COVID: Remember how we segregated smokers? It could be a lot worse for the unvaccinated
Anyone who is older than they care to admit remembers the time when smoking not only was expected, but welcome outside the small designated areas designed to corral and shame those within.
Smokers and non-smokers mingled easily in offices, hospitals and bars — wherever people tended to gather in clumps large and small. That all changed when science determined the hazardous chemicals within smoke withered the lungs of all who inhaled it.
Non-smokers insisted on social distancing from smokers, the kind requiring physical barriers.
For those too young to have ever boarded a plane divided into smoking and non-smoking sections — apparently airborne particulates could do what no 3-year-old could, stay in their area — you’ll soon experience what it was like as the vaccinated and non-vaccinated mix in greater numbers.
The divide between the two is already emerging.
How do we tell who isn’t vaccinated?
According to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, 62% said unvaccinated people should not be allowed to travel on airplanes. Furthermore, 55% believed that unvaccinated people should not exercise in public gyms, sit in movie theaters or attend concerts.
And 72% said it was important to know if people nearby (and certainly within six feet) were vaccinated.
When it came to avoiding those who could cause them potential ill, non-smokers had it much easier than the vaccinated will.
Smokers self-identified the second they fired up an unfiltered Camel. Non-smokers could easily evacuate the infected area or, if they’d had a little too much to drink in the non-smoking section of the bar, grab the cigarette and stub it out in an overly exaggerated way.
But what are the vaccinated to do when, after restrictions are lifted, a person no more than 6 feet away sneezes, and into their hands rather than their elbow?
Or worse, they cough through a loosely held fist, propelling aerosolized droplets past 6 feet?
Will it require some sort of pass?
You could demand to see a vaccine card, but that could lead to charges and surely a viral TikTok video labeled #vaccinHated. Or worse, given how masks divided the nation between those acting responsibly and those fighting for freedom.
That’s why it will be up to the vaccinated to display their health status in public.
Israel is already ahead of the game with its “green pass,” first issued in February. Consider it akin to Monopoly’s “Get out of jail free” card, only it gets you into the best places in the coolest bars and restaurants.
Other countries are considering similar passports, weighing privacy concerns against the joys of being maskless in public. White House officials said any such passports should be free, secure and issued by a concern other than the federal government.
For this, all we need to do is follow the lead of those convention-goers who insist on wearing their passes in public, flaunting (if not lording over everyone) the fact they are attending a series of inconsequential seminars involving obscure topics. And drinking at a no-host bar filled with two kinds of light beer.
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Anyone determined by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standards to be fully vaccinated shall be given a Vaccination Passport to be displayed from a lanyard, the color of which is among the WHO-approved hues.
The passport guarantees VIP (Vaccinated Impervious Person) access to any restaurant, bar, theater or the like boasting a section in which people are allowed to mingle in conditions not requiring masks or distancing. VIPs will be allowed to shake hands, clap one another on the shoulder and even share a socially acceptable hug (if all parties give consent).
Segregation won’t prevent confrontation
There may come a time when VIPs are first to board their flight, and the worst row will be the one directly in front of the plexiglass shield separating them from the un-vaccinated.
Stadiums and arenas may provide VIP-only entrances, allowing the vaccinated to pass safely to their “Vaccinated Only” seats down front. Theme parks could establish VIP lines, which will move three times faster than the other line because they can occupy each and every seat on the ride.
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In places where it would be impossible to separate the vaccinated from the non-vaccinated (parks, national forests), officials could take a cue from the smoking era and designate unpopular, out-of-the-way areas from for coughing, sneezing and sniffling.
None of this will avoid the inevitable confrontation.
If it doesn’t become a vaccine caste system (“Get your Johnson & Johnson hands off my Pfizer grandfather”), it could stray into vaccine passports of questionable veracity (“That lanyard is not a WHO-approved hue!”)
Or we can simply act civilly, continuing to wear masks while maintaining social distance until science tells us we’re safe. But where’s the drama in that?
Scott Craven is a former reporter for the Arizona Republic, where this column originally appeared. Find him on Twitter @Scott_Craven2.