RUMOR DEBUNKED: No, ‘essential’ workers do NOT need a pass/letter to get around

In comments and email today, there arose suggestions/claims that “essential” workers will or should have a letter or “pass” to prove it’s OK for them to be moving around during the “stay-home order.” Since the governor very clearly did NOT say people would be required to show proof it’s OK for them to be out – this is NOT house arrest or martial law – we sought out an official comment on this. The governor’s office pointed us to the Department of Commerce, and we just heard back from that department’s spokesperson Penny Thomas. NO, she said, no one will need a pass or letter – that, she said, is an absolutely false rumor.

77 Replies to "RUMOR DEBUNKED: No, 'essential' workers do NOT need a pass/letter to get around"

  • Michael Ostrogorsky March 24, 2020 (12:28 pm)

    Governor Inslee also said it is perfectly okay for people to get out and exercise, go for a walk, go jogging, whatever, as long as social distancing recommendations are adhered to. And we certainly don’t need a pass to do that.

  • Momkat March 24, 2020 (12:57 pm)

    Thank you so much for all the work you are doing for us!

  • WSCommuter2 March 24, 2020 (12:59 pm)

    Well, tell that to the Police and Port of Seattle who have said otherwise this morning.  Let me know how that goes when you “resist” by insisting you have nothing to show them.

    • WSB March 24, 2020 (1:27 pm)

      They can take it up with the state. I’ll check with the Port next.

      • WSRes March 24, 2020 (2:09 pm)

        I work for a municipal fire department in the area. There’s absolutely zero word about being issued documents or conversations about having to show our department identification in order to move about. 

        • Shaina March 30, 2020 (6:16 pm)

          I personally know several people that have been issued these letters here in tn 

          • WSB March 30, 2020 (7:23 pm)

            Don’t know what your governor there has ordered but here in Washington they are NOT required, and our governor reaffirmed that today.

          • Dustin April 7, 2020 (9:27 pm)

            Then why have three people gotten them an why do workers right now carry them around .i personally have a pic of someone’s card an papers he works for the water plant near me

          • WSB April 7, 2020 (11:00 pm)

            If you are in Washington, I can’t say this often enough apparently – from the governor on down, elected officials have repeated, *in writing* as well as speaking it, LETTERS/PASSES ARE NOT REQUIRED. If you are in another state (apparently this story keeps coming up for people elsewhere), I have no idea what your local/state rules are, but you should look for them because to otherwise just blindly accept that you “should” have a pass is a dangerous acceptance of diminished civil rights.

    • StringCheese March 24, 2020 (2:12 pm)

      WSCommuter2, are you talking about restrictions on the bridge? For that it would make sense that SPD and the Port might be there to enforce the travel restrictions. It would make sense that bridge travel might require some sort of authorization. I mean, groceries are considered “essential”, but that doesn’t mean that store clerks get “essential service” passage on the bridge. No one would be expecting passes for simply being outdoors.  BIG distinction that probably needs to be better explained.

    • ScottAmick March 24, 2020 (2:34 pm)

      Where did the Port staff say paperwork was needed this morning?

  • KAW March 24, 2020 (1:53 pm)

    My brother works for an Amazon fulfillment center was issued one to carry and was asked this morning for it but it also could have been profiling. 

    • WSB March 24, 2020 (3:10 pm)

      Asked by who? Where?

      • KAW March 24, 2020 (7:54 pm)

        At the Tukwila Transit Station by fare enforcement officer.  He has an Orca card and is 19 so also not exactly sure of his right.

        • WSB March 24, 2020 (9:22 pm)

          I’d report that to Sound Transit. They’re not even charging fares right now and absolutely shouldn’t be hassling people.

  • McBride March 24, 2020 (2:13 pm)

    Just to clarify, there Is a program in place to issue “passes” to essential workers: These would not realistically come into play unless/until a mandated shelter in place order was declared. This has not happened currently. Go out if you must, get what you need, and go back home. Stay safe, everyone.

    • WSB March 24, 2020 (2:24 pm)

      Hey McB, thanks, I know you’re credible :). But that program is NOT what’s going on here, and wading through all the fine print on that page, that is a pre-existing program meant for disasters etc., not something created for the current situation. What seems to be happening here is that employers are under some kind of impression that their workers will need to show something proving they’re “allowed” to be out, and the state says absolutely not. I am alarmed that people would so easily believe this is that kind of situation. – TR

      • McBride March 24, 2020 (3:51 pm)

        No worries. You’re correct, it’s an existing program originally envisioned for natural disasters which is being leveraged for current circumstances. The UW, for example, was pinged by the state last week to submit for passes in this program. I haven’t encountered anyone asking me for a pass, so I can’t definitively confirm, but the correlation is pretty strong.

