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December 13, 2021

Proof of COVID-19 vaccination to be required at Philly restaurants and games at Wells Fargo Center

The requirement will be phased in Jan. 3 and take full effect Jan. 17; Staff at affected businesses must be fully vaccinated by Feb. 3

Customers at Philadelphia restaurants and other businesses with indoor food-service only will be allowed to dine indoors after providing proof they have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19, starting in early 2022.

Also starting in January, people going to city venues and arenas, like the Wells Fargo Center, will be required to show proof they have received their shots. That includes fans attending Flyers and Sixers games, concerts and other events.

The new vaccination requirements take effect Jan. 3. For the first two weeks, diners at restaurants and people going to venues may show negative COVID-19 tests as an alternative to their vaccination cards; the negative test result must be less than 24 hours old.

Starting Jan. 17, to eat indoors at any Philadelphia restaurant or business that serves food or to attend an event at a city venue, people must show proof of vaccination. The city's new mandate, which officials announced Monday morning, also requires that the staff at restaurants and venues have received their COVID-19 shots, too.

Being fully vaccinated for COVID-19 means having received two doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The new vaccine mandate, based on similar measures taken in cities such as New York and San Francisco, is intended to curb the recent rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations happening in Philadelphia and across much of the United States.

Philadelphia's COVID-19 vaccine requirement affects restaurants, bars, sports venues, catering halls, movie theaters, casinos, food courts and cafes located inside places like museums. It does not apply to outdoor dining at restaurants, schools or day cares, hospitals, congregate care facilities, soup kitchens and grocery stores except in seated dining areas.

A person does not need to show proof of vaccination if he or she is entering a business for a short period of time, like to pick up food for takeout, city officials said.

To enter a business affected by this mandate, people should be expected to show their IDs and COVID-19 vaccination cards – either the actual card or a photo of the card. 

Only people with valid religious or medical exemptions and children younger than 5, who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated for COVID-19, will be excluded from the new requirement.

Employees now required to get the vaccine must get their first shots by Jan. 3 and their second doses by Feb. 3. Until employees are fully vaccinated, they will be required to get tested for the coronavirus on a weekly basis.

The same vaccination timeframe will be used as a guideline for children between 5-11 years old, who only recently became eligible to get shots.

The Wells Fargo Center staff will be required to check people's proofs of vaccination at the door. At Lincoln Financial Field, only enclosed, indoor spaces that serve food will be covered by the new rules and fans will not be required to be fully vaccinated to enter the stadium.

"What people should expect to see is someone checking vaccination status at the door," Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said.

Bettigole said the main driver for the mandate is the colder weather and holiday gatherings that have driven up COVID-19 case counts in Philadelphia. The city also is looking for a way to get ahead of the omicron variant, whose looming impact remains uncertain heading into 2022. The vast majority of cases in Philadelphia remain caused by the delta variant.

"We do want to roll this back as soon as we can, but it's going to depend on case rates and hospitalizations," Bettigole said of the mandate, adding that the city is not targeting a particular timeline. "It doesn't come with an end date because we don't know what's coming."

Businesses that fail to comply with the vaccine mandate will be subject to inspections using the same complaint-based system that has been in effect for the indoor mask mandate. Initial violations will be handled with interventions designed to educate businesses about how to meet policy requirements. Repeat violations of the mandate could lead to fines of up to $2,000 per day.

Bettigole explained that the mandate is intended to prevent imposing tougher restrictions that might lead to business closures. 

"There's evidence of spread in restaurants from multiple case studies, and then Drexel released a study last week that showed that closing down restaurants, in places that did close indoor dining, decreased transmission by 61%," Bettigole said. "We do not want to close our restaurants, so that's the reason for a vaccine mandate — it's to avoid those closures."

Mayor Jim Kenney said he views the vaccine mandate as a way to keep Philadelphia businesses from facing the hardships of another winter COVID-19 surge.

"The tipping point was our case counts and hospitalizations," Kenney said. "We just don't want to go back to where we were a year ago."