Puerto Rico requires vaccinations in food, drink sector

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Rico’s governor announced Wednesday that employees of restaurants or other enclosed places that serve food or drinks will have to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, and customers will have to show a vaccination card or a negative virus test.

The new rules, which take effect Aug. 23, come as the U.S. territory faces a spike in coronavirus infections blamed largely on the delta variant. Those who do not comply face up to six months in jail or up to a $5,000 fine.

“As governor, I have the responsibility … of taking the necessary measures to guarantee everyone’s health,” said Gov. Pedro Pierluisi.

Customers at other enclosed places including theaters, coliseums and convention centers also will have to present proof of vaccination or a negative test. Pierluisi said another option will soon be available: a QR code that vaccinated people can obtain if they enroll through a new government system.

While the vaccination requirements are mandatory for employees, restaurants and other places that decide not to request proof from customers must lower their maximum capacity to 50%, the governor said.

Pierluisi added that if employees do not get vaccinated, they must present negative coronavirus tests.

“If these measures do not have a significant impact, I will be forced to implement additional restrictions,” Pierluisi said.

The former and future presidents of Puerto Rico’s Restaurant Association said they fully support that employees be vaccinated but raised concerns about asking clients for proof of vaccination or a negative test.

Mateo Cidre, the association’s upcoming president and owner of several restaurants, said that the logistics will be complicated and that he had hoped they would be given time to see how New York City implements such measures.

He wondered what he should do if a customer shows up and says he cannot be vaccinated for health reasons.

“Am I supposed to ask him why not, what does he have?” Cidre said.

Ramón Leal, the association’s former president, said restaurants will likely end up losing money and opt to operate at 50% capacity because employees are scarce and owners can’t afford to have a worker exclusively posted at the door to check customers.

“There’s a shortage never before seen in the restaurant industry,” he said of workers, adding that scenario could change once federal pandemic funds run out in upcoming weeks.

Wednesday’s announcement follows recent ones in which Puerto Rico’s governor has said that vaccinations are required of public employees, government contractors, hotel guests and staff and all health facility workers, among others.

“The goal here is for everyone to get vaccinated,” he said.

The U.S. territory of more than 3.3 million people has reported more than 130,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 2,600 deaths from COVID-19. Some 76% of people have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

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