DeSantis denounces vaccine ‘passport.’ But some teams plan special seats for fans who have them

The Miami Heat will be the first team in the NBA to have sections of seats designated for fully vaccinated fans only. Gov. Ron DeSantis said he’s against that.
Gov. Ron DeSantis at a bill signing news conference on Monday.
Gov. Ron DeSantis at a bill signing news conference on Monday. [ News Service of Florida ]
Published March 30, 2021|Updated March 30, 2021

Pointing to privacy concerns, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday he will issue emergency rules this week that prevent businesses from requiring customers to show proof of vaccinations through COVID-19 “passports” and will ask the Legislature to pass a permanent ban.

But on Thursday in Miami, the Heat will be the first team in the NBA to have sections of seats designated for fully vaccinated fans only.

“It’s completely unacceptable for either the government or the private sector to impose upon you the requirement that you show proof of vaccine to just simply be able to participate in normal society,” DeSantis said. “If you want to go to the movie theater, should you have to show that? No. If you want to go to a game, no. If you want to go to a theme park, no. … I think it’s something that people have certain freedoms and individual liberties to make decisions for themselves.”

DeSantis said he thought vaccine passports would create “huge” privacy issues that could result in people handing over medical information to a “big corporation.”

“You want the fox to guard the hen house, I mean give me a break,” the Republican governor said during an event at the Capitol in which he signed a bill that will shield businesses and healthcare providers from lawsuits related to COVID-19.

The Heat will designate two sections at AmericanAirlines Arena for fully vaccinated fans starting with Thursday’s game against the Golden State Warriors, requiring fans to present proof of a COVID-19 vaccination card issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to sit in the more tightly packed sections.

Sections 117 and 118 with prime mid-court seats in the lower bowl will be designated for fully vaccinated fans and pods of seats will be separated by just one empty chair. Vaccinated fans will enter through a separate gate that won’t require them to be screened by COVID-19-sniffing dogs, and they’ll need to present proof of vaccination — dated at least 14 days prior to the game — and a government-issued ID.

Masks will still need to be worn at all times by fans seated in the vaccinated fan sections, and food and drinks will still not be allowed to be consumed inside the arena bowl. General seating is still available at AmericanAirlines Arena for non-vaccinated fans following previously established social-distancing protocols.

“You already have been getting a sense that things are starting to change and maybe go in a much more positive direction, just even the environment in our building. I remember those first couple games that we had in the beginning of the year where there literally was nobody here — that was an eerie experience,” Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra told the Miami Herald.

“Having the fans that we do have in here, it feels like it’s a full house by comparison. Things are moving. All of us can’t wait until we get our building full again.”

As of Sunday, 3,141,836 people in Florida had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, through either two doses of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to state data. Another 2,537,765 people had received one shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines and were awaiting their second doses.

DeSantis said that while he would use his emergency powers to prevent businesses from requiring customers to show proof of COVID-19 vaccinations, he also wants the Legislature to pass a bill during the ongoing legislative session.

“We need the Legislature to come in and just say this is not happening in Florida,” said DeSantis, noting that emergency orders expire. “I think it would provide a lot of certainty to a lot of people to say that..”

DeSantis’ comments came after news reports that the Biden administration is considering pushing federal agencies and private companies to develop a program that would allow people to show they have been vaccinated against the virus that causes COVID-19.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, airline trade organizations and airline labor unions sent a letter to the Biden administration asking that the United States set some kind of standards for traveling.

The European Union also has announced that it plans to issue a “Digital Green Certificate” that will allow European Union citizens to freely travel across member nations. The certificates will prove that people have been vaccinated against COVID-19, have already recovered from the virus or have tested negative. The goal is for the Digital Green certificates to be in play by summer.

In Israel, people who are vaccinated or who already have been infected by COVID-19 can get a “green pass” from the Health Ministry. The app allows them access to gyms, theaters and clubs.

DeSantis said lawmakers could include the ban on COVID-19 passports as part of bills they are considering related to the pandemic, including bills that would limit gubernatorial power and local-government authority.

The idea of having to show proof of vaccinations is not new. Florida requires children in public and private schools to be vaccinated against several diseases or submit written religious exemptions.

Miami Herald sports writer Anthony Chiang contributed to this report from Miami.

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