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In-N-Out Burger clashes with San Francisco over vaccine mandate: ‘We refuse to become the vaccination police’

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 10/20/2021 Julian Mark
a sign on a pole: A customer receives an order from the drive-through at an In-N-Out Burger in 2010. © Adam Lau/AP A customer receives an order from the drive-through at an In-N-Out Burger in 2010.

Popular California burger chain In-N-Out is refusing to comply with San Francisco’s mandate that restaurants check vaccine cards before allowing customers to dine indoors — a move that resulted in a temporary shutdown of the city’s only location.

“We refuse to become the vaccination police for any government,” Arnie Wensinger, the company’s chief legal and business officer, said in a statement shared with The Washington Post. “It is unreasonable, invasive, and unsafe to force our restaurant Associates to segregate Customers into those who may be served and those who may not, whether based on the documentation they carry, or any other reason.”

The clash comes as the country remains divided about pandemic policies, with vaccination mandates in the public and private sectors prompting unrest and firings. San Francisco, like New York City, requires customers to be vaccinated before they can dine inside, and restaurants are responsible for checking cards at the door.

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San Francisco health officials have had to remind employees at the In-N-Out location to check vaccine cards multiple times since late September, a San Francisco Department of Public Health spokesperson said in a statement to The Post.

Despite the warnings, employees did not comply, forcing the city’s Health Department to shut down the restaurant on Oct. 14 — the only time the agency has ordered a closure for a vaccine-card violation, the Health Department spokesperson wrote. The fast-food restaurant, located in San Francisco’s touristy Fisherman’s Wharf, has since reopened, though without the option of indoor dining, the Health Department said.

“Vaccines remain our best tool to fight this disease and come out of the pandemic,” the Health Department spokesperson wrote. “Vaccination is particularly important in a public indoor setting where groups of people are gathering and removing their masks, factors that make it easier for the virus to spread.”

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But Wensinger says San Francisco is overstepping. The burger chain, he said, believes in the “highest form of customer service,” and that means allowing customers to eat indoors regardless of their vaccination status.

“We fiercely disagree with any government dictate that forces a private company to discriminate against customers who choose to patronize their business,” Wensinger said. “This is clear governmental overreach and is intrusive, improper and offensive.”

Resistance to vaccine mandates has played out in school districts, sports leagues, police departments, airlines and hospitals. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court declined to halt the enforcement of the vaccine mandate for Maine health-care workers after similarly declining such requests from Indiana University students and New York City educators.

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On Monday, Washington State University fired its football coach — the state’s highest-paid employee — after he refused to comply with the governor’s order that all state employees must be vaccinated.

In-N-Out has about 370 locations, all of them in states west of the Mississippi River. The burger chain’s following and mystique have generated 14-hour wait lines, as well as copycats in Australia and Washington.

In 2018, California Democrats briefly called for a boycott of the burger chain because the company donated $30,000 to the state’s Republican Party, although the move quickly fizzled.


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