A North Jersey restaurant could be the first in the state mandating that any indoor dining patrons first get the COVID-19 vaccine, as lagging inoculation rates fuel a widespread surge in the delta variant.
The rules from the eatery – It’s Greek to Me in Ridgewood – go into effect Aug. 10, and follow similar requirements that go into effect on Aug. 16 for indoor dining, gyms and theaters in New York City.
“For the safety of our fully vaccinated staff and patrons at It’s Greek to Me Ridgewood … indoor dining will be reserved for those showing proof of vaccination,” reads an Aug. 3 post on its Facebook page. The restaurant is scheduled to open at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, according to the website.
“All families with children will always be given one of our cabanas or heated greenhouses,” both of which are outdoors, the post continues. “We realize this is a difficult time and are trying to accommodate the diverse needs of all of our patrons-including seniors and those with immune system deficiencies.”
Social media posts since then have all included the disclaimer.
Gov. Phil Murphy has largely been resistant to vaccine mandates in the private sector, and many employers NJBIZ interviewed, either said they will not require the shot, or opted not to comment or even respond to inquiries.
Public sector workers – like state employees and teachers – still are not required to get the jab. Last week, the State Judiciary said that its more than 8,000 court staff and judges have to get the shot by Aug. 20.
The vaccine mandate enters murky legal grounds and has become a politically and culturally divisive topic. But state and federal laws generally allow employers to impose mandates, like inoculations.
“Employers don’t want to be in the position of having to dictate the health care of their employees, nor do they want to be the police over customers frequenting their facilities,” said Michele Siekerka, president and chief executive officer of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association. “It creates animosity and not a great customer experience.”
Nonetheless, with less than 5.4 million of New Jersey’s more than 9 million residents fully vaccinated, the sizable pool of unvaccinated residents has provided ample ground for the new variant to spread, according to public health officials and experts.
“You can see here that the vaccines are still proving themselves highly effective and well more than 99% of those who have received them are finding protection from contracting the virus, from hospitalization and from a COVID-related death,” the governor said during his regular COVID-19 press briefing on Aug. 9.
According to the latest data from the New Jersey Department of Health, the 4,332 new positive cases between July 20 and 26 included 3,529 who were unvaccinated or not yet fully vaccinated: for an 18.5% positivity rate among the vaccinated.
Deaths and hospitalizations are almost exclusively among those who have not gotten the vaccine, Murphy said.
While Murphy has largely shied away from top-heavy mandates, he’s nonetheless contended that some alternative to the New York City rules could be in order.
“You want to make sure that whatever you put in place you can enforce,” added Murphy, who is leaving Aug. 10 for a 10-day vacation to his Italian mansion.
Last week, Murphy signed an order mandating employees get the vaccine if they work at New Jersey’s county jails and state correctional facilities, veterans homes, psychiatric centers, 71 acute-care hospitals, specialty hospitals, developmental centers, long-term care and assisted-living facilities, short-term and post-acute in-patient rehabs, home health agencies, behavioral health care facilities, and the state-owned University Hospital. They have until Sept. 7 to do so, or they have to submit to routine testing.
People in the state are also strongly encouraged to wear face coverings indoors – regardless of their vaccine status – in counties with notable spread of the virus, a threshold that now encompasses all of New Jersey’s 21 counties.