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caption: A sign that reads "no shirt, no shoes, no vaccine, no entry" is posted outside Linda's Tavern on Capitol Hill, Monday, August 2, as they and many other area bars and restaurants have begun requiring proof of vaccination for their patrons.
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A sign that reads "no shirt, no shoes, no vaccine, no entry" is posted outside Linda's Tavern on Capitol Hill, Monday, August 2, as they and many other area bars and restaurants have begun requiring proof of vaccination for their patrons.
Credit: Genna Martin for KUOW

King County will require proof of vaccination at bars, restaurants, and more

King County will require proof of vaccination at restaurants, bars, gyms, and other businesses, starting in late October.

“There will be a mandate that people going to certain establishments have to be vaccinated,” Mayor Jenny Durkan told KUOW. “…Places where people will congregate, particularly in the winter months, inside and not wearing masks, are going to be more dangerous than other venues. As we move into winter, we want to make sure we are keeping people safe.”

Ever since the pandemic began prompting lockdowns in Washington state, Governor Jay Inslee and Mayor Durkan have used the metaphor of a dial — adjusting pandemic precautions up and down depending on conditions. The latest setting on King County's dial is a vaccine mandate to enter restaurants, bars, and non-essential businesses. A negative Covid test from within 72 hours will also be acceptable. Children under the age of 12, who aren't yet eligible for a vaccine, are not required to be tested for entry.

“This isn’t meant to be a punitive thing at all,” Durkan said. “It’s meant as further protection for our community.”

According to an order from King County Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin, starting October 25:

  • Proof-of-vaccination or a negative Covid test will be required for outdoor events with more than 500 people, such as sporting events at Lumen Field or T-Mobile Park. Note
  • Same goes for indoor entertainment and recreational establishments, such as live music venues, gyms, theaters, museums, indoor sports, and conventions.
  • The requirement is also for indoor dining at restaurants and bars. Note: The mandate does not apply to outdoor dining, take-out customers, or grocery stores.
  • The vaccine mandate will go into effect on December 6 for small restaurants with seating for 12 or fewer customers.
  • Customers can provide proof in a variety of ways, such as showing their vaccination card; a photo of their vaccination card on their phone or a photocopy; a printed certificate or QR code from the state's vaccine records; a vaccine record from a healthcare provider.
  • The mandate is temporary. King County will reevaluate it in April.

Seattle businesses and the vaccine mandate

Durkan says that the city has been in conversations with local businesses about such measures, and has “strong support from businesses here in Seattle, who were actually asking for greater mandates,” largely out of concern for employee safety and fear of future shutdowns. Such businesses have had difficulty attracting employees, and some blame pandemic risks as one factor. There is hope that the county's new vaccine mandate will help alleviate staff concerns.

Durkan says the best enforcement of the mandate will come from customers and workers.

“If there are certain areas where there are problems, we will do what we need to do to protect those businesses that are doing the right thing,” Durkan said. “We will keep a close eye on it. I’m really hopeful we won’t have those problems, they’ve been really infrequent in Seattle … no one should be harassed for doing their job.”

“It is clear now that this pandemic is not done with us,” Durkan said. “But it has really become a pandemic of the unvaccinated. Every time an unvaccinated person gets sick, they really are jeopardizing not just themselves and their families, but their community and giving an opportunity for the virus to mutate again so we get another dangerous version.”

For some businesses in Seattle, the new vaccine mandate won't be a stretch from their current policies. Emerald City Comicon is a considerably large event and is slated for December this year. It already had a policy for attendees to be fully vaccinated or show proof of a negative test.

Many bars in the city began requiring customers to be vaccinated over the summer.

“So many of us have gone out, we’ve had our vaccines, we’ve done what we need to do,” a Capitol Hill bar patron told KUOW's Joshua McNichols in August. “I don’t want to sit at home because those individuals choose not to go out and be vaccinated. Let them sit at home.”

Chris Daw, owner of CC Attle's in Capitol Hill, began requiring proof-of-vaccination at his bar this summer. He said some customers were angry about the policy, while others appreciated it. At the time, he wished bars weren't forced to make the decision to require vaccines and that there was better messaging from public officials.

“You live your life as you’ll live your life,” Daw said. “But decisions have consequences.”

RELATED: How bars are fueling Covid outbreaks

In July and August, after Washington opened up more, Seattle bars started briefly shutting down after staff began testing positive for Covid. It prompted some businesses, such as the Doctor's Office, to begin requiring proof-of-vaccination. The bar's owner issued a stern statement for any customers who gave his staff grief over the policy.

Also in August, Seattle Theatre Group announced that it was requiring proof-of-vaccination or a negative Covid test at its Neptune, Paramount, and Moore theaters.

The only other part of Washington that has implemented a similar policy for bars and restaurants is Jefferson and Clallam counties, which shares one public health officer. As a result, that official, Dr. Allison Berry, has been the target of harassment and death threats. Police have increased patrols around her home.

“This was the first time that I felt unsafe, in my own home,” Berry recently told KUOW.

According to Public Health – Seattle & King County, 68% of King County's population, and 79% of eligible residents 12 and older are fully vaccinated. There remains about 300,000 unvaccinated King County residents who are eligible.