On Friday afternoons, as they have done for generations each spring, baseball fans flock to San Francisco for the Giants home opener.
But to enter the baseball field this year, they need to bring something besides their ticket: proof that they’ve been vaccinated or the results of a negative COVID test taken in the past 72 hours.
That requirement – imposed by San Francisco public health officials – has asked Bay Area residents: 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 issue is still evolving.
President Joe Biden and Gavin Newsom recently said they do not need a “vaccine passport” or proof of vaccination to attend meetings or events. There have been questions about privacy, about fairness to low-income residents, and the role of the government in creating a “haves and have nots” system. Some states, notably Florida and Texas, have already banned the use of vaccine passports. But California counties can demand them under state health regulations.
The Giants only have 22% capacity in their early games – about 8,900 fans per game. The team says fans will be randomly checked for vaccine and testing information at the gates, and the rules may change later in the season as more people in society are vaccinated.
“I think it’s more of a one-off action,” said Dr. Monica Gandhi, a professor of medicine at UC San Francisco. “I think San Francisco is very cautious at the moment, but the demand will probably go away. It is enough to mask and sit people in small groups. The testing adds little to that. “
Gandhi noted that no other California baseball team, including the Oakland A’s, should be tested. Only two other national baseball teams, the New York Yankees and Mets, require proof of testing or vaccinations.
Gandhi is a member of the health advisory board for the San Francisco 49ers and said the board will not recommend the requirement for 49ers games when the team returns to play next season. Outdoor events pose far less health risks than indoor events, she added, and attending an event where people wear masks and are separated is essentially the same as going to the beach or dining in an open-air restaurant, which does not require a vaccine or test proof.
‘Do I think it will be the standard? No way, ”she said. “The transmission outdoors is very low. About 1 in 1,000 broadcasts take place outside. If anything, we should encourage outdoor activities. The ventilation is as good as outside. “
Health departments in several Bay Area counties, including Alameda and Sonoma, said on Wednesday they have no plans to violate state rules. For now, those rules don’t require testing or vaccination to attend events. Rather, they set limits on the number of people who can attend.
Until June 15, California professional sports teams can have up to 25% of their pre-pandemic capacity, vaccinated or not, if their country is graded in the red reopening tier. That rises to 33% in the orange tier, which includes every Bay Area County except Solano, along with Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Cruz, Monterey, and others.
The San Jose Earthquakes, whose first home game is April 24, is planning 20% capacity, with masks and separate seating, but no mandatory vaccinations or testing.
However, if teams verify that all fans have tested negative or been vaccinated, state rules allow up to 67% of normal capacity in the orange tier.
Gavin Newsom and other government officials have not said what will happen to the rules for sporting events after June 15.
The state has also recently enacted rules allowing venues hosting concerts, plays or other events to welcome larger crowds if they require visitors to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test or full vaccination. However, California will continue to restrict certain major events, such as music festivals and indoor conventions. In the case of conventions, state regulations ban events with more than 5,000 attendees until Oct. 1 – unless organizers receive proof of vaccinations or negative tests from attendees.
Asked about vaccine verification in a newsletter Tuesday, Secretary of Health and Human Services Mark Ghaly said, “There are currently no plans by the state to enforce or have a vaccine passport system.”
“That said,” added Ghaly, “We know that companies are already exploring how to ensure that vaccinated people can come and enjoy some of the privileges of vaccination through verification. This is an approach that many companies (and ) many customers will expect, so we work with a number of individuals and entities across the state to ensure that this is done in a responsible, fair and equitable manner. ”
That seems to be where the broader trend is headed, said Dr. George Rutherford, an epidemiologist at UCSF. Rutherford said he supports the rules for the Giants because fans gather close to each other on sidewalks outside the games, but he expects the city to lift them soon if the number of cases continues to decline.
But he said some sort of “vaccine passport” system is likely to be powered by private companies such as airlines and music promoters who want more paying customers than state or federal rules would otherwise allow, and a lower risk of transmission. Both the European Union and China are making headway with plans for vaccine passports for international travelers.
“I think it’s inevitable,” said Rutherford.
Staci Slaughter, a spokeswoman for the Giants, said that while some fans may see the requirement as a hassle, others have said they are grateful for the extra layer of security.
All she would say is that the Giants “have a backup plan” for fans who show up with a ticket but no proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test and refused to explain what it was. “We have a way of working with them to make it easier for them to access the baseball field if they show up without knowing what to do,” she said. “We’ll do that.”
Whether other parts of California will copy what San Francisco needs remains to be seen, she said.
“I’m sure it will be county by county,” she said, “and as more people get vaccinated, there will likely be more consistency across the state. But it is difficult to predict these things. We all do our best. “