        • McBride March 24, 2020 (4:08 pm)

          I absolutely agree that no passes are required of anyone at this time. “Stay at Home” is more of a request, with some accompanying public space closures to reinforce it. But it should be taken as a cautionary statement – if folks don’t abide by it, the next potential step is a mandated Shelter in Place order. What it sounds like to me is that the state is gearing up for needing to take that next step, and there’s been some communication challenges in disseminating where we’re currently at to various agencies charged with enforcing it.

          • Bradley March 24, 2020 (9:48 pm)

            The Stafford Act prevents the quarantine of healthy adults in any U.S. private residence. Cruise ship passengers, for instance, who are thought to be exposed can still be quarantined on board until they can be safely transported home.

          • McBride March 25, 2020 (8:26 am)

            At the Federal level, limitations on the Stafford Act are murky. There’s other, much more specific legislation for disease and quarantine (beginning at page 4 of this document: 

    • Sandy March 24, 2020 (7:45 pm)

      I wish they would make this mandatory.  No one is taking this seriously.  I have 5 autoimmune diseases and 3 immune deficiencies and i was informed by my doctor that i cant leave my home and even go to the doctor for my shot to help with mobility.  That the coronavirus will kill me. That being said …my husbands work (calportland) seems to think pouring concrete is essential.  And threatened that if he has no vacation time that he will not get paid for taking time off to stay home and take care of me and protect  me. So he goes to work and compromises himself and my health and well being so he doesnt lose his job. What kind of message is this? Its wrong! Its infair. I dont want to die!!

      • Bradley March 24, 2020 (11:24 pm)

        It IS mandatory. Non-essential businesses that don’t close by the deadline can lose their business licenses, owners can be fined, charged with a crime, etc. Groups of more than ONE (other than immediate family) gathering closer than 6-feet in public can be charged with a misdemeanor.

        • Nate March 25, 2020 (10:25 am)

          Seriously though, cops aren’t going to pass out misdeweanors all day. Besides, if they come near, tell them they are within 6 feet and can have a misdeweanor themselves.

        • Tami March 25, 2020 (12:28 pm)

          Funco is also a non-essential business but the owner refuses to close putting employees, families and other people at risk as well. He is setting a horrible example. 

      • Jeff March 25, 2020 (7:01 am)

        I don’t know who you husband is or which plant he works out of, but the information you are putting out there is 100% false. Not once have I heard this information & being a shop steward, I can guarantee that I would have heard something. By all means, if you have doubts, feel free to contact me directly( two zero 6 3 double nine seven four fifteen)

      • Eve March 26, 2020 (7:02 am)

        Sandy: Your husband should go to your doctor and get FMLA paperwork for himself as your caretaker. With all that is going on with your health- what happens if/when he needs to get you to appointments/hospitalizations/after-care etc? I work in a hospital and many of our employees not only have FMLA for themselves, but many of the staff care for chronically ill children, spouses, and parents. His job will be protected under law and if he needs to take off he can do so.

      • kellie sonnier April 2, 2020 (7:16 pm)

        If you are immune compromised, then you definitely need to stay at home. That’s your personal responsibility. No offense intended, but my job is not to make sure you stay healthy by curbing my life and my families needs.  This is the definition of Liberty 

        • WSB April 2, 2020 (7:20 pm)

          OK, really now. You are obviously a troll but I’ll take the bait. So by that rule you run stop signs and stoplights because it’s not “your job’ to make sure I don’t get hit, among many other ways your logic could be applied? Yeah, sure. Lots of interdependence in our society. Lots of sacrifice and benevolence went into enabling whatever kind of life you lead.

  • HF March 24, 2020 (2:16 pm)

    Interesting, I know a handful of people (all different companies) whose employers gave them “permission slips” and asked them to keep them in their car or with them.  Why do they all seem to think this is needed?? 

    • WSB March 24, 2020 (3:06 pm)

      Damned if I know, which is why as soon as I heard this, I chased it down.

    • Sarah March 25, 2020 (10:22 pm)

      My company has issued us all a letter that we work for an “essential” business and asked us to carry it in our vehicles.  I don’t know if its a requirement or just being prepared, but we have it.

  • dandelion March 24, 2020 (2:24 pm)

    Isn’t it still OK to get in your car and go for a drive by yourself?  

