Officials closed an In-N-Out restaurant in Pleasant Hill on Tuesday for refusing to verify customers’ vaccination status. (Adam Lau / Associated Press)
Officials in Northern California closed a second Bay Area In-N-Out burger restaurant Tuesday after employees repeatedly failed to screen customers eating indoors for evidence of a COVID-19 vaccination or negative coronavirus test result .
The shutdown is the latest volley in a conflict between the southern California-based fast food chain and the San Francisco Bay Area health authorities, which have enacted some of the strictest COVID-19 rules in the state.
Similar requirements for proof of vaccination are due to go into effect on Nov. 8 for businesses and restaurants in the city of Los Angeles.
In a statement, Contra Costa Health Services confirmed that the In-N-Out is located at 570 Contra Costa Blvd. Pleasant Hill was forced to close after repeated violations of district rules.
Arnie Wensinger, In-N-Out’s chief legal and business officer, fired back in a statement calling public health rules obtrusive to private companies.
“We refuse to become a government’s vaccination police,” said Wensinger.
The closure comes 12 days after San Francisco’s only in-n-out restaurant was temporarily closed for violating a local rule that requires proof of vaccination for indoor diners. The restaurant at Fisherman’s Wharf has only been open for al fresco dining since then.
The looming raid in Los Angeles could be an important test of the In-N-Out chain’s resistance to regulations requiring proof of vaccination. The exact number of the chain’s locations in LA was unknown, but there are at least 16, mostly in the San Fernando Valley.
LA’s ordinance, approved by the city council earlier this month, requires proof of vaccination to eat at restaurants or enter shopping malls, movie theaters, and other indoor spaces. The measure includes escalating penalties for companies that do not enforce them.
Officials in Contra Costa Counties, east of San Francisco and Oakland, said they gave Pleasant Hill In-N-Out ample opportunity to abide by it, but it created a public health hazard by ” repeatedly “violated the district ordinance. This order, which has been in effect since September 22, requires restaurants and some other indoor establishments to verify that all customers 12 and older are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or have had a negative coronavirus test within the last 72 hours.
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Officials said the Pleasant Hill site had received four quotes in the past few weeks and had to pay fines totaling $ 1,750 for violating the order.
Officials said their main goal is to educate businesses and local residents about how to protect themselves and the community from COVID-19.
“Most companies meet the safety requirements for pandemics, but the county has a regulation that provides a progressive citation structure for companies that repeatedly violate them,” the county said.
In-N-Out can appeal the suspension of the permit, but Pleasant Hill restaurant must remain closed “until the threat is over,” public health officials said.
The chain, meanwhile, continues to argue that asking private companies to enforce rules that require proof of vaccination is a government exaggeration.
Wensinger acknowledged that Pleasant Hill restaurant staff “did not actively request vaccination cards and photo identification from every guest in the house,” but said the company is committed to the “highest level of customer service” and any government order that does force a private company not to agree to “discriminate” customers.
“It is unreasonable, invasive and unsafe to force our restaurant staff to divide customers into those who are allowed to be served and those who are not allowed to be served, whether because of the papers they are carrying or for any other reason,” he said. “This is a clear government transgression and is intrusive, inappropriate and offensive.”
So far, the San Francisco and Pleasant Hill locations are the only in-n-outs to close, but the clashes between other Northern California restaurants and public health officials appear to be escalating.
Contra Costa Health Services has confirmed that In-N-Out restaurants in Pinole and San Ramon have received notifications of vaccination violations.
It is unclear whether In-N-Out will continue to be a focal point in the discussion about COVID-19 rules. The severity of such rules varies depending on the district and city.
The Los Angeles regulation will affect a wide range of businesses, from movie theaters to shopping malls, but it will allow customers to enter indoor venues with evidence of a negative COVID-19 test.
San Francisco and Berkeley city regulations do not allow a negative test result to replace compulsory vaccination. Orders in these cities do not apply to shopping malls, salons or museums.
The law, which requires proof of vaccination or a negative test result in Contra Costa County, the third largest county in the Bay Area, applies to customers of indoor restaurants, bars, and gyms.
The Los Angeles District urges restaurants to seek evidence of vaccinations from indoor visitors, but does not require them to do so. For organizers of large indoor and outdoor events such as concerts and sports games, stricter rules apply, whose employees have to check the guests for proof of vaccination or a negative test.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.