Though Gov. Ron DeSantis has banned Florida businesses from requiring their customers to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19, with lawmakers moving to make that ban permanent, most Palm Beach County influencers surveyed in this month’s Palm Beach Post Power Poll say they aren’t necessarily against “vaccine passports.”
Out of the 93 influencers who responded to three poll questions, almost 80% said they think businesses such as cruise lines should require customers to show that they have received a coronavirus vaccine, while the remaining 20% disagreed.
“Our children are required to show proof of vaccinations before attending public school; we must take and pass a state-issued test to drive a car and be prepared to show that driver’s license to a police officer at a traffic stop; many also have no problem requiring proof of identification to exercise your Constitutional right to vote,” Wellington Vice Mayor Michael Napoleone said. “None of that is seen as tyranny.”
Napoleone felt it was “more tyrannical” for the government to meddle in the affairs of a private business. Any business should be able to choose whether they want to require that customers show proof of vaccination in the middle of a pandemic, he said. The price of losing some customers could mean the gaining of confidence with others.
Jorge Pesquera, president and CEO of Discover The Palm Beaches, agreed that the decision should be left up to businesses.
“Businesses should be allowed to place the restrictions they deem appropriate to safeguard their staff and customers. It would be better if a general -- across the board -- policy was in place to prevent challenges at individual businesses, transportation options or events,” Pesquera said. “This is a time to think about the general good versus individual temporary restrictions or inconvenience.”
Certain vaccines, such as for yellow fever, are already required to travel to various destinations.
“When it comes to public health, responsibility belongs to all of us,” Palm Beach Gardens Vice Mayor Rachelle Litt said. “If we want to be able (to) get back to relative normal, we will all have to make sacrifices. Getting a vaccine and being able to prove it with a vaccination card before travel is responsible behavior. Other countries are going to require one most likely, so we might as well get used to the idea that there will be a new normal.”
But with a little over one-third of the county’s adults fully vaccinated, Napoleone said a main challenge to requiring proof of vaccination is making sure everyone who doesn't have easy access to get a shot.
“There are still segments of the population that are underserved and who have limited access to vaccines. We need to keep working on ways to bring the vaccine to those who can’t come to it,” he said.
Those polled also had strong opinions about school-age children wearing masks and whether Palm Beach County’s economy would bounce back.
Most influencers, almost 84%, said they agreed with the school district keeping its mask mandate in place for the upcoming school year.
Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran this month sent a letter to the state’s superintendents urging those who had mask mandates to instead make their policies voluntary.
But Palm Beach school leaders plan to go forward with mandatory masks in the fall, following guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as students and teachers are anticipated to return to brick-and-mortar classrooms.
That decision led to an outcry from some parents who wanted the mandate nixed.
Only one influencer expanded on his opinion that kids should not be wearing masks in schools, likening it to “child abuse.”
“Start with distance learning and mask mandates: neither program outperforms its opposite, health-wise. That's why private school enrollment is up. Parents want their children to learn and to socialize,” said Sid Dinerstein, former Palm Beach County GOP chairman. “We know how to save the whales. Be we appear to be indifferent to saving the children.”
Influencers strongly believed that the economy would return by the end of the year, with 87% expressing such confidence.
When asked what would drive this comeback, answers ranged from hospitality to finance to real estate.
“Real estate will continue to push our economy and there will most likely be a bump in retail for the holiday season,” Palm Beach Gardens City Council Member Chelsea Reed said. “The key for Palm Beach County will be the ability to staff our service industry.”
With more residents moving into the area, the “opportunities are at an all-time high” for his business, said Rex Kirby, president and CEO of Verdex Construction. What’s holding them back is the price and availability of certain material, he said.
Joseph Russo, president and CEO of Palm Beach Tech, said the state is “primed for a post-pandemic economic boom.”
“Fueled by mainstay industries like finance and real estate, we now have a skyrocketing tech industry,” Russo said.
With many industries letting their workers go virtual, that has driven an interest in moves to South Florida, he noted.
“Our lifestyle and economic policies are winning, and we must assure our infrastructure and education can keep up with the coming exponential growth,” Russo said.