As restaurateurs, we’ve had a long 18 months. We narrowly survived two extended COVID-related shutdowns, strictly observed protocols while open, managed (with some help from the public) to keep our staff intact, paid, and disease-free, and also protected our clientele from infection. My wife Catherine and I are in complete support of restaurants requiring documentation of vaccination status before permitting entry for indoor dining.
At Le Virtù, we’re asking that our guests, many of them people we’ve known for years, affirm that they’ve been vaccinated before coming inside to dine or sit at our bar. After two years of making our positions (careful and cautious) clear to the public in these pages and on our social media platforms, we’re not surprising our regulars. In fact, we announced this policy months ago. This decision isn’t a perfect one, but it seems to us to be the most responsible. We know the disease spreads with greater facility indoors and that even vaccinated individuals can spread the disease. So, keeping those who cannot be vaccinated — due to age or immunocompromised status — outside, on our patio, or in our garden, where spacing and masking protocols further mitigate the virus’s spread, is obviously the safest move. And it has not, until this moment, seemed to be controversial: our guests with young children and immunity issues have invariably opted to dine outside.
Inside, in an environment in which all of us, staff and guests, are vaccinated, the probability of spreading the disease will be much lower. All of the vaccines have demonstrated efficacy in preventing serious illness and, most importantly, death. Not being the epicenter of a COVID-19 outbreak that ends with guests in hospitals on ventilators or worse remains a priority. And we’re not blithe about passing that buck to those in the health-care community who’d have to deal with the aftermath. Regarding those who — for political reasons or due to mistrust of science-based reasons — refuse vaccination and insist that indoor dining is an essential freedom, they can certainly dine elsewhere: we trust in the science and those who’ve dedicated their lives to the study and prevention of contagious diseases.
And we refuse to indulge comparisons of our requests to the policies of Nazi Germany — such comparisons and others have been made on both our and our like-minded fellow restaurant owners’ social media. To compare not being able to dine inside to the imprisonment, torture, and murder of millions based on their religion, ethnicity, sexuality and sexual identity, political beliefs, and perceived genetic imperfections is ignorant and offensive on its face.
It is also hard to take seriously definitions of “freedom” that include no concerns for one’s neighbors, community, or personal responsibility. It’s known that a large unvaccinated population could serve as a breeding ground for future variants that could render the vaccines useless. If our policy encourages some people to get vaccinated, it will be our tiny contribution to preventing so grim an eventuality.
We realize that, unlike some of our fellow restaurateurs who are requiring affirmation/documentation, we’re lucky to have an expansive outdoor dining area to accommodate the unvaccinated (or those who would rather not reveal their status). But even if we didn’t have such a space, we’d be enforcing this policy. It’s not perfect and does present an inconvenience for some. We’re not happy about this, but COVID-19 doesn’t care about our happiness. We need to beat this thing, and we all have to do our parts, make sacrifices, endure discomfort. Getting vaccinated if you can or dining outside if you can’t don’t seem unreasonable options.
Francis Cretarola is the owner, with his wife, Catherine Lee, of Ristorante Le Virtù.