SALT LAKE CITY — A Salt Lake City bar is being bombarded with angry phone calls, because the bar is going to require customers be vaccinated to get in the door.
While irate callers claim it's against the law, HIPAA, and the constitution, The Bayou owners said it's legal and they're doing it to keep people safe.
After more than a year with the front door closed, the inside empty, and curbside pickup only, The Bayou is ready to reopen and welcome customers back.
On Thursday, Mark Alston answered the phone at The Bayou, taking to-go orders. One woman called to say she was outside and ready to pick her order up.
"Yep, I got it right here," he said, lifting up a green plastic bag filled with a few containers. He set the bag on a table outside, for the customer to grab. It's how Alston and his wife Kileen Alston have been serving people since March of 2020.
But in less than a week, The Bayou will once again allow customers to sit at its tables.
Sitting down at a computer stationed at the bar, Alston pulled up Facebook messages they've received of support at the reopening announcement.
"'Can't wait!'" He said, reading a message. He clicked on another and kept reading. "'Excitement! Yes!'" things like that. 'Be right there!'"
Others have been calling The Bayou. Alston answered the phone, wondering if it was a takeout order.
"To hell with you guys, then. This is ridiculous." a woman said to Alston. "We'll miss you I guess you--" Alston began to reply, before the woman interrupted with, "This is ridiculous."
Alston then said, "I guess you've been a customer for a while, and we're really going to miss your..." The woman continued, "Yeah, Yeah. I bet you are. Me and hundreds of other people. You have no right to demand that. This is America. It's sickening."
The woman was one of dozens to call The Bayou since their Wednesday announcement, to say they're disgusted that The Bayou announced patrons must show a COVID-19 vaccination card in addition to an ID to get in. Alston explained people can show a physical card or a picture of one.
He said it's not a health decision he wanted to make, but with mandates expiring and vaccinations on the rise, Alston explained he felt it was a necessary one.
"This is our requirement to keep everybody safe, because we have to make those decisions," he said.
Because people can't wear masks while eating and drinking, Alston talked about how he feels it's impossible to keep people safe at his bar. He is worried about the safety of himself and his wife, his staff, and his patrons.
One of the musicians who used to play at The Bayou before they shut down in March 2020 contracted COVID-19 last summer and passed away, Alston said. Alston described how the pianist's loss was completely preventable.
He wants to make sure everyone at his restaurant is protected against COVID-19 if they aren't going to be wearing masks.
"We are following what the CDC guidelines are," he said. "It's absolutely crystal clear. When you are fully vaccinated, hang out with other people who are fully vaccinated without your masks on, eating/drinking-- you're totally fine. If you're hanging out with people who aren't fully vaccinated, keep the mask on."
He said most of his regular customers have backed his decision, writing to express that they're on board.
But it hasn't stopped people who Alston strongly suspects have never eaten at or heard of The Bayou, from calling to sound off. People have also been writing false negative reviews on Yelp, he said.
"We have been called communists, we have been compared to running an Auschwitz camp in Nazi Germany," he said.
One woman called, getting louder and angrier as she spoke.
"This goes against the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America!" she exclaimed. "Hmmm," Alston replied, listening.
She told Alston she called the health department and claimed that they told her it was against HIPAA laws. She also said that people will be "taking signatures" against his business.
"That is not a f***ing law. I will never feed into this propaganda, V for Vendetta type bullsh**," she said. "V for Vendetta?" Alston asked. "Take the red tape off your eyes, sir," she continued. "Red tape? What is red tape?" Alston asked. "Red tape means propaganda, sir. Wake the f*** up. I hope your business tanks after this."
Alston tried to explain at one point that he is not violating any HIPAA laws, and that he is legally allowed to ask to see the vaccination card because it's not considered medical information.
"This is disgusting that you are going to require a citizen of the United States of America to show you a slice of paper in order for them to dine in your restaurant," the caller said. "Do you not feel that that is pro-segregation and discrimination?!"
The woman then said Alston is discriminating against her and that it's an equality law. She eventually hangs up on him after several minutes of them talking back-and-forth.
The Salt Lake County Health Department confirmed to Fox 13 Thursday that they haven't received any complaints about The Bayou, unlike what the caller claimed. They also said that this is not within their realm, and that they are not advising businesses on what to do or not do with vaccination cards.
According to the CDC, HIPAA laws only apply to healthcare-related organizations, and the laws are to prevent patient information from being shared without the patient's consent or knowledge.
It's also important to note that the Fourth Amendment has to do with search and seizure by law enforcement.
Alston sat down at his computer again.
"Ahhhhhh!" he sighed, rubbing his face. "I think when I was researching just to make sure we weren't actually going to be violating any laws-- which we aren't. You try to find out something, all the legal pages and all the information is like, businesses can do this but no one has done it."
To his knowledge, Alston said he's the first business to require something like this. But according to all his research, he's able to ask for proof of the card.
For anyone not vaccinated, Alston will still be offering curbside. He also said he understands that some people can't get the vaccine because of medical reasons or religious reasons, and he's coming up with accomodations for those people.
For The Bayou, this is how they want to get back to normal. Alston said he won't be requiring masks or social distancing in his bar and restaurant.
It's just that vaccination card, that he wants to see.