As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, an increasing number of bars, restaurants and venues in Bellingham are requiring proof of vaccination or a negative test for patrons wishing to enter.
As of Sept. 22, the Downtown Bellingham Partnership listed 21 bars and five retailers that require proof of vaccination.
The decision to require proof of vaccination comes as Whatcom County is experiencing elevated levels of transmission — especially among those who are young and unvaccinated. Jennifer Moon, a communications specialist at the Whatcom County Health Department, said the new Delta variant is more than twice as contagious as previous variants.
“September had a very high number of COVID-19 cases, one of the highest monthly totals of the pandemic,” Moon said in an email. “Case rates have been very high especially among 25-44 year-olds and 0-17 year-olds. Our county continues to be classified by the [Centers for Disease Control] as an area of high transmission.”
The Local Public House, a restaurant and pub that has recently decided to require proof of vaccination, has faced some minor backlash, according to employee Cameron Evans. But for every person who disagrees, there are five to 10 customers who are in full support of these measures, Evans said.
There is also an outdoor option that is suitable for those wanting to visit The Local Public House but have not been vaccinated.
“If there are any businesses that are thinking about making the jump but are nervous about business, I think it has honestly helped our business,” Evans said. “People learn that we are doing it, and are more inclined to come eat because of it, they want to support a business that is doing that and want to be able to eat where they feel safe.”
While establishments may lose out on profits when customers are unable to prove their vaccination status, Evans described how much more severe the loss would be due to a forced closure from a COVID-19 exposure.
As of Sept. 27, 75% of eligible Whatcom County residents had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Unvaccinated people between the ages of 12 and 34 are six times more likely to get COVID-19 compared to vaccinated people in the same age group, according to a Sept. 29 report from the Washington State Department of Health.
The Wild Buffalo House of Music, located in downtown Bellingham, has decided to require vaccination or show proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 48 hours. Co-owner of The Wild Buffalo, Craig Jewell, said it was an easy decision.
A premier music venue for over 20 years, The Wild Buffalo has been a huge part of the Bellingham community.
“We were closed for 18 months, and that was the hardest thing that we have been through as a business,” Jewell said. “We hustled as hard as we could to get whatever grants that we could through different programs, including Keep Music Live Washington and Save Our Stages Act, and we have to do whatever we can to make sure we don’t close down again.”
Jewell said everyone involved at The Wild Buffalo knew it was the best way to keep people working and make sure music survives; on top of the mask mandate, this helps give people peace of mind when attending live shows.
“Musicians don’t make money by making music, they make money by playing shows. It’s not how it used to be, the whole digital age just flipped that right upside down. If they don't have these spaces to play in, music will just implode on itself,” Jewell said. “We have to protect ourselves, protect our clients and protect music in itself, and we’re not going to stand down from that.”
Bella Neff (she/her) is a third-year student studying journalism and political science, and reporting on city news. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.