Updated: Oct 28, 2021
I arrived in France at the beginning of August, seeking to escape the heat of a Texas summer, visit friends and, of course, indulge in the joie de vivre for which France is famous (including plenty of wine, cheese, art, culture and daily visits to a patisserie!). What I found in addition to the expected pleasures was a sensible public health policy that has made me feel far safer in Paris, a city of more than 2 million people, than I feel at home in Burnet with a population of only 5,000.
The reason is simple: France has adopted a sensible system of requiring proof of vaccination (through a Health Pass, or Pass Sanitaire) to enter public indoor spaces. This and a mask mandate appear to be keeping the population healthy and reducing the spread of Covid-19.
While the pandemic is global, the global response has not been uniform, resulting in vastly different measures used to control the spread of the potentially deadly virus. Predictably, these have resulted in different public health and economic outcomes.
The French system not only is working, it’s also creating a more relaxed and enjoyable life. The French embrace the small inconvenience of showing a Health Pass and wearing a mask to enjoy a healthier, happier life, both for individuals and for the community.
It's a lesson in civility Texans could learn.
An easy, successful system
The Pass Sanitaire, or Health Pass, is simply proof of completed vaccination for Covid-19 or proof of a negative Covid test within the past 72 hours. It’s required to enter the country and, once you’re in France, to access most indoor public spaces.
The Health Pass can be obtained by U.S. citizens online or in certain pharmacies on presentation of a CDC card and U.S. passport. (The French use their carte d'identite, or national identity card because, you know, France has a national health care system – another way they protect public health, but an entire article could be written on that topic.)
You then receive a unique QR code that’s accessed through a mobile app and have it scanned (much like we do for tickets to a concert) for entry where required: restaurants, museums, theaters, schools, gyms, office buildings, indoor sporting events, public buildings like post offices, and small shops and large department stores – to name a few. (At the Musee D'Orsay, pictured, everyone wears a mask.)
Everyone over age 18 (as of Sept. 20, anyone over 12) must show proof of vaccination or submit to Covid testing every three days to participate as a full member of society.
Of course, exceptions are allowed for essential services such as grocery stores and public transportation, but even there, a mask is required – and they’re ubiquitous. I have yet to see anyone fail to wear a mask in an indoor public space. Yes, I have seen a few people wearing the mask pulled down, whether consciously or inadvertently, I'm not sure; however, I haven't seen anyone without a mask, perhaps because the consequences of doing so are quite expensive – the fine is 135 Euros or more than $150.
The differences between the U.S. and French systems were evident the moment I boarded an airplane bound for Europe. While the U.S. requires visitors from a foreign country to provide a negative Covid test within the past three days – even those who are fully vaccinated – individual states allow Covid to run rampant with low vaccination rates and laws forbidding mask mandates.
In contrast, because France has implemented a sensible system to protect its citizens from Covid, it can welcome visitors from other countries, which is vital to its economy and tourist industry. This act alone has brought millions of Euros to France and saved countless jobs.
France is not Texas, in ways that make containment of a transmittable virus both easier and more difficult. Public outdoor space has long been an integral part of Parisian life. Paris is blessed with numerous outdoor spaces, and its many parks are at the heart of life: friends picnic, children ride horses and play with toy boats in the fountains, and groups get all kinds of exercise, from yoga to boxing to soccer games. Most Parisians live in close quarters, and the typically small size of a Paris apartment means friends get together to walk or bike along the river or enjoy a coffee or glass of wine at the iconic sidewalk cafes. The former royal gardens are now open to the public, too.
Masks aren’t required outdoors, and it’s a joy to watch Parisians savor the last days of summer.
On the other hand, at the height of the pandemic France was locked down in a way Americans can’t imagine. They were confined to their apartments except for 1 hour a day when they could go no further than 1 KM (about 0.6 miles) from their homes; even this restricted movement required registration on an app for monitoring. (Essential services again were exempted.) For the most part, people willingly complied.
France has succeeded with its vaccine rollout to a greater extent than the U.S. even though they got a later start. (Having a universal health system has its advantages.) Testing tents (see photo) are set up all over the city and are free for those with a French healthcare card. (This is one area in which the U.S. is superior to France, in my opinion; we make Covid testing and vaccinations free to everyone, while foreigners in France pay about $30 for a Covid test).
While France has its share of government skeptics and anti-vax protestors (indeed, protesting is practically a national pastime here), the numbers show that those opposing vaccination are a small minority. As of Sept. 1, 2021, 85% of the eligible French population (12 and over) had received the first dose of a Covid vaccine, and 78% were fully vaccinated.
Those numbers are expected to increase significantly: the 12-18 age range is now eligible for vaccination and vaccination will be required for those over 12 to attend school and receive the Health Pass as of the end of September.
Compared that to the US, where only 51% of the population is fully vaccinated, and Texas, where 48% are fully vaxxed – and even worse, Burnet County comes in with an embarrassing 44% of the population fully vaccinated.
Join me in France
I think it’s self-explanatory why I feel safer and happier in Paris. I actually worry about and dread returning to a country, state and county where so many people seem to care so little about others, are so uninformed of science and are so distrusting of their government that they refuse a free and easily available vaccination to protect them and others from a potentially fatal disease. Sometimes, frankly, it is embarrassing to be an American.
It seems to me that the French have done a better job of working together to combat this public health crisis than Americans have. We could learn a thing or two from the country that gifted us the Statue of Liberty. For example, your freedom ends at the point where it endangers the life or well-being of another. The French seem to understand this intrinsically, and they will be a healthier nation, both physically and economically, as a result.
The French know that the pleasures of life (good food, art and yes, even health) often require a bit of sacrifice. Viva la France!