No, Inslee’s ‘vaccine seating’ doesn’t stifle freedom — it expands it

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Fans line up at Edgar’s Home Run Porch for a free vaccine before the Mariners take on the Baltimore Orioles, Tuesday, May 4, 2021 in Seattle. Mariner fans had a choice of Johnson & Johnson or Moderna. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)

Vaccine passports, of a sort, have now officially arrived in Washington state. The usual suspects are responding by evoking Gestapo Germany.

“People who claim to be vaxxed must present their papers at any time, on request. Whose request? Ze authorities!” said state Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, a leading critic of the idea.

Walsh was responding to Gov. Hitler, I mean Sunny Jay Inslee, who announced this week that churches, stadiums and other big venues can add “vaccinated sections” to their seating — and thereby admit more people.

Walsh had sponsored a bill in the Legislature that would have blocked proof of vaccination being used as a condition of access to any place of business, public building or grounds. It didn’t pass, but presumably it would have barred the type of “vaccine ticket” program that Inslee put forward this week.

At Walsh’s Facebook page, he has been leading hundreds of Washington state residents in characterizing the premise as an invasion of health privacy, as well as an unconstitutional restraint on freedom.

But what was most interesting — clever, even — about what Inslee actually did is how optional and non-Nazi-like it all was. Inslee isn’t requiring that anybody do anything with respect to vaccine status. He set it all up not as a mandate, but as an incentive.

Under Inslee’s plan, if a church, or the Mariners, or a concert amphitheater wants to expand the number of people allowed in above the current coronavirus-capped limits, they can set up vaccine sections if they wish. The incentive here for, say, the Mariners, is huge. T-Mobile Park, currently capped at 9,000 socially-distanced fans, could let in up to 13,000 more vaccinated people in special sections, for a grand total of 22,000.

To prove it you’d have to show a vaccine card or some other record of immunity.

The key here is that people who aren’t vaccinated can still go to the baseball game. Admission to the ballpark is not restricted to the vaccinated only, just certain sections. It gives everyone a choice — the Mariners can do this or not, and likewise the fans can choose to do it or not.

So Inslee took Walsh’s language about tyranny and flipped it on its head, framing this as the onset of freedom itself.

“There will be an increasing number of incentives available to people and businesses like this going ahead,” Inslee said Tuesday. “It’s a way to start to get total liberty from this pandemic.”

I see how you threw the word “liberty” in there.

The Los Angeles Dodgers already have a vaccinated section in their ballpark, and for the first game, a trial run last week, that section sold out. So now the Dodgers are expanding it. That’s the free market talking right there, not the government.

It turned out to be good for the Dodgers, good for more fans who want to watch baseball, and good for public health. At the same time, it doesn’t force anybody to do anything.

When I wrote about this issue of vaccine passports a month ago, I got a lot of feedback from people worried it could lead to discrimination.

“As someone whose doctor has emphatically recommended AGAINST my being vaccinated, due to allergies to vaccine components, this is a really big issue,” wrote one reader, from Monroe. “Will I be shut out of life due to an allergy?”

Answer: No. You may be shut out of the glassed-in suites. But not out of the stadium of life itself.

Inslee said he didn’t extend this vax section idea to restaurants, as they tend to be too small for disparate sections. He said they also weren’t as interested as the big venues, because vetting vaccine status may be tricky and lead to disputes.

But he did apply it, crucially, to school graduation ceremonies, both indoor and outdoor. This could be the answer to having in-person graduations this spring, which my son missed out on last year. Both the vaxxed and unvaxxed could go — which sounds like more freedom than we’ve had, not less.

Walsh called it all “a system of state-implemented segregation,” similar “to the Jim Crow south.” But the state has been requiring vaccines in various degrees for generations. At the University of Washington, for instance, where the COVID vaccine is now being added to mumps, measles and meningitis in order for students to come to campus (although you can opt out for medical or philosophical reasons).

“Vaccines are the ticket,” Inslee said more than once Tuesday. He meant it metaphorically. But now for a period of transition, they may literally be the ticket to opening up shows or games or your kid’s graduation — without forcing anyone who finds the whole thing oppressive to do a thing.

Ze authorities! They often screw up, but they’re getting this dicey one about right.

Danny Westneat:; Danny Westneat takes an opinionated look at the Puget Sound region's news, people and politics.