    • WSB March 24, 2020 (3:04 pm)

      Yes, it is, and that’s why this “you need a pass” nonsense needs to be squashed, as the Commerce Director put it.

      • dandelion March 24, 2020 (3:09 pm)

        thank you for confirming wsb! going for a solo drive recently has helped me keep my sanity, and i didn’t think we had yet reached the point where we were basically on house arrest, but after seeing some of these responses was starting to think i missed something.  thanks for always setting the facts straight!

  • sf March 24, 2020 (2:38 pm)

    I made a piece of paper that says any of my employees can commandeer all hoarded toilet paper.  I put a logo on it and everything.  Prepare for door knocking.  If you don’t have your “papers” that say you get to keep it then we get your paper.

    • WSB March 24, 2020 (3:04 pm)

      Ha ha.

  • MissK March 24, 2020 (2:45 pm)

    That’s very concerning. I’ll be sure to have my Seattle cancer care alliance badge handy whenever I leave the house for work I guess. 

    • Adam March 24, 2020 (3:59 pm)

      I’m wondering what part of “No, ‘essential’ workers do NOT need a pass/letter to get around” led you to this statement. 

      • Lei March 25, 2020 (7:45 am)

        That had me confused for a second🤦🏽‍♀️

  • waikikigirl March 24, 2020 (3:09 pm)

    We were given a letter/notice at work stating we would be getting this so called pass-letter to carry on person along with our Company badge. Below is some of the verbiage on the letter. I have replaced Company name with JOB NAME to protect the innocent! ;>) So if we’re getting them or not I guess I won’t know until it shows up on my desk.

    **You will be allowed to travel to, from and during (if you are a driver) work on scheduled work days. WORK NAME has been issued “registration cards” by the state BRE system, enough for each of our employees that will be traveling to and from work and or driving while on shift. These cards will be numbered and when assigned will be for your use only. It is not transferrable once assigned to you. We will have a log of each card, its number and whom it is assigned to. This will allow you to continue to commute to work, drive a delivery vehicle etc., for work related purposes only. You will need to carry this card with you or in your car (and delivery truck if you are driving for us) so if you are pulled over by law enforcement for being on the road, you can show your card. It is not transferable only you may use it.Even with the card, always carry your JOB NAME ID Badge showing you are a WORK NAME Employee – At that point, if you are stopped and asked why you are traveling, you can present your badge and card then the authority will be able to access the State registration system, confirm that WORK NAME is registered, and if they choose to, can contact one of 3 designated contacts for your respective WORK NAME and verify that you are an employee and should be working at that given day/time – Then you will be allowed to continue on with no problem

    • KM March 24, 2020 (6:34 pm)

      I think there are two different issues here. 1) businesses being proactive and giving their employees papers to show they are essential workers, in case they get stopped for issues NOT related to the WS Bridges, and 2) people thinking that there are passes being provided to allow for those commuting in the own car to use the lower bridge because the state defines them as essential workers, though the stay at home order has nothing to do with the WS bridge usage/closure/rerouting.

      • Amanda Ramirez March 28, 2020 (8:46 am)

        I’m in another state and googled this looking for what people are caring for passes because they passed a mandatory stay-at-home order here for our County unless we’re in essential worker but they deemed almost everything here essential business. We have other people I know of in this County that work for bigger corporations that have already issued them letters and told them to carry it at all like I said I’m out of state and don’t have the bridge issues that you guys have whatever that is but the issue here is when the mandatory stay at home or shelter in place has issued technically then the police have a right to stop anybody out in public for any reason and check to see if they are traveling to and from an essential business or to get supplies I think that’s something some people don’t think of is you can be stopped 4 just to see what you’re doing out

  • MG March 24, 2020 (4:10 pm)

    Well, now I’m curious…what kind of documentation was I I issued by my workplace? 

  • wscommuter March 24, 2020 (4:22 pm)

    This has come here because  other states with different – and more severe – restrictions  in place.  Companies are worried that if they have to send their people out for critical construction activity, that they need some sort of documentation about why they are doing so.  In New Jersey, California and North Carolina, these “letters of transit” (insert Casablanca joke) and increasingly, other jurisdictions, these documents are being prepared and distributed.  There are vulnerable structures where construction can’t stop without risk to the structure or people around it, which means that contractors, suppliers and design professionals are still required to keep work moving.  I am aware of these “letters of transit” happening here in my field and I’m sure in others as well.  They have no legal force, but are being issued as a prophylactic measure to support those workers who have to go to field sites.  

