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Durham Now Mandates Masks Inside Restaurants; Some Owners Want to Require Vaccines

The latest on restaurant restrictions in the Triangle

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*Update August 25 - A list of Durham restaurants who require or will soon require proof of vaccination is at the end of this article.

As COVID-19 cases in North Carolina started to rise again over the past couple of weeks a group of downtown Durham restaurant owners began to talk amongst themselves — what about requiring masks indoors again? What about staff vaccinations? Across the nation restaurants have been forced to navigate competing health recommendations and requirements, and essentially police their own customers. It’s an almost impossible spot to be in.

“This is a public relations minefield,” said Elizabeth Turnbull, co-owner of Cuban restaurant Copa. “Placing the burden of public health decisions on already struggling small businesses is unfair and unhelpful.”

Luckily Durham County and the Durham City Council may have just taken some of the heat for them, announcing Saturday night an emergency measure requiring everyone to wear masks indoors beginning Monday, August 9th, regardless of vaccination status.

In a press release, Durham Mayor Steve Schewel said, “It is unfortunate we are in this situation, but the delta variant is extremely dangerous. Our local cases have grown exponentially over the last weeks and instituting a mask mandate is once again necessary to contain the spread of COVID-19 and protect yourself and our vulnerable neighbors.”

Still, some Durham restaurants are planning to go a step further.

“Honestly, for those wanting to require proof of vaccination for indoor dining, I’m not sure this will change much,” says Turnbull. “For restaurants and bars, so many customers are unmasked at once while eating and drinking, they may still want to take further precautions.”

One downtown restaurant, Rue Cler, has already put up signage indicating that intend to require proof of vaccination for all customers over the age of 12 beginning August 10th according to a sign posted on their front door and on their Facebook page.

[UPDATE] Michelle Vanderwalker and Sean Umstead, co-owners of nearby cocktail bar Kingfisher, also announced plans to ask customers to confirm vaccination status before entering.

“We have been adjusting and paying attention to the attitudes of our community with regards to COVID for 18 months,” Umstead explains, “and we feel this is the right time to adjust again.”

“We also think that requiring vaccines for indoor service allows Kingfisher to continue to be a happy, enjoyable, and relaxed place to [have] a cocktail, which is the core reason we exist.”

Umstead says they will delay implementation of the new policy for a week to allow their customers time to adjust and secure proof of vaccination, and will accept both physical and digital proof when they begin asking. He also acknowledges that they will likely get some pushback.

“We of course expect some backlash, it’s inevitable,” he says, “but we truly believe this is a policy that includes more of our guests than it excludes.”

“It is going to be a bummer when someone forgets their proof, but ‘s already a bummer when they forget their ID,” Umstead points out.

It is likely that other Durham restaurants will follow suit in following days and weeks. Down the road, Orange County has reinstated mask mandates within government-owned buildings, and some restaurants like Raleigh’s Players Retreat and Carrboro’s Pizzeria Mercato have instituted their own proof-of-vaccination requirements. Durham is the first city/county in the Triangle to go back to universal masking.

Downtown Durham Restaurants/Bars Currently Requiring Proof of Vaccination

Copa [Official]
Durham Officials Announce New State of Emergency in the Face of the Delta Variant [Durham County]
Orange County Government Reinstates Mask Mandate in Facilities [Chapelboro.com]
Restaurant Requiring Proof of Vaccination for Indoor Dining, May Stop Serving Unvaccinated People [Spectrum]
Carrboro Pizzeria to Require COVID-19 Vaccine for Indoor Dining [CBS17]

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