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King County vaccine verification requirement begins. Here’s what to know

If you plan to go out to a restaurant in King County, you’ll need to prove that you’re fully vaccinated against Covid-19, or have recently tested negative for the virus, to get in.

And it’s not just restaurants.

The proof-of-vaccine requirement became official Monday, October 25. Anyone age 12 or older will have to show proof that they have been vaccinated against Covid-19, or negative test results, to participate in a variety of activities throughout the county.

Businesses and staff are expected to verify vaccination status in a range of settings, including:

  • Indoor restaurants and bars with seating capacity for more than 12 people
  • Indoor recreational settings such as gyms, movie theaters, bowling alleys, indoor soccer arenas, museums, night clubs, performance venues, and conventions
  • Outdoor events with 500 people or more, such as professional or collegiate sports games, and concerts
  • Restaurants and bars with seating capacity for 12 or fewer people have a little longer to adjust. The rules will kick in for them on Dec. 6. Patrons can provide proof of vaccination in several forms, including:
  • A vaccine card, or photo of the vaccine card
  • A medical record
  • Proof from another state or county
  • Printed certificate or digital record from MyIRMobile
  • Digital vaccine card apps, such as CLEAR

Those who are unvaccinated will need to provide a negative test taken in the past 72 hours. Rapid home tests won’t be accepted.

RELATED: KUOW's pandemic blog featuring updates for Seattle and the NW

Businesses prepare for new rules

The new rules will likely be received differently in different parts of King County. In Seattle, some bars and restaurants already require proof of vaccination for entry.

At the Octopus Bar in Wallingford, your ID isn’t the only thing you have to flash to get in the door. For weeks, the bar has been asking for proof of vaccination.

Bartender Lauren Leatherman said they’ve tried to be as accommodating as possible and have even helped patrons track down a copy of their vaccine records online so they can enter.

She said people have been receptive to the policy and seem pleased that the bar is checking vaccine status.

“It’s been really good so far. There have been a couple of naysayers, but it’s been few and far between,” Leatherman said.

On a personal level, she said it’s been a relief to know that everyone coming into the bar is vaccinated, because her mother is sick.

Leatherman urges people to remember there are staff in situations like hers if they are upset about being asked for proof of vaccination.

“We have loved ones that are at risk, that are immunocompromised, and we’re doing our best to keep people safe. I want to keep my mom safe, I love my mom. I just wish people could keep that in mind.”

In Auburn, Trotter’s Restaurant owner Michael Braxton is feeling nervous about the upcoming requirements.

Braxton said over the phone that his staff have had issues enforcing the mask mandate, with a couple of instances escalating so much they called the police. He’s worried that reactions could be even worse when people are asked for proof of vaccination.

Braxton said it’s frustrating and he’s anxious he could lose business.

How have similar requirements gone elsewhere?

King County is not the first location to do something like this. Similar requirements are in place in Clallam and Jefferson counties, and in several other cities.

In New York City and San Francisco, the rollout of similar rules seem to have gone relatively smoothly.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said last week that 31,000 inspections had been performed in the first month of the city’s vaccine verification rules and only 15 violations had been handed out.

The San Francisco Department of Public Health said in a statement that they’ve seen “tremendous support” from the business community and have only handed out one notice of violation.

That’s not to say there haven't been any issues. There have been multiple stories about staff in various locations being harassed, or even attacked, by customers who are unhappy with the rules.

Do these rules work?

These rules are relatively new and there aren’t a wealth of studies looking at their direct impact on vaccination rates or virus transmission. But there are some indications that the requirements may help move the needle for some people.

“If to do many of the activities that you enjoy doing requires vaccination, that may be enough to tip people who are kind of on the fence about vaccines into getting vaccinated,” said Brandon Guthrie, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington.

Indeed, a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 35 percent of respondents who were recently vaccinated said wanting to participate in activities that required vaccination was a major factor in their decision to get the shots.

Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo is an epidemiologist and biostatistician at the University of California, San Francisco. She said these types of rules will work best to boost vaccination rates if they’re coupled with continued outreach into communities and messaging from trusted voices, and ease of access to vaccines.

When it comes to transmission, public health experts say ensuring that everyone in a space is either vaccinated or has a recent negative test makes it significantly less likely that anyone will be infected or pass that infection on.

Bibbins-Domingo said these rules do work, but the infrastructure is needed for them to work well long term.

“For these to work most effectively, I think we need better verification systems. We need better means to make it easy to show your QR code to get easily into a restaurant so the burden really isn’t on the businesses to do all different types of checking,” Bibbins-Domingo said.

What's the enforcement plan?

Officials say the new rules will be enforced in a similar manner to mask mandates. King County executive Dow Constantine said the focus will be on education, as opposed to penalties, but people can still report violations.

“If there are businesses or customers who are flagrantly and purposefully not complying, Public Health has options,” Constantine said. Fines and even loss of a business license could occur, he said.

Bibbins-Domingo said enforcement is an important piece, but the rules will work best if they’re accepted as a community norm, much like the norm that you don’t get into a car with someone who is drunk, or smoke inside in a restaurant.

“Hopefully this is setting the standard that, as a community, we really vaccination is the most important thing, or negative testing, to keep our community safe,” she said.