News

June 15 won't be a 'light switch' for businesses, but instead another step towards normalcy

Fully vaccinated customers can go maskless and capacity restrictions will be lifted

Personal trainer Jon Angeles guides a client through a set of bench presses at Palo Alto Fit in Palo Alto on June 11, 2021. Photo by Lloyd Lee.

For weeks since COVID-19 vaccines became more accessible and health restrictions decreased, businesses have been experiencing a healthy influx of customers — in numbers they haven't seen since the pandemic began.

"We already bounced back three months ago," said Nina Nguyen, owner of Palo Alto Fit, a fitness studio on Portage Avenue that specializes in personal training.

So when Tuesday comes — California's "reopening" date that will allow fully vaccinated persons to take off their masks in most settings and for indoor places to lift all capacity restrictions — businesses won't suddenly return to a prepandemic "normal."

Instead, June 15 will set off small but significant shifts for customers, most of whom will no longer have to wear masks, and businesses, which can get closer to serving a true full house of patrons.

Having capacity limits at 100% won't be a major turning point for Palo Alto Fit, which has suffered from but ultimately weathered the pandemic because its business model focuses on appointment-based, one-to-one personal training sessions. But the update does give back clients the comfort of exercising without a sweaty mask on.

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"We're very excited," Nguyen said. "We have a little more freedom now especially if everyone is vaccinated."

Nguyen, who opened the studio in 2015, said her gym will verify every clients' vaccination status and have them sign a liability waiver if they want to train without a mask on. For the unvaccinated, clients will have to keep their mask on or exercise outside, she said. All clients, however, will still have the option to do virtual training sessions.

In many ways, the studio reflects how most businesses will approach the June 15 update — particularly in how they'll determine who is vaccinated and who is not, since businesses aren't legally required to check vaccination statuses.

Julia Pangalangan, personal trainer and nutrition coach, instructs Valerie Peterson, a rising freshman beach volleyball player for the University of Oregon, at Palo Alto Fit in Palo Alto on June 11, 2021. Photo by Lloyd Lee.

In a press conference on June 9, state Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said that, beyond posting signage that notifies how unvaccinated people must wear masks, businesses can rely on the honor system.

"If somebody comes into their business or their operation without a mask, it should be considered a self-attestation for someone being vaccinated," Ghaly said. "We are not requiring businesses to, for example, have somebody at the door checking vaccine status as a way to comply with this.”

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But some businesses are opting to check their customers' vaccination status anyway.

At La Migliore Salon in Menlo Park, owner Showa Sahle said she likes to pay meticulous attention to the details of her clients' hair salon experience, providing them small amenities like coffee and making sure they're comfortable as they get their hair done.

Hair stylist Jozette Estrada serves a customer at La Migliore Aveda Hair Salon in Menlo Park on June 15, 2021. Photo by Daniela Beltran B.

When Tuesday arrives, vaccination statuses will be a major determiner for how Sahle and her hair stylists interact with their patrons.

"It's not like we're going to refuse a client," Sahle said. "But we're going to know how to handle them."

Vaccination statuses, for example, will help Sahle know if customers can get their hair done without a mask on and if other hair stylists need to maintain a 6-feet distance from the person. Vaccinated people will also be able to wait inside the salon for their appointment, whereas unvaccinated customers will have to wait outside.

"Not to be mean," she said. "But just to be cautious. Protect them and protect ourselves."

Sahle said on Thursday that she would be sending emails to all her clients about how things will shift once June 15 arrives.

Business operators seemed to welcome the small changes that June 15 will bring, but Paul Brannon, who oversees operations at MP Mongolian BBQ in Menlo Park, said the reopening date won't be a "light switch" for businesses. Instead, the date will be another social signal for the more trepid that things are getting safer and it may be OK to sit down inside an establishment.

Chris Sanford, left, and Amanda Blackiston, right, fill their bowls at MP Mongolian BBQ in Menlo Park on June 11, 2021. Photo by Lloyd Lee.

