Millbrae’s City Council will not move forward with a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for certain businesses in the city, including outdoor dining, after a council member floated the idea during a council meeting on Wednesday.
Councilmember Anders Fung requested that the council discuss the idea that proof of vaccination be required for both indoor and outdoor dining, fitness centers and entertainment venues citywide.
Fung said he had heard from community members, especially families with young children and seniors, who were nervous about going out to restaurants or mass gatherings, not knowing whether people around them were vaccinated.
“People want to put this pandemic behind all of us,” Fung said. “This mandate is not about penalizing anyone or putting pressure on local businesses. It is about being an advocate to our people that it’s time for everyone to vaccinate as quickly as possible because this is the responsible thing to do.”
However, councilmembers were not ready to explore such a mandate, citing several reasons, such as a need to support businesses by not adding further restrictions.
Councilmember Gina Papan also said that if they were to consider vaccine mandates, they should start with city employees.
Bruce Barron, fire chief for the Central County Fire Department that serves Millbrae, Burlingame and Hillsborough, confirmed that 10 percent of their department’s employees were still unvaccinated.
“I think we need to walk the walk as we talk the talk here,” Papan said. “Our city employees are frontline public servants here and if we’re going to mandate anything here I think we need to start with our own city staff and public safety in particular here.”
Seven members of the public called into Wednesday’s meeting to oppose the vaccine mandate, expressing concerns that the mandate could be unconstitutional, excludes people who cannot get vaccinated for various reasons and may be difficult to enforce.
Some callers pointed out the vaccination rate was already high countywide and citywide.
In San Mateo County, 93 percent of eligible county residents 12 and older have received at least the first dose of the vaccine. In Millbrae, 95 percent of residents are vaccinated.
One caller, who identified themselves as a business owner, said more restrictions won’t help businesses get back on their feet.
“By no means are we anti-vaccine,” the caller said. “However, we simply do not have the means to enforce a vaccine mandate at the door. We don’t have the staff. We don’t have the energy and we don’t have the time to explain this vaccine mandate or to get into political arguments with customers at the door.”
The council also received written comments from residents and restaurant owners, some who opposed and some who supported the mandate.
Councilmember Reuben Holober agreed that vaccines could help “get ourselves out of this pandemic” but said that the citywide vaccine mandate could be an overreach given that the county and the state do not have such mandates in place.
San Mateo County Health spokesperson Preston Merchant said Thursday that health officials are not considering a vaccine mandate in the county at this time.
Moreover, individual businesses are allowed to institute their own vaccine requirements at their discretion.
In the end, though the council did not direct staff to work on a vaccine mandate ordinance, councilmembers were open to ongoing discussion.
Councilmember Anne Oliva said that it was a “wait and see game” as they did not know what is going to happen in the future, but she encouraged the city to continue sharing COVID-19 statistics with the public to keep people informed.
Fung, who initiated the discussion, said that he would like the council to discuss the subject further, adding that a vaccine mandate could boost confidence for business employees, as they would know that everyone they work with and serve are vaccinated.
COVID-19 information and statistics — including case rates and vaccination rates — for San Mateo County are available online at https://www.smchealth.org/coronavirus.
A video recording of Wednesday’s meeting is available online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZYfQv41GKj8&.