10/29/2021 / By Divina Ramirez
Health officials in Contra Costa County, California closed down an In-N-Out restaurant Tuesday, Oct. 26, for refusing to enforce Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination protocols. In a statement, health officials said the Pleasant Hill In-N-Out location previously received four citations and fines totaling $1,750.
The restaurant was repeatedly warned to verify that customers who wanted to dine indoors had vaccination cards or proof that they tested negative for COVID-19 in the past 72 hours.
In-N-Out said it “properly and clearly posted signage to communicate local vaccination requirements,” but admitted that its employees didn’t prevent customers who weren’t able to prove they’ve been vaccinated from entering their establishment, which the county’s health department told In-N-Out that employees must do.
In a statement, the burger chain said it believes in the highest form of customer service, which is serving all customers and making them feel welcome.
Health officials say mandatory vaccinations are an important tool in stopping the spread of COVID-19. But In-N-Out, which is based in Orange County, California, refused to enforce local vaccination protocols. “We refuse to become the vaccination police for any government,” said Arnie Wensinger, In-N-Out’s chief legal and business officer.
Wensinger argued that it’s unreasonable to force In-N-Out restaurants to segregate their customers. “This is clear governmental overreach,” he said. However, health officials say that violating vaccination protocols is creating a public health hazard.
Despite the closure, many customers say they support the burger chain. “I kind of admire them for taking a stand,” said Sharon Beck, a Concord resident.
Joshua Snarr, who lives near the Pleasant Hill In-N-Out location, said he was surprised to find it closed. “It affects employees and customers,” said Snarr, adding that the restaurant is a local hotspot.
The Pleasant Hill restaurant has since submitted a reopening plan to only have drive-thru and take-out service, said Will Harper of the Contra Costa County Health Service. Customers expect this will only create longer drive-thru lines at a restaurant already known for long lines. But they say drive-thru is still better than nothing.
“I am thankful people can still work,” said George Gilmore, an In-N-Out customer from Walnut Creek.
The closure of the Pleasant Hill In-N-Out location comes only a week after San Francisco health officials closed down the city’s only In-N-Out restaurant at Fisherman’s Wharf for allowing indoor dining. Officials said the restaurant violated the city’s customer vaccine mandate. The restaurant later reopened for take-out service and outdoor dining.
However, San Francisco health officials say they are investigating a complaint that In-N-Out still allows indoor dining.
Michelle Woolard, an In-N-Out customer, said she had to drive to the Pleasant Hill location to buy dinner after hearing about what happened to the location in San Francisco. “I think it’s horrible and it’s government overreach. We are eating here tonight because we want to support In-N-Out,” Woolard added.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he doesn’t want to involve himself in the issues surrounding In-N-Out. For Newsom, the issues boil down to a “difference of opinion” about how to handle local vaccination requirements.
Newsom said he appreciates that In-N-Out is based in California and hailed it as one of the state’s great, home-based businesses for which he has “great respect and admiration.” However, he added that everyone should take local vaccination requirements seriously. (Related: He never learns: Calif. Gov. Newsom busted AGAIN for violating his own COVID restaurant restrictions.)
Aside from the Pleasant Hill and San Francisco In-N-Out locations, Contra Costa County health officials issued several warnings and fines for the In-N-Out restaurants in Pinole and San Ramon.
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