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Unvaccinated? Think twice before booking trips to these 5 US cities

The Points Guy logo The Points Guy 9/27/2021 Caroline Tanner
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If you’re like me and plan on staying closer to home for any remaining travels this year, you might be surprised to know that five U.S. cities and one resort group have implemented COVID-19 vaccine mandates thus far. Proof of vaccination is currently required to access certain indoor spaces in San Francisco; Los Angeles; Palm Springs, California; New York City; New Orleans; and Vail Resorts.

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Each of these cities accepts vaccinations approved for use by the World Health Organization or approved and authorized by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. That includes the big three here in the United States: Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

San Francisco

On Aug. 12, San Francisco became the first major U.S. city to institute a wide-reaching vaccination mandate for indoor activities, requiring proof of full vaccination for certain indoor activities for participants ages 12 and older starting Aug. 20. The mandate was put into place in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 among the unvaccinated while allowing businesses and schools to remain open. The ruling was particularly broad in reach, applicable not only to public indoor events with 1,000 or more people but private events as well.

San Francisco businesses will accept the aforementioned big three vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson), in addition to those by Sinopharm, AstraZeneca and the Serum Institute of India.

As of Sept. 22, face masks are required indoors throughout the city as well as on public transportation (and cable cars), regardless of vaccination status, per the San Francisco Travel Association (which did not respond to a request for comment).

San Francisco International Airport (SFO) also became the first airport in the U.S. to implement a full vaccination mandate for its employees, effective Sept. 21.

“Throughout this pandemic, SFO has been leading the aviation industry in protecting passengers and employees alike,” airport director Ivar C. Satero said in a statement. “As SFO prepares for the upcoming holiday travel season, and the return of pre-pandemic passenger levels, we have an obligation to provide a safe airport facility for the traveling public and our on-site employees.”

San Francisco is among the most vaccinated U.S. cities, with 74% of all residents fully vaccinated and 79% with at least one dose as of Sept. 23, per data from the San Francisco Public Health Department.

Related: Even as cable cars return to San Francisco, Bay Area reinstates face mask orders

Los Angeles

On Sept. 15, California’s largest city announced plans to require proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test at bars, breweries, wineries, nightclubs and lounges. Proof of at least partial vaccination must be shown by Oct. 7 and documentation of full vaccination is required come Nov. 4.

Unlike the other vaccination mandates mentioned, LA’s requirement does not yet apply to restaurants, although many restaurants have reportedly implemented mandates on their own.

Additionally, Los Angeles County announced it would be extending the same requirements to indoor events with 1,000-plus attendees and outdoor “mega-events” with 10,000 or more people — which includes Universal Studios Hollywood and Six Flags Magic Mountain, the first major theme parks in the U.S. to be affected by new vaccine requirements.


Related: Los Angeles announces vaccination requirement for bars and theme parks

Per the Los Angeles County Public Health Department, acceptable proof of vaccination status includes a photo ID with any one of the following:

  • CDC-issued vaccination record card (white card)
  • WHO vaccination record card (yellow card)
  • California Department of Public Health COVID-19 digital vaccination record
  • Other COVID-19 digital vaccination records issued by an approved company
  • Documentation of vaccination from a health care provider or entity
  • California Immunization Registry vaccination record

Face masks have been required indoors in Los Angeles regardless of vaccination status since July. Discover Los Angeles did not respond to a request for comment.

Health officials also note that 68% of Los Angeles’ eligible residents age 12 and older are fully vaccinated, while 76% are partially vaccinated as of Sept. 20.

California as a whole

“With one of the nation’s highest vaccination rates and lowest case rates, California is open to welcome visitors,” says Visit California, the state’s official tourism board. “Masks are required for everyone in indoor public settings in many counties, including Los Angeles, and recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control for indoor public settings in most of the state.”

Largely due to high vaccination numbers in its two largest cities, LA and San Diego, California boasts a state-wide vaccination rate at nearly 70%, per data from the state government’s vaccine tracker. State officials implemented the aforementioned requirement of proof of vaccination or a negative test for large-scale events as a statewide mandate through at least Nov. 1.

Elsewhere in the state, face masks, proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours are required to eat indoors at restaurants and bars in Palm Springs, thanks to two orders issued by the Palm Springs City Council in August. Riverside County, which includes Palm Springs and the rest of the Coachella Valley, has recorded a 57% full vaccination rate as of Sept. 22, according to data from the county’s public health department.