    • WSB March 24, 2020 (4:52 pm)

      That’s fine but it’s important that people be very clear that OUR state is NOT issuing any such requirements. It’s unfortunate IMO that employers are just distributing things like this and leaving employees with the incorrect belief they’re going to need to show something to someone somewhere.

      • wscommuter March 24, 2020 (7:01 pm)

        I don’t disagree … just sharing what I am seeing in the business community.  

  • Misty2020 March 24, 2020 (4:23 pm)

    If this was debunked then why was EVERYONE who works for Safeway issued one with the statement “Federal Response Directive” written as part of the pass?

    • WSB March 24, 2020 (4:54 pm)

      Ask your employer who ordered it. Seriously.

  • Joshua's Mom March 24, 2020 (4:33 pm)

    If you are going to work shouldn’t you have your badge with you anyway?

    • John March 24, 2020 (6:13 pm)

      Not every company issues ID Badges.  I have an access badge for the building but there is no text or photo on it.

  • Susan March 24, 2020 (4:47 pm)

    What would be very helpful for hospital and fire folks who need to commute from WS into town, would be a rearview mirror hanger readily identifying them as Critical Workers who have permission to use the low bridge.  It’s the least that the City could do to support them!

  • CocoB. March 24, 2020 (4:54 pm)

    I was just issued a letter by my job that was pretty much a permit. It was emailed and I was told to print it out and carry it in my car for the next 2 weeks. To be able to drive to work from Tacoma to Enumclaw.

  • 22blades March 24, 2020 (5:08 pm)

    Some employers may require you to certify & be able to produce a “Critical Infrastructure Exempt Worker Certification Per US Code Title 42 Section 5195C(e) and DHS-CISA” in the case of air commerce personnel presumably over state lines & jurisdictions. It is a letter of access: COVID-19 Restricted Areas. There’s probably a good deal of interagency confusion which seems to be the norm as well.

  • 120rider March 24, 2020 (5:23 pm)

    I work at a hospital and am considered essential.  We have not been given any “pass”. This whole thread is a ridiculous conpiratorial mess.  Get a grip people.  Even if martial law compels us all to stay in our dwellings,  so what! Take it seriously and stop being selfish.  Shows how much you all care about your fellow man to bitch about your freedom while people die all around you.

  • skeeter March 24, 2020 (6:13 pm)

    Employers are issuing letters to employees who are (a)
    working in an essential industry and (b) are not able to do their jobs from
    home or remotely.  Perhaps this is
    creating confusion, but please recall many employers have operations in
    multiple states.  Employers are
    scrambling to keep up and they don’t have the resources or time to craft 50
    different letters for 50 different states they do business in.  So they send a blanket letter to every
    employee meeting both (a) and (b) above.  I don’t work for Safeway, but presumably (I’m
    guessing here) every Safeway employee in the country should be issued one of
    these letters.  It lets the employee know
    they are legally allowed to leave their home and go to their workplace for
    their shift.

  • Traci March 24, 2020 (6:51 pm)

    Then I guess those who just want to do what they want – like the ones who crowed beaches – will just lie if pulled over, since no paperwork is required. The whole thing is silly if there isn’t some sort of requirement for documentation. It won’t stop anyone.  

  • Parker March 24, 2020 (6:59 pm)

    My husband was issued one and he works for a grocery outlet. One of my dear friends in another state was issued one as well and they work in a call center sooooo….*shrug* they may not be required, but they exist. 

  • WSB March 24, 2020 (7:24 pm)

    Thanks to everyone for the anecdotes. But just please be clear it’s not *required*. In fact, the last page of the governor’s actual proclamation says: “No business pass or credentialing program applies to any activities or operations under this Proclamation.” (I’m posting the proclamation separately just to be sure everyone can read it in its entirety.)

    • Robert J. March 25, 2020 (9:12 am)

      404 page not found 

      • WSB March 25, 2020 (10:09 am)

        Fixed, hotlinked in the comment. We had published it separately anyway, but thanks for noting that very long URL broke when on its own.

  • John March 24, 2020 (7:52 pm)

    Thankyou and valiant efforts WSB.  ==Hearsay anecdotes  always deserve skepticism with fact checking  and sharing of those facts.

  • Jessi March 24, 2020 (8:47 pm)

    The governor also said that this will be inforcable….my questions inforcable by who and how? 

  • Robert J. March 25, 2020 (9:10 am)

    I don’t live in seattle i live in myrtle beach sc and i am a service technician for a world wide corporation and they just issued us passes by email pdf file and were told to print them out. So did they follow rumors and this is their attempt at being better safe then sorry or are our states governors offices operating on different terms? 

