Portland restaurants launch petition asking city for indoor vaccination mandate

Last week, as she watched COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Portland and Maine, Kate Klibansky decided to write an email to the owners and managers of the restaurant where she works, suggesting that they are considering implementing a vaccination mandate.

“It was not an ultimatum or a strong request, it was just me asking them to consider what information was available and to consider implementing this policy which could have influence across Portland,” Klibansky said. , who works as a bartender at Eventide Oyster. Co.

Klibansky’s request worked. The Eventide Restaurant Group, owned by Big Tree Hospitality, has now started a petition with other restaurants asking the Portland City Council to consider a vaccination mandate for certain indoor spaces, including, but not limited to, the restaurants.

“We believe such a mandate is in the interests of both public health and workers in businesses who rely on service to the public in settings that require the gathering of people and often the removal of masks,” reads the petition, which Tuesday had been signed by nine restaurants in addition to Big Tree, which also operates Honey Paw and Hugo’s in Portland. There were more than 170 restaurants and bars in Portland in July 2018, according to Press Herald records.

Andrew Taylor, co-owner of Big Tree Hospitality, was at Honey Paw in Portland on Tuesday night. Big Tree employees organized a petition asking the Portland City Council to pass a vaccination mandate for restaurants, and Taylor said he was trying to present the petition to the council before its Monday meeting. Derek Davis

Big Tree co-owner Andrew Taylor said restaurant staff were instrumental in starting the petition.

“We were asked by our staff to try to get involved and institute a vaccination mandate individually for our restaurant,” Taylor said. “After discussing it, we felt like trying to put pressure on the city to make it the best solution for us and for public health in general.”

Taylor said he was trying to present the petition to council ahead of Monday’s meeting, where councilors are expected to consider keeping an emergency order that allowed them to meet remotely during the pandemic, as well as a proposed interior mask mandate in public buildings.

“Our restaurant group, and I know a lot of restaurants think this way, that mask mandates are kind of futile in restaurants,” Taylor said. “As a customer, 90% of the time you’re seated in a restaurant, you don’t have your mask on. We understand that for some retail establishments, but that’s why a vaccine mandate is better suited to hospitality.

Some cities across the country, such as Boston, New York and Philadelphia, have already implemented vaccination mandates in some indoor public places as health officials predict another COVID surge driven by the omicron variant.

Councilman Andrew Zarro plans to sponsor a proposal for an indoor mask mandate at the council meeting. He said his proposal currently includes an exemption for companies that check vaccination status and restrict admission to those who are vaccinated.

Shannan Burnell and Don Murdoch, both of Hawaii, dine Tuesday at Eventide Oyster Co., where staff organized a petition asking the city to implement a vaccination mandate for restaurants. The couple said Hawaii has a vaccination mandate for indoor dining. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Zarro, owner of Little Woodfords cafe, said he saw the petition on Tuesday but did not sign it because he does not currently allow indoor dining.

“Honestly, I’m not comfortable with indoor dining,” Zarro said. “If I was eating indoors, yes, you should be vaccinated.”

He said he hopes the restaurants will present their petition to the council and said the proposal he is presenting could lay the groundwork for new COVID protocols and requirements, including a vaccine mandate.

“We’re not going out with a vaccine mandate right away, but I think a mask mandate with a vaccine exclusion allows us to say, ‘Okay, let’s keep an eye on the numbers and see how things go’ ,” Zarro said. “Maybe we’ll get that in place in a month or two and during that time the council can hear from the community and talk to constituents.”

The petition started by Big Tree Hospitality says that while every restaurant and restaurant worker may not support a vaccination mandate, some believe it will be more effective to come from the city rather than have individual restaurants try to institute their own requirements.

“This mandate will reduce instances of diners moving from an establishment where there is no vaccination mandate to a second, more cautious establishment that does have a mandate,” the petition states. “In addition, guests will quickly get used to carrying their vaccination card in order to participate in the life of the city.”

Raquel Stevens, owner of Restaurant Leeward with her husband Jake, said a vaccination mandate for restaurants would provide some reassurance as they continue to battle the pandemic. She said they don’t currently ask guests for vaccination information.

“We would love to, but we would feel more empowered if it was something established at the city level,” Stevens said. “I think it would be easier to implement. People would be more familiar with it and it wouldn’t catch people off guard if it was something the city required in places like restaurants and bars.

At Eventide, which also does not currently check the vaccination status of customers, Klibansky said staff were nervous and stressed because many guests enter the restaurant without wearing masks. There’s no way to tell if it’s because they’re vaccinated or because they don’t believe COVID-19 is real or that masks and vaccines work.

“There’s a lot of unknowing and uncertainty around the job,” Klibansky said. “And with the numbers soaring right now, it doesn’t seem like we’re doing enough to keep staff safe, and I’m not talking about Big Tree Hospitality, I’m talking about each other in our personal lives and if we receive the vaccine or the mask.

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Sandy A. Greer