California Reopens Without a Vaccine Verification Plan—So Where Does That Leave Businesses?

Sharon Town Lee ripped off a cluster of laminated public health flyers from the front window of her pet grooming salon in Santa Monica Tuesday.

It’s June 15, the day widespread mask mandates and social distancing protocols in California become concepts of the past.

Sports fans and concert goers can now scream into the air. At Disneyland, visitors can again wait in long lines and crowd around princesses as the park expands its capacity limits.

Under state protocols, vaccinated individuals are no longer required to cover their faces at gyms, in the grocery store or other indoor settings — minus a few exceptions.

And many business owners including Town Lee are letting customers inside mask-free, without checking vaccination records.

Sharon Town Lee Sharon Town Lee ripped off a cluster of laminated public health flyers from the front window of her pet grooming salon in Santa Monica.Photo by Francesca Billington

“It’s not our responsibility to show whether you’ve been vaccinated,” said Town Lee, who chairs the local business district spanning Pico Boulevard and gave her employees incentives to get vaccinated.

The state’s updates come as a relief. Town Lee, who is hearing impaired, can read her customers’ lips again. While her small shop was largely empty in the morning, most people walking along the business district wore masks.

Private businesses can now pick between one of three state protocols: require all patrons to wear a mask, trust customers who say they’ve gotten the shot or establish a “vaccination verification process.”

“It’s a sensitive thing to ask people,” said Rod Martinez, a supervisor at Literati Cafe in Los Angeles. “So we’re not.”

The question of enforcement remains murky — not to mention optional.

Last week, Newsom hinted at a new state-endorsed verification system to help private businesses hoping to check. SFGate reported that it’ll look like a digital vaccine card designed to replace the paper ones issued by pharmacies and doctors.

How — and even if — stores and restaurants will ask customers to prove vaccination credentials is up to them, Newsom said. The governor was quick to remind viewers that his tech system isn’t a so-called vaccine “passport,” messaging that echoes tech startups like Healthvana.

“There’s no mandates, no requirements, no passports in that respect,” Newsom said during a press briefing Friday after drawing more winners for the state’s cash vaccine incentive program.

Some business owners worry that requiring masks could turn off potential customers. Town Lee said that it almost feels like discriminating against people who don’t want to be vaccinated for a variety of reasons.

At Ace Hardware in West L.A. store manager Brian Peacock said that three hours after opening, only one customer stepped inside without a mask.

“He walked in and said, ‘I’m vaccinated!'” said Peacock. “For the most part, everybody has been wanting to wear a mask.”