Some Sonoma County businesses saying no to ‘vaccine passports’
Mired in the orange tier for a month and a half now, many Sonoma County businesses are operating at limited capacity, a disadvantage that cuts into profit margins or, in some cases, has discouraged venues from reopening at all.
Many of them do have a path to boosting sales. They could require proof of full coronavirus vaccination or a recent negative test. Indoor and outdoor live performances, family entertainment centers, private receptions and conferences — all of them could increase their allowed capacity by insisting on “vaccine passports.”
So far, it doesn’t look like the concept is attracting many takers here.
“Honestly, as a business, the fact that the majority of our staff are not medical experts, we’re going to try to stay away from that,” said Jenny Ogston, general manager of the Epicenter Sports and Entertainment complex. “I think the worst-case scenario is a 17- or 18-year-old staff member trying to debate the vaccination issue with a customer. Because there’s not a lot of clarity or absolutes. I don’t want to put them in that situation.”
California will not require an official vaccine passport for residents when it lifts social distancing requirements on June 15, Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly said Friday. But the state Department of Public Health endorsed the model in mid-April when it revamped the color-coded tier system it has used to structure COVID safety measures based on a county’s virus rates.
Within the orange tier of the current guidelines, proof of vaccination or testing can increase capacity for indoor performances at smaller venues (1,500 or fewer seats) from 15% to 35%. Larger indoor performances can jump from 10% to 35%, outdoor performances from 33% to 67%, family entertainment centers from 25% to 50%, and private outdoor events such as wedding receptions from 100 people to 300. Indoor private events can be staged only if they require vaccine passports.
The passport is not universally welcomed, though. Critics bristle at the intrusion on privacy, or worry that it may create groups of haves and have-nots when some people have received only one shot, or can’t get a COVID vaccination at all because of an underlying condition. Other analysts note that unlike, say, a state ID that bears a holographic image, a vaccination card would be a relatively easy document to forge.
“It’s a lot easier to fake the vaccination card than a driver’s license. So there is that concern,” Dr. Sundari Mase, the Sonoma County health officer, acknowledged. “And there have already been a few cases of people who have produced fake vaccination cards.”
In one of those cases, authorities arrested a San Joaquin County bar owner and accused him of selling phony laminated cards for $20 each.
Generally, there is widespread public support for the idea of a vaccine passport. A poll released last week by the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies showed that 63% of Californians approve of some businesses asking for the two forms of proof, with 33% disapproving. The approval rate was 82% among Democrats, 31% among Republicans.
Large-scale arenas and stadiums were quick to jump at the opportunity. Anyone attending the Warriors’ play-in game at Chase Center last Friday had to show a fully completed vaccination card or negative COVID test administered with 48 hours of game time. The Giants adopted the vaccine passport for their home opener at Oracle Park on April 9, but dropped the requirement Friday — for socially distanced sections of seating, anyway. The team will also have fully vaccinated sections that require proof.
At least one Sonoma County venue will follow suit. The board of directors of the Raven Theater in Healdsburg decided Wednesday to ask for vaccination proof from all guests 12 and older.
“I’ll be making a large poster for outside the theater and getting it on our website,” marketing director Carol Noack said. “We will staff each event with one of our volunteers tasked exclusively with checking the vax cards.”
Music promoter Bryce Dow-Williamson, who booked the Rainbow Girls concert staged Friday at SOMO Village in Rohnert Park — one of the few sizable live shows in the county in more than a year — said he is monitoring the option, too.
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