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Local businesses don’t want to be ’vaccination police’

Mail Tribune Jason Bell-Bechtol, store manager, stocks shelves at Central Art in Medford. Rather than asking customers to show their COVID-19 vaccination cards, the store is asking customers to keep wearing masks.
Businesses fear confrontations, don’t want to invade privacy

A new poll shows that 93% of Jackson County businesses don’t want to follow a state rule requiring them to check the vaccination status of their unmasked customers.

The Chamber of Medford & Jackson County recently emailed a survey to 5,000 businesses and got an unprecedented reaction of 1,505 responses in two days, said Brad Hicks, president and chief executive officer of the chamber of commerce.

The survey found only 6.7% of respondents support the state policy requiring businesses to ask for proof of vaccination from any customer not wearing a mask.

The survey showed 93.3% of respondents want businesses to be able to adopt policies allowing vaccinated customers to go without masks ― but without having to require proof of vaccination.

"We had over 1,500 respondents and over 93% of them said, 'Absolutely not. We do not want, in our businesses, to be the vaccination police. Nor do we want our employees to be put in those roles,’“ Hicks said.

Oregon is the only state requiring businesses and faith institutions to check the vaccination status of customers before allowing them to come inside without a mask.

Oregon issued the interim guidance May 18 after the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on May 13 that fully vaccinated people don’t have to wear masks anymore in most indoor settings.

Showing a vaccination card at a business entrance is no guarantee that the person has been vaccinated. The person could be using someone else’s card. Fake vaccination cards are also available on the internet.

Oregon’s vaccination verification policy has drawn bipartisan criticism, including from the three-member, all-Republican Jackson County Board of Commissioners and state Sen. Jeff Golden, a Democrat.

County commissioners sent a letter to state officials protesting the policy, and Golden sent one of his own to Gov. Kate Brown, a fellow Democrat.

Golden said he appreciates the intention of the state’s guidance, which seems to be a sincere effort to provide businesses with options as they advance toward full re-opening. But he said efforts to implement the guidance have been much more problematic than envisioned.

"I am sure you’ve become well aware of, and can understand, the practical difficulties of delegating vaccination verification duties to business employees who generally have no relevant training,“ Golden said. ”And blanket masking requirements at this particular moment, when more and more people are frustrated by ongoing restrictions after they’ve been fully vaccinated, are generating a level of conflict that adds one more challenge for business communities already deeply challenged by the pandemic.“

Golden asked Brown to "review the current guidance with an eye toward course correction of this element in the very near future.“

On the ground, few if any Rogue Valley businesses are asking customers to show their COVID-19 vaccination cards in order to come inside without a mask.

At Central Art in downtown Medford, a sign outside tells customers, “Masks are still required in this establishment.”

Employees there said the business is asking customers to keep wearing masks because they don’t want to check vaccination cards.

Customer Colleen Horn wore her mask while shopping in the art supply store. She said she and her family are fully vaccinated.

“I’ll wear it until I see a high percentage of our population is vaccinated,” she said. “Vaccination is not 100% effective. We still run a risk. If you have family members who are at risk in any way, it’s worth it.”

The Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines approved for emergency use in the United States are overwhelmingly effective against preventing severe illness, but there have been a small number of cases and deaths that broke through among vaccinated people.

Horn said she views masks as a temporary inconvenience.

“I hope businesses recover and we won’t have to deal with masks anymore,” she said.

Travis Taylor, a barber at Short Kutz in Medford, said the barber shop isn’t asking customers to show their vaccination cards. Customers have the option of going without masks.

Taylor said masks interfere with a barber’s ability to cut hair, and customers who wear them during a cut end up with clipped hair contaminating their masks for the rest of the day.

“They’ll come in wearing a mask and we tell them, ’You don’t have to.’ They literally take it off every time,” Taylor said.

A Medford restaurant owner who asked to remain anonymous said she has been following all the state’s COVID-19 regulations, but is drawing a line at asking customers to prove they’re vaccinated.

“This I feel very strongly about. I don’t agree with the policy of checking vaccination records. It’s an invasion of privacy,” she said.

She said asking for proof of vaccination could provoke confrontations.

“I have a younger crew. Some are new to this industry. I don’t want them to be faced with that complication. The community has supported us throughout this. The last thing I want to do is ask for proof of vaccination,” she said.

She said most of her workers are vaccinated against COVID-19, but they’re still choosing to wear masks.

A waitress at the restaurant said customers are going by the honor system when it comes to masks and vaccination status. She said she would feel uncomfortable asking them about their vaccination status.

“I don’t want to upset anyone,” she said.

Hicks said many business owners are afraid for their workers and don’t want to put them on the front lines of checking vaccination status.

“Workers would be asking members of the public who are frustrated, tired, angry and agitated over issues already,” he said.

A Medford big box retailer had a sign at its entrance telling customers masks are still required inside. Most shoppers were wearing masks.

A worker staffing the entrance of the store near hand sanitizer stations said the company is not requiring her to ask customers without masks to show their vaccination cards.

“I haven’t had any confrontations with customers, which I was afraid of,” she said.

She said many customers appear to accept wearing masks inside, at least in crowded public settings such as the store.

“They don’t feel safe yet,” she said.

According to the local chamber of commerce survey, 88.4% of business respondents said the state’s mask rules should end immediately.

Another 6.1% said mask rules should sunset once 70% of Oregonians age 16 and older have been vaccinated, and 5.5% said some level of mask rules should continue until there is no longer a risk of COVID-19 transmission in Oregon.

According to the survey, most local businesses are hesitant to check their workers’ vaccination status.

Only 7% of respondents said companies should require workers to show their vaccination cards if workers want to stop wearing masks.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.