"I think people will use it as a guide and say, 'OK, now we can start getting ready to go back to normal,'" said Brannon, who has worked at the restaurant for eight years.

That signal could especially be a boon for self-serve style restaurants like MP Mongolian where customers often have to wait in a line in close proximity and share tongs and serving spoons with each other. According to Brannon, it was only about a month ago when the restaurant once again allowed customers to serve themselves the raw ingredients they want in their dish — typical for Mongolian BBQ where the food still has to be stir-fried afterwards — as opposed to having the staff fill it up for them.

MP Mongolian has also seen an uptick in customers since April when indoor dining was allowed by San Mateo County. For most of the pandemic, the restaurant has depended on takeout, since the location and the format of the business isn't conducive to outdoor dining. But Brannon believes that his restaurant has fared better than other self-serve style restaurants such as buffets, since the food isn't cooked until the customers choose the ingredients they want and a chef cooks them at very high temperatures on a large iron griddle.

"I think people felt more safe with that," Brannon said.

A cook prepares a meal at MP Mongolian BBQ in Menlo Park on June 11, 2021. Photo by Lloyd Lee.

The small buffet portion of MP Mongolian, which Brannon called a "hot table" where diners can serve themselves fried egg rolls, fried rice and sweet and sour pork, remains closed. Customers can still place an order of eggrolls, for example, but until more clear guidance is given from the state or county on buffets, that part of the restaurant will stay closed.

"I don't even know if there is a restriction," he said.

As the state removes restrictions, store operators are eager to move away from the constant state of uncertainty and flexibility they've had to adopt during the pandemic, which at one point forced businesses to close indoor operations within weeks of reopening.

One challenge that lies ahead as customers come back? Finding more employees.

Sahle at La Migliore said having an extra stylist now would be helpful as walk-in customers become more frequent. At MP Mongolian BBQ, two employees maintain a restaurant that used to be staffed with six to eight workers. The work is becoming physically demanding, Brannon said, but he was grateful at least to see customers return.

"It'll still be a slow, uphill slog, but just the fact that enough people are coming in for us to keep the doors open is a relief," he said. "Now it's hard to find employees."

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June 15 won't be a 'light switch' for businesses, but instead another step towards normalcy

Fully vaccinated customers can go maskless and capacity restrictions will be lifted

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Mon, Jun 14, 2021, 9:44 am

For weeks since COVID-19 vaccines became more accessible and health restrictions decreased, businesses have been experiencing a healthy influx of customers — in numbers they haven't seen since the pandemic began.

"We already bounced back three months ago," said Nina Nguyen, owner of Palo Alto Fit, a fitness studio on Portage Avenue that specializes in personal training.

So when Tuesday comes — California's "reopening" date that will allow fully vaccinated persons to take off their masks in most settings and for indoor places to lift all capacity restrictions — businesses won't suddenly return to a prepandemic "normal."

Instead, June 15 will set off small but significant shifts for customers, most of whom will no longer have to wear masks, and businesses, which can get closer to serving a true full house of patrons.

Having capacity limits at 100% won't be a major turning point for Palo Alto Fit, which has suffered from but ultimately weathered the pandemic because its business model focuses on appointment-based, one-to-one personal training sessions. But the update does give back clients the comfort of exercising without a sweaty mask on.

"We're very excited," Nguyen said. "We have a little more freedom now especially if everyone is vaccinated."

Nguyen, who opened the studio in 2015, said her gym will verify every clients' vaccination status and have them sign a liability waiver if they want to train without a mask on. For the unvaccinated, clients will have to keep their mask on or exercise outside, she said. All clients, however, will still have the option to do virtual training sessions.

In many ways, the studio reflects how most businesses will approach the June 15 update — particularly in how they'll determine who is vaccinated and who is not, since businesses aren't legally required to check vaccination statuses.

In a press conference on June 9, state Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said that, beyond posting signage that notifies how unvaccinated people must wear masks, businesses can rely on the honor system.

