Lauren Lucy Caddell, '23
For most people during the pandemic, going back to eating at restaurants was right alongside dreams of eventually being able to see friends – and the bottom halves of each other’s faces. After too many months to count of practicing new recipes out of boredom and eating takeout food five days in a row, restaurants are finally bustling again, both inside and out, but is the opportunity to go out for meals again worth the mounting safety challenges?
Out of everything in the news right now, the last thing we’re looking for is information about the slow process of making restaurants safe in a world barely related to the one we left behind a year and a half ago. However, in many cities, the topic of public hubs such as these is an indicator of their level of safety restrictions. Governments have experimented with every possible adjustment: outdoor seating, mask mandates, restricted capacity, and most recently, individual proof of vaccination. Of all these, the latter has generated the most controversy.
The idea of having proof of covid vaccination is not exactly new, given that the vaccine has now been available to all but the youngest members of the population for some months now. However, most of the time proving you’ve received the shot is only used for major events or hotspots where the disease can easily spread, such as airplane flights and concerts. It’s only in the past few weeks that the idea of proving vaccination has spread to everyday activities such as going to the gym, entering a movie theater, or going out to eat. It seems a little absurd that the only way you can get into a restaurant nowadays is by showing a flimsy paper that can be mixed up with our study notecards. Although online options now theoretically exist as well, restaurants accept vaccine cards as the most common form of proof.
D.C. is still relatively behind in its proof of vaccine mandates compared to cities like New York, which has made indoor safety a priority due to their sheer numbers of covid cases. Mayor Bill de Blasio recently imposed a vaccine mandate known as the “Key to NYC Pass” requiring restaurants to ask proof from all customers who are eligible for the vaccine – every person over the age of 12 – before allowing them to dine indoors. Covid is spread more easily indoors, and without masks the danger is higher of even just one infected customer spreading virus particles through an entire restaurant. According to a D.C. food magazine, approximately 14 percent of all covid cases are spread or contracted in restaurants. However, the answer is not as simple as requiring us to bring our vaccine cards with us wherever we go. In any situation with no clear solution, there will always be objections, and in this case, resistance sometimes goes as far as physical violence. Many New York restaurants have reported customers refusing to show their cards, arguing that proof of vaccination is unnecessary, and sometimes even pushing or assaulting employees who request to check them. Some attacks have been so bad that the perpetrators have landed in jail and their victims in hospitals.
Although many safety regulations are unpleasant for all parties involved, new compromises must be made in a world where going out to dinner can be hazardous to those at risk. Until checking for vaccinations becomes easier and the number of cases falls, it is much more efficient to cooperate with these new laws as the DMV follows in the footsteps of cities with more developed covid-response protocols. Additionally, many restaurants may not be able to handle another blow to business like the first pandemic wave, when people could barely pass others on the street, let alone go out for meals. After many people received the vaccine in the spring, dining industry sales rose from thirty to seventy billion dollars between June 2020 and 2021. The specifics of making restaurants safe continue to change, but some rules must be followed for the sake of keeping restaurants open for dining – and out of the covid transmission chain.
Image from Associated Press/Marcio Jose Sanchez