Omicron variant scrambling Christmas plans in some major US cities

Dec 18, 2021

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The omicron variant of COVID-19 has scrambled many people’s holiday plans, especially in bigger cities like New York.

New York City had already put in place stronger counter-COVID-19 measures as the delta variant wreaks havoc on the city, but now many venues are canceling performances and shows. Some restaurants are shutting down again too.

New York now has an indoor statewide mask mandate for places that don’t require proof of vaccination. And you will need to show proof of vaccination for children in some cases.

Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, city officials announced a vaccination mandate for indoor dining starting next year.

As you prepare for holiday travel, it’s important to note that six major U.S. cities currently restrict specific indoor activities to those who are vaccinated, including New York City, San Francisco and Philadelphia.

Here’s what you need to know if you are traveling to some major American cities right now.

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New York City

Travelers and locals alike across New York state and New York City should expect to show their vaccine card or wear a face mask to enter most indoor public spaces.

As of Dec. 14, NYC became the first U.S. city to require proof of vaccination to participate in most indoor activities, including at restaurants, bars, gyms and entertainment venues.

Children ages 5 to 11 will be required to show proof of at least one vaccine dose, and those 12 and older will need to show proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 by Dec. 27 to eat indoors or access entertainment venues throughout New York City — residents and visitors alike.

Additionally, face masks are now compulsory in all indoor public places without a vaccine mandate until at least Jan. 15, per a statewide order issued by Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Following their efforts as the first city in the U.S. to limit all indoor activities to those with proof of at least one dose of a Food and Drug Administration- or World Health Organization-authorized COVID-19 vaccine (a mandate implemented in August), New York City officials further expanded vaccination requirements on Dec. 6 to include children.

“Starting December 14th, the program will require children aged 5-11 to show proof of one vaccination dose for those venues. Starting December 27th, New Yorkers aged 12 and older will be required to show proof of two vaccine doses, instead of one, except for those who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” the mayor’s office said in a statement. The mayor also announced that proof of vaccination will be required for the same age group to participate in “high-risk extracurricular activities,” including sports, band, orchestra and dance, starting Dec. 14.

As is standard, individuals must show a valid proof of ID that corresponds with the name on their vaccination record, such as a government-issued ID or school ID, driver’s license or passport. Mayor DeBlasio’s office did not respond to a request clarifying how those without IDs could comply.

Ninety percent of New York City adults and half of those ages 5-17 are partially vaccinated, according to city data.

First implemented in August, Key to NYC is a wide-reaching mandate to require vaccination proof for restaurants, bars, grocery stores with indoor dining, coffee shops, theaters, museums and gyms.

Guests can show proof through the NYC COVID Safe app, New York state’s Excelsior Pass, a hard copy or photocopy of the vaccination card issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NYC vaccination record or an official immunization record from outside New York City or the U.S.

Related: Visiting NYC? What you need to know about proof of vaccination for indoor activities

In July, Broadway announced a full vaccination and mask mandate for theatergoers 12 and older to attend performances in its 41 theatres through Feb. 28. Those under 12 and those with proof of “serious” religious or medical exemptions may enter by showing results of a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours or a rapid antigen test taken within six hours of the show. Additionally, all guests over 18 must show a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license or passport, and those under 18 may use a school ID. Children under 12 must be accompanied by adults showing a photo ID, meaning a 12-year-old could not attend Broadway by themselves.

Broadway ticket holders will receive an email 15 days out from a show, reminding attendees of the rules.

Related: Excelsior Pass vs. Key to NYC Pass: What’s the difference?

Unfortunately, as omicron has spread, several major events are being canceled.

Some shows have had breakthrough cases among talent. The Tina Turner musical, “Hamilton,” “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Moulin Rouge” and “Ain’t Too Proud” have all canceled shows. On Dec. 17, the Rockettes’ “Christmas Spectacular” shows were canceled after some in the cast and crew tested positive for COVID-19.

Some restaurants are closing too. If you are going to New York City for Christmas, just be aware the situation is changing from hour to hour so keep on top of the news.

Related: What you need to know about omicron and visiting New York 

Philadelphia

“Starting Jan. 3, any place that sells food or drink to be consumed on site will have to require that everyone who enters be fully vaccinated against COVID-19,” Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said in a press conference on Dec. 13. “For the first two weeks, from Jan. 3 to Jan. 17, establishments may choose to accept proof of the negative COVID test in lieu of proof of vaccination.”