"If somebody comes into their business or their operation without a mask, it should be considered a self-attestation for someone being vaccinated," Ghaly said. "We are not requiring businesses to, for example, have somebody at the door checking vaccine status as a way to comply with this.”

But some businesses are opting to check their customers' vaccination status anyway.

At La Migliore Salon in Menlo Park, owner Showa Sahle said she likes to pay meticulous attention to the details of her clients' hair salon experience, providing them small amenities like coffee and making sure they're comfortable as they get their hair done.

When Tuesday arrives, vaccination statuses will be a major determiner for how Sahle and her hair stylists interact with their patrons.

"It's not like we're going to refuse a client," Sahle said. "But we're going to know how to handle them."

Vaccination statuses, for example, will help Sahle know if customers can get their hair done without a mask on and if other hair stylists need to maintain a 6-feet distance from the person. Vaccinated people will also be able to wait inside the salon for their appointment, whereas unvaccinated customers will have to wait outside.

"Not to be mean," she said. "But just to be cautious. Protect them and protect ourselves."

Sahle said on Thursday that she would be sending emails to all her clients about how things will shift once June 15 arrives.

Business operators seemed to welcome the small changes that June 15 will bring, but Paul Brannon, who oversees operations at MP Mongolian BBQ in Menlo Park, said the reopening date won't be a "light switch" for businesses. Instead, the date will be another social signal for the more trepid that things are getting safer and it may be OK to sit down inside an establishment.

"I think people will use it as a guide and say, 'OK, now we can start getting ready to go back to normal,'" said Brannon, who has worked at the restaurant for eight years.

That signal could especially be a boon for self-serve style restaurants like MP Mongolian where customers often have to wait in a line in close proximity and share tongs and serving spoons with each other. According to Brannon, it was only about a month ago when the restaurant once again allowed customers to serve themselves the raw ingredients they want in their dish — typical for Mongolian BBQ where the food still has to be stir-fried afterwards — as opposed to having the staff fill it up for them.

MP Mongolian has also seen an uptick in customers since April when indoor dining was allowed by San Mateo County. For most of the pandemic, the restaurant has depended on takeout, since the location and the format of the business isn't conducive to outdoor dining. But Brannon believes that his restaurant has fared better than other self-serve style restaurants such as buffets, since the food isn't cooked until the customers choose the ingredients they want and a chef cooks them at very high temperatures on a large iron griddle.

"I think people felt more safe with that," Brannon said.

The small buffet portion of MP Mongolian, which Brannon called a "hot table" where diners can serve themselves fried egg rolls, fried rice and sweet and sour pork, remains closed. Customers can still place an order of eggrolls, for example, but until more clear guidance is given from the state or county on buffets, that part of the restaurant will stay closed.

"I don't even know if there is a restriction," he said.

As the state removes restrictions, store operators are eager to move away from the constant state of uncertainty and flexibility they've had to adopt during the pandemic, which at one point forced businesses to close indoor operations within weeks of reopening.

One challenge that lies ahead as customers come back? Finding more employees.

Sahle at La Migliore said having an extra stylist now would be helpful as walk-in customers become more frequent. At MP Mongolian BBQ, two employees maintain a restaurant that used to be staffed with six to eight workers. The work is becoming physically demanding, Brannon said, but he was grateful at least to see customers return.

"It'll still be a slow, uphill slog, but just the fact that enough people are coming in for us to keep the doors open is a relief," he said. "Now it's hard to find employees."

Comments

Butch Lindstrom
Registered user
another community
on Jun 14, 2021 at 12:47 pm
Butch Lindstrom, another community
Registered user
on Jun 14, 2021 at 12:47 pm

"If somebody comes into their business or their operation without a mask, it should be considered a self-attestation for someone being vaccinated," Ghaly said."

^ Yeah right.

And shouldn't salad bars continue to be off-limits to diners? Too much outside exposure.

The unvaccinated should have harsher restrictions placed upon them than those who are already vaccinated...including the mandatory wearing of facemasks and extremely limited access to certain places of business.

The unvaccinated should be viewed as the pariahs (i.e. the 'untouchables' caste) of the post Covid-19 era.


