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VOL. 45 | NO. 16 | Friday, April 16, 2021

Passports, please: Another good idea we can’t agree on

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A question for those who oppose COVID vaccine passports: Why? I’ve already applied for mine.

In case you’re not familiar with the concept, a vaccine passport is proof of a negative test or protection against certain infections. “You can carry it with you and show it if required, like before you go into the office, board an airplane or visit a restaurant, movie theater or gym,” WebMD says.

Sounds ideal. The one I’ve applied for, which isn’t fully available yet, operates through an app on my phone. It was made possible by Walmart, which delivered my shots, partnering with an outfit called Clear that also offers expedited entry to airports, stadiums and other venues. The vaccine passport is free.

I’m familiar with the arguments against the passports, including Gov. Bill Lee’s.

“I think vaccine passports are a bad idea,” The Tennessean quoted Lee as saying. “I do not believe governments should impose vaccine requirements or mandates in any way, and I’m working with the legislature to support legislation that backs that up.”

No surprise there. But as I’ve noted before, no one is suggesting government-mandated COVID vaccines. Not even in Nashville, which some in the Tennessee hinterlands view as the state’s version of San Francisco, an outlier hotbed of the radical left.

“The Metro Public Health Department does not have any plans to require proof of vaccination,” Brian Todd, a department spokesman, told The Tennessean.

But Todd followed that statement with the operative point for me: “A private business or company does have the right to require proof if they feel like it is in their best interest.”

Lee thinks that’s also a bad idea, “but I also don’t think government should impose itself in the private affairs of business practices,” he told reporters. “We’re encouraging businesses in that way, but we’re not going to restrict them.”

I’m encouraging businesses, too, but in precisely the opposite way: Please employ passports. It’s an approach in keeping with my Political Rule 1, which states that what Republicans think is a bad idea is usually a good idea.

Imagine, for example, if you could go back to your favorite restaurant, bar or baseball stadium confident in the knowledge that everyone else there has also been fully vaccinated against COVID.

Maybe it wouldn’t even be every day. I’d be willing to take odd dates, or Mondays-Wednesdays-Fridays, say, to appease the vaccine laggards and holdouts. Generous, wouldn’t you agree?

I’d particularly like the Y to adopt a passports-only policy, or passport-only days. I dropped my membership in August after it became clear I wasn’t going to feel comfortable around a roomful of panting petri dishes of coronavirus.

And imagine being again able to take in the Oscar nominees and other quirky film fare in the welcoming comfort of the Belcourt, rather than streaming them on your less-than-theater-size TV screen with its much-less-than-theater-quality sound system. It is scheduled to reopen April 23 with masks and socially distanced seating but without proof of vaccination.

For that matter I’d like to see the libraries fully reopen for vaxxed-up patrons. As it is, picking up a book on hold involves roughly the same level of intrigue as a dead drop of stolen spy info on “The Americans.” (Haven’t watched it? Binge.)

OK, libraries are government, so never mind. But to be able to travel again on vaccinated-only flights? Be still, my heart!

The White House envisions no federal mandate for passports, but a variety of systems are already in place or planned in this country and around the world. New York State has its Excelsior Pass, Israel its Green Pass and the European Union plans a Green Digital Certificate it hopes to have in place by the summer tourist season.

JetBlue and United are testing a “CommonPass” app, and the Miami Heat have been designating vaccinated-only sections for NBA games.

“On the face of things, requiring proof of vaccination seems a lot like, ‘No shoes, no shirt, no service,’” Mark Tushnet, a Harvard law professor, told The New York Times.

Even conservatives believe in that, right?

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, like Tennessee’s Lee a Republican, apparently does not share Lee’s hands-off attitude toward private businesses. He issued an executive order barring businesses from requiring vaccine certification before providing services.

The order states that passports for “everyday life” activities “would create two classes of citizens based on vaccinations.”

I’ve got news for DeSantis: COVID long ago divided us into two classes of citizens. Vaccine passports seem a reasonable benefit to offer the good guys.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com

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