The vaccine mandate will apply to individuals age 5 and older at indoor spaces that serve food, including indoor restaurants, bars, sports venues (including Wells Fargo Center), movie theaters and cafes within larger establishments starting in January, although children ages 5 and 3 months to 11 will have until Feb. 3 to complete a full vaccination course.

“Children younger than 5 years and 3 months don’t need to comply with this mandate, nor do people with valid medical or religious exemptions,” Bettigole said. Instead, exempted groups can show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within the previous 24 hours to enter establishments seating 1,000-plus people.

The mandate will also apply to bowling alleys, catering halls, food courts and seated restaurants/bars at Philadelphia International Airport (PHL).

San Francisco

On Aug. 12, San Francisco became the first major U.S. city to institute a wide-reaching vaccination mandate for indoor activities, requiring proof of full vaccination for certain indoor activities for participants age 12 and older starting Aug. 20. The mandate was put into place in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 among the unvaccinated while allowing businesses and schools to remain open. The ruling was particularly broad in reach, applicable not only to public indoor events with 1,000 or more people but to private events as well.

San Francisco businesses will accept the big three vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson), in addition to those by Sinopharm, AstraZeneca and the Serum Institute of India.

Face masks remain required indoors throughout the city as well as on public transportation (and cable cars), regardless of vaccination status, per the San Francisco Travel Association (which did not respond to a request for comment). San Francisco International Airport (SFO) also became the first airport in the U.S. to implement a full vaccination mandate for its employees on Sept. 21.

San Francisco is among the most vaccinated U.S. cities, with 80% of all residents fully vaccinated and 86% with at least one dose as of Dec. 17, per data from the San Francisco Public Health Department.

Related: Even as cable cars return to San Francisco, Bay Area reinstates face mask orders

Los Angeles

California’s largest city has required proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test at bars, breweries, wineries, nightclubs and lounges since October and although not applicable to restaurants, many restaurants have reportedly implemented mandates on their own.

Additionally, Los Angeles County extended the same requirements to indoor events with 1,000-plus attendees and outdoor “mega events” with 10,000 or more people — including Universal Studios Hollywood and Six Flags Magic Mountain as the first major theme parks to be affected.

Related: Los Angeles announces vaccination requirement for bars and theme parks

Along with a photo ID, visitors in Los Angeles County can show proof of vaccination via:

  • CDC vaccination record card (white card).
  • WHO vaccination record card (yellow card).
  • California Department of Public Health COVID-19 digital vaccination record.
  • Other COVID-19 digital vaccination records issued by an approved company.
  • Documentation of vaccination from a health care provider or entity.
  • California Immunization Registry vaccination record.

Face masks are still required indoors in Los Angeles regardless of vaccination status. Discover Los Angeles did not respond to a request for comment.

According to data from LA’s public health department, 68% of Angelenos age 5 and older are fully vaccinated as of Dec. 11.

California as a whole

Largely due to high vaccination numbers in LA and San Diego, California boasts a statewide vaccination rate of over 70%, per data from the state government’s vaccine tracker.

A statewide mandate is currently in place to require proof of vaccination or a negative test for large-scale events.

Elsewhere in the state, face masks, proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours have been required to eat indoors at restaurants and bars in Palm Springs since August. Riverside County, which includes Palm Springs and the rest of the Coachella Valley, has recorded a 57% full vaccination rate among residents age 5 and older as of Dec. 12, according to data from the county’s public health department.

Related: Broadway is reopening: Don’t forget your proof of vaccination, masks and negative COVID-19 tests for kids

Vail Resorts

Vail Resorts, a group of mountain resorts and regional ski areas in 15 states and three countries, continues to maintain indoor COVID-19-related safety protocols at its 34 North American resorts for the 2021-22 ski season.

“Face coverings will be required in indoor settings, including in restaurants, lodging properties, restrooms, retail and rental locations, and on buses,” Vail Resorts said in a press release on Sept. 20. “Face coverings will not be required outdoors, in lift lines, or on chairlifts or gondolas, unless required by local public health. (For example, Whistler Blackcomb requires face coverings on gondolas due to orders from the Provincial Health Authority of British Columbia).”

Additionally, all guests over the age of 12 are required to show proof of vaccination for indoor dining at “on-mountain quick-service (cafeteria-style) restaurants.” Note that this also applies to guests in ski- and ride-school programs that provide lunch but not full-service indoor restaurants or outdoor restaurants.