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 14, 2021 at 1:57 pm
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Jun 14, 2021 at 1:57 pm

Two issues here as I see it.

Firstly the necessity or willingness of volunteering vaccine information to enter a business. That may make some feel more safe, but others unsafe to enter a business that does not require this information at the door. Some will enjoy the freedom of entering without a mask. Others may feel it more dangerous to their health to enter a business that does not require masks for all. Vaccination status is a big issue as is masks.

Secondly, the assumption will become that those who are unvaccinated, or those who continue to wear masks, will be somehow lesser desirable individuals. Will they also have to walk around ringing a bell saying "unclean, unclean". That may well be a step too far of course, but there will be a two tier status as the vaccinated, unmasked, will appear to be much more accepted and acceptable to the lesser mortals wearing masks or admitting to be unvaccinated.

As for the honor system, well if you believe that then at the same time we should be able to get on a plane without going through TSA.


Clifton DePaul
Registered user
another community
on Jun 14, 2021 at 3:37 pm
Clifton DePaul, another community
Registered user
on Jun 14, 2021 at 3:37 pm

There is absolutely no way to ensure that the non-vaccinated will continue to wear face masks in public.

And there is no guarantee that vaccinations and the presumed freedom to enjoy open spaces will curtail the coronavirus which is rapidly mutating into an even more easily and readily contracted form of Covid-19.

Some of the previously closed businesses (i.e. gyms, theaters, restaurants and bars, skin/nail salons etc.) can stay closed for all I care as they are still NON-ESSENTIAL.


William Hitchens
Registered user
Mountain View
on Jun 14, 2021 at 4:43 pm
William Hitchens, Mountain View
Registered user
on Jun 14, 2021 at 4:43 pm

I'm fully vaccinated. My spouse is fully vaccinated. Don't thank us. It was just a simple, necessary, intelligent and highly educated survival thing. BUT we'll continue to mask both outdoors around ANY strangers and at all times indoors except with family and close friends whom we trust to be highly honest, moral, ethical and to tell the truth [portion removed.]

We need US Govt issued Vaccination Passports and public health laws (already on most State and County books) to exclude highly anti-social anti-vaxxers from unrestricted public life --- until they miraculously behave responsibly and get FULLY VACCINATED. They can't be trusted to tell the truth. Just "show me your cards" anti-vaxxers --- and we'll make it a felony for you to present a counterfeit cards. My spouse and I happily present our cards when necessary. That's part of being a "Good Citizen". [Portion removed.]

There are two other reasons why we'll keep wearing masks. First, variants are popping up that reduce the effectiveness of Gen-1 vaccines until booster shots are available. Second, there still are no highly effective Covid-19 antiviral meds that can be taken at home orally, or if necessary by subcutaneous injection which is easy, just like insulin injections. The lack of highly effective antivirals is, IMHO, the greatest impediment to returning public life to anything remotely normal.


It.is.what.it.is
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 14, 2021 at 5:36 pm
It.is.what.it.is, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Jun 14, 2021 at 5:36 pm

Can't wait to ditch the mask! Been too much of a long haul. People can do what they want but I am fully vaccinated and at least no one should yell at me for not wearing a mask indoors.

[Portion removed.]


Aric Singh
Registered user
Ventura
on Jun 15, 2021 at 9:52 am
Aric Singh, Ventura
Registered user
on Jun 15, 2021 at 9:52 am

Though many of the March 2020 CA public health mandates have been rescinded, this is no time to get complacent.

Coming soon to a theater near you...the Delta variant of the Covid-19 virus.


Penelope Roberts
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 15, 2021 at 8:27 pm
Penelope Roberts, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Jun 15, 2021 at 8:27 pm

We must remain vigilant...not overly paranoid but cautious with common sense.

The coronavirus epidemic is far from over.


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 16, 2021 at 8:08 am
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Jun 16, 2021 at 8:08 am

From my perspective being out and about, there is still less foot traffic in many places, but it was nice to be able to see people smiling at each other again.


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