For weeks, Seattle has been ahead of the curve on Covid vaccine verification. Many restaurants and bars have created their own policies to keep employees and patrons safe. So have the city's sports teams. The Kraken, for instance, will use the Clear app to ensure their fans are vaxxed up at the hockey squad's Climate Pledge Arena debut on Saturday.
But these card and phone checks haven't been universal in our corner of the world—until now. On Monday, October 25, a wide-scale vaccine verification order will take effect in King County. It applies to restaurants, bars, and indoor events, as well as very large outdoor gatherings. With Delta still lingering, the area's public health authority has deemed this policy a vital way to curb the variant's spread, as vaccinated people are strongly protected against Covid and at a lower risk of transmitting the virus to others. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation has some data to back it.
Here's how vaccine verification will work in Seattle and the rest of King County.
Where do you need to show proof of a Covid vaccine or a negative test in King County?
Starting on October 25, customers and attendees 12 or older must provide evidence they got their jabs, or a negative test within the previous 72 hours, at the following places:
- Indoor dining at restaurants, bars, and taverns with 12 or more seats
- Wineries and breweries with "customers eating or drinking in a dedicated seating or bar space"
- Entertainment and performing arts venues, including music and concert halls
- Gyms, fitness facilities, and public pools
- Movie theaters
- Museums and exhibition halls
- Indoor stadiums and arenas for both college and pro sports teams
- Convention centers
- Outdoor gatherings with 500 or more people, such as concerts and sports games
So, almost everywhere fun. Somewhat curiously, retailers aren't included. "Retail is subject to the indoor masking requirements, so the verification program is for places with increased chance of transmission, like people eating in a restaurant," writes Chase Gallagher, a spokesperson for King County executive Dow Constantine.
On the dining front: Restaurants, bars, and taverns with a seating capacity below 12 do not need to comply with the policy until December 6.
How do customers and attendees provide proof of vaccination or a negative test?
Though it had no shortage of local tech brainpower at its disposal, King County didn't try to get fancy like New York and create a custom vaccine pass with a grandiose name. Maybe that's for the best.
But don't worry: You won't have to carry around that bulky, CDC-approved vaccine card, unless you want to. Instead, the county will accept any of the following two weeks after the last dose of one's vaccination series:
- The aforementioned card or a photo of it (phone screensaver, anyone?)
- An immunization record (which is probably more unwieldy than just using the card)
- A QR code or printed certificate from MyIRMobile.com, which is partnering with the state
- A digital vaccine card app, such as Clear or Covid Proof, that has been approved by Public Health—Seattle and King County after consulting with the Washington State Department of Health
Customers and attendees do not need to produce an ID with their card, at least in the county's order. Why? "In our stakeholder engagement, we received feedback that ID checks are associated with trauma stemming from racist and discriminatory practices, plus can lead to distrust for many communities," Public Health—Seattle and King County notes.
Those who've just turned 12 will have a grace period to get vaccinated since, you know, it's impossible to complete a multiweek vaccination process in a day.
For people who want to show a negative test instead, they'll have to receive one from a testing provider within 72 hours. No self-administered rapid tests will be accepted. Neither will religious or medical exemptions.
People with disabilities only need to offer verbal communication of their vaccination or negative test if they can't provide physical evidence.
Aren't there privacy concerns with digital vaccine apps?
The state vouches for MyIRMobile, which has partnered with six other states and Washington DC (and also experienced some problems proving people's vaccination earlier in the pandemic). But the county's public health site does stress that "any third-party mobile application may collect personal information and data." So, if this is a major concern, you might want to stick with a more analog form of proof.
Do regulars at certain bars and restaurants need to show proof of vaccination every visit?
Yes. But gyms can keep a vaccination record on file.
Won't this be a drag on restaurants offering takeout?
It won't be. The order does not apply to patrons and "other individuals entering an establishment for a quick and limited purpose." That includes deliveries, restroom stops, and, yes, takeout pickups.
Where else does the order not apply?
First off, a reminder that no one under 12 needs to worry about vaccine verification because, unfortunately, these children weren't eligible to receive the shots when the order was drawn up (and still aren't). But the following spaces and activities are also free of county-ordered vaccine checks:
- Any school-based event, preschool through high school (applies to both participants and spectators)
- Outdoor dining areas
- Indoor dining areas in buildings that are primarily used for other purposes, such as mall food courts and employee cafeterias (but not public restaurants within hotels)
- Street fairs and farmers markets
- Airports and other transportation hubs, like train stations
- Weddings and faith-based gatherings, except if they're held in the public indoor establishments mentioned earlier
- King County Elections–sanctioned vote centers
Does the vaccine verification order apply to employees?
Nope. Dr. Jeff Duchin, King County's public health officer, strongly recommends that businesses and event organizers require their staffs to get vaccinated, but that is up to individual employers, for regulatory reasons specified here. Employers can require vaccines for their workers.
How can businesses enforce vaccine verification?
Does vaccine verification replace the mask mandate?
No. This just offers more protection against the virus.
What happens to customers and businesses that don't comply with vaccine verification?
It's a federal crime to show a fake vax card. Otherwise, the county says that "if there are complaints of patrons or businesses egregiously not following the order, county officials will contact businesses and event organizers and take action as feasible." It's working on defining "egregious noncompliance" and a process for submitting complaints.
How long will this order be in place?
The county says it's not permanent, but it will be up for renewal no later than six months from its implementation. Hopefully our situation will be better by then.