By Gabriella Borter
(Reuters) -San Francisco announced on Thursday that proof of full vaccination would be required for entry to restaurants, gyms and other indoor venues, aiming to curb a new wave of COVID infections that has prompted public health mandates across the country.
San Francisco, which launches its mandate on Aug. 20, is the second major city to pass a sweeping vaccine requirement for indoor businesses after New York, which only requires proof of one vaccination dose.
The vaccine mandates in two liberal cities have come as schools in some conservative states are fighting to require masks, going against their Republican governors’ orders.
The board of Houston’s public schools was expected to vote on Thursday to defy a state ban on mask mandates, joining other districts in Texas and Florida requiring face coverings in classrooms to fight a surge of COVID-19 infections, despite threats from state leadership.
The measure is likely to pass, with a majority of board members expressing support for requiring masks in schools, the Houston Chronicle reported.
As the start of the academic year coincides with a dire new wave of COVID-19 cases, schools have quickly become the focal point of the nation’s political fight over masking and vaccine mandates.
Florida has threatened to withhold the salaries of school officials who require masks, a move that has escalated tension between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, and the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden, a Democrat.
The White House is considering reimbursing Florida school officials if DeSantis, who is widely seen as weighing a potential 2024 challenge for the presidency, follows through on his threat.
The Delta variant appears to be flattening the pace of the U.S. economic recovery after a big upswing in the first half of 2021, according to Oxford Economics U.S. Recovery Tracker.
“Sharply deteriorating health conditions are the main reason why the South’s recovery is now losing momentum,” Oxford’s lead U.S. economist Oren Klachkin said. “And the rapid uptick in Covid cases in the region is causing activity to moderate and mobility and employment to stagnate.”
HEALTH CARE STRETCHED THIN
The worst of the U.S. COVID outbreak is concentrated in the South, including Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, where intensive care units have been stretched to capacity. While flouting federal recommendations on masks, Florida has asked Washington to help by sending ventilators.
The number of daily cases across the country has doubled in the last two weeks, according to a Reuters tally, reaching a six-month peak, while the average number of daily deaths has increased 85% in the last 14 days.
“Our frontline health care heroes are finding themselves stretched thin and physical and mental exhaustion is taking its toll,” Florida Hospital Association President Mary Mayhew said in a statement on Tuesday, adding that people in their 20s and 30s were being hospitalized with the virus.
Leaders in Democrat-led states and cities have moved swiftly to impose COVID-19 mask and vaccine requirements in the face of the Delta variant.
San Francisco’s new vaccine mandate for indoor businesses extends to employees as well as patrons. Employees of restaurants, gyms and other venues have until Oct. 13 to show proof of full vaccination, the order says. Proof of vaccination will also be required for attendees at indoor events of 1,000 people or more.
Meanwhile, California, Illinois, Kentucky and New Jersey, all led by Democratic governors, have required masks in all schools.
On Thursday, the National Education Association President Becky Pringle, who leads the largest teachers’ union in the country, said she supported vaccine mandates for teachers. Her statement came on the heels of a similar announcement from the American Federation of Teachers’ president earlier this week.
(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in Washington; Additional reporting by Peter Szekely and Dan Burns in New York and Manas Mishra in Washington; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)