King County ending vaccination verification policy on March 1 as new COVID cases and hospitalizations decline; King County and City of Seattle begin return to office plans
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.
King County and City of Seattle employees beginning to return to offices
Executive Constantine and Mayor Harrell also announced that restrictions on in-office work will be lifted, and remote employees will begin returning to the office in March. For King County employees, this means a gradual transition of the nearly 5,000 employees who have been mostly working remotely over the last two years, not a sudden end to telecommuting. Executive departments will begin to implement their Future of Work plans, which set out how services will be delivered moving forward, whether that’s in-person, remotely, or a hybrid of both. Many public-facing customer service locations will still temporarily operate remotely, and more details on their reopening will be shared at a later date.
For City of Seattle employees, this means that departments will begin to bring more than 5,000 employees who have been remote back to the office based on business needs and work plans. The City will continue to evaluate in-person, remote, and hybrid arrangements to ensure the needs of Seattle residents are met. In-person customer service counters will continue to remain open.
Current COVID-19 Summary
Today, after a record-breaking Omicron surge, COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations in King County are dropping, and hospitals are better able to care for patient loads. We’ve seen an 80% decrease in COVID-19 incidence rates and a 60% decrease in hospitalization rates since COVID-19 cases peaked locally in mid-January.
More people are now vaccinated and protected against severe COVID-19. Since this policy was adopted, over one-quarter of a million King County residents have gotten vaccinated. Today, nearly 80% of all King County residents are now fully vaccinated and among those who are eligible to get vaccinated, which are people ages 5 and older, 92% have started the vaccination series.
In addition, the large number of people who were infected during the Omicron surge will also likely result in some additional community immunity, at least for the short term. Because we don’t know yet how long this immunity lasts or have a way to test for it in individuals, vaccination is recommended for everyone – even those who have been previously infected.
Continued COVID-19 prevention
Vaccination verification is just one part of a multi-faceted COVID-19 prevention strategy. Vaccination and getting boosters when eligible are the most important tools available to prevent severe outcomes from COVID-19 infection. In addition:
use high quality, well-fitting face masks
improve indoor air quality through ventilation and/or use of HEPA filtration
avoid crowded and poorly ventilated indoor spaces
isolate away from others if you are ill, quarantine away from others if you are not up-to-date on your vaccinations and are exposed to someone with COVID-19, and get tested when possible if you have symptoms or are exposed.
Individuals who are immunocompromised may want to take extra precautions. Businesses should continue to improve ventilation, support vaccination for employees, and encourage employees to stay home when sick. These steps will be important to protect against both current and future COVID-19 surges.