Officials in Northern California on Tuesday closed a second In-N-Out Burger restaurant in the Bay Area after employees repeatedly failed to screen customers who eat indoors for evidence of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative coronavirus test.
The closure is the latest volley in a conflict between a Southern California-based fast food chain and San Francisco health officials who enacted some of the state’s strictest COVID-19 regulations.
Similar requirements for proof of vaccination will go into effect on November 8 for businesses and restaurants in the city of Los Angeles.
In a statement, Contra Costa Health Services confirmed that In-N-Out, located at 570 Contra Costa Blvd. in Pleasant Hill was forced to close after repeated violations of county rules.
Arnie Wensinger, chief legal and commercial director of In-N-Out, fought back in a statement in which he called public health regulations intrusive for private businesses.
“We refuse to become the vaccination police for any government,” Wenzinger said.
The closure comes 12 days after San Francisco’s only In-N-Out restaurant was forced to temporarily close due to a violation of a local rule requiring proof of indoor vaccination for diners. The restaurant, located at Fisherman’s Wharf, has since then only been open for outdoor dining.
The looming crackdown in Los Angeles could be an important test of the In-N-Out’s resilience to the rules that require proof of vaccination. The exact number of the chain’s stores in Los Angeles is not known, but there are at least 16 of them, mainly in the San Fernando Valley.
A Los Angeles ordinance, approved earlier this month by the City Council, requires proof of vaccination for meals in restaurants or shopping malls, movie theaters, and other indoor areas. This measure includes tougher fines for businesses that do not use it.
Officials for Contra Costa County, east of San Francisco and Oakland, said they provided In-N-Out in Pleasant Hill with ample opportunities to comply, but it posed a public health threat by “repeatedly violating” the county order … This order, in effect September 22, requires restaurants and certain other closed establishments to verify that all customers aged 12 and over are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or have tested negative for coronavirus within the previous 72 hours.
Officials said the Pleasant Hill facility received four recalls in recent weeks and was forced to pay a fine totaling $ 1,750 for violating the order.
The officials said their main goal is to educate businesses and residents on how to protect themselves and society from COVID-19.
“Most businesses do comply with safety requirements in a pandemic, but the district has a decree that includes a progressive citation structure for businesses that repeatedly violate them,” the district said.
In-N-Out may appeal the suspension of the permit, but Pleasant Hill restaurant must remain closed “until the danger is reduced,” public health officials said.
In the meantime, the network continues to argue that it is excessive government power to ask private businesses to enforce regulations requiring vaccination confirmation.
Wensinger acknowledged that Pleasant Hill restaurant staff “did not actively demand vaccine documentation and photo ID” from every visitor on the premises, but said the company is committed to “superior customer service” and disagrees with any government order that forces a private company “Discriminate” against clients.
“It is unwise, aggressive and unsafe to force our restaurant staff to divide customers into who can be served and who cannot, based on their documentation or for any other reason,” he said. “This is a clear abuse of power, it is intrusive, unacceptable and offensive.”
So far, San Francisco and Pleasant Hill are the only In-N-Out establishments that have been forced to close, but clashes between other Northern California restaurants and health officials seem to be escalating.
Contra Costa Health Services has confirmed that In-N-Out restaurants in Pinola and San Ramon have received vaccination violations notices.
It is unclear if In-N-Out will remain a hot spot in the debate over COVID-19 regulations. The severity of these rules depends on the county and city.
The Los Angeles ruling will affect a wide range of businesses, from movie theaters to shopping malls, but will allow visitors to enter indoor spaces with proof of a negative COVID-19 test.
San Francisco and Berkeley city regulations do not allow a negative test result to replace a requirement for vaccination. Orders in these cities do not apply to shopping centers, salons and museums.
Contra Costa County, the third most populous in the Bay Area, requires customers to show proof of vaccination or recent negative coronavirus test results from closed restaurants, bars and gyms.
In the meantime, Los Angeles County strongly encourages restaurants to screen diners on premises for proof of vaccination, but does not require it. Stricter rules apply for organizers of large indoor and outdoor events, such as concerts and sports matches, whose staff must screen visitors for vaccinations or negative test results.