Philly’s new pandemic mandates have left some businesses frustrated

The new mandates also put the “burden on businesses” to verify the COVID-19 vaccination status of customers and employees, one business leader says

By: - August 15, 2021 6:30 am

Businesses located on 2200 block of Ridge Avenue in North Philadelphia are pictured (Philadelphia Tribune photo)

By Michael D’Onofrio

PHILADELPHIA — The Kenney administration’s latest rollout of coronavirus restrictions is giving some business owners “another reason to be frustrated with the city,” said the head of a West Philadelphia business collective.

The city’s face mask mandate, which took effect Thursday, was rolled out with less than 24-hours notice, leaving some businesses little time to adapt, said Jabari Jones, president of the West Philadelphia Corridor Collaborative.

The new mandates also put the “burden on businesses” to verify the COVID-19 vaccination status of customers and employees if they choose to be exempt from the indoor face mask requirement, said Jones, who heads the largest business association in West Philadelphia with 2,000 members.

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“It gives businesses another reason to be frustrated with the city,” Jones said. “It feels like the city was very inconsiderate when you put together a policy and you decide it goes into effect immediately.”

The new mandates were put in place due to the more transmissible and deadly delta variant, which is fueling a surge in COVID-19 cases in Philadelphia and across the U.S.

On Wednesday during a news conference to announce the new mandates, Mayor Jim Kenney blamed the immaturity of a “small group of people” for refusing to get the vaccine and fueling the spread of the delta variant.

“We didn’t anticipate doing this in June and July … but you can see the level of immaturity around the country, even from governors and legislatures,” Kenney said.

Della Clark, president of the Enterprise Center in West Philadelphia, said she supported the new mandates, hoping they could prevent a full lockdown, or stay-at-home order, like what was imposed soon after the pandemic arrived in the city last year.

A citywide shutdown “would just have such a crippling effect. I don’t think we can afford another shutdown for two weeks or three weeks,” said Clark, who leads an organization that has provided economic development opportunities to minority entrepreneurs for decades.

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West Philadelphia restaurateur Saba Tedla said businesses were not equipped to verify the vaccination status of every employee and customer, noting that such requests have led to confrontations at businesses across the nation.

Tedla, owner of Booker’s Restaurant and Bar, called on the Kenney administration to create a clear, sustainable plan to give businesses a better understanding of how rising or falling COVID-19 case counts will affect their businesses through the end of the year.

Tedla said she also hoped the mayor would put in place a consistent policy rather than one with an exemption. When individual business owners can decide whether to require face masks or proof of vaccination status, it can result in backlash from customers or staff, she said.

“We need to have global, consistent messaging,” she said.

New York City became the first U.S. city to require proof of vaccination at businesses, like restaurants and gyms. The policy will go into effect in September.

Regina Hairston, president of the regional African-American Chamber of Commerce, said member businesses believed the new COVID-19 restrictions would help keep their doors open.

“They cannot afford to be closed any longer,” she said.

But Hairston supported a single COVID-19 mandate for businesses in Philadelphia, like the policy in New York City, and pushed for more clarity from the Kenney administration about potential restrictions businesses may face in the future.

“We would like to see a long-term plan for businesses to give them a chance to prepare for any additional restrictions that may come so that they are agile and they can make sure they’re planning as well,” Hairston said.

Michael D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.

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