New York City

On Aug. 17, “Key to NYC” marked the first rollout of a partial vaccination mandate by a U.S. city, restricting access to all indoor activities to those with proof of at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine that has been authorized by the FDA or WHO.

Key to NYC is a wide-reaching mandate applicable to establishments within the indoor dining, fitness and entertainment realm — including restaurants, bars, grocery stores with indoor dining, coffee shops, theaters, museums and gyms. You’ll be required to show proof through the NYC COVID Safe app, New York state’s Excelsior Pass, a hard copy or photocopy of the CDC-issued vaccination card, NYC vaccination record or an official immunization record from outside New York City or the U.S.

NYC Go could not be reached for comment.

Since Sept. 13, New York City has enforced its vaccination mandate for all those age 12 and older, catching up with entertainment venues, bars and clubs that had already done so on their own, such as Broadway.

Related: Visiting NYC? What you need to know about proof of vaccination for indoor activities

The iconic theater district announced a vaccination and mask mandate back in July to attend performances in all of Broadway’s 41 theatres through October. The difference with the Broadway mandate is that full vaccination is required, rather than just a partial dose.

Theatergoers must be at least 14 days past their final dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Young attendees under 12 years old and those with proof of “serious” religious or medical exemptions may enter by showing results of a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours or a rapid antigen test taken within six hours of the show. Furthermore, all guests over 18 must show a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license or passport, and those under 18 may use a school ID. Children under 12 must be accompanied by adults showing a photo ID, meaning a 12-year-old could not attend Broadway by themselves.

Broadway ticket holders will receive an email 15 days out from a show, reminding attendees of the rules.

“Before you go, make sure you read the health and safety policies below,” the email reads. “Vaccinations and masks are required at the theatre, so if you’re not vaccinated, you can get a one-dose vaccine in the next 24 hours and meet the 14-day requirement.”

(Screenshot courtesy of Telecharge Customer Service) © The Points Guy (Screenshot courtesy of Telecharge Customer Service)

As of Sept. 23, just over 62% of New York City residents are fully vaccinated and nearly 70% are partially vaccinated, according to data from the City of New York.

Related: Broadway is reopening: Don’t forget your proof of vaccination, masks and negative COVID-19 tests for kids

Vail Resorts

Vail Resorts, a group of mountain resorts and regional ski areas in 15 states and three countries, announced indoor COVID-19-related safety protocols at its 34 North American resorts for the approaching 2021-22 ski season.

“Face coverings will be required in indoor settings, including in restaurants, lodging properties, restrooms, retail and rental locations, and on buses,” Vail Resorts said in a press release on Sept. 20. “Face coverings will not be required outdoors, in lift lines, or on chairlifts or gondolas, unless required by local public health. (For example, Whistler Blackcomb requires face coverings on gondolas due to orders from the Provincial Health Authority of British Columbia).”

Additionally, all guests over the age of 12 will be required to show proof of vaccination for indoor dining at “on-mountain quick-service (cafeteria-style) restaurants.” Note that this also applies to guests in ski- and ride-school programs that provide lunch but not full-service indoor restaurants or outdoor restaurants.

“We are fortunate that the core of our business takes place outdoors in vast mountain settings. However, as we welcome guests from around the world to the indoor experience at our resorts, we feel it’s important to do our part to combat the spread of COVID-19 and to keep our guests, employees and communities safe. That is why we’re requiring face coverings indoors – and it’s why we’re requiring vaccinations at our indoor quick-service restaurants,” Lindsay Hogan, communications director at Vail Resorts, told me via email.

“Our on-mountain quick-service restaurants are very unique dining locations,” she said. “They are large-scale, cafeteria-style facilities with a high volume and high density of guests who often times will be sitting at the same table with other parties and, of course, will not be wearing face coverings while eating and drinking. This vaccination requirement is very similar to what is happening across the country with other large-scale indoor event and venue spaces contending with similar dynamics.”

While additional details on the verification process are yet to be announced, this is “currently the only part of the resort experience that will require proof of vaccination, unless required by local public health,” per the release from Vail Resorts.

“While we always follow local public health guidelines, given our focus on safety, we will also institute our own policies where we believe it is necessary.  We believe these unique locations require additional precautions to help ensure the safety of our guests and our employees,” said Hogan. “Our safety protocols were designed to support a long and enjoyable ski and ride season, and most importantly, to help keep our guests, employees and communities safe as we navigate this pandemic.”

