San Francisco Chronicle
Proof of vaccine at bars is simple and reassuring
Recently, I did something I don’t normally do on a weekday: I went to Vesuvio Cafe and had a beer. While that’s not the strangest thing an adult San Franciscan could do on a Monday, I went specifically to see how the North Beach bar was handling its vaccine requirement for entry.
To get in, you show them proof of vaccination. Simple enough, right? The requirement has gotten Vesuvio, famous as a meeting place for Beat poets, a load of hate from the antivaccine contingent, who have called the bar’s management “Nazis” because of the policy. But when I went there on Monday, the process was like going to a bar on any other night.
I walked up to the door, where there was a basic, markerwritten sign about presenting your vaccination card. I actually don’t carry mine around, so I keep a phone screenshot of my digi
tal record, provided by the California Department of Health and obtained through myvaccinerecord.cdph.ca.gov. When I got to the bouncer, he asked for proof of my vaccination. I didn’t feel harassed or flustered; I just showed him my ID and that screenshot. He looked at it, and then I walked in. Considering all the hullabaloo, I found the experience anticlimactic.
Oakland’s Snail Bar is another establishment requiring vaccine proof for entry. It’s a policy the bar put into place after it was forced to close for a period when one of its staff members was exposed to COVID. Just like at Vesuvio, showing proof was painless. A host also looked at the screenshot of my digital record alongside my ID and let me in. And just like at Vesuvio, I rested easy knowing that everyone around me was guarded against the coronavirus. I licked butter off my fingers with abandon as I chowed down on escargot and a ham and cheese sandwich.
The one thing that makes me worry is the fact that my vaccine record has my name on it, which is scary when I’m trying to move about as a critic without being noticed. So far, no one seems to have made the connection that I’m a critic; this particular thing makes me panic, though it’s worry that’s confined to my particular circumstance. I’ll sacrifice the critical sneak attack for peace of mind any day.
Overall, it was comforting knowing that all the folks packed into the bar likely also prioritized public health. I could squeeze inbetween them to sign my credit card receipt at the bar, even tip my glass against theirs if I felt like it. Yeah, it’s exclusionary, but if someone eligible for vaccination decides not getting it is their personal choice — if they persist in engaging in antisocial behavior that could get people killed — then they can also choose to stay home. I’m not going to drink with them if I can help it.
I have to admit, delta’s got me spooked. Once again, I’m mulling whether I should stop dining inside restaurants — an act that COVID expert Dr. Bob Wachter, a professor and chair of the department of medicine at UCSF, said he’ll be avoiding for a while. Though I’ve been fully vaccinated for months now, there’s still that risk that I might become an unwitting transmission vector; with the amount of dining out that I do, the potential for me to spread it far and wide throughout the Bay Area is too great. Eventually, that snowball will keep rolling downhill, growing in size, until it hits some unfortunate unvaccinated person or child.
That’s why I’m encouraged by more restaurants and bars taking a stand to require vaccination proof for entry. It makes me feel safer, knowing that I’ll be around other people who generally care about not getting others sick. Although some vaccinated people are still testing positive for COVID19, the science shows that they’re unlikely to get seriously ill or hospitalized from it.
The remaining problem: Vaccine enforcement shouldn’t be the jobs of the restaurants. Some bar owners and restaurateurs who haven’t taken this step yet have said it’s because of logistics and fear of customer backlash. The California digital vaccine record isn’t working for everybody, and though many places are accepting physical vaccine cards or a photo of one, I’m sympathetic to neighborhood restaurants that aren’t usually checking ID at the door and want to avoid a confrontation. We’ve seen already that hospitality and retail workers have been unfairly put into the front line of the COVID culture wars, pulled into horrible incidents that have sometimes ended in violence. No wonder no one wants to do those jobs.
What these restaurateurs and workers need is a government vaccine mandate, so that they can have something external to point to when a customer acts up. But so far, nothing concrete, beyond mask recommendations, has happened in California.
In the meantime, several states have already passed laws against requiring vaccine proof in statefunded establishments and businesses. In France, a mandate to be vaccinated or show proof of a recent negative test has already shown dramatic impact for increasing vaccination rates.
A vaccine requirement is a fine compromise when the alternatives are letting the virus run rampant once more, filling hospitals once again with sick unvaccinated people and forcing another shutdown. I just hope the government can match these businesses’ courage with a real mandate.