Vaccine mandate verification, enforcement lies with businesses

Rohan Goswami, News Editor

After the establishing of one of the strictest COVID-19 safety protocols in the nation, Orleans Parish businesses are left with a challenge: enforcing the policy.

On Aug. 16, Orleans Parish implemented a requirement for patrons of local businesses. They must show proof of vaccination or negative test, or be denied entry. Coupled with the statewide mask mandate, the requirement provides what Dr. Jennifer Avegno, chief medical officer for the City of New Orleans, calls layered protection.

vaccine mandates are in effect
The responsibility lies with local businesses to enforce vaccine mandates. (Ella Joffe)

Fake vaccine cards are less of a concern for Avegno than making sure the mandate is enforced. 

“There are some tricks you can watch out for. If the handwriting and the lot numbers are the exact same, that’s a red flag,” Avegno said. “I remember I saw one where Pfizer was misspelled. And while it’s true that someone could have misspelled, it’s really unlikely.”

For businesses, enforcement has been mixed. At Brigsten’s Restaurant on Dante Street, waitstaff wear “Vax’d to the Max” pins as they move about the dining room. 

At Commander’s Palace — an upscale restaurant on Washington Avenue — patrons are required to display their proof of vaccination or testing at the door and wear their masks as they move through the restaurant for any reason.

At Bruno’s Tavern, however, several Tulane University students stated that even after Hurricane Ida, staff did not require proof of testing or vaccination status. Others commented that very few masks were seen inside the bar itself.

An employee at Bruno’s Tavern declined to comment on the vaccine mandate, beyond stating that Bruno’s had not experienced any issues with vaccine enforcement.

Nonetheless, said Avegno, most businesses are quite enthusiastic about the mandate. “We have a weekly hospitality call and a weekly business call,” Avegno said. “I like to highlight the layering of your protection.”

But, regarding those individuals or businesses who flout the regulations, Avegno said while largely businesses “have done a tremendous job [of following the mandate], we always knew there was going to be X percent of places that were not going to do it.”

Mask enforcement is fraught with danger as discontent over mandates has grown. In April 2021, Tulane University Police Department Officer Martinus Mitchem was shot and killed when intervening in a dispute over masking.

At the time, TUPD Chief Kirk Bouyelas issued a statement saying in part that TUPD was “deeply saddened by the senseless and tragic death of TUPD Corporal Martinus Mitchum.”

In New York City, three tourists from Texas assaulted a restaurant hostess who asked for proof of vaccination.

Avegno said that enforcement of the mandate came from both 311 calls from patrons and from assistance from the State Fire Marshal. 

“What code enforcement has found is that [when] they’re not checking vaccines or they’re not doing masks when they show up, they uncover a whole bunch of other violations,” Avegno said.

At Tulane itself, a vaccine mandate is in place for students and faculty. Tulane received an initial 5,000 full vaccine courses from the federal government and made them available to the student body as Louisiana and CDC guidelines evolved. 

Incoming freshmen, however, were required to submit proof of COVID-19 vaccination before arriving on campus.

“If there are questions about validity of the vaccine card, we ask for additional information from the student that will allow us to verify their completed vaccination. This can sometimes be difficult, as many mass vaccine sites do not have easily accessible records for follow-up. But we do feel that our records accurately reflect that more than 95 percent of students have completed their vaccination series, Scott Tims, assistant vice president for Campus Health said.

 Avegno feels that continuing both the mask and testing and vaccine mandates is crucial, especially as the holiday season approaches. Of concern is a repeat of the COVID-19 spike experienced nationwide during the 2020 holiday season.

“I am kind of anxiously looking at the rest of the country to see if that pattern is going to repeat itself,” Avegno said. “I just think this is the period to not take our foot off the gas and continue to be cautious.”