For over a year, face masks have been more than just a powerful means of containing the spread of a highly contagious disease. They have become a kind of signal, a way to instantly identify fellow citizens who really care about protecting themselves and others from COVID-19. Thanks to the incredibly powerful vaccines available to anyone over the age of 12, many of these caring people no longer need masks to protect themselves. But how are we supposed to know with our masks off whether the unmasked people in our area – let’s say an unmasked waiter who provokes a table with unmasked guests – have been vaccinated or not? The signal begins to jam: what are we telling each other now?
Restaurants, which were among the first targets of local closures and where countless workers have lost their livelihoods and their lives in this pandemic, have been the place of our fears from the start. Guests were placed in an absurd position of responsibility and forced to make the wrong decision of whether to “save the industry” or risk the spread of infection to support them. Now restaurants are ready again to be places where we work through the current moment of pandemic norms as restaurateurs face tough choices. They must decide whether to allow vaccinated workers and guests to be exposed; whether the vaccination status of employees and guests should be checked or whether or not only voluntary disclosure should be allowed; and whether they want to make this clear to the restaurant audience or not. Something Restaurant operator, Workers and guests choose the latter category by relying on a small inoculation needle. It could very well become the hottest dining accessory of the summer.
The first restaurant I saw that demonstrated workers’ vaccination status with pins was Souvla, the popular San Francisco-based Greek rotisserie chain. who announced the move on Instagram in early ril. The restaurant group has always been adept at merchandising, serving Greek soft-serve yogurt in branded versions of the iconic “We’re Glad to Serve You” per coffee cup. Using the vaccination needle – which has six ticks on a rotisserie skewer, in a game with the restaurant’s logo – owner Charles Bililies hopes to give teams and guests a “subtle visual cue that they’re saying, ‘I’ve been vaccinated'” . without having to scream.
The pins were originally designed to represent the restaurant’s COVID safety checklist. But in March, when California hotel workers were eligible for the vaccination, Bililies and the Souvla executive team came up with the idea of making the lapel pin a limited edition and offering it to employees as soon as they received their vaccines. It’s not mandatory – “That’s not Office space, you don’t have to wear flair, “says Bililies – but he says the staff really loved the pins, with front-of-house staff adding them to their rons and back-of-house staff adding them to their hats . “I hope it will be used a little more in any type of restaurant or retail setting.”
Me too. As someone with a child who is too young to vaccinate or mask, it would give me tremendous confidence if more people proactively acknowledge their vaccination status, especially as cities are dropping masking requirements under the latest CDC guidelines. The medical condition of some people makes vaccination impossible, while others make vaccines less effective. For people who still need extra protection from COVID-19 and for anyone who wants to be careful, not knowing when they are thinking about food and drink, an activity that inherently excludes masking, is not enough. I still want to know that the people around me take the health of the community seriously. And I want them to know that I do too.
According to the pin manufacturers I spoke to, business is booming. Seattle-based Etsy seller Nicole Santiago says COVID vaccine pins like hers are becoming bestsellers across the site. It attributes its popularity to people’s pride and enthusiasm for vaccination. “I think people are ready to go out and eat with friends and they want people like restaurant staff and bartenders to feel safe around them.” The pin, as it puts it, is “my sense of letting you know that I am safe”.
Unsurprisingly, consumer interest in vaccination needles increased in December 2020 when the first wave of health workers received their vaccinations. Although Pennsylvania’s Dissent Pins began selling Ruth Bader Ginsberg collar pins in 2017, founder Nick Jehlen says the company has “Thank you science ”syringe needle for more than two years, with 50 percent of profits going to Voices for Vaccines. He noted that after the December 2020 holidays, when sales typically waned, the numbers looked more like Black Friday thanks to the thank you science vaccine pin. The company started in January 2020 COVID-specific vaccination needles, and has sold thousands a week since then.
Massachusetts-based illustrator Nate Duval has his clearly groovy “hpy vax” pin facing the frontline workers. Duval, who has been making pins and other merchandise for over 10 years, thinks of pins as “bumper stickers to wear. They show your personality. They’re flair. ”He sees vaccination needles as something useful for health workers to show patients that they have been vaccinated. After an initial wave of sales when the pins hit the market two and a half months ago, with broader vaccine eligibility and availability, the pins are more popular than ever, according to Duval. He sells hundreds a day, and many orders are for six or more Pins, presumably bulk orders on behalf of work teams and families, and for giving away. “It’s the most popular product I’ve ever made in my life,” he says.
Duval has the feeling that these larger orders do not come from official representatives of a company, but from employees who, because of their work, want to get pins for themselves and their colleagues. He mentions a message from a Starbucks employee in South Carolina who bought a dozen pins for other baristas: “Anyone whose job requires being around people that [pin] helps with the limbo in which we find ourselves, in which no masks are needed, but it is an honor system. “
The limbo also puts restaurateurs in murky waters when it comes to visually indicating which employees have been vaccinated, thus opening the door to potential discrimination. Attorney Brian Klein points out Instructions from the Commission on Equal Opportunitieswhich makes it clear that employers are legally entitled to apply for vaccination status – and can even go a step further and require it, as long as they treat the information as confidential medical information and also make arrangements for employees who cannot obtain vaccination status Was shot for a protected reason, such as a genuine religious belief or disability. Klein, who practices labor and labor law and works with food service and restaurant groups in the greater New York area, notes that if employers just know, let alone visually mark which employees have been vaccinated, it opens up the possibility of some sort of citizen status Class (or just make it) the perception different treatment) for those employees who are not vaccinated.
“People make stickers, bracelets; or if you have a policy that doesn’t require vaccinated people to wear a mask, ”he says. “As an employer, do you focus on a person’s religious beliefs or disabilities?” While immunization status is not a legally protected class in many states (Klein notes that Montana is the first state to pass immunization protection laws), are disability and sincere religious beliefs. And discrimination against protected classes is illegal. It is also difficult to reconcile the EEOC’s mandate to treat the vaccine status as confidential information with a vaccine pin prescribed by the employer.
On the flip side, Klein sympathizes with an employer’s desire to let customers know that staff are vaccinated and suggests that many operators say their staff manuals and anti-harassment training provide sufficient guard rails to ensure none Discrimination is taking place. Keeping vaccine flair optional is one way to avoid potential discrimination claims, but for now, Klein generally considers the most cautious course of action to be to mask all employees. This takes this particular potential for discrimination off the table and protects everyone.
There is simply no rule book that prescribes how to deal with the mixed vaccination status and the changing mask requirement at this moment. Due to the personal nature of restaurant work, operators need to strike a balance between the safety of workers and guests while ensuring that there is no discrimination against protective status such as disability and religious belief. “Restaurants will always be incubators for this kind of politics,” says Klein.
Given some of the potential downsides in making workers ‘vaccination status public, I suspect it will take longer for workers’ lapel pins to become fully established; some operators are too risk averse to try it out.
But there is nothing to stop the guests. I ordered my lapel pin (I went with Duvals) and plan to wear it to restaurants, bars, and grocery stores as soon as California gives up its masking mandate on June 15th. Thanks to the flair, masks don’t have to be the way to show you fuck it this summer. A shot and a needle work too.
This article has been updated to reflect updates to EEOC guidelines and Montana legislation to protect vaccine status.