Business leaders shared their concerns about a proposed COVID-19 vaccine passport in Montgomery County during a County C0uncil meeting Tuesday.
The “passport,” proposed by the county executive branch, is proof of full COVID-19 vaccination requirement to gain entry into certain indoor establishments, with religious and medical exemptions. Council President Gabe Albornoz said council members may vote on the requirement next Tuesday.
The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Montgomery County (HCCMC) opposes the requirement, Director of Programs Mauricio Vasquez said. He said it may have seemed like a good idea at first glance, but “insufficient thought” has been given to potential financial and social impacts.
“Unintended targeting of sensitive populations will inevitably ensue whether we intend it or not,” Vasquez said.
The Restaurant Association of Maryland expressed relief the proposal does not apply to employees, said Melvin Thompson, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs and Public Policy. He feared passports could worsen staffing shortages. He also cited county restaurant members who have many unanswered questions. He requested metrics for lifting a vaccine passport and felt businesses should be allowed to decide when to verify vaccination status, like at the door, the restaurant table, or the ordering counter.
Thompson shared concerns about employees potentially having to confront patrons who claim medical or religious exemptions.
“Our businesses should not be required to request documentation from those customers, because that could result in unnecessary confrontation,” he said. Some restaurants have asked if the county could help cover the cost of additional staff needed to enforce the requirement.
According to the proposed regulation, if the measure passes, admission to places like restaurants, bars, fitness centers, and other venues would roll out over a six-week period. It would start with proof of at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose for patrons aged 12 and older. At the end of the rollout proof of full vaccination including boosters would be required for patrons as young as 5-years-old and one month.
The Greater Bethesda Chamber of Commerce and Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce coordinated their comments, said Ellen Coren, Vice President of Economic Development and Government Affairs for the Bethesda chamber. She pointed out that the mandate puts the onus on establishments to make accommodations for those who are unvaccinated.
“How does a restaurant do this? Seat them outside in weather like we’ve had this week? Block off precious square footage inside just in case they show up? And how do you decide which employees you’ll knowingly expose to unvaccinated patrons?”
Coren suggested pushing back the implementation date and putting the onus for vaccination screening on the group/person hosting the event instead of the establishment.
Since September, Strathmore in North Bethesda has required proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 PCR test for indoor events. It has meant offering de-escalation training and solutions planning for the staff, President Monica Jeffries said. Montgomery County Police officers and security have been present to help employees.
“… we have found it necessary to have MCPD and security personnel present to assist our civilian staff who are confronted with angry patrons, which does happen,” Jeffries said.