On Friday afternoon, as they have for generations every spring, baseball fans will head to San Francisco for the Giants’ home opener.
But to enter the ballpark this year, they will need to bring something in addition to their ticket: proof that they have been vaccinated or the results of a negative COVID test taken in the last 72 hours.
That requirement, imposed by San Francisco public health officials, has Bay Area residents wondering: Is this a new trend or an outlier as California continues to reopen?
For now, it appears to be a unique case, experts say. But the broader problem is still evolving.
President Joe Biden and Governor Gavin Newsom have recently said that they will not require a “vaccine passport” or proof of vaccination for people to attend meetings or events. There have been questions about privacy, fairness for low-income residents, and the government’s role in creating a “haves and don’t’s” system. Some states, particularly Florida and Texas, have already banned the use of vaccine passports. But California counties can require them based on state health standards.
The Giants will have just 22% capacity in their first games, about 8,900 fans per game. The team says there will be random fan checks at the gates for information on vaccinations and testing, and that the rules could change later in the season as more people in society get vaccinated.
“I think it’s one more time,” said Dr. Monica Gandhi, a professor of medicine at UC San Francisco. “I think San Francisco is being very cautious at the moment, but the requirement will probably go away. It is sufficient to require masking and seating people in small groups. The tests add little to that. “
Gandhi noted that no other baseball team in California, including the Oakland Athletics, requires testing. Only two other baseball teams nationwide, the Yankees and the New York Mets, require proof of tests or shots.
Gandhi is a member of the San Francisco 49ers health advisory board and said the board will not recommend the requirement for 49ers games when the team returns to play next season. Outdoor events pose a much lower health risk than indoor events, he added, and attending an event where people wear masks and are separated is essentially the same as going to the beach or dining at a restaurant. outdoors, none of which require vaccinations or testing.
“Do I think it will be the standard? I really don’t, ”he said. “Outdoor transmission is really low. About 1 in 1,000 transmissions occur abroad. In any case, we should encourage outdoor activity. The ventilation is as good as it looks outside. “
Health departments in several Bay Area counties, including Alameda and Sonoma, said Wednesday they have no plans to exceed state rules. For now, those rules do not require tests or vaccinations to attend events. Rather, they set limits on the number of people who can attend.
Through June 15 in California, professional sports teams can have up to 25% of their pre-pandemic capacity, vaccinated or not, if their county is classified in the red reopening level. That increases to 33% at the orange level, which includes all Bay Area counties except Solano, along with Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Cruz, Monterey and others.
The San Jose Earthquakes, whose first home game is April 24, plan to be at 20% capacity, with separate seats and masks, but no mandatory vaccine testing or testing.
However, if teams verify that all fans have tested negative or are vaccinated, state rules allow up to 67% of normal capacity while at the orange level.
Gov. Gavin Newsom and other state officials have not said what will happen to the rules for sporting events after June 15.
The state also recently issued rules that allow venues that host concerts, plays or other events to host larger crowds if they require attendees to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test or a full vaccination. However, California will continue to limit certain major events such as indoor music festivals and conventions. For conventions, state regulations will prohibit events with more than 5,000 attendees through October 1, unless organizers obtain proof of vaccinations or negative tests from attendees.
When asked about vaccine verification at a news conference Tuesday, state Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly said: “The state has no current plans to enforce or have a vaccine passport system. “.
“With that said,” Ghaly added, “we know that companies are already exploring how to ensure that people who are vaccinated can come and enjoy some of the privileges of being vaccinated through verification. This is an approach that many businesses (and) many clients are going to look forward to, so we are working with various individuals and entities across the state to make sure it is done in a responsible, fair and equitable manner.
That appears to be where the broader trend is headed, said UCSF epidemiologist Dr. George Rutherford. Rutherford said he supports the rules for the Giants because fans congregate closely on sidewalks outside of games, but he hopes the city will lift them soon as case numbers continue to decline.
But he said some kind of “vaccine passport” system is likely in place, driven by private companies like airlines and music promoters who want to have more paying customers than state or federal rules would allow, and a lower risk of transmission. . Both the European Union and China are moving forward with plans for vaccine passports for international travelers.
“I think it’s inevitable,” Rutherford said.
Staci Slaughter, a spokeswoman for the Giants, said that while some fans may view the requirement as a nuisance, others have said they are thankful for the added layer of security.
She would only say that the Giants “have a backup plan” for fans who show up with a ticket but no proof of vaccination or negative COVID test and declined to explain what it was. “We have a way of working with them to facilitate their ability to access the stadium if they show up not knowing what to do,” he said. “We will do that.”
It remains to be seen whether other parts of California will copy what San Francisco requires, he said.
“I’m sure it will be county by county,” she said, “and as more people get vaccinated, there will probably be more consistency across the state. But it is difficult to predict these things. We are all doing the best we can. “