Related: New season, new rules: 4 things to know if you ski at Vail Resorts this winter



A citywide indoor mask mandate remains in place across Chicago since Aug. 20, but while Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and other local officials have recommended requiring proof of vaccination for restaurants, bars, theaters, gyms and music venues, the city has stopped short of implementing an official mandate. This is despite receiving a letter from eight city council members urging her and city health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady to follow the lead of other U.S. cities that have vaccination mandates in place. The letter was reportedly met with pushback from the Chicago Restaurants Coalition but is supported by the Illinois Restaurant Association.

“The IRA supports vaccinations for everyone — it’s the best way to get the pandemic behind us,” the Illinois Restaurant Association said in a press statement on Sept. 10.

Chicago’s reopening plan in August called for split seating in restaurants to distinguish between vaccinated patrons and others, allowing the former group to resume indoor consumption as normal without masks. Since then, some local bars and restaurants have continued to require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 24 hours, although there is no formal requirement to do so.

The mayor recently announced a city-wide campaign to vaccinate at least 77% of Chicago’s eligible population by the end of the year.

“We’re all in this together, and when one area of the city falls behind on vaccination it impacts all of us,” Arwady said in a press statement on Sept. 23. “From the very beginning, we’ve seen that it is not only essential to provide easy access to vaccination, but it is equally important that the unvaccinated hear from trusted community voices about why they chose to get vaccinated. Those two factors have helped our numbers trend upward. We want to celebrate these businesses, communities, and Chicagoans who are joining this movement to make our city safer for everyone.”

More than half (57%) of Chicago residents have been fully vaccinated as of Sept. 23, while 62% have received the first dose, per data from the city.

Chicago’s official tourism organization, Choose Chicago, failed to respond to a request for comment.

Related: Chicago restaurant eyes ‘vaccinated’ and ‘unvaccinated’ dining sections as restrictions lift

Washington, DC

Although D.C. has required masks in indoor public spaces since July, it’s refrained from mirroring some of its East Coast counterparts in mandating vaccines. When asked why the District has stopped short of doing the same for vaccines, Destination DC, the city’s official tourism site, said a vaccine mandate would “make sense,” while deferring to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.

“Safety comes first for obvious reasons, and safety measures including wearing masks indoors and providing proof of vaccination make sense to keep our visitors and residents healthy,” Elliott L. Ferguson, II, president and CEO of Destination DC, said via email. “We are also seeing testing or rapid testing at private or large events becoming a requirement, regardless of vaccination status.”

Like New York, many D.C.-area restaurants and bars have begun requiring proof of vaccination for their employees and customers, including full-service restaurants in Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group such as Maialino Mare and Anchovy Social.

Event venues throughout the D.C. area, including in nearby Maryland and Northern Virginia, have also issued their own vaccination and/or testing requirements.

Related: The future of travel is vaccine certificates: These are the popular destinations and tourist attractions requiring proof of vaccination


About three hours north of D.C., we’ve seen local Philadelphia officials place the burden to implement vaccination mandates on businesses and institutions, which has encouraged many restaurants, bars, gyms and event venues to act.

The city is requiring all businesses and institutions not requiring vaccination for entry to comply with indoor mask mandates.

New Orleans

New Orleans is the only city in the South to require a partial vaccination or a negative PCR test for people 12 and older attending certain indoor activities with a high transmission risk, including restaurants, bars, microbreweries, concerts, event spaces and gyms. This is in addition to an ongoing indoor mask mandate that applies regardless of vaccination status.

Visitors to New Orleans can show vaccination status one of four ways:

  • Via the state’s LA Wallet app
  • CDC card — an original copy, digital copy or photocopy
  • Other official vaccination record issued by another state, foreign country or the WHO
  • Vaccine trial record issued by a vaccine clinical trial

The city of New Orleans has vaccinated nearly 58% of its total population and 72.5% of adults as of Sept. 23, according to city data.

Related: San Francisco and New Orleans are latest US cities to institute vaccine mandates

Bottom line

While it remains to be seen whether more U.S. cities will follow suit in requiring proof of vaccination to resume a way of life indoors, it seems the decisions are being made based on geographic politics and with some protest. Currently, seven states (plus D.C.) have mask mandates for all persons, while three have one for unvaccinated persons only. Various cities and counties have also taken measures in their own hands in the absence of state mandates.

Whether you are traveling to one of the coasts or somewhere in between, be sure to check the latest updates from local officials in your desired destination.

Related: The future of travel is vaccine certificates: These are the popular destinations and tourist attractions requiring proof of vaccination

Featured photo of COVID-19 vaccine mandate protesters in New York City on Sept. 18 by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.


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