As the world stares down the threat posed by yet another COVID-19 variant, any tools that might help quell this epic pandemic take on added importance.
“We’re throwing everything we can at this virus, tracking it from every angle, and that’s what we have to keep doing,” President Biden said Monday, as he urged more Americans to get vaccinated and those who are vaccinated to follow up with a booster shot.
Well, not quite everything, at least not here in Boston. While other cities have required that patrons show proof of vaccination before entering restaurants and entertainment venues, Boston has held back.
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu has acknowledged that she’s exploring the notion of a proof-of-vaccination mandate for certain indoor venues such as restaurants, clubs, and performance facilities, and the new threat posed by the Omicron variant should make the decision easy.
“I still think we should be taking all possible action to protect our community members, to protect customers and those who might be wanting to attend these events,” Wu said in an interview on GBH’s Boston Public Radio last week. “The way to head off a shutdown is for everyone to get vaccinated and to be protected.”
What was sound policy a week ago, even several months ago, today takes on new urgency with winter upon the region and a new variant on the landscape.
Early in November, the Los Angeles City Council passed one of the nation’s strictest requirements — including restaurants, bars, movie theaters, gyms, museums, spas, salons, concert venues, and malls. Monday, the penalty phase of the law kicked in, allowing officials to issue citations to noncomplying businesses and fines of $1,000 for a second violation.
Of course, Boston has had the advantage of an enlightened private sector, where most performance venues and sports arenas have put the safety of patrons first and decided early on to require proof of vaccination (or a negative COVID test) at the door. TD Garden, Symphony Hall, Broadway in Boston, Boston Ballet, and local clubs like City Winery, Scullers Jazz Club, and Club Café, and at least a handful of restaurants now routinely inform patrons to bring their vax cards (some also require a photo ID) for entry.
For some venues it was also a matter of enlightened self-interest — making patrons feel safe was a good way to fill more of those seats.
So this isn’t some Draconian form of punishment — although it certainly can serve as another incentive for the unvaccinated to get with the program.
During her stint as acting mayor, Kim Janey did raise — however unartfully — the issue of equity as it applies to proof of vaccination efforts. That shouldn’t deter Wu, but it does raise the stakes on implementation and, for example, taking seriously instances in which patrons of color are scrutinized more closely than white patrons.
One advance that would make implementation easier is a uniform statewide vaccine passport. If the Baker administration would finally settle on one smartphone app, that would speed up the entry process for hundreds of venues and might just encourage local boards of health across the state to consider their own regulations.
It doesn’t mean everyone has to have the app — that CDC vax card would still be proof enough. But there’s something to be said for uniformity — something Baker said in September he was considering.
“Getting to the point where there’s a relatively simple process for people to credential the fact that they’ve been vaccinated will be important for a whole bunch of reasons,” Baker said back then on GBH’s Boston Public Radio.
It was true then. It’s certainly true now.
In a Boston Public Radio interview on Monday, Baker said the state was still looking into it. “We’ve been working with a bunch of other states, 15 to 20 of them, to try to create a single QR code that can be used for all sorts of things where people may choose to require a vaccine.” Meanwhile, “the administration has no plans for a statewide vaccine requirement,” according to a Baker spokesman.
Sure, the state’s vaccination rate — nearly 85 percent of the population is at least partially vaccinated — is admirable. But the daily average of new COVID cases in the state is up about 70 percent in the last month, and the positive test rate has nearly doubled. That’s before any possible impact from Omicron.
Neither Baker nor Wu can afford to waste valuable time — Baker on finding that much-needed app and Wu on filling the leadership gap by putting vaccine IDs to good use by requiring them to enter restaurants and entertainment venues. Making intelligent — and hardly unprecedented — choices now can save a good deal of pain later.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.