PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey is blocking government agencies and some businesses from requiring customers to prove they have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
But business owners remain free to turn away customers who are not fully inoculated.
In the latest use of his emergency powers Monday, Ducey issued an executive order barring any state or local government from denying access to any building, business, facility, location, park or other space simply because that person has not provided proof of vaccination. The same executive order says vaccination proof also cannot be required by government agencies as a condition of receiving any permit, service, license or work authorization.
Ducey also said that any business that has a contract with the state to provide services to the public is similarly prohibited from demanding documentation of vaccine status of customers.
“The residents of our state should not be required by the government to share their private medical information,” the governor said in a prepared statement.
But Ducey’s claim that he is banning so-called “vaccine passports” doesn’t hold up under closer examination.
His restrictions on what businesses can — and cannot do — covers only firms with state contracts. Companies that are not getting money from the state are unaffected and can shun unvaccinated customers, just as they now are free to require patrons to wear masks despite the lack of a statewide mandate.
As crafted, the order also does not affect what employers can require of their workers. Firms can decide to hire only those who are fully immunized.
And Ducey’s order also contains other exceptions to his ban on people having to produce proof of vaccination.
For example, hospitals, nursing homes and other congregate care settings still can deny access to patients, residents, employees or visitors.
It also leaves undisturbed the current ability of schools, child care centers and universities to demand a student’s vaccination records.
But those laws address the normal childhood diseases, things such as measles and mumps. There is no current requirement for children to be vaccinated against other viruses, including COVID-19.
Finally, Ducey’s order does allow state or local health officials to require people to provide documentation of their vaccination status during any COVID-19 outbreak investigation.
The issue of vaccine passports has become a political issue since the Biden administration said it was developing standards for people to prove they have been vaccinated against the virus.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said there will be no national mandate. But just the idea of it has raised fears that people might be asked for their papers.
It also comes nearly two weeks after the Senate Appropriations Committee approved an even broader plan. It would prohibit any and all businesses from demanding proof of vaccination for customers, regardless of whether they get money from the state.
HB 2190, as currently written, also would bar businesses owners from making vaccination a requirement for employees. But Rep. Bret Roberts, R-Maricopa, said that verbiage is likely to be removed if and when his measure goes to the full Senate.
The order also comes as Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, is seeking a legal opinion from Attorney General Mark Brnovich on whether private companies can make vaccination proof a condition of being a patron or employees.
Dr. Cara Chrst, the state health director, said earlier this month she supports the idea of “vaccine passports” but does not want them to be something that people would have to show to enter certain businesses.
“It would be nice to have an electronic format of some of that,” the health director said. “But we’re not looking here at the department at making that a requirement.”
Still, Christ said, this isn’t a question for her agency.
“Business owners do have the ability to implement mitigation strategies,” she said, ways to protect against the spread of the virus. And that is not limited to masks and social distancing.
The order comes as the latest figures from the state Department of Health Services show that just 37% of Arizonans have received one dose of the vaccine and only about 25% are fully immunized.
“While we strongly recommend all Arizonans get the COVID-19 vaccine, it’s not mandated in our state — and it never will be,” Ducey said. “Vaccination is up to each individual, not the government.”
The scope of the governor’s order drew a sigh of relief from Garrick Taylor, spokesman for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
“We appreciate that this order has been narrowly crafted and does not impose new mandates on private sector businesses broadly,” he said.
The new order also spells out that it does not limit the ability of individuals to access their own vaccination records as well as to have them forwarded to anyone else.