Chances are that fans attending the Maine high school basketball tournaments this winter will need more than a ticket to get in to see the action.

If they are attending a game at the Cross Insurance Arena at the Cumberland County Civic Center or the city-run Portland Expo, they will have to show either proof of vaccination for COVID-19 or a recent negative COVID test. (The Augusta Civic Center, which will also host tournament games, is not yet requiring proof of vaccination.)

The Portland Expo is one of two venues that require proof of vaccination for admission. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

This is not a mandate by the state, the schools or the tournaments’ sponsors: It’s the rules of the two venues, which require proof of vaccination for attendees 12 and older, at the Cross Arena, and 5 and older for the Expo.

Some fans may have to stay home and watch the games on TV, but that’s the point.

COVID cases continue to pack our hospitals to capacity. Vaccines continue to be the best way to fight its spread, but since about a fifth of eligible Mainers refuse to be immunized, the virus is not going away.

Some argue that it would be better to motivate people to be vaccinated voluntarily, but those efforts may have run their course. Unvaccinated people are eight times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID and 14 times more likely to die of it. If that won’t motivate them to get vaccinated, nothing will.

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Vaccine requirements for health care workers have been proven successful in Maine, but there are limits to the kinds of settings in which the government can demand immunization. President Biden’s vaccine requirement for all private companies with more than 100 employees is tied up in the courts now, and will be for some time.

But no one has a right to attend a basketball game, an ice show or a concert. It is right for the venues that present these events to put public health ahead of entertainment and do everything possible to ensure that the people who do attend can do so as safely as possible. Not only are unvaccinated people more likely to be infected, but they also are much more likely to spread the virus.

Other venues, including small theaters and concert halls, are also requiring proof of vaccination from their audiences. So are a small number of restaurants, but not nearly enough to make a difference.

Business owners are understandably concerned about turning away customers, but they should also try to account for the business they are losing now because people are understandably cautious about spending time in an enclosed space in which they could be exposed to the virus.

As more places require proof of vaccination from customers, showing proof will become routine. It will become easier for everyone, except for the stubborn few who refuse to get vaccinated. And that’s how it should be.

If protecting themselves and vulnerable family members isn’t enough to convince them to sign up for a shot, maybe the prospect of missing a basketball game will. Either way, people who refuse to take the steps necessary to keep the community as safe as possible should not enjoy the same access to public spaces as those who do. More venues should follow the lead of the Cross Arena and the Expo.


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