Image Credits: Composite created by Brendan Skwire, sourced from TIME and Forbes.

Earlier this year, I was visiting friends in Tucson, Arizona. as someone who really enjoys regional fast food/burger joints, I was excited to finally have a chance to try In-N-Out Burger. One of the reasons—believe it or not—was that I’d heard that In-N-Out paid their workers better than your average McDonalds, although a quick google search shows that more recently they may have violated California’s labor laws.

Sadly, it looks like I won’t be going back to In-N-Out anytime soon, and not just because I live in Vermont.

Popular California burger chain In-N-Out is refusing to comply with San Francisco’s mandate that restaurants check vaccine cards before allowing customers to dine indoors — a move that resulted in a temporary shutdown of the city’s only location.

“We refuse to become the vaccination police for any government,” Arnie Wensinger, the company’s chief legal and business officer, said in a statement shared with The Washington Post. “It is unreasonable, invasive, and unsafe to force our restaurant Associates to segregate Customers into those who may be served and those who may not, whether based on the documentation they carry, or any other reason.”

The clash comes as the country remains divided about pandemic policies, with vaccination mandates in the public and private sectors prompting unrest and firings. San Francisco, like New York City, requires customers to be vaccinated before they can dine inside, and restaurants are responsible for checking cards at the door…

But Wensinger says San Francisco is overstepping. The burger chain, he said, believes in the “highest form of customer service,” and that means allowing customers to eat indoors regardless of their vaccination status.

“We fiercely disagree with any government dictate that forces a private company to discriminate against customers who choose to patronize their business,” Wensinger said. “This is clear governmental overreach and is intrusive, improper, and offensive.”

OK, first of all, In-N-Out’s stance is kind of bullshit. Diners deserve to be safe, and rather than focusing on segregation and discrimination—which, deliberately or not, conflates public health ordinances with the Jim Crow South—In-N-Out should perhaps consider that their diners shouldn’t have to congregate with potentially contagious customers. Discrimination is generally predicated on circumstances out of the victim’s control—you don’t choose to be Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, Latino, LGBTQ, or a woman. It’s who you are.

Exclusion from certain places and activities because of a personal choice not to get vaccinated against a highly contagious virus isn’t discrimination, any more than a sign reading “No shirt, no shoes, no service” constitutes discrimination against nudists. Laws that prohibit smoking in restaurants and or while filling up your gas tank don’t discriminate against tobacco users. You can be as naked as you want, just not in the 7-11. Smoke as many Marlboros as you like, just not in the Applebee’s or at the Sunoco. And just a reminder—not that anyone reading this blog needs to hear it—Covid-19 isn’t the flu or a cold. It’s disease that can kill you and your loved ones, and in a truly horrible manner. Excluding people who refuse to get vaccinated is no different than these and other similar mandates.

At the same time, having seen plenty of videos of diners and shoppers throwing violent tantrums over mask mandates at their local restaurant or big box store—including leveling physical threats at employees or deliberately coughing on other customers—I am sympathetic to In-N-Out’s claim that it’s not safe for their employees to be checking vaccination cards. The workers shouldn’t have to confront potential lunatics screaming about their freedumbs.

But San Francisco’s mandate at least begins to mitigate that kind of confrontation, by giving In-N-Out and their employees the wiggle room they need to enforce such a rule. “We wish we didn’t have to do this, either—blame the big, bad government.” So I’m not entirely buying In-N-Out’s objections.

That said, a better approach to making employees check vaccine cards—which is time consuming for both staff and customers, and yeah, sort of invasive—would be the kind of vaccine passport I use every time I visit my son, who lives in Montréal (although the website says it’s for citizens, I had no trouble getting signed up).

A person who uses VaxiCode Verif to verify your proof of vaccination cannot see your personal data. In addition to a “green” (adequately protected) or “red” (not adequately protected), VaxiCode Verif only displays the full name of the holder of the proof of vaccination. No other identifying or medical information is displayed. The person verifying the proof will not have access to your date of birth, which vaccines you have received or your COVID-19 screening test results.

Moreover, no information is saved by the telephone or tablet that scanned it at the time of verifying the QR code on your proof of vaccination. Your information will be displayed for 10 seconds. No information is transmitted. There is no history of verifications of proof and no one can find out this information. Therefore, it is not possible to check your verifications, your movements or where you presented your proof.

Everywhere you go in Montreal, outside of some essential services like the grocery, VaxiCode is required to enter.

A vaccine passport is not required for access to essential services like education (primary, secondary, post-secondary).

See the places and activities requiring the vaccination passport according to the sector of activity:

Health and social services
Sports and physical activities
Outdoor events and festivals
Performance venues, cinemas, sports venues
Bars and restaurants
Arcades, theme parks, amusement parks and centres, recreation centres, and water parks
Other areas and locations

Teachers, students, and chaperones are exempt from the requirement to present their vaccination passport while on a school trip.

Customer registers currently required at certain locations or activities will be maintained to facilitate contact tracing.

You can visit the link to see just how many places and activities require proof of vaccination. The Quebec government, led by the otherwise awful CAQ, is NOT fucking around. And neither, so it seems, is the rest of Canada. Even provinces like Alberta and Saskatchewan—where vaccine rates are extremely low, and the political culture can be described as Trumpist—are requiring vaccine passports of some kind of another.

Quebec made the VaxiCode design really easy to use. When the border opened and I was able to start visiting again, I didn’t have the app. So everywhere I went, I had to scroll through my phone for a photo of my vaccine card, then pull out my drivers license or passport to show that I was who I said I was. Not the biggest burden in the world, but also kind of a pain in the ass. Scroll, scroll, scroll—there it is! No wait, that’s not it. Dammit. Ah, here’s my card. You can almost see the line building behind me as other patrons waited for me to get my act together.

With the app—which is essentially a giant QR code—the person working the door simply scans the pass, and in I go. It takes less than five seconds. It’s convenient, and I gotta say the security of knowing you’re surrounded only by other vaccinated people really makes me breathe easier (no pun intended).

Several US states, including New York, New Jersey, Hawaii, Louisiana and more, already have some form of vaccine passport (some are voluntary only). Twenty US states have banned those kind of passports entirely, and you can probably guess which ones. Frankly, I think it should be federally mandated, but that probably gets crosswise with the Constitution—and would almost certainly cause a right wing meltdown that would make Chernobyl look like a walk in the park (not that anyone should pay any attention to them, but that’s how we live now).

Bottom line, for me at least: In-N-Out Burger needs to get with the program, and stop pretending that public health protections aren’t a form of discrimination. At the same time, California should provide a standard app like Quebec’s VaxiCode to make the confirmation process smoother, faster, less invasive and standardized so companies like In-N-Out have less justification to throw temper tantrums.

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