New York City has the right idea in requiring vaccination proof for entry into the city’s restaurants, bars, gyms, and other establishments. Neither Governor Charlie Baker nor Acting Mayor Kim Janey have shown any appetite for implementing similar policies on a state or local level. But they should.
The rise in cases due to the Delta variant of COVID-19 is presenting a growing threat to citizens and businesses that could upend the gains we’ve made in working to get past this pandemic. Local and state officials should do everything within their power to make sure we don’t slide back into the catastrophic health and economic situation we experienced last year.
First, let’s dispel any claim made by opponents that a vaccine mandate would represent any sort of abridgment of liberty or government overreach. State and local governments have clear legal authority to require vaccinations, a principal grounded in a 1905 US Supreme Court decision upholding Massachusetts’s authority to impose a smallpox vaccine requirement.
“This was already resolved over 100 years ago,” said Christopher T. Robertson, a professor at Boston University School of Law. “It’s a very straightforward case.”
Secondly, vaccination requirements would not amount to a “show-me-your-papers” rule. Proof of vaccination has long been a staple of everything from school enrollment to international travel. More than a century ago, rules requiring patrons of theaters and train passengers to show their smallpox vaccine scars were in place to ensure public safety. The interest of ending the deadliest pandemic in a generation far outweighs the threat of offending those who may be turned away from their favorite restaurant.
It also makes practical sense, just as do rules requiring shirts and shoes be worn inside business establishments, or those barring smoking indoors. While vaccination rates in Boston and Massachusetts as a whole are far greater than in other parts of the country, the Hub draws millions of tourists each year. Residents shouldn’t be left to guess if the unmasked person next to them in a store or restaurant is a local or a visitor from a COVID-19 hot spot.
That doesn’t mean safeguards aren’t necessary to protect users’ privacy rights and guard against the burgeoning black market for fake vaccination cards from creeping into the digital system.
For example the SMART Health Card, developed by a consortium of private tech and health care companies based on technology from Boston Children’s Hospital, is designed to contain only the user’s name, date of birth, and testing and vaccination data. No other health records or identifying information is stored on the physical or digital versions, according to its website.
New York City’s COVID Safe App is even more basic, providing a means for vaccinated patrons to upload their paper vaccination card in digital form so businesses can check them.
Whatever system local and state officials sanction, they must ensure that data protections are in place. And to prevent access issues for those without smartphones, they should continue to allow CDC-issued vaccination cards to be used as proof of vaccination.
Also important is ensuring that businesses have the information, training, and support they need to implement vaccine pass policies.
“Checking vaccination status isn’t like ID-ing a customer before serving them a drink — staff receive training on how to do that,” Larry Lynch of the National Restaurant Association said in a statement in response to New York City’s vaccine verification requirement. “Now, without training, our staff members are expected to check the vaccine status of every customer wanting to eat inside the establishment.”
Lynch noted the backlash restaurant employees received from patrons last year when mask mandates were imposed, and asked the city “to ensure there is clear guidance and support for our workforce.”
But a vaccination pass program need not create an onerous burden that requires extensive training, particularly if an easy-to-use system is chosen by local and state officials in the name of uniformity, as was done in New York. If restaurant workers know how to check a passport of out-of-state license before a patron is served alcohol, they should be able to check vaccine status just as easily.
It would also encourage those who are still on the fence about getting vaccinated to do so.
Janey is on the right track by imposing a vaccine requirement for city workers, a policy she just announced Thursday. She and Baker should follow that to its logical conclusion to protect the Hub as a whole.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.