Seattle-area health officials to require vaccination proof for bars, restaurants, and other public venues

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Jalyssa Atualeveo receives a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine being administered by a worker with UW Medicine. (UW Medicine Photo)

Faced with filling hospitals, serious infection rates and aggressive new COVID-19 variants, King County’s Department of Health will require proof of vaccination in most commercial public gathering places such as bars and restaurants in Seattle and the rest of the county.

“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,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine in a statement. “Vaccination is our best shield against this deadly virus. With over 85 percent of King County residents having received at least their first vaccine dose, vaccine verification will help keep people safe and keep businesses open.”

The new requirements were announced Thursday afternoon. Starting Oct. 25, businesses will be required to check for vaccination status at:

  • Outdoor events with 500 people or more such as University of Washington, Seahawks, Sounders games or concerts;
  • Indoor entertainment such as sports, performing arts, museums, theaters, live music, gyms and conferences;
  • Restaurants and bars. Outdoor dining and takeout will not require proof of vaccination.

Restaurants and bars with fewer than 12 seats must start screening on Dec. 6, under the new rules.

Constantine cited estimates from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation indicating that customer vaccine screening by staffs at restaurants, bars and gyms could prevent between 17,900 and 75,900 infections; between 421 and 1,760 hospitalizations; and between 63 and 257 deaths locally over six months.

“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,” Constantine said.

Avout Vanderwerf, owner of Shorty’s pinball bar in Belltown and The Meyer in Pioneer Square, said he is happy to see the vaccination screen become universal — at least for the immediate region. “I think it is a good plan,” he said. “For one, we’ve been doing this already. With a universal mandate, I’ll have more customers.”

Vanderwerf said it’s important for health officials to make universal mandates to level the playing field. Leaving it to each individual place to decide is particularly hard on front-line, customer-facing staff. With a county-wide mandate — Vanderwerf said he wishes it was statewide — he thinks business will go up.

“The bridge-and-tunnel people have been avoiding Seattle,” he said. “Maybe now they’ll come in.”

Health officials said they will revisit the policy within six months to see if it remains necessary.

New York, San Francisco and New Orleans already have such requirements. So does Clallam County in Washington.  The Seahawks and most Washington state collegiate sports organizations already have announced that customers will be required to show proof of vaccination. 

But Vanderwerf pointed out that his friends in New York, for example, use a much better, universal vaccine verification in the Excelsior Pass. By contrast Washington’s Department of Health has a database that isn’t mobile optimized in the way an online vaccination card or Apple Wallet card would be.

And the common physical card, the easily counterfeited “wallet pass,” isn’t even sized for a wallet.

“Why in a state with so much tech we can’t do this right is disappointing,” he said. “We’re a little late to the game.”

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