As noted in our morning preview, King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell planned to announce a change in the vaccine-verification policy this afternoon. From the announcement (which you can read in full here):
The vaccine verification policy in King County will no longer be in effect as of March 1. Businesses will no longer be required to check customers’ proof of vaccination, or a negative COVID-19 test, to enter restaurants and bars, indoor recreational events and establishments, or outdoor events.
With new COVID-19 cases and hospitalization decreasing, and over 87% of King County residents over age 12 fully vaccinated, King County Executive Dow Constantine announced Public Health – Seattle & King County is lifting the local health order requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination for entry into indoor recreational settings, or outdoor events. The vaccination verification policy will no longer be in effect as of March 1. Businesses and organizations may continue to implement their own vaccination verification rules for their establishments. Additionally, King County and the City of Seattle announced their remote employees would begin returning to offices in March.
“From the beginning of this pandemic, our aim has been to protect the health of our community and save lives. Our public health experts believe that now is the appropriate time to lift vaccine verification, based on high rates of vaccine coverage and the decrease in new cases and hospitalizations across the county. We are moving in the right direction, and can continue taking additional steps toward recovery,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “King County businesses and community members have been instrumental in encouraging nation-leading vaccination verification rates, and I’m grateful for the extra effort to keep our community safe over these last several months.”
“The steady decline in positive cases is much needed positive news. Seattle will continue to follow public health guidance and adopt strategies that best keep our communities safe,” said Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell. “These steps forward show we are moving in the right direction and reflect that our region’s strong COVID response is the result of a united team effort. With City employees who had previously been working from home beginning to return to office in mid-March, I look forward to keeping up this collaborative spirit as we drive forward an equitable, community-focused recovery.”
“We announced the vaccination verification policy in anticipation of a fall and winter surge in cases. The intent was to reduce COVID-19 transmission in high-risk indoor settings and thereby reduce the burden on our hospitals, while providing time for more people to get fully vaccinated,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer, Public Health – Seattle & King County. “Following the record-breaking Omicron surge, we’re have seen a steady reduction in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, and hospital capacity is improving. In addition, since this policy was adopted, over one-quarter of a million King County residents have gotten vaccinated, meaning nearly 80% of King County residents are now fully vaccinated and 92% of those eligible have started the vaccination series.”
“Although our mandatory vaccine verification requirement is ending, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations remain elevated and layered COVID-19 prevention remains important. Everyone should continue to take steps to reduce COVID-19 risk, including getting vaccinated and boosted when eligible, using high quality, well-fitting face masks, improving indoor air quality through ventilation and filtration, and limiting time in crowded and poorly ventilated indoor spaces. Businesses should continue to support employees in getting vaccinated and staying home when sick.”
“We are thrilled to hear that recent public health data has encouraged King County leaders to move our community and our businesses into the next phase of the pandemic and prepare for the sunset of vaccine verification,” said Rachel Smith, president and CEO of the Seattle Metro Chamber of Commerce. “This is our moment to celebrate the tremendous work the county, businesses, and customers did to make public health a priority – saving lives and keeping our economy moving. Vaccine verification was a win-win: our businesses got to keep their staff on payroll and keep their doors open, while prioritizing safety. Our top priority has been to support the King County business community as it navigated changes in regulations, and it can expect that same high level of support and resources from the Chamber to help ensure safety for our community moving forward.”
King County’s vaccination verification policy went into effect on October 25, 2021. The policy required either verification of full vaccination or a recent negative test to enter indoor entertainment and recreational events or establishments, indoor restaurants and bars, and outdoor events with 500 people or more.
The policy was announced in September 2021 as a temporary measure during the Delta variant surge and to prepare for a potential fall and winter surge. The intent of the policy was to give additional COVID-19 protection to employees and patrons in high-risk indoor settings while providing more time for people to get fully vaccinated. Modeling produced by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) predicted the vaccine verification could have a significant positive impact in reducing infections, hospitalizations, and deaths.
The policy was supported by healthcare organizations, business groups, and arts and culture organizations. Multiple King County business owners and major sports teams had already implemented their own vaccination verification policies. King County worked with the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce to gather business feedback to inform the policy and conduct outreach and technical assistance once the policy was in place.