Philadelphia to Require Proof of Vaccine or Negative COVID Test at Public Indoor Spaces

Philadelphians will soon be required to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a recent negative test in order to enter indoor bars, sporting events, restaurants and other venues, officials announced Monday.

Both customers and employees will be subject to the requirement starting January 3, but the option for a negative test is only temporary. For the first two weeks, people will be able to show a negative test from the last 24 hours in order to enter, but proof of full vaccination for all will be mandated starting January 17.

The new measure was announced as the Pennsylvania city has seen infection rates double in recent weeks and hospitalizations grow by about 50 percent, according to Public Health Director Cheryl Bettigole. Bettigole and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said the requirement is meant to help prevent additional spread of the virus and another indoor dining shutdown as more people remain indoors to escape the winter weather and ahead of anticipated holiday gatherings.

"I don't want to close our restaurants or other establishments that serve food. I want them to stay open and operate safely," Bettigole said.

Philadelphia is not the first to impose such a measure in the hopes of curtailing infection rates nearly two years into the pandemic, joining cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco. New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced on Friday a sweeping measure that took effect Monday and requires all indoor public places to require masks for all or proof of full vaccination, WRC-TV in D.C. reported.

"We shouldn't have reached the point where we are confronted with a winter surge, especially with the vaccine at our disposal, and I share many New Yorkers' frustration that we are not past this pandemic yet," Hochul said.

The measure is set to last through January 15 when the state will determine its next move.

Philadelphia COVID Measures
Philadelphia officials announced December 13, 2021, that proof of vaccination will be required starting January 3 for bars, restaurants, indoor sporting events, movie theaters and other places where people eat indoors close to each other. Above, customers sit in a booth at the Penrose Diner, on November 17, 2020, in south Philadelphia. Matt Slocum/AP Photo

Kenney, a Democrat, said he visited New York two weeks ago, where dining and other indoor establishments have required vaccine proof since August, and found the requirements easy to navigate.

"I was in New York two weeks ago and it was not an issue at all. Bring your ID and vaccination card and everything went smoothly," Kenney said. "That's why we're doing this to stop the real serious thing, which would be shutting down."

Patrons and employees will have to start showing their vaccination cards on January 3 to enter establishments where people eat together indoors, including movie theaters and cafes or bars inside larger establishments like stores or hotels.

The city mandate allows some extra time for children ages 5-11 and employees to get vaccinated. The city is asking that those groups have a first dose by January 3 and a second dose by February 3.

The requirement does not apply to people who are exempted from vaccination, including children under 5 or people with proven medical or religious exemptions, Bettigole said.

But those with exemptions and children between 2 and 5 years old will be required to present a negative COVID-19 test taken within 24 hours to enter establishments that seat more than 1,000 people covered by the requirement. That includes sports venues, movie theatres, bowling alleys or spaces like museum cafes inside larger venues.

She added that establishments like schools, daycares and others like soup kitchens or shelters that serve vulnerable populations will not require vaccination proof or negative tests.

Bettigole said the mandate will apply to the Wells Fargo Center, home of the Flyers and 76ers, or other indoor sporting venues where people buy food and eat it in their seats. The rules will not change for now at outdoor sporting events, but will apply to indoor areas and businesses inside Lincoln Financial Field, where the Eagles play, and similar venues.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

COVID Vaccine Cards
Both customers and employees in Philadelphia will be subject to a proof of vaccination requirement starting January 3, but an option for a negative test is only temporary. Shown are COVID-19 vaccination record cards in Glenside, Pennsylvania, on December 13, 2021. Matt Rourke/AP Photo