Is this what a mandate is all about?* “We refuse to become the vaccination police for any government,” In-N-Out’s top attorney declared after Contra Costa county officials shut down their Pleasant Hill location. The company refused to check on COVID-19 vaccination records for people eating indoors, even after multiple warnings, and so health officials forced the location to close:
“The Pleasant Hill In-N-Out location received four citations in recent weeks and fines totaling $1,750, all for the same health order violation, before today’s action,” Contra Costa Environmental Health said in a statement.
Two other In-N-Out restaurants in the area have also been given fines and warnings for not checking a person’s vaccination status before they eat.
The closing and fines in Contra Costa County follow an In-N-Out in San Francisco that was closed for several days for not checking people’s vaccination status.
The restaurant was allowed to reopen because they agreed to only have takeout and outdoor dining.
Here’s a question before we even get to the politics of these enforcement actions. Do we have any data at all to suggest that fast-food diners are a significant vector for COVID-19 — more so than, say, other retail locations such as department stores? Most of the concerns over indoor exposure relate to close proximity and extended contact. Large family get-togethers over meals have been far more correlated to outbreaks and spikes than fast-food experiences, or even restaurants in general. Wouldn’t a simple distancing plan plus the mask requirement (clearly posted on the door) suffice? Even before we get to the autocratic nature of these mandates, it’s hardly established that it’s even necessary for public health.
The alternative — imposing a vaccination-check requirement on private businesses for their customers, especially those with entry-level staff with zero expertise in document validation — is simply insane. The state of California and the county of Contra Costa can’t simply push law enforcement duties onto private businesses anyway, not without compensation. They can regulate health conditions on the business and its employees, such as washing hands after every restroom visit (as one example), but they can’t make the employees force the customers to wash their hands. The governments could require that the employees themselves be vaccinated, but they can’t deputize those employees to act on behalf of the government in imposing regulations on their customers. The one exception to that issue — alcohol sales — relies on state-issued ID with reliable markers for validation, not handwritten notes on an easily reproducible flash card.
If California and/or Contra Costa want vaccination-card inspections at the door of every restaurant, then they should hire enough inspectors to do the job themselves. If they can’t manage that, then maybe they shouldn’t pass unenforceable mandates in the first place.
Once again, we have to decide whether we will attempt a Zero COVID policy or learn to live with the virus as endemic. Vaccines and even boosters are freely available, so those who choose not to vaccinate assume nearly all of the risk onto themselves. Those with higher risks, which include my wife, can take extra precautions while everyone else lives their lives according to their own risk calculations. Wearing a mask is a small consideration for otherwise-normal access to In-N-Out, but the access itself should be a decision made by consumers and the business, not California public officials attempting to deputize businesses in imposing an otherwise-unenforceable mandate.
One has to wonder how long those officials will continue to double-double down on In-N-Out. That’s a wildly popular chain in California, and taking it out of commission will cause many to wonder just what kind of society they’ve created in the Golden State. That’s what liberty is all about*.
* – A play on the long-time In-N-Out jingle.
Update: Pleasant Hill, not Pleasantville. One is the actual location, while the other is an overrated didactic movie. Thanks to The Cheeky Taurus for the correction.