fletcher said.

He conceded there are also people who will likely never get the vaccination, but said he hoped enough people could become inoculated to dramatically reduce the spread.

More than 72.8% of the county’s population eligible to receive vaccines are fully vaccinated, with 83.1% — more than 2.33 million people — at least partially vaccinated.

San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jerry Sanders continued to urge businesses to incentivize employees to vaccinate.

“I would ask that everyone is patient and respects employers as they navigate decisions on vaccine verifications, as long as they continue following safety measures and guidelines — like those recommended by health experts and the CDC,” Sanders said. “I also encourage local businesses to do their part in helping us prevent the spread of COVID-19. There are a variety of ways companies can get involved, such as committing to provide set time off for vaccines or incentives and rewards.”

For example, Oceanside’s MiraCosta College announced Monday it will give up to $3 million in Higher Education Emergency Relief Funding to encourage currently unvaccinated students to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Any MiraCosta College student who is registered for a fall 2021 course, receives their COVID-19 vaccination and submits verification through their SURF student account is eligible to receive a $300 credit to use in the MiraCosta College bookstore.

In the last 30 days, 92% of all COVID-19 cases in San Diego County have occurred in those not fully vaccinated, mirroring that of the rest of the country. Of the remaining 8%, San Diego County Chief Medical Officer Eric McDonald said, few are showing symptoms and those which are showing are relatively mild.

He did encourage those showing any symptoms to get tested as quickly as possible, as many wait for days — meaning if a person is positive, they likely have multiple opportunities to spread the illness.

Supervisor Nora Vargas reminded residents the county has expanded testing locations across the region, so if employees decline the vaccinations, testing can theoretically be an easy and simple process.

Of all those hospitalized in the past 30 days, 98% are unvaccinated, with 13 people fully vaccinated sent to the hospital and 521 of those without the jab have been hospitalized.

While San Diego County is not experiencing the immense strain of other parts of California and other states, Fletcher reminded people to continue to take the pandemic seriously, as many hospitals in the region were facing staffing shortages — at least partially attributed to burnout and fatigue.

“We know the vaccine is the safest and most effective way to avoid becoming sick,” he said. “The risk to those fully vaccinated is exceedingly low.”

Categories: Coronavirus, Good Evening San Diego, Local San Diego News