  • Concerned in WA March 25, 2020 (9:45 am)

    There are so many interpretations, regarding this situation. I wonder if it would just be easier if there was a document form that a company that deems themselves and their employees as being essential might put some of these fears to rest. People are concerned about getting stopped and having a potential misdemeanor on their record along with having to pay a fine.  These are all unnecessary added stresses that can be eliminated when the resolution is so simple. The business owner or manager would have to sign it and put a valid phone number where they can be reached to confirm the employment of this person. I implore you to really consider this. It is stressful enough right now with all of this going on. That this would make life just a bit simpler. 

    • WSB March 25, 2020 (10:08 am)

      The whole point here, is that people are NOT supposed to be stopped for being out. Period. End of story. If anyone is, please let me know, as that’s news. Not “My friend said she heard…” but an actual incident in which you yourself are actually stopped for NO other reason. Even the government’s proclamation says it. Don’t know how much clearer that can be.

      • Bradley March 25, 2020 (4:08 pm)

        Thank you for squashing the nonsense.

      • Rachael E Fike March 26, 2020 (8:22 am)

        An employee of mine was questioned by a sheriff at the gas station, asking him for his letter.  After reading this I told my contractors they did not need one.  The sheriff followed him from the gas station to the jobsite to verify his story.  I will be getting my guys letters today since police are obviously not on the same page, I feel bad I neglected to give him the letter due to reading this.

        • WSB March 26, 2020 (8:40 am)

          Which sheriff at which gas station? And when? The only sheriff’s office anywhere near our area is the King County Sheriff’s Office, which specifically sent this news release:

          This evening, Governor Jay Inslee ordered all Washington State residents to stay home for a minimum of two weeks in an effort to flatten the curve of new COVID-19 infections. All non-essential businesses must close within 48 hours.

          So what is our role in this? The Governor is not asking law enforcement, including the King County Sheriff’s Office, to actively enforce the stay at home order and we see no need to do so.

          Instead, if our deputies see banned gatherings, we will take an educational approach and remind people of the current restrictions issued by the Governor.

          It is our hope that people will simply self-regulate their behavior and stay at home to preserve public health and safety. If you must leave home for essential activities, we continue to ask that you follow public health guidelines and practice good social distancing measures.

          “Rest assured that we are continuing our work to keep communities safe from crime and responding to emergencies like we always have,” said Sheriff Mitzi G. Johanknecht. “We are all in this together, and together we will see our way through this crisis.”

          If you don’t want to say when and where here, please email us –

  • B. Harrison March 26, 2020 (2:13 pm)

     I have a question.  I have a landscape business.  Can I cut lawns by myself during this stay at home order?  Can I have one helper who  stay 6 feet away from me during this order?

  • Kepler April 1, 2020 (12:47 am)

    Straight from the US government’s website – updated on 3/28/2020. 

    What employees should do

    • if your employer notifies you that you are an essential employee, or that you belong to a category of essential employees, you are permitted to travel to and from work
    • when travelling to and from work, you should at all times bring with you either a work identification or a letter from your employer indicating that you are an essential employee, as well as one other form of identification
    • If you are self-employed, a farmer or agricultural worker, or a member of the clergy, you should carry one form of identification with you at all times
    • WSB April 1, 2020 (2:52 pm)

      Um, no. That’s the website of the government of IRELAND.

  • ALICIA April 1, 2020 (12:36 pm)

    Is it possible to get updated information regarding the covid-19 as of April 1, 2020? Will rules change in regards to employees needing an “essential” letter now that the 30 day mandatory shut down for Florida workers? 

    • WSB April 1, 2020 (12:40 pm)

      Hi there. We are a news website in Washington state; I have no idea what the Florida rules are or will be – please check with your gov’s office.

  • Victoria Newman April 3, 2020 (3:31 pm)

    Why are restaurant essential? Getting paid only 8$

  • LB April 6, 2020 (5:50 am)

    Several of our company’s employees and one neighbor have been pulled over in Ohio (Cincinnati/Hamilton area) and asked for their papers.  One supervisor was stopped on his way to work at 4 a.m. just this morning.  We are essential workers and so is the neighbor.

    • WSB April 6, 2020 (7:34 am)

      Really sorry to hear that, but please keep in mind, this story is about what’s happening here in Seattle ONLY, and our leaders again reiterated over the weekend, NO PASS/LETTER REQUIRED. I hope you all have verified with your government that, if that is happening, it is required and not a misinterpretation.

Sorry, comment time is over.