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Oakland drops rule to show proof of vaccine indoors

OAKLAND — Weeks after many other cities and counties across California had already done so, the Oakland City Council decided Tuesday to stop requiring people to show proof they’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or provide negative test results to enter most indoor public settings.

The council voted to modify an ordinance it adopted earlier this year that made indoor restaurants, gyms, recreation centers, fitness centers, concert venues, museums, assisted living homes and senior centers off-limits without the necessary proof or test results. The mandate now applies only to assisted living centers and senior centers.

But people still must wear masks at indoor spaces where at least 2,500 are gathered. Many other local cities and counties have dropped the indoor mask mandate too, but Councilmember Dan Kalb’s proposed ordinance modification kept it for now.

“I have mixed feelings about bringing this forward today,” Kalb said, pointing to research on the efficacy of vaccines in reducing the risk of COVID-19.

Local businesses and the city’s tourism arm have called for a relaxation of the vaccine requirement as they try to draw visitors back to Oakland.

Some councilmembers were hesitant to include the mask mandate because of pushback from Visit Oakland, a nonprofit tourism organization funded by the city’s hotels, and other businesses who fear the requirement to wear masks in large gatherings make them less competitive for conventions than cities with lax rules.

Councilmember Noel Gallo voted against the modified ordinance because of the mask rule.

“Alameda County and the state legislation is a lot different than what we’re proposing — we’d be the only city, I think, asking about masks,” Gallo said. “I think we stand to lose a good number of conventions coming to the city.”

He cited a Latino business convention he was trying to bring to the city.

“We’re impacting the attraction (of Oakland),” he said.

Councilmember Loren Taylor raised similar concerns, pointing out the city was out of step with county health restrictions.

But Kalb pushed back, noting he had already compromised by raising the number of people at gatherings from 1,000 to 2,500 before the mask rule kicks in. And at the urging of business interests, the ordinance calls for the mask mandate to be lifted either on Nov. 1 or when the local state of emergency ends — whichever comes first.

Councilmember Carroll Fife cautioned against easing mask requirements, noting that she learned after attending a conference in Sacramento that COVID had spread there.

Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan suggested an amendment to the ordinance requiring the city to offer “high quality” masks — those labeled N95, KN95, KF94, in particular — at city buildings.

Although City Administrator Ed Reiskin said he wasn’t sure whether the city could obtain so many masks, the council voted to include them, with Gallo dissenting and Taylor abstaining.

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