In a wild scene that forced San Jose City Council members to temporarily evacuate the chambers, dozens of protesters who refused to wear masks stormed the council meeting Tuesday afternoon to denounce a proposed vaccination mandate.
Mayor Sam Liccardo announced a plan last week to require attendees and staff of events with 50 or more people held at city facilities, such as the SAP Center, Convention Center and Center for Performing Arts, to show proof of full vaccination prior to entering. A negative COVID-19 test would not serve as a substitute for vaccination.
The San Jose City Council was expected to vote on the proposal Tuesday afternoon when a group of unmasked residents poured into the council chambers.
Although some of the group eventually put on masks at the request of Mayor Sam Liccardo, others refused and shouted profanities like “you’re a f***ing fool.” Many held hand-crafted signs with anti-vaccination slogans that read “our body, our choice” and “individual rights are at stake.”
Police officers escorted the crowd out and locked the council chambers. No arrests were made. After a short recess, the officers agreed to let 24 people back inside to speak at the meeting — but only if they agreed to put on masks.
The remaining 100 or so protesters gathered outside of San Jose City Hall along Santa Clara Street, chanting and waving signs, periodically eliciting a honk or cheer from drivers passing by.
Anne Stenehjem, 59, of San Jose, a protestor who arrived at City Hall after the doors were closed said she believed the mandate was “illegal and unconstitutional.” Stenehjem contracted COVID-19 earlier this year and felt that she did not need to get the vaccine because she had antibodies.
“I just think it’s tyranny that we’re being forced to take something into our bodies,” she said.
A study published earlier this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that unvaccinated people who have had COVID-19 were still more than twice as likely to be reinfected with the virus compared to those who were fully vaccinated.
Wendy, 71, of San Jose, was inside of the chambers when the ruckus broke out. She put on her mask when asked, she said, because she wanted to stay and voice her opposition. Many other people in the crowd did not follow her lead.
Wendy, who would not give her last name, said she would never get the vaccine because she was worried it would “damage her body.”
She feared what next steps the city would take if it passed the requirement for proof of full vaccination at city-owned facilities.
“If they do this, then the next will be private property, so you wouldn’t be able to go to grocery stores, churches, malls,” she said, though the city does not have plans to require proof of full vaccination at these facilities.
— Maggie Angst (@MaggieAngst) August 24, 2021
Below is more information about the city’s plan to require proof of vaccination at city-owned facilities.
Where will you need to show proof of vaccination?
Anyone attending an event of 50 or more people at a city-owned facility will need to show proof of full vaccination.
The city-owned facilities where this mandate will apply to include:
- SAP Center
- San Jose McEnery Convention Center
- San Jose Civic
- Center for Performing Arts
- California Theatre
- Montgomery Theater
- Hammer Theater
- San Jose Museum of Art
- The Tech Interactive
- Mexican Heritage Plaza
Why did the city adopt such a mandate?
Due to a recent spike in COVID-19 cases fueled by the highly transmissible Delta variant, public entities and private employers are turning to vaccination mandates as a way to protect their employees and curb the spread of the virus.
Santa Clara County has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country. As of Tuesday, nearly 81% of residents are fully vaccinated, according to county figures.
Still, city leaders worry that large events like those at the SAP Center and McHenry Convention Center can attract crowds from all over the state and nation, including places with lower vaccination rates, which could put residents here in jeopardy of contracting COVID-19.
Requiring that attendees display proof of full vaccination prior to entry will keep both city employees and attendees safer, according to Liccardo.
Will San Jose pursue a broader requirement for a wider range of indoor activities at both public and privately-owned facilities like San Francisco and New York City?
Liccardo is not yet asking for a citywide mandate for indoor activities like San Francisco, though he wants San Jose officials to monitor how it affects COVID-19 case and vaccination rates and business revenue in that city and determine whether San Jose should do something similar down the road.