COVID-19

Red, Yellow, Green: Mendocino County’s COVID-19 Signage Requirement Went Into Effect Yesterday 

A little over one month ago Mendocino County’s Public Health Officer Dr. Andy Coren implemented a new health order requiring all businesses that serve food or drink indoors to display one of three signs designed to represent the risks associated with that business’s precautions they are taking to limit the spread of the virus.

The health order went into effect yesterday, November 1, and local restaurants could face fines for non-compliance, the health order stated.

The health order requires these dine-in restaurants to display one of the signs colored red, yellow, or green. Each sign describes different attributes that reflect the COVID-19 safety protocols being practiced at that establishment:

If employees are either vaccinated or test weekly AND patrons must be vaccinated to dine inside, that business will display a green sign. 

If employees are either vaccinated or test weekly but patrons do not need to be vaccinated to dine inside, that business will display a yellow sign. 

If the business has no knowledge of whether employees are vaccinated or if they test AND if patrons do not need to be vaccinated to dine inside, that business will display a red sign.

We asked a number of restaurants what they were doing. Most of them deferred to a statement from a newly formed industry group calling the Mendocino County Restaurant Association which says, “Our affiliate restaurants in Mendocino County will be posting the corresponding placards of their choosing in response to the November 1st timeline.” The statement said the group’s goal, “is to protect the rights, liberties, and freedoms of our local citizens, patrons, and employees in unity and cooperation. We’re all in this together!”

Also, to little fanfare, there was a redesign of the signage these businesses are required to hang on their door. The first version of the signage displayed above featured basic geometric shapes, some resembling traffic signs, colored red, yellow, or green. 

The rebranding mutes the color differential and substantially dials back the visual prominence of the sign. A grove of redwood trees stands in the background of the flyer while the color differentials act as text highlighting describing each restaurant’s status. 

Ashleigh Plazola, an owner of Ukiah’s Cultivo and Hangar 39 restaurants, told us, “Unfortunately, we will be posting the red signage because although we highly recommend the vaccine to all our staff, we were unable to meet full vaccination status.” She described a tension between maintaining a staff and requiring all of them to be vaccinated. She added, “We will continue to encourage all staff to vaccinate.”

We spoke with Dr. Coren about the logistics of each business obtaining its red, yellow, or green designation.

Dr. Coren told us that these businesses are not required to submit the records they keep when auditing their staff for vaccination status. 

When asked if Public Health is not verifying the vaccination status of these employees, what stops a business from claiming all its employees are vaccinated just to be designated green, Dr. Coren said violations could result in a “misdemeanor, punishable by fine or imprisonment or both.”

Dr. Coren said these signs are designed to allow the public to make its own choices about COVID-19 risk when entering each establishment. He asserted these sorts of dine-in environments, “without masks and with higher numbers of unvaccinated people are more likely vectors of viral transmission.” He went on to say even those businesses designated yellow or red will be operating under Cal-OSHA COVID-19 protocols which include masking and distancing, but he said, “The fact remains that the more people that are unvaccinated in a public space, the higher the risk for transmission.”

When asked whether the status of these restaurants could be affected if the Center for Disease Control decides booster vaccines are required, Dr. Coren said, “If the CDC does change the requirements, we will make a decision at that time based on the local status of COVID in Mendocino County.”

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