Vaccine Verification Program Coming To King County Businesses

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Charles Woodman,Patch Staff

SEATTLE — King County Executive Dow Constantine has announced plans to develop a "vaccine verification policy" requiring local businesses ask customers to present proof of vaccination before they are allowed inside. According to Constantine's office, the goal is to implement the program sometime in October.

In a release announcing the plan, Constantine argued that the move was necessary to counteract the delta-fueled fifth wave of COVID-19 infections that is filling up hospital beds across the state.

"We're at a critical point in the pandemic," said Constantine. "In a County where more than 4 out of 5 eligible residents have taken advantage of the opportunity to be vaccinated against COVID, vaccine verification is the best way for businesses and gatherings to remain open, vibrant, and at full capacity. My staff and Public Health officials are continuing to gather feedback and listen to community and business groups in a county-wide effort to keep our recovery going, keep people safe, and end this pandemic."

More than 84 percent of eligible King County residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine — higher than the statewide average, where 73.3 percent of all Washingtonians have taken one or more doses.

The vaccine verification program is still being developed by Public Health - Seattle & King County with input from community organizations, labor unions, businesses, faith leaders, and cities. Because development is still underway, exactly which businesses will be required to verify customer vaccination status is unknown, though Constantine's office is referencing similar vaccine verification programs in New York City, San Francisco and one right here, in Washington's Clallam and Jefferson counties.

The vaccine verification program for Jefferson and Clallam counties was announced just last week, and requires that patrons at all indoor restaurants and bars present proof of vaccination before entry.

"Indoor bars and restaurants are known to pose a high risk for COVID-19 transmission, as they encourage unmasking of large groups of people indoors," said Doctor Allison Berry, Health Officer for Jefferson and Clallam counties. "Our goal is to make these safer places to be and to reduce transmission in our communities, allowing our hospitals to keep functioning and our schools to open more safely this fall."

The programs come as coronavirus case counts break records across the state. As of the latest available DOH data, the state averaged 3,233 new COVID-19 cases per day the week ending Aug. 25. Up to 98 percent of those COVID-19 infections were caused by the delta variant, according to state DOH sequencing.

Dr. Jeff Duchin, King County's top health officer, also recently announced an outdoor mask order for King County, and is urging unvaccinated residents to consider taking their doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to protect themselves and others.

"We are experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations caused by the highly infectious Delta variant that is causing serious stress on our regional healthcare system," Duchin said. "COVID-19 vaccines are safe, highly effective, and readily available, and verifying vaccination in certain non-essential, high-risk settings can make those places safer for the public, workers, and our community, including children who are not currently eligible for vaccination."

Despite King County's concerns, it's unclear if other Puget Sound counties will announce vaccine verification programs of their own. Pierce County in particular has occasionally been hesitant to follow in King's footsteps — back when King County and Executive Constantine first announced their vaccine requirement for local government employees, Pierce County had to specifically clarify that it would not be doing the same following widespread outcry from local interest groups. It did, however, follow suit when it came to outdoor masking, with a similar 

mask mandate that also went into effect Tuesday.

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