KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE)– As several big box stores, local businesses and even government-run facilities start to no longer require masks for fully vaccinated people, 6 On Your Side has been hearing the question, how will they know?
Well, according to our legal analyst Greg Isaacs, city officials and some big box store leaders, it’s all based on the honor system.
Isaacs said government leaders in the state have been on the forefront of personal freedoms, such as a bill currently heading to the governor’s desk saying state agencies can’t require vaccination as a condition of employment.
However, private companies are different, including when it comes to what they can enforce on the customers, Isaacs said.
“Stores, you’re an invitee, so you have to comply kind of with the no shoes, no shirt, no service gestalt. Once you start asking questions, then you open issues such as religious freedom. Do you have a legitimate basis not to have been vaccinated,” Isaacs said.
Isaacs said Tennessee recognizes the exemption of vaccinations for religious freedom.
He also said requiring proof of vaccinations opens the door to violations of the American Disabilities Act.
“If you have a disability that the vaccine may not be compatible with your medication, or you have something like Esptein Barr Virus, that you have a very weak immunity system,” Isaacs said.
He said because of that, people will most likely rely on the honor system, not proof of vaccination.
Plus, they would need to have someone specifically standing at the door, checking for proof, and that may not be feasible.
“It would be really impractical for stores if they wanted to, enforce it to require you to show proof of vaccination etc. So, can the stores do it, yes. Are they going to rely on the veracity of the customer? They’ve got to,” Isaacs said.
So, what do shoppers think?
Being fully vaccinated, Craig Moyer and Kasey Gorley said they appreciate stores starting to relax with the COVID-19 guidelines.
“When the business asks to, you know, I’m willing to comply, but outside or being in businesses where they don’t require it anymore, I don’t see myself putting it on,” Gorley said.
“Absolutely, very comfortable not wearing a mask,” Moyer said.
These two weren’t necessarily worried if others weren’t wearing a mask and were not fully vaccinated.
“To me I’m not as worried. Others, I think they should probably mask up if they haven’t got the vaccine,” Gorley said.
Plus, they also didn’t think stores could actually enforce it.
“I don’t know how a business would attempt to enforce that. So I think the policy of using the honor system makes good sense,” Moyer said.
“Think that’s just a little bit of a slippery slope. I’m not sure how you’d implement that and showing a vaccination card or whatever to get in entry,” Gorley said.
They just hope people actually follow the honor system.
For people who aren’t vaccinated, such as Abby Dunlap, she plans on wearing a mask for now.
“I’m just kind of used to it honestly, and a lot of people at Food City are still wearing them, so I just figured I’d keep wearing mine for now,” Dunlap said.
Dunlap said she usually shops online so she doesn’t have to worry about the mask, or getting close to people.
But, she also feels like wearing one, vaccinated or not, is a personal choice.
“I’ll probably, I don’t know, I’ll probably stop wearing it soon if it seems like the right thing to do. I may get vaccinated, and then of course I would stop wearing it,” Dunlap said.
Dunlap said if she does go out in public, she’s good about hand sanitizing and keeping her distance.
Isaacs said ultimately, it is a personal issue, not a legal one.
As far as some out there thinking it could be a HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) violation, Isaacs said businesses asking for proof of vaccination wouldn’t be one.
He said HIPPA only applies to what healthcare providers can do with your medical information.
Isaacs said not wearing a mask could become a legal issue, only if people are being unruly about not following the recommended protocols.
“If you see a store employee act overly aggressive, that can be a problem, or you see a patron or customer likewise responding in a disruptive, disorderly manner,” Isaacs said.
He said either way, people are going to see it both ways: fully-vaccinated folks wearing or not wearing masks, and non-vaccinated folks wearing or not wearing masks.
“We’ve seen this throughout the pandemic in East Tennessee, (people) comply with the letter and the spirit of some of these regulations, but you’re also seeing kind of a backlash of pandemic fatigue. So, people are tired of masks, people are tired of being asked if they’ve been vaccinated,” Isaacs said.