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Mounting Pressure To Push The Vaccine While Protecting SMBs

They tried the carrot — motivating consumers to get their vaccines with free doughnuts, time off from work, discounts on consumer goods. And the incentives, paired with consumers’ overwhelming desire to get back out there to start living their post-pandemic lives, did a good job. As of mid-July, just under half (49.3 percent) of Americans report being vaccinated and roughly 57 percent are halfway there with a single dose.

A good job, but not good enough, recent data indicates, as the surging Delta variant of the coronavirus is cutting a swath through the U.S. — largely in under-vaccinated geographies — causing COVID numbers to spike in the wrong direction. As of the start of this week, new COVID-19 cases in the United States have tripled over the last 30 days, while COVID-connected hospitalizations have risen 21 percent according to the CDC. Death rates, which tend to lag behind other indicators, rose 25 percent last week to an average of 250 per day.

Which means the time for the carrot is passing, and the time for the stick is warning up. The CDC is expected to announce on Tuesday (July 27) the latest update to its official mask policy as it is now officially advising vaccinated and unvaccinated consumers alike to wear masks indoors to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the face of rapidly climbing case numbers.

And the CDC is slightly late to this party as more and more municipalities are turning to the stick to more forcefully motivate consumers to get their shot, hopefully in a way that doesn’t end up adversely affecting small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) as they walk their fragile road to recovery.

The Aggressive Full-Court Vaccine Press

The call for vaccination is growing louder as professional organizations, business owners and public officials have begun pushing for and even mandating vaccination. Representatives from almost 60 medical groups — such as the American Nurses Association and the American Medical Association — said Monday (July 26) they want to see mandatory vaccination policies for all healthcare workers. The Department of Veterans Affairs, meanwhile, became the first federal agency to require its employees be vaccinated, demanding 115,000 frontline healthcare workers to be vaccinated against the coronavirus in the next two months, the organization announced at the start of the week.

Meanwhile, on the governmental side, New York City  has expanded its vaccine mandate to include all city workers, who must show proof of vaccination or take weekly tests for the virus beginning in the fall. Unvaccinated NYC workers must wear masks at work beginning Aug. 2. California has gone even further, mandating all 2 million healthcare workers in the state and all 246,000 state employees show proof they are vaccinated or face weekly tests.

Even businesses are getting in on the act, with San Francisco bar and restaurant owners giving consumers a choice of vaccination proof or a clean test to be served. According to a release from the San Francisco Bar Owners Alliance, the group’s new “official policy” as of July 29 is that customers who want to be inside their members’ establishments must either show vaccination proof or a negative test from within the past 72 hours.

“It will be up to each individual bar to decide how best to enforce” the new policy, the alliance said in its statement. “We believe we are obligated to protect our workers and their families and to offer a safe space for customers to relax and socialize. However, we hope [asking for proof of vaccination] might also influence some who have not yet received vaccinations to do so as soon as they are able. We understand that the only way our society (and our businesses) can ever return to true normalcy is through higher rates of vaccinations among our residents.”

SMBs Protecting The Business By Protecting Their Consumers 

The new regulation for going out for a drink in San Francisco constitutes the largest mass action by business owners thus far in the post-pandemic world, but it is far from unique. Bars nationwide individually have been putting similar mandates into place requiring either proof of a current COVID-19 test or a vaccination card to enter.

Collectively those organizations are looking to up vaccination counts to be sure, but they are also looking to keep consumers coming to bars by making them feel safe. As COVID-19 case counts are on the rise, and even vaccinated consumers are now experiencing what are called “breakthrough” infection (that tends to be less severe and more comparable to the common cold in terms of severity), there is a concern that consumers will skip the risk and start staying in again. In fact, according to PYMNTS data, that has been the common response since the earliest days of the pandemic — when consumers feel they are at risk of infection, their tendency is to avoid places where they might encounter it.

As of PYMNTS’ earliest COVID-19 consumer studies, back when a large share of consumers were reporting they thought the risks were being exaggerated by the media and concern about the pandemic was still low, consumers were already reporting avoiding places and activities where they might encounter a crowd. As of last March, some 43.8 percent of consumers said they were traveling for personal reasons less often than they had before the outbreak, while 35.3 percent and 35.9 percent of consumers said they were dining at quick-service restaurants (QSRs) and sit-down restaurants less often than they had before the outbreak, respectively.

Small businesses, even in the absence of official closures, start feeling the pinch on consumer enthusiasm when there is an actively circulating pandemic. And as the Delta variant spreads quickly even in the half-fully vaccinated U.S., private business owners have a definite incentive to shut that circulation down, beyond merely protecting public health in general. They need their customers back, and to be able to promise them an environment where it’s safe to gather because the virus won’t be there to greet them.

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