The last time Matthew Diehl dined indoors, he was met with something off-putting while enjoying a meal with his roommates at the Reading Terminal Market, located on 12th Street near Filbert. He was surrounded by unbearable crowds filled with mask-less people.
Diehl did not feel anxious about contracting COVID-19 because he is vaccinated, and supports the city’s new vaccine mandate for indoor dining.
“I think it’ll help slow down the spread of COVID, and it’s especially a good idea with indoor seating, because air has nowhere to go,” said Diehl, a sophomore health professions major. “I think it’ll help prevent the spread. And it’ll lead to, I guess, a better situation all around.”
Last week, Philadelphia Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole announced customers must provide proof of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine to dine in any indoor establishment – including restaurants, bars, movie theaters and sports venues – beginning Jan. 3, 2022, The Temple News reported.
Temple University students feel hopeful the mandate will help ease the city back to normalcy, but remain cautious as cases begin to surge with the new Omicron variant of the virus.
When Carlie Michaels heard about the Omicron variant, she felt like her world was ending all over again.
“I was worried that maybe my job would shut down, school would go online, but hopefully with the new vaccine mandate that won’t happen,” said Michales, a junior communications and political science major and server at Bud & Marilyn’s, a bar and restaurant on Locust Street near 13th.
The Omicron variant was first detected in Philadelphia on Dec. 3 and accounts for nearly three-quarters of new COVID-19 cases nationwide, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The new vaccination mandate makes Michaels feel better because it will be harder for customers to spread COVID-19 to her and other staff members, she added.
As the Omicron variant spreads, almost a third of Philadelphia’s reported COVID-19 cases in December have been among fully vaccinated people, the highest monthly rate since vaccines became available, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Michaels started working as a server at Bud & Marilyn’s in August, and dealt with customers who were frustrated with COVID-19 safety protocols, like wearing masks when not at their tables, she said. When she reminded customers of the rules, some would apologize, but others ignored her or refused to comply.
Because of those experiences, Michaels feels there will be unvaccinated people who try to dine indoors even with the city’s new mandate, but she is confident her managers will enforce the rules, she added.
“It’s a little frustrating but, like, I trust my managers and, like, the rest of the staff that’s in charge of seating and making sure that people are checked in properly will be able to uphold the rules and keep the rest of us safe,” she added.
Under the new mandate, indoor establishments can choose to accept proof of a negative COVID-19 test from the past 24 hours instead of proof of vaccination from Jan. 3, 2022 to Jan. 17. After Jan. 17, only proof of vaccination will be accepted.
Maia Dalton also works at Bud & Marilyn’s as a hostess and feels safer working with the new mandate going into effect, she said.
“It’s smart that if you’re gonna be somewhere indoors, around people, that you should be vaccinated,” said Dalton, a sophomore secondary education and English major.
Dalton started working at Bud & Marilyn’s in April and was nervous about potentially interacting with unvaccinated customers. Her concern has grown with the spread of the Omicron variant, she said.
As of Dec. 23, there are more than 204,000 COVID-19 cases in Philadelphia, and more than one million Philadelphians are fully vaccinated, according to the Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 dashboard.
While Gage Bernstein does not dine out often, he fully agrees with the indoor dining mandate because it provides a better sense of safety in public environments, he said.
“When we’re in large crowds, knowing who around us is vaccinated gives us sort of assurance that we’re not going to catch COVID,” said Bernstein, a sophomore undeclared major. “It just gets rid of all that uncertainty that I think we’ve all had to deal with since the start of the pandemic.”
Bernstein felt much safer coming to Temple and attending in-person classes during the Fall 2021 semester because of the university’s vaccine mandate, and hopes the city’s policy will help bring a return to normalcy, he said.
Temple required all students, faculty and staff to provide proof of being fully vaccinated against the virus by Nov. 15, unless they received an exemption, The Temple News reported.
Ninety-seven percent of Temple students and employees are fully vaccinated as of Dec. 24. There are 204 active cases of COVID-19 among students and employees, according to Temple’s dashboard.
Thirty percent of restaurants in Philadelphia required customers to provide proof of vaccination before the city announced the new mandate, 6ABC reported. Other cities like New York City and San Francisco have required proof of vaccination for entry at restaurants since August, The Temple News reported.
As other cities have implemented mandates, Michaels hopes Philadelphia’s decision will encourage people to get vaccinated and things will return to normal, she said.
Diehl is hopeful for a more lively spring with vaccination rates increasing and mandates in place, he said.
“I think that, with the new mandates, the spread will lessen and allow for stores to get more open, and allow for the smaller businesses to get back on track and get more customers again,” he said.