“We are fortunate that the core of our business takes place outdoors in vast mountain settings. However, as we welcome guests from around the world to the indoor experience at our resorts, we feel it’s important to do our part to combat the spread of COVID-19 and to keep our guests, employees and communities safe. That is why we’re requiring face coverings indoors – and it’s why we’re requiring vaccinations at our indoor quick-service restaurants,” Lindsay Hogan, communications director at Vail Resorts, said via email.

“Our on-mountain quick-service restaurants are very unique dining locations,” she said. “They are large-scale, cafeteria-style facilities with a high volume and high density of guests who often times will be sitting at the same table with other parties and, of course, will not be wearing face coverings while eating and drinking. This vaccination requirement is very similar to what is happening across the country with other large-scale indoor event and venue spaces contending with similar dynamics.”

Related: New season, new rules: 4 things to know if you ski at Vail Resorts this winter

Elsewhere

Chicago

A statewide indoor mask mandate remains in place across Illinois, including Chicago.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and other local officials have not required proof of vaccination for restaurants, bars, theaters, gyms and music venues, despite receiving a letter from eight city council members urging her and city health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady to follow the lead of other U.S. cities that have vaccination mandates in place. The letter was reportedly met with pushback from the Chicago Restaurants Coalition but is supported by the Illinois Restaurant Association.

“The IRA supports vaccinations for everyone — it’s the best way to get the pandemic behind us,” the Illinois Restaurant Association said in a press statement on Sept. 10.

Chicago’s reopening plan in August called for split seating in restaurants to distinguish between vaccinated patrons and others, allowing the former group to resume indoor consumption as normal without masks. Since then, some local bars and restaurants have continued to require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 24 hours, although there is no formal requirement to do so.

Sixty-three percent of Chicago residents were fully vaccinated as of Dec. 12, according to city data.

Chicago’s official tourism organization, Choose Chicago, failed to respond to a request for comment.

Related: Chicago restaurant eyes ‘vaccinated’ and ‘unvaccinated’ dining sections as restrictions lift

Washington, DC

Although D.C. lifted its previous mandate requiring masks in indoor public spaces, many D.C.-area restaurants and bars require proof of vaccination for their employees and customers, including full-service restaurants in Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group such as Maialino Mare and Anchovy Social.

Event venues throughout the D.C. area, including in nearby Maryland and Northern Virginia, have also issued their own vaccination and/or testing requirements.

“Safety comes first for obvious reasons, and safety measures including wearing masks indoors and providing proof of vaccination make sense to keep our visitors and residents healthy,” Elliott L. Ferguson, II, president and CEO of Destination DC, said via email. “We are also seeing testing or rapid testing at private or large events becoming a requirement, regardless of vaccination status.”

Related: The future of travel is vaccine certificates: These are the popular destinations and tourist attractions requiring proof of vaccination

New Orleans

New Orleans is the only city in the South to currently require partial vaccination or a negative PCR test for people 12 and older attending certain indoor activities with a high transmission risk, including restaurants, bars, microbreweries, concerts, event spaces and gyms, in addition to an indoor mask mandate.

Visitors to New Orleans can show vaccination status one of four ways:

  • Via the state’s LA Wallet app.
  • CDC card — an original copy, digital copy or photocopy.
  • Other official vaccination record issued by another state, foreign country or the WHO.
  • Vaccine trial record issued by a vaccine clinical trial.

The city of New Orleans has vaccinated more than 79% of adults as of Dec. 12, according to city data.

Related: San Francisco and New Orleans are latest US cities to institute vaccine mandates

Bottom line

New York City currently has the widest-reaching vaccine mandates in the United States by requiring proof of vaccination to eat indoors, attend theater shows and use gyms for all people age 5 and older, while Philadehipa requires vaccine proof to dine inside.

The omicron variant is forcing some to reconsider a visit as some venues shut down and some shows are cancelled.

While it remains to be seen whether more U.S. cities will follow suit in requiring proof of vaccination to resume a way of life indoors, it seems the decisions are being made based on geographic politics and with some protest. Currently, eight states have indoor mask mandates for all persons. Connecticut has one for unvaccinated persons only and Washington requires masks outdoors. Various cities and counties have also taken measures in their own hands in the absence of state mandates.

Whether you are traveling to one of the coasts or somewhere in between, be sure to check the latest updates from local officials in your desired destination.

Related: The future of travel is vaccine certificates: These are the popular destinations and tourist attractions requiring proof of vaccination

Additional reporting by Clint Henderson.

Featured photo of customers dining at Baby Brasa over Labor Day Weekend in New York’s West Village on Sept. 5 by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images.

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