Denver bar owner: Prove to me that you're vaccinated or stay out

“I’m not an essential service,” he told CBS Denver of his demand for evidence of immunization. “If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, don’t come.”

Wouldn’t be my position if I owned his bar, but I don’t own it. Why shouldn’t he be able to set the rules for his own premises, particularly when, as he says, he doesn’t provide an essential service? Let the market sort this out. There’ll be plenty of other bars happy to welcome the unvaccinated. It reminds me of the debate over gay patrons demanding wedding cakes from Christian bakers except with the parties on opposite sides this time. “The unvaccinated shouldn’t face discrimination,” some righties will say. To which some lefties will reply, “This isn’t Jim Crow. It’s not like you can’t find another bar in town that’s willing to serve you. Just go elsewhere.”

The obvious question raised by his decision: Why? If he’s vaccinated and his staff is vaccinated and (presumably) most of his patrons are vaccinated, who is it hurting if the unvaccinated come in for a drink? They’re the ones assuming a risk by being there, not anyone else. Bar owner Marshall Smith said this:

“I have elderly parents who also have health concerns. I have a brother for whom I’m the caretaker for. I also have other underlying health conditions, so for me once I got to February, I was no longer willing to risk getting COVID because I made it that far,” Smith said. “Folks who have literally gone nowhere in the past year, folks who are immunocompromised, frontline workers in healthcare, educators who have been most exposed and impacted, they have come specifically and said to me, ‘This is the first time we have felt safe coming out in more than a year, and we appreciate you doing it.’ The folks who have had negative reactions haven’t been to the bar before, and it seems other bars might be a better option for them.”

Okay, but … again, who’s being protected by the “vaccinated only” policy? Presumably he’s not making exceptions for people who have declined the shot because they’re allergic or immunocompromised or have some similar justification besides “I just didn’t feel like doing it.” How would he tell the “innocent” unvaccinated, who remain unimmunized through no fault of their own, from the “guilty” ones who choose to remain vulnerable? Does he want a doctor’s note attesting to the fact that someone is allergic to the shot?

I continue to think this passport problem will solve itself. Sage words from Michael Brendan Dougherty about how loosening standards in one business, or city, or country this summer will inevitably put pressure on other businesses, cities, and countries to loosen up too:

So you see European nations still canceling major sporting events because crowds aren’t allowed to gather for them. You see states in the American Northeast allowing only a fraction of capacity, and only with proof of vaccination or a negative test. And states in the South where baseball looks like it did before COVID, save for a few people wearing masks of their own volition.

If the least restrictive and least intrusive localities find success in the vaccine era, it may become rapidly untenable for other jurisdictions or nations to continue wrapping themselves in Plexiglas and other vax-passport technology. Quarantining foreign travelers in COVID hotels is a massive government burden and an even larger impediment to the recovery of business and leisure travel. Will London really tell people flying in from Miami not to eat out because they lack a U.K. vaxpass? Will London tell Londoners who have just flown back from Miami to not spend their money? Not if vaccination take-up remains high, and cases continue to plummet.

That’s what it comes down to. There may be business owners here and there who retain vax-only rules for their premises on principle, because influencing others to get immunized matters more to them for whatever reason than making a buck does. But the more cases decline and the more reports there are of businesses suffering no outbreaks despite allowing unvaccinated customers inside, the fewer businesses will remain vax-only. No one wants to be at a competitive disadvantage if they don’t have to be. And it’ll hopefully become apparent quickly that vax-only shops don’t have to be in order to keep everyone on staff safe.

Besides, given the amount of money Americans will be ready to spend once they’re liberated from house arrest this summer, only a fool would want to limit his business’s ability to feed at the trough because of vaccine concerns. Is the tourism industry going to be sticklers for vaccine passports when it’s seeing demand like this?

People love the vaccine passport debate because it’s good culture-war fodder, with some crying “freedom!” and others pointing fingers about selfishness, but I sincerely do believe it’ll largely work itself out by the time the country hits its stride this summer. Maybe big indoor venues with thousands of people gathered will still require vaccination just to provide a bit of extra reassurance to attendees but most shops and restaurants will find they can’t be bothered.