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What to know about Boston’s proof-of-vaccination mandate, which goes into effect Saturday

Starting Jan. 15 in Boston, employees at indoor spaces such as restaurants, gyms, and concert venues will begin asking patrons for proof of COVID-19 vaccination. Globe Staff/file

Starting Saturday, Jan. 15, Bostonians will need to prove they’ve had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine before entering certain indoor spaces, including restaurants, bars, gyms, and entertainment venues.

Here’s what you need to know about how the rule will affect customers, businesses, and employees.

How do I prove that I’ve been vaccinated?

Residents can show their Centers for Disease Control and Prevention card, a photo of the paper card, an image of an official immunization record, or a COVID-19 vaccine verification app or certificate.

Massachusetts recently rolled out a website that allows residents to obtain a digital certificate of their vaccination status through a verifiable QR code. (Here’s more information on how to obtain your digital certificate from the state.) Businesses can download an app onto a smartphone that scans the QR codes to ensure they are authentic. (Download the QR code scanner here.)

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Boston launched a smartphone app called “B Together,” which allows people to store a photograph of their CDC card or QR code for easy access.

What types of businesses will be checking for vaccination proof starting this weekend?

The mandate applies to indoor restaurants, bars, nightclubs, fitness centers, and entertainment spaces, such as museums and bowling alleys. (It also applies to these types of spaces in hotels, but more on that below).

Do employees working at these businesses need to be vaccinated?

Yes, the mandate covers patrons, as well as the employees who work in indoor spaces. Employees cannot use COVID testing as a substitute.

There’s been a lot of talk about the federal mandate as well. The Supreme Court on Thursday halted an effort by the Biden administration to require private employers with more than 100 employees to ensure their workers are vaccinated or tested weekly. Courts have upheld state and local mandates, and a spokesperson for the mayor’s office said the city has not received any legal challenges.

The vaccine mandate has a staggered start. When do I need to be fully vaccinated?

Starting on Jan. 15, people over age 12 must show proof of at least one dose, culminating with the requirement that everyone over age 5 show full vaccination by May 1. The mandate does not require people to show that they’ve received a booster dose.

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Here’s a detailed timeline:

What if I have a medical, religious, or personal reason for not getting vaccinated?

Boston’s proof-of-vaccination policy doesn’t leave much room for religious, medical, or personal belief-related exemptions. If a patron is unvaccinated, the mandate suggests that businesses should engage in “cooperative dialogue to find an alternative means of service, such as providing takeout rather than dine-in service.” (It’s not clear how a concert venue or fitness center would provide an alternative means of service.)

Can I be fired for refusing to get vaccinated?

The mayor’s policy states that companies should ask the Department of Unemployment Assistance about whether employees that are terminated due to their vaccination status would be eligible to collect unemployment benefits. The city also provided more information on how businesses should accommodate unvaccinated employees with medical, disability, or other civil rights-related concerns.

How will Boston enforce the mandate?

A spokesperson for the mayor’s office said inspectors from the Boston Public Health Commission, Inspectional Services Department, and the Licensing Board will make “regular checks” for compliance. They will also evaluate complaints they receive about potential violations.

Businesses that fail to enforce the rule will initially receive verbal warnings, and then fines of up to $300 for each subsequent violation, the city said. Businesses that repeatedly and purposely flout the rules could lose their license to operate.

Which businesses or groups of people are exempt from this rule?

The mandate doesn’t apply to outdoor dining, restaurants that only offer takeout, or soup kitchens. And if you play a sport for a professional sports team — the Bruins, Celtics, or their opponents — you don’t have to show proof of vaccination before entering an arena like TD Garden.

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What about hotels?

The rule applies to hotels, but only some aspects of them. Guests must show proof of vaccination before entering a hotel restaurant, gym, or pool, and employees who work in those spaces must also be vaccinated. But guests don’t need to show their vaccination credentials when they check in, and employees who work at the front desk or in housekeeping roles do not need to show proof of vaccination.

What other cities and towns have a proof-of-vaccination mandate in place?

Following Mayor Wu’s lead, Salem and Brookline passed similar mandates, which also go into effect Saturday. Somerville is poised to do so Friday, Jan. 14, during a 6 p.m. meeting.

Other communities are expected to implement proof-of-vaccination requirements in the coming weeks, but not Cambridge, whose city manager has said he’d rather not implement a punitive policy in an already highly vaccinated community.


Anissa Gardizy can be reached at anissa.gardizy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @anissagardizy8.