Proof of Vaccination in Restaurants
By Ainslee Garcia
Since the pandemic's beginning, Americans’ fundamental rights of freedom have been at war with public health measures. Many citizens feel institutions should prioritize their rights over health protection measures. The new battleground of this debate is restaurants. In recent weeks, the push to require proof of vaccination before dining inside encouraged many establishments to implement mandatory vaccine policies. These efforts have resulted in enormous controversy for owners, workers, and customers. In the early months of 2021, vaccines were made primarily eligible to those who could afford them. However, with recent pushes by state and local governments, vaccines are readily available in virtually every area of the United States. Although everyone is entitled to their own opinion, illegality arguments and the harassment of restaurant workers are damaging. Mandatory vaccinations to enter private businesses demonstrate a growing emphasis on the importance of public health within communities.
Claims of illegality have perpetuated within the debate about requiring vaccinations to enter a restaurant, despite these concerns having no legal grounds. There are waves of disinformation swirling specifically about the 4th Amendment preventing vaccine requirements. There are two errors in these arguments. Primarily, the 4th Amendment prohibits government officials and government entities from conducting unreasonable searches and seizures. The vital aspect of this statement is “government.” This law does not address private businesses, including restaurants. Next, a restaurant asking for proof of vaccination does not necessitate a search or seizure as disclosure is voluntary. If a patron does not provide evidence of immunization, the business has the right to refuse admission. However, the ADA limits businesses’ ability to deny entry to those with genuine disabilities, demanding reasonable accommodations. Similar adjustments may be necessary for those with medical conditions that prevent vaccinations or religious beliefs. This exception does not apply to those who “don’t want to get the vaccine.” Lastly, despite some assertions, the US Civil Rights Act also does not prevent a business from using vaccine policies. This act only prohibits discrimination based on religion, race, national origin, color, or sex, but there is no clause regarding a medical condition or vaccination status. In this debate, the most relevant legal precedent is the Jacobson vs. Massachusetts case of 1905. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that states have the power to enforce vaccinations to protect public health and the community from disease. These allegations of illegality are inaccurate and based on misinformation and false statements to increase fear and hesitancy.
Major cities such as New York have already begun the process of requiring vaccinations at indoor events, including restaurants, becoming a precedent for other regions as a means of mitigating the pandemic. While New York is the first complete metropolitan region to institute these guidelines, they are far from the first entity. In Kansas City, a change in the mask mandate in early August encouraged multiple dining institutions to implement these rules. The bars and restaurants that have begun to use these methods require a photocopy, photo, or the actual vaccination card to eat or drink inside, allowing the unvaccinated to enjoy their food outside. There are some exceptions to this rule, as those who are physically unable to receive or are ineligible for the vaccine may be entertained. In these cases, restaurants and businesses need to make accommodations to ensure equal access to services. With a rise in incidents of the delta variant, hundreds of restaurants must consider vaccine requirements to be a necessary or possible measure to protect workers and customers.
Vaccine policies are controversial and polarizing for the consumer population, resulting in backlash on online platforms that threaten the viability of these restaurants. Since the beginning of the pandemic, customers have brooded in their homes, waiting until they could go back to their favorite restaurants. With these new policies, many customers feel more secure in dining indoors, offering public support and praise for owners. These patrons see the policies as beneficial, protecting workers, mitigating possible outbreaks, and reducing the honor roll violations so commonly seen when proof of vaccination is not needed. On the opposite side, some customers are furious about these rules. Many diners launched campaigns against restaurants with such measures. For example, some customers emailed, called, and trolled one restaurant in Raleigh with fake reviews after the owner implemented their vaccine policy. Trolling restaurants have become increasingly common, as evidenced by Yelp reporting a 206% increase in "unusual activity alerts." This rise has forced Yelp to shut down reviewing abilities for some restaurants. Customers with these opinions strongly believe that these policies are discriminatory and infringe on not only one’s right to choose if they are immunized, but that the rules violate their privacy rights. These divisions tend to fall on party lines and will present a pressing problem, especially if restaurants go under as a result of inaccurate information. Consumers have a right to accept or reject an establishment’s rules, but restaurants must have the capability to institute guidelines they see as necessary without being hounded online.
Restaurants generally appreciate vaccination mandates regarding entry into restaurants to prevent the further spread of the delta variant to workers and customers, although some fear consumers' reactions. At one restaurant in New York, the requirements pleased owners as they felt less nervous about implementing the vaccine policy when a city-wide mandate is in effect. In Massachusetts, another restaurant waits until the government publishes additional guidelines before instituting a vaccine requirement. In California, dozens of bars and restaurants have started to utilize these programs to protect workers and diners. However, the excited and relieved reactions do not encompass all the beliefs of all owners and workers. Some fear confusing and frustrating the public with varying requirements at bars and restaurants. These owners worry that individual public health policies may upset the consumer population that finds it impossible to navigate the ever-changing industry. Others oppose the legislation, arguing the new rules will destroy the industry and erode diners' trust. Some owners worry about the staffing problems that would follow. Requiring vaccines would demand dedicated personnel, which is difficult to meet during the restaurant labor shortage. Despite differing opinions, restaurant owners agree unified guidelines for restaurants remain necessary for the industry's success.
As vaccinations stagnate, mandatory vaccine requirements in restaurants may catalyze further immunizations. With the incentive of returning to your favorite hole-in-the-wall or neighborhood staple, more people may realize the benefits of getting the vaccine outweigh the harms. Until we reach herd immunity, indoor dining presents a significant risk to the unvaccinated. Mandatory vaccination rules will mitigate this possibility. Some people may see this as a violation of their freedom, but we must understand that the public health of our country is of the utmost importance during this pandemic. Another way to view this issue is to recognize that engaging in daily life without fear of getting COVID is the best freedom we can imagine. For the few short months when new cases fell, many freely participated in activities again. No measure will be perfect, and it’s unlikely that guidelines will be uniform across states, let alone nationwide. Vaccination requirements are the fairest available option, and restaurants should utilize these rules to protect their communities.
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