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King County to enact new vaccination requirements for restaurants, bars, outdoor events

Sep 16, 2021, 3:00 PM | Updated: Sep 17, 2021, 6:41 am
vaccination, King County...
King County residents will soon have to provide proof of vaccination for restaurants, bars, and more. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle, File)
(AP Photo/Craig Ruttle, File)

Want to grab a bite to eat or cocktail? Planning to attend an outdoor concert or show with 500 people or more? Maybe visit a museum? Starting on Oct. 25, you’ll need to either show proof of full vaccination, or proof that you have received a negative COVID-19 test within the past 72 hours if your plans include any of those — and many other events — in King County.

Gov. Inslee ‘actively considering’ expanded vaccine requirements

“Our COVID-19 response must continue to adapt to the difficult, changing reality of this pandemic,” King County Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin said Thursday. “The delta virus is much more contagious, airborne, causes severe illness, and is seriously stressing our hospitals and health care providers. King County’s vaccine verification program will prevent infections, hospitalizations and deaths, safeguard our health care system and provide safer spaces for the public and for workers.”

Dr. Duchin, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan made the announcement Thursday afternoon, citing recent modeling from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation as one of the driving factors behind the decision.

The IHME projects the state’s outbreak to worsen in the next six months, with hundreds of thousands of additional cases, thousands of additional hospitalizations, and approximately 1,000 additional deaths, with the majority expected to occur among unvaccinated people.

“We are at a critical point in this pandemic, with high levels of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, and no certainty as to what will follow the delta variant,” Constantine said. “Vaccination is our best shield against this deadly virus. With over 85% of King County residents having received at least their first vaccine dose, vaccine verification will help keep people safe and keep businesses open.”

“Seattle was the first region in the country to feel the devastating effects of the COVID-19 virus, and we innovated and brought nation-leading testing and vaccination sites to our residents,” Mayor Durkan added. “That work is why we have one of the highest vaccination rates and the lowest cases, hospitalizations, and deaths of any major American city. But Seattle is not immune to the surge in cases and hospitalizations caused by the delta variant. We must act now – and act boldly – to change the trajectory of the virus and keep our communities safe.”

Durkan explained the decision was made after extensive engagement with community groups, businesses, hospitals, and others.

“Seattle is proud to implement a vaccination verification policy,” she said. “It’s the right thing to do for our workers, our customers, our economy, and the health and vitality of our city.”

Health officials say the order going into effect in late October will protect customers and workers by providing safer spaces, reducing the strain on the local health care system, and helping prevent business closures. It will apply to:

  • Outdoor events with 500 people or more, such as professional and collegiate sports and entertainment events
  • Indoor entertainment and recreational events or establishments, including professional and collegiate sports, entertainment, performing arts, museums, theatre, live music, gyms and conferences/conventions
  • Restaurants and bars (including indoor dining), but does not apply to outdoor dining, takeout customers, and places that aren’t primarily used as restaurants, such as grocery stores

The order gives the option for a longer preparation period for smaller restaurants and bars with a seating capacity of 12 or less, setting an extended implementation date of Dec. 6. The entire order is not expected to be permanent. It will be reviewed no later than six months after the initial Oct. 25 implementation to assess its continued need based on future outbreak conditions.

City and county leaders and public health officials — along with many businesses in the community — believe this is the best way to protect against continued high levels of preventable COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and increased deaths driven by the delta variant.

An analysis by the IHME conducted for King County found that a vaccine verification policy for restaurants, bars, and gyms and fitness centers alone could have a significant positive impact, preventing between 17,900 and 75,900 infections, 421 to 1,760 hospitalizations, and 63 to 257 deaths locally over six months with the order in place.

Several forms of vaccination proof will be permitted under the order, including:

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 vaccination record card, or a photo of the card
  • A printed certificate or QR code (available in late September) from MyIRMobile.com (Note: MyIR Mobile is currently limited to English language only; for language assistance, or additional help getting your records, call the Washington State Vaccine Helpline at 833-VAX-HELP, or email [email protected])
  • Other official immunization record from within or outside the United States, including from your health care provider. A photo or photocopy of this card is also acceptable.

The order defines full vaccination as two weeks after the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or two weeks after one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. No personal identification with proof of vaccination will be required.

For people who are unvaccinated or cannot prove vaccine status, they will be required to show proof of a negative PCR COVID-19 test taken within the last 72 hours, or a negative rapid test result from a testing provider conducted on-site at an event or establishment just prior to entry. Individuals under 12 years of age — who are not currently eligible to be vaccinated — are not required to be tested for entry.

Expanded mask mandates take effect in King, Pierce counties

Establishments will be responsible for checking vaccination proof or negative test status. The public health department, King County, and the City of Seattle will be working with partners to provide technical support and educational materials to businesses and organizations implementing the order.

King County, the City of Seattle, and Seattle-King County Public Health developed the vaccine verification policy in consultation with the Pandemic and Racism Community Advisory Group, individual cities, small businesses, chambers of commerce, labor unions, trade associations, sports teams, entertainment venues, community groups, and faith-based leaders throughout the county to create a policy that aims to be workable, fair, and equitable for businesses and residents.

Several jurisdictions have already adopted some form of vaccine verification policy, including New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles County, the State of California, British Columbia in Canada,  as well as Clallam and Jefferson counties in Washington state.

Last week, several local sports teams and venues, including the Seattle Kraken, Mariners, Seahawks, Sounders FC, Storm, Thunderbirds, University of Washington Huskies, and all events at Climate Pledge Arena adopted vaccination verification policies.

Follow Hanna Scott on Twitter or email her here

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King County to enact new vaccination requirements for restaurants, bars, outdoor events