Business owners in Palm Springs hoping to protect themselves, their employees, and customers are looking to city leaders for help. That help could come tonight.
The Palm Springs City Council will hold a special meeting at 4:30 PM today to consider additional measures, including mandatory indoor mask rules and possible proof of vaccine requirements, all aimed at stopping a spike in COVID-19 cases in the city, similar to those reported throughout the nation. On Monday, the city began requiring visitors and staff to wear face coverings inside all city buildings.
Councilmember Geoff Kors heard overwhelming support Tuesday morning for a return to indoor mask mandates during a meeting of the Main Street Palm Springs business association. Retail shop and restaurant owners who spoke via Zoom, many of whom have been asking their customers to wear masks but unable to require they wear them, pleaded with him to support enacting city orders to help them when confronted by customers.
“We get a lot of flack from tourists about asking them to wear masks,” said Hal Lewis, owner of Leaf of Life Wellness on North Palm Canyon Drive. “They tell us, ‘It’s not the rule. It’s only your rule.’ If we wait for the state to do it it’s not going to happen.”
Added Joy Brown Meredith, owner of Crystal Fantasy: “It’s easier to do a mask mandate. Then you can just blame it on the city and we don’t have to have so many negative interactions with people. We can just point to our sign and say blame it on the city.”
Kors, along with Greg Rodriguez, the government relations and public policy advisor for Riverside County Fourth District Supervisor V. Manuel Perez, voiced support for the request. Still, they said, going back to mask mandates now, when the country has spent 17 months battling a pandemic, is seen as “political suicide.”
“If it were up to us we would be mandating masks,” Rodriguez said of Supervisor Perez’s stance, adding that his vote on a mask mandate would likely be in the minority of the five-member county Board of Supervisors.
Data shared by Rodriguez Tuesday shows the county is currently experiencing an 8.9 percent COVID-19 positivity rate. The Fourth District, which includes Palm Springs, has a 6.5 percent positivity rate. Countywide, as of Tuesday, 288 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, a drastic reduction from more than 1,800 hospitalized in January. In 99.6 percent of the cases of severe COVID-19 illness, Rodriguez said, those who got sick were unvaccinated.
While making no promises that the city would enact ordinances the state and county are reluctant to consider, Kors said “everything is on the table” at tonight’s meeting and needs to be with events such as Splash House set to kick off soon. That event, held over two weekends later this month, will see thousands of revelers descend on Palm Springs to party at three hotels. Organizers have yet to say whether they will require participants to be vaccinated. Proof of vaccination has been required at other recent large gatherings in the US, however, and will be for anyone attending shows at the McCallum Theater in Palm Desert and the PNB Paribas Open tennis tournament in Indian Wells.
Asked whether private businesses in Palm Springs could require proof of vaccine for entry, such as requirements rolling out in New York City for indoor use of restaurants, fitness centers, and entertainment venues, Kors said that does not appear to be an issue.
“My understating is you can,” he said. ”We’ve asked the city attorney to update our businesses on that and we will share his response tomorrow.”
Participate: Public comments about the issue may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org prior to the meeting. If you wish to speak during the meeting, you need to call the city clerk at 760-323-8204 before 4 PM. A complete agenda for the meeting can be found here.