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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane businesses joining national push to require proof of vaccinations

Tim Lannigan, co-owner of Neato Burrito and Baby Bar, has required masks indoors when ordering since reopening in May and recently made it bar policy to require vaccination proof after 5 p.m.  (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)

From staff and wire reports

There’s no crying about coronavirus vaccinations at the Baby Bar.

After watching bars close again with the uptick in COVID-19 cases in Seattle last week, the owners of Neato Burrito and Baby Bar in downtown Spokane decided to begin requiring customers who come in after 5 p.m. to show proof that they had been vaccinated.

Co-owner Tim Lannigan, 46, said he’s had some pushback on social media, and he lost a few evening customers at the restaurant, at 827 W. First Ave., when they realized one member of their group had not received the vaccination.

“Some people walk up and are like, ‘Are you kidding?’ But its all over when they walk up to the door,” he said. “A couple people have yelled, ‘Hey, screw you guys.’ I’m like, well, then you are in the wrong place.”

“Safety for the co-workers and customers is what we are about,” Lannigan said. “People just can’t get it through their thick skulls that you have to take the medicine to cure the disease.”

On July 24, another Spokane hangout, nYne Bar and Bistro, at 232 W. Sprague Ave., began requiring vaccinations for customers who intended to dance for local music acts.

“If you are planning to dance with us, please have your proof of vaccination and ID ready at the door,” the business posted to its Facebook account.

Both nYne and Neato Burrito owners are also mandating that customers wear masks.

While the vast majority of Spokane businesses have not added the vaccination requirement, New York City, Microsoft, Tyson Foods and the U.S. auto industry joined a cascading number of state and local governments and major employers Tuesday that are taking a hard line against both the surging delta variant and the holdouts who have yet to get vaccinated.

“The goal here is to convince everyone that this is the time. If we’re going to stop the delta variant, the time is now. And that means getting vaccinated right now,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in announcing that New York will demand people show proof of COVID-19 vaccination at indoor restaurants, shows and gyms.

The hard-line measure – the first such step taken by a big U.S. city – goes into effect in mid-August. Vaccination cards or state and city apps will be accepted as proof of immunization.

Lannigan said he understands the move by New York and major businesses to require the vaccine. And, he said he believes it’s necessary given the low percentage of Spokane County’s population that is fully vaccinated. On Tuesday, it was 57% of residents 12 and older who are eligible to receive the vaccine..

Asked about persons who have declined to receive the vaccine over personal freedoms, Lannigan said: “That’s fine, but don’t come to Neato Burrito or the Baby Bar.

“This isn’t a political statement,” he continued. “Just don’t come here. Figure it out for yourself.”

Residents face more danger from driving their cars to work than receiving the vaccine, he said.

“That’s what blows my mind,” he said, “is that people don’t see the consequences of their actions.”

Meanwhile, meat and poultry giant Tyson Foods said it will require all of its approximately 120,000 U.S. employees to get the shot over the next three months. Microsoft will demand that its roughly 100,000 U.S. employees – as well as visitors and others – show proof of vaccination starting in September.

And an estimated 150,000 unionized workers at the Big Three U.S. automakers will have to go back to wearing masks starting Wednesday, while nonunion Toyota, with a U.S. workforce of about 36,000, said it will do likewise at most of its sites across the country.

In a surge driven by the highly contagious delta variant of the virus, COVID-19 cases across the U.S. have increased sixfold over the past month to an average of more than 85,000 per day, a level not seen since mid-February. Deaths have climbed over the past two weeks from an average of 254 per day to 386.

Florida has more people now in the hospital with COVID-19 than at any other time during the outbreak – over 11,500. Louisiana reported an all-time high of more than 2,100 hospital patients with the virus, most of them unvaccinated. Both states’ vaccination rates are below the national average.

“You’re talking and laughing with the patient and then you may walk out of the room, and then maybe an hour or two later you’re walking into that room with a crash cart because their condition is deteriorating that fast,” said Penny Ceasar, who handles admissions at Westside Regional Medical Center near Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Amid the growing alarm over the way the virus is storming back, vaccinations across the country have begun to tick up slightly in recent weeks, reaching more than a half-million per day on average, but are still far below the peak of 3.4 million per day in April.

Seventy percent of the nation’s adults have received at least one shot, and nearly 61% are fully vaccinated – well short of where President Joe Biden wanted the U.S. to be by this point.

Experts say the vaccine is still highly effective at preventing serious illness and death from the delta variant.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican who is running for re-election next year while eyeing a 2024 presidential bid, doubled down Tuesday as the state again broke its record for COVID-19 hospitalizations, insisting that the spike will ease soon and that he will not impose any business restrictions or mask mandates. He encouraged people to get vaccinated.

“We are not shutting down,” DeSantis said. “We are going to have schools open. We are protecting every Floridian’s job in this state. We are protecting people’s small businesses.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki criticized policies in states like Florida and Texas – both led by Republicans – that block mask or vaccine requirements.

“I think the fundamental question we have is, ‘What are we doing here?’ ” she said, adding that President Joe Biden planned to make the point that “we’re all in this together.”

The auto industry’s decision to mask up again was made by representatives from General Motors, Ford, the parent company of Chrysler, and the United Auto Workers union, and it applies even to employees who have been vaccinated. The move comes just under a month after vaccinated autoworkers were allowed to shed their masks.

As for Tyson, Donnie King, CEO of the Springdale, Arkansas, company, said in a memo to employees that the vaccine requirement is needed to overcome persistent hesitancy to get the shots.

“We did not take this decision lightly. We have spent months encouraging our team members to get vaccinated – today, under half of our team members are,” King wrote.

In New York, Sean Ogs, manager of the Woodside Cafe in Queens, said he was “floored” when he heard the news about mandatory vaccinations for customers.

“We’ve already been in a struggle. I don’t know how I’m going to deal with it,” Ogs said. “It’s going to be extra work. It’ll make things impossible.”

Debbie McCarthy, a regular at the Woodside Cafe who is unvaccinated, said she was turned away over the weekend from several establishments that had already begun requiring proof.

“I’m a little shocked they would do that,” said McCarthy, who said she recovered from COVID-19 months ago and believes her antibodies will protect her from another infection. “Why are they so afraid of people who haven’t been vaccinated? I think we should have a choice.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.