Talk about a volatile recipe — pandemic politics and In-N-Out burgers.
Some spirited commentary came my way after I took the government’s side in the iconic burger chain’s beef with Bay Area health regulators over requirements to check vaccination status for indoor dining.
Responses in my mailbag ranged from “thank you” and “courageous” to “propaganda drivel” and “puppet puke.”
Some readers felt sympathy for struggling restauranteurs. Others didn’t like government setting the rules. A few rehashed discredited pandemic theories.
I’m still not swayed. The industry would be well-served in the long run by supporting efforts to stem the business-crimping pandemic — even if mandates hurt short-run prospects.
Well, here’s a sample of what my critics sent to my inbox along with my responses …
Reader: “Attacking them and other small businesses is disgusting!”
Reply: FYI, In-N-Out is not a small business.
The chain — with roughly 358 locations — has just one owner: Lynsi Snyder, the granddaughter and heir of the company’s founders. She’s worth $4.2 billion, according to Forbes magazine, which recently ranked her as the 269th wealthiest American. That’s up from $3 billion three years earlier.
Reader: “Leave these real entrepreneurs alone; they have already been through a lot because of stupid mandates.”
Reply: The business of gathering people — restaurants, entertainment or tourism — won’t do well when the cure to curbing a pandemic is keeping people apart.
Yes, some of the industries’ woes are from business restrictions. But other challenges include customers and employees staying home, mandates or not.
Employment in California’s leisure and hospitality industries remains 19% below pre-virus levels. The rest of the U.S. industry is down, too — but only 8%.
Reader: “In this crazy world, why should a fast food restaurant assume the liability of having a $15-to-$18-per-hour employee question customers about their vaccination status.”
Reply: Restaurants ask these same workers to demand payment from the customers or IDs if they want alcohol. These same employees also take certain workplace risks, including falling on the job to hot cooking grease to robberies.
Yes, we’ve seen folks emphatically and sometimes physically object to pandemic requirements such as masks and vaccines.
But should mob rule set health policy or any other important issue?
Reader: “Adults can decide for themselves if they want to go inside. If they fear COVID-19, they can go through the drive-through and never get out of their car.”
Reply: The folks following medical advice and public health urgings to be vaccinated should get the opportunity to dine inside — not those who ignore the advice and didn’t get their shots.
Reader: “Why do only three of California’s 58 counties have the vaccine mandate?”
Reply: People complained when California’s pandemic health rules were based on statewide standards demanding local control. Now people complain about differing local rules.
Reader: “California continues to power-grab our civic rights and medical freedom!” and “You should have a spreadsheet that tracks the loss of freedom in this country.”
Reply: This nation has two centuries of legal precedents saying the government can make tough choices in health emergencies such as a pandemic. And some of those actions may infringe on “freedoms” otherwise protected.
With a conservative-dominated U.S. Supreme Court, if such legal opinions were going to be overturned, this was the moment.
Reader: “This is not Nazi Germany. I don’t have to show proof of anything to get service with PAPERS!”
Vaccination proof has nothing to do with an authoritarian madman whose tyranny killed 6 million Jews and countless others in the Holocaust.
Reader: “What happened to HIPAA laws where your medical records are private and only disclosed to those that need to see them?”
Reply: The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services says the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act “does not prohibit any person (e.g., an individual or an entity such as a business), including HIPAA-covered entities and business associates, from asking whether an individual has received a particular vaccine, including COVID-19 vaccines.”
Reader: Look at the COVID stats from Florida. Last I checked, Florida had the lowest rates.
Reply: The last few weeks have thankfully been kind to Florida’s struggle to contain the coronavirus after a rough summer. But let’s consider the entire pandemic era.
Restriction-heavy California had 71,500 coronavirus deaths from February 2020 through October — a rate of 181 per 100,000 residents, 35th highest in the U.S.
Imagine if the state had instead suffered deaths at the rate of the more relaxed Florida where the COVID-19 death rate was 277 per 100,000 or sixth-worst in the nation. That math suggests 38,000 more Californias would have died if restrictions were as loose as Florida.
Reader: I bet you think Newsom did a good job managing COVID-19, right? But California is tied for the highest unemployment in the country right now.
Reply: Nobody handles emergencies perfectly. And Gavin Newsom did not.
But let’s stick with Florida as a statistical benchmark to compare health and economic outcomes.
California’s 7.5% jobless rate for September — the U.S. high and tied with Nevada — was 1.42 million officially out of work in a labor force of 19 million. If California had Florida’s jobless rate, the number of unemployed would theoretically be 500,000 fewer.
Is saving 38,000 lives worth a half-million jobs? That’s a tough question to answer.
Reader: “Stick to an area you sometimes seem to have some knowledge of — bubbles.”
Reply: It’s hard for a business columnist to ignore the government’s role in any economic equation — especially in the pandemic era.
With bubbles, did too much federal stimulus overvalue assets like stocks or homes?
Or with the broad economy, was the juggle between health risks and economic performance properly balanced?
Reader: “All your article did is inspire most of us to crave a double-double burger even more. “
Reply: Voting with one’s wallet is as “free market” as it gets.
That’s true whether that motivation to spend your cash — or go elsewhere — is the quality and price of the product or service … or due to the merchant’s politics.
My order? Single-patty, protein style, triple tomato, grilled slice of onion and mustard, no sauce!
Jonathan Lansner is the business columnist for the Southern California News Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Orange County Register