San Jose sports fans will need to show proof of vaccination the next time they see the Sharks play a home game.
After a chaotic recess and more than two hours of comments from dozens of anti-vaccination protesters, the San Jose City Council voted Tuesday to require proof of vaccination for events of 50 or more people at city owned-buildings —such as the SAP Center and the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts.
A negative test will not substitute for proof of vaccination as it does now, and the requirement doesn’t apply to those under 12 who are not yet eligible for vaccination.
“As the third-largest city in California, 10th largest in the country, we have a huge responsibility to lead by action and make sure we are taking care of all of our residents and we do it with science-backed data and facts, not misinformation and fear tactics,” said Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco in support of the ordinance.
The new rules go into effect right away, but facilities will have a grace period to comply. It’s unclear how long the grace period will be, and according to city officials, the requirement will be repealed only after a subsequent ordinance repealing it is passed or if the city ends its emergency COVID-19 proclamation.
“There’s not much question among experts in the field that indoor settings are particularly risky. That’s why we have mask mandates indoors,” Liccardo said on Tuesday. “That’s why we’re considering this mandate. There’s obviously no surefire of eliminating risk from COVID transmission. We live in a world in which we need to take reasonable measures that can reduce risk. This certainly seems like a reasonable measure.”
Opponents of the mandate—some unmasked and carrying signs and American flags—delayed the council meeting for nearly an hour as Liccardo ordered people to wear masks or they would be kicked out of the council’s chambers.
Councilmember Maya Esparza sent out a social media post saying some attendees made racist, xenophobic remarks toward Ven. Thich Phap Luu, abbot of the Chua Di Lac Buddhist temple who provided an invocation at the start of the meeting.
“The comments I heard today do not reflect the values of the San Jose I know and love,” Esparza said on Facebook. “We are a community that understands that we draw our strength from our diversity… We are a community that unequivocally rejects racism, xenophobia and bigotry.”
Residents overwhelmingly spoke against the mandate at the meeting. Some read Bible scriptures, urging the council to vote no, while others compared the mandate to communism and Nazi Germany policies, calling them “discriminatory.” Some commenters threatened councilmembers with a recall if they voted for the policy.
Councilmembers had to clarify several times after public comment that the vote was not a requirement for people to get vaccinated—only that people show proof of vaccination to enter city buildings during large gatherings.
Other residents claimed that the proof of vaccination mandate is a violation of their medical and constitutional rights. Some commenters repeated “my body, my choice” in protest, and some claimed they already caught COVID-19 and survived.
“Forced vaccinations and masks are not done in a free society. I strongly oppose a vax mandate for the Chinese, communist virus,” said Doug, a resident who didn’t give his last name. “If you do choose not to, then your voice is separated from the public forum. Just like in China, Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, Hong Kong, Santa Clara County and now Australia.”
The new requirements come in an effort to combat rising COVID-19 infections due to the contagious Delta variant. First identified in India, the variant is believed to be more than twice as contagious as previous dominant COVID-19 strains, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to county data, 86.5% of county residents age 12 and up have at least one dose of the vaccine, while 80.9% of county residents age 12 and up are fully vaccinated.
Still, the seven-day average of cases in Santa Clara County is 347—more than 10 times higher compared to just three months ago. The unvaccinated case rate for individuals age 12 and up is more than five times higher than that of vaccinated residents.
“Key numbers are going in the wrong direction,” said Dolan Beckle, assistant director of the city’s emergency operations center.
Though public comments were overwhelmingly against the policy, a few callers agreed with the city’s assessment.
“I’d just like to say I 100% support a vaccine mandate and passport,” said Lauren, who didn’t give her last name. “I look forward to the day I can safely go out of my house and not be surrounded by anti-vaxxers, religious extremists and conspiracy theorists.”
The council also directed city officials to look at data from San Francisco and speak with small businesses in San Jose to figure out how the requirements will be handled. City officials said they would come back with data “in the next few weeks.”
When considering the new requirement, councilmembers looked to San Francisco’s vaccine mandate that went into effect on Friday, becoming the first major U.S. city to require proof of vaccination to enter restaurants, bars, gyms and theaters, among other indoor venues. Patrons are required to show their vaccination card, a picture of their card or a digital vaccine record from the state. Additionally, residents age 12 or older are required to show their vaccination cards at indoor events with 1,000 or more attendees.
In contrast, Liccardo’s proposal only applies to city-owned buildings. Some San Jose businesses are already requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test for entry, including bars, restaurants and performing arts exhibits. Councilmembers will return at a future meeting to discuss requiring proof of vaccination to enter certain private businesses.
“I think we will have a robust discussion when we come back with other cities’ experience requiring it at privately-owned facilities,” Councilmember Dev Davis said. “Our businesses have been so hard hit, and I will want to hear from our small businesses directly before I make a decision on that issue.”
San Jose employees are already required to either submit proof of vaccination or agree to weekly testing. If a worker refuses to give proof or submit a negative test, the city will place them on unpaid administrative leave. The county’s approximately 22,000 employees are also required to show proof of vaccination. Earlier this month, Gov. Gavin Newsom required all public and private school teachers and staff to be vaccinated or be subject to weekly COVID testing.
“I appreciate people are frustrated right now. We’re all frustrated. We want to do whatever we can to get back to the feeling we had before this pandemic hit. But the world has changed,” Liccardo said. “We’re going to continue to follow the data to do whatever we can to protect the safety of our community. And we look forward to working with all our residents—even those who disagree with us vehemently—to ensure we can do so in a way that is reasonable, that enables people to continue with their lives.”