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Michigan Republicans Defend Unvaccinated People's Claims Of Discrimination

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To Michigan now, where the coronavirus infection rate has more than doubled in the past two weeks as the state's vaccination efforts have stalled. In response, some businesses are mandating customers to show proof of vaccinations before they can enter their establishments. Some policymakers and others are pushing back. From member station WKAR, Michelle Jokisch Polo reports.

MICHELLE JOKISCH POLO, BYLINE: It was just a few months ago that Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer happily announced the state would lift nearly all COVID-19 orders on July 1.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GRETCHEN WHITMER: We will be able to sing at church, dance at weddings, cheer at games, hug each other and laugh together. I know that that is welcome news to so many.

JOKISCH POLO: But now, the number of people vaccinated has stalled at just below 63% percent, despite vaccines being more readily available. That poses a problem for Detroit nightclub owner Rafael Blake. He says, since orders were lifted, it's become increasingly difficult for him to ensure those who are unvaccinated are wearing masks.

RAFAEL BLAKE: We still ask people who aren't vaccinated to wear masks, but there's no way to know who is and who is not vaccinated. And, in reality, most people aren't wearing masks.

JOKISCH POLO: Friday was the first night the popular nightclub began asking paying customers to show proof of their COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test taken within 48 hours. Blake implemented the rule because of concerns about the spread of the delta variant, but Republican State Senator Tom Barrett argues that what Blake is doing is discriminatory.

TOM BARRETT: What if a business or establishment wanted to ask you for your - you know, if you were HIV-positive, you couldn't come into their establishment? I can't imagine you, or anybody else, would say that that's an acceptable form of discrimination.

JOKISCH POLO: Barrett is one of Michigan's GOP lawmakers who voted for an amendment to the proposed state budget, prohibiting Michigan from creating any type of vaccine passport. Brianne Danczyk is a school bus driver in the suburbs of West Michigan. She also sees efforts to force disclosing vaccination status as discriminatory.

BRIANNE DANCZYK: Why should we have to share that information when, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, you can't ask someone what their disability is? It's the same idea, really.

JOKISCH POLO: The 41-year-old contracted COVID back in March and says she isn't interested in getting the vaccine any time soon. But Lawrence Gostin, a director at the World Health Organization, says disclosing vaccine status is more about the collective health of a community than it's about individual choice.

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: We're doing that for sound scientific reasons, which is not only to protect the individual, him or herself, but also to protect her family, her neighbors and her fellow workers or classmates.

JOKISCH POLO: Gostin argues that it's completely legal for establishments to mandate proof of vaccinations.

GOSTIN: And the Supreme Court has upheld compulsory vaccinations twice.

JOKISCH POLO: As Michigan moves in the direction of banning COVID-19 vaccine passports, it increases the likelihood that businessowners, like Rafael Blake, will find ways to implement COVID-19 mandates of their own.

For NPR News, I'm Michelle Jokisch Polo.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.