While visiting a tavern in Wisconsin, a masked Jim Smart noticed the bartender wasn't wearing a mask. He asked if she was vaccinated.
"She said no, 'I don't believe in the science.' I said, 'What about the people in the kitchen?' She went to ask and came back and said, 'They don't want to tell you,' " said Smart. "I said, screw that and left."
Smart, a restaurant designer who lost friends and business to COVID-19, has "run out of patience" with people who refuse to get vaccinated.
"I'm all for personal rights, but holy smokes," he said. "It's my life I'm trying to protect. It's my right to not get sick that I'm concerned about."
The coronavirus has made unprecedented changes in our lives. Now it's changing where some of us shop, dine and seek entertainment. It's also straining loyalties with who we see for personal, medical and financial care.
A small but vocal group of Minnesotans have begun shunning stores, offices, eateries and service providers where employees are not vaccinated, or decline to reveal their vaccination status. They are scrapping appointments with unvaccinated hairdressers, chiropractors, massage therapists, doulas and financial planners, saying they won't be back until their provider takes the shot.
It's a newly energized, grass-roots approach designed to bring pressure to those who have been slow to embrace Pfizer, Moderna or J&J.
"People will change their behavior if they see they are hurting themselves," said Catherine Carey of St Paul.
Disabled by arthritis and a weakened immune system, Carey feels certain the corona virus could kill her. During the shutdown, that fear kept her mostly housebound. She also put off dental care for two tender molars. Once vaccinated, she made an appointment at her dental clinic, but by the time she was able to get in, COVID-19 was on the rise again.
After she "couldn't get a straight answer" about whether the dentist, hygienist and office staff were vaccinated, she canceled her appointment. "I'll live with my toothache," she said.
Polling shows that 75% of Americans who are eligible are fully or partially vaccinated. And the pressure to get vaccinated is rising from the federal government and private corporations.
"We have to treat this like a battle. We are no longer in the pretty-please state," said Juliette Kayyem, former assistant secretary for homeland security and chair of the homeland security program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. "The unvaccinated have the freedom to believe whatever they want, but it will come with consequences so the vaccinated can move forward."
Analysts have identified two groups of unvaccinated Americans: the vaccine-hostile and the vaccine-hesitant. Those who are hostile hold firm anti-vaccine beliefs and are unlikely to be swayed. More persuadable are the hesitant, said Kayyem, who may need a nudge.
"People who are vaccinated are developing their private or personal mandates of what they will put up with in their own lives," she said. "The unvaccinated have had the veto for too long and now the burden is shifting. Time is up."
HITTING THE WALL
Ed Magarian has finished 63 marathons, traveling to participate in events around the country and in Europe and Asia.
Since the pandemic began, the Minneapolis attorney has registered for eight events that were subsequently scrapped.
"It was so frustrating to see things getting better, the number of vaccinations going up, and then we hit a brick wall," he said. "Before the vaccine, we couldn't solve the problem. Now we have the magic bullet. It just requires people to take advantage of it."
Magarian's son is getting married in January, after the nuptials were postponed for a year because of the pandemic. The couple will ask guests to be vaccinated, not a rare practice among engaged couples.
In fact, wedding websites suggest the wording couples can use on their invitations to politely ask request invitees to upload their vaccination cards. Other suggestions include offering to "celebrate with you at another time" if invitees can't or won't prove their status.
"In the big and small ways, we can't get back to normal because people refuse to take an FDA-approved vaccine," Magarian said. "Their choices and their unwillingness to do their part to protect public health are affecting me."
Across the nation, there have been prizes, cash bounties and passionate pleas from celebrities aimed at narrowing the number of unvaccinated. In Minnesota, free fishing licenses, State Fair tickets and Minnesota Zoo admission passes were enough to grease the skids for some; almost 80,000 Minnesotans were willing to roll up their sleeves in return for $100.
A poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found 40% of the unvaccinated in the "wait and see" category would change their stance if their status blocked them from privileges and activities like getting on a plane.
Harvard's Kayyem believes that's evidence that it doesn't take much to incentivize or even coerce some people.
"When their employer tells them they have to be vaccinated, some will quit but more of them will do it," she said. "It's time for a new tactic to move the unvaccinated."