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King County customers of restaurants, theaters, gyms must show proof of COVID vaccination or negative test

UPDATED: Thu., Sept. 16, 2021

Beer tender Edward Cunningham checks vaccination cards Wednesday as customers enter Burke-Gilman Brewing Co. in Seattle.  (Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times)
Beer tender Edward Cunningham checks vaccination cards Wednesday as customers enter Burke-Gilman Brewing Co. in Seattle. (Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times)
By Paige Cornwell Seattle Times

In King County, eating at a restaurant indoors, seeing a movie in a theater or working out at a gym will require proof of a coronavirus vaccination or a negative test beginning next month, county leaders and health officials announced Thursday.

The health order, issued by Public Health – Seattle and King County Dr. Jeff Duchin, goes into effect Oct. 25 – allowing those who aren’t currently vaccinated to complete both rounds of the Pfizer or Moderna shot by that time. The order applies to most restaurants and bars, indoor recreational venues regardless of size, and outdoor events with 500 people or more.

Customers who aren’t vaccinated or don’t have proof will instead need to show results of a negative COVID-19 test taken within the past 72 hours. Children under age 12, who aren’t yet eligible for a vaccine, are exempt.

The health order doesn’t require vaccines for employees at restaurants and other establishments covered under the new policy, but strongly recommends workers get vaccinated.

The requirements mirror those set in New York, San Francisco and New Orleans, as well as Washington’s Clallam and Jefferson counties, and come amid high COVID-19 case rates attributed in part to the highly contagious delta variant. Washington’s professional and college teams announced last week that fans would be required to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to attend home games; the Seahawks will begin enforcing the order at this weekend’s game against the Tennessee Titans.

The new rules aren’t expected to be permanent, health officials said, and will be reviewed within six months of the date they go into effect.

While leaders in other cities have said the orders are meant to pressure residents to get vaccinated, King County Executive Dow Constantine said earlier this week that this is “first and foremost” about ensuring safety for customers and employees. Among eligible King County residents, 85% have received at least one vaccine dose, according to the public health department. Yet infection and hospitalization rates remain at dangerous levels.

“In a community where we have some of the highest rates of vaccination nationally, we are still seeing a small percentage who haven’t been vaccinated causing tremendous challenges,” he said.

The order doesn’t apply to outdoor dining, customers picking up takeout orders, or restaurants and bars with seating for fewer than 12 people. The requirements for small restaurants will take effect in December.

Constantine compared the verification to when businesses have to check identification to serve alcohol or ensure someone is wearing a shirt and shoes before they enter. The phase-in approach, he added, helps address staffing challenges faced by smaller restaurants.

More than 150 restaurants and bars in King County have already implemented some form of vaccine requirement to enter. Many require customers to present a matching ID alongside proof of vaccination, but that isn’t required under the health order.

Workers and customers can use their vaccine cards or a photo of a vaccine card, documentation from a medical record or vaccine provider, or a printed certificate from MyIRMobile.com.

The move is likely to be met with applause from Seattle-area music venues, most of which already have vaccination (or negative test) requirements in place. By and large, artists and independent clubs across the country have led the charge on COVID-19 safety in the live entertainment sector, often implementing stricter protocols than required by law. The order provides a degree of cover for nightlife workers when turning away unvaccinated patrons and levels the playing field in one of the industries hit hardest by the pandemic.

“You go to a dance night and you get six people that show up,” Steven Severin, who co-owns Capitol Hill’s Neumos and Life on Mars, said last month. “Four of ’em have their vaccine cards and two of them don’t, and they’re bummed. But then they leave and go somewhere else that doesn’t require it, which is one of the reasons it should be across the board.”

Severin and the King County members of the Washington Nightlife Music Association, a coalition of independently owned music venues, sent letters to government officials last month calling for a vaccination-check mandate and the development of a statewide vaccine verification system.

Local performing arts organizations beat King County to the punch when several of them – including Seattle Symphony, 5th Avenue Theatre, ACT, Seattle Rep, Village Theatre and Pacific Northwest Ballet – announced in August that they will be requiring audiences to mask and provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to attend indoor performances and events.

“Health and safety remain our top priorities, and we’re excited to offer beautiful music and storytelling in McCaw Hall once again,” said General Director Christina Scheppelmann in a news release in August. “We’re committed to making people’s return to live performance as safe and enjoyable as possible.”

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