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Businesses Offer Perks to Vaccinated Customers

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At Fort Bragg, soldiers who have gotten their coronavirus vaccines can go to a gym where no masks are required, with no limits on who can work out together. Treadmills are on and zipping, unlike those in 13 other gyms where unvaccinated troops can’t use the machines, everyone must mask up and restrictions remain on how many can bench-press at one time.

Inside Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles, where lines not long ago snaked for miles with people seeking coronavirus vaccines, a special seating area allows those who are fully inoculated to enjoy games side by side with other fans.

When Bill Dugan reopens Madam’s Organ, his legendary blues bar in Washington, D.C., people will not be allowed in to work, drink or play music unless they can prove they have had their shots. “I have a saxophone player who is among the best in the world. He was in the other day, and I said, ‘Walter, take a good look around because you’re not walking in here again unless you get vaccinated.’”

Evite and Paperless Post are seeing a big increase in hosts requesting that their guests be vaccinated.

As the United States nudges against the soft ceiling of those who will willingly take the vaccine, governments, businesses and schools have been extending carrots — actually doughnuts, beers and cheesecake — to prod laggards along. Some have even offered cold hard cash: In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine this week went so far as to say that the state would give five vaccinated people $1 million each as part of a weekly lottery program.

On Thursday, federal health officials offered the ultimate incentive for many when they advised that fully vaccinated Americans may stop wearing masks.

Now, private employers, restaurants and entertainment venues are looking for ways to make those who are vaccinated feel like V.I.P.s, both to protect workers and guests, and to possibly entice those not yet on board.

Come summer, the nation may become increasingly bifurcated between those who are permitted to watch sports, take classes, get their hair cut and eat barbecue with others, and those who are left behind the spike protein curtain.

Access and privilege among the vaccinated may rule for the near future, in public and private spaces.

“The bottom line is this interesting question of the conception of our society,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, a former head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the architect of a smoking ban and a tuberculosis control program in New York City, both of which included forms of mandates. “Are we in some important way connected or not?”

A vaccine requirement to attend school or participate in the military is not a novel concept. But because the three Covid vaccines offered in the United States have yet to receive full approvals by the Food and Drug Administration, the military has declined to insist on inoculation. For their part, public school districts cannot consider mandates until the vaccines are available to most children. The F.D.A. just granted emergency use authorization to Pfizer this week for children ages 12 to 16.

But even without a mandate, a nudge can feel like a shove. The military has been strongly encouraging vaccines among the troops. Acceptance has been low in some branches, like the Marines, with only 40 percent having gotten one or more shots. At Fort Bragg, one of the largest military installations in the country and among the first to offer the vaccine, just under 70 percent have been jabbed.

A podcast designed to knock down misinformation — a common misbelief is that the vaccines affect fertility — plays around the base. In addition to their freedom gym, vaccinated soldiers may now eat in groups as they please, while the unvaccinated look on as they grab their grub and go.

With soldiers, experts “talk up to decliners versus talk down,” said Col. Joseph Buccino, a spokesman at Fort Bragg.

Still, holdouts pose obstacles. For a recent mission to Europe, a handful of unvaccinated troops had to be replaced with those who had gotten shots, because of quarantine rules in countries there. “What we need to do is restore readiness,” Col. Buccino said.

Segregating the unvaccinated and limiting access to gyms and dining areas were not measures aimed specifically at getting soldiers vaccinated, he said, “but there is an enticement.”

The private sector, sometimes with the encouragement of government, is also trying to make life a bit nicer for the vaccinated, emphasizing the privileges — rather than perceived infringements on freedom — bestowed by the protection of the vaccines.

It’s baseball season, and fans have clamored to get back to normal, to a place where the wave used to mean something other than the next surge of the coronavirus. Major League Baseball is heavily promoting inoculations, and stadiums have become a new line of demarcation, where vaccinated sections are highlighted as perks akin to V.I.P. skyboxes.

In Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee recently announced that sporting venues and churches would be able to increase their capacity by adding sections for the vaccinated.

Some businesses — like gyms and restaurants — where the coronavirus was known to spread easily are also embracing a reward system. Even though many gyms have reopened around the country, some still haven’t allowed large classes to resume.

Others are inclined to follow the lead of gyms like Solid Core in Washington, D.C., which seeks proof of inoculation to enroll in classes listed as “Vaccine Required: Full Body.” “Our teams are now actively evaluating where else we think there will be client demand and will be potentially introducing it to other markets in the weeks ahead,” said Bryan Myers, president of the national gym chain, in an email.

The Bayou, a restaurant in Salt Lake City, will open its doors only to those who have had their shots, according to Mark Alston, one of the owners.

“It was entirely driven by the fact that I work at the Bayou seven days a week,” he said. “I do not work from a comfy office and send staff off to work in unsafe conditions, but work there alongside them.”

The “vaxxed-only” policy has flooded his voice mail with rancorous messages. “One in particular accuses us of running some kind of pedophile beer cult,” he said. “It’s a bit unhinged.”

Even private citizens are deploying the practice in their homes. A spokesperson for Evite said 548,420 guests had received online invitations to events mentioning “fully vaccinated” or using other vaccinated-related terms since March 1, 2021, and invitations with the exact term “fully vaccinated” had been sent to 103,507 people. A similar company, Paperless Post, has created specific invitation designs with the inoculated in mind, vaccinated only please RSVP.

Not everyone endorses this type of exclusion as good public policy. “I worry about the operational feasibility,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. “In the U.S., we don’t yet have a standard way to prove vaccination status. I hope we’ll see by fall such low levels of infection in the U.S. that our level of concern about the virus will be very low.”

But few dispute that it is legal. “Having dedicated spaces at events reserved for vaccinated people is both lawful and ethical,” said Lawrence O. Gostin, an expert in health law at Georgetown Law School. “Businesses have a major economic incentive to create safer environments for their customers, who would otherwise be reluctant to attend crowded events. Government recommendations about vaccinated-only sections will encourage businesses and can help us back to more normal.”

Large employers with a few notable exceptions have been reluctant so far to impose vaccine mandates for workers, especially in a tight labor market. “Our association came out in favor of masks,” said Emily Williams Knight, president of the Texas Restaurant Association. “We probably will not be taking a position on mandates, which are incredibly divisive.”

But some companies are moving that way. Norwegian Cruise Line is threatening to keep its ships out of Florida ports if the state stands by a law prohibiting businesses from requiring vaccines in exchange for services.

Public health mandates — from smoking bans to seatbelt laws to containing tuberculosis outbreaks by requiring TB patients to take their medicines while observed — have a long history in the United States.

“They fall into a cluster of things in which someone is essentially making the argument that what I do is only my business,” said Dr. Frieden, who is now chief executive of Resolve to Save Lives, a program designed to prevent epidemics and cardiovascular disease. “A lot of times that’s true, unless what you do might kill someone else.”

Dr. Frieden was the main official who pushed for a smoking ban in bars and restaurants in 2003 when he was the New York City health commissioner under former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. Other senior aides at the time felt certain the ban would cost Mr. Bloomberg a second term. “When I was fighting for that, a City Council member who was against the ban said of bars, ‘That is my place of entertainment.’ And I said, ‘Well, that’s someone’s place of employment.’ It did have impact.”

Mr. Dugan, the bar owner in Washington, said protecting his workers and patrons are of a piece. “As we hit a plateau with vaccines, I don’t think we can sit and wait for all the nonbelievers,” he said. “If we are going to convince them, it’s going to be through them not being able to do the things that vaccinated people are able to do.”



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