It seems that an official vaccine requirement for dining out in Seattle is a matter of “when” not “if.” On Tuesday, September 7, King County executive Dow Constantine announced that the local public health department is working on developing a COVID vaccine verification policy for “some non-essential business activities and other venues” in the region.
Though Constantine didn’t specify which businesses would fall under the in-development policy, he referenced modeling the plan after cities such as New York and San Francisco, as well as British Columbia, all areas which either currently require proof of vaccination to dine at restaurants, or soon will. He also name-dropped Clallam and Jefferson counties in Washington, both of which recently instituted their own rules that diners need to provide vaccine verification at restaurants.
But full details on the strategy are still to come after King County officials meet with community organizations, labor unions, businesses, and city authorities. Even if the county settles on a policy soon, it would likely not go into effect until early October at the earliest, even as the highly contagious delta variant continues to spread. King County’s COVID case rate remains at an elevated level, and hospitalizations have ticked up in recent weeks. Currently, around 78 percent of eligible residents 12 and older in King County have completed their vaccine series.
Constantine’s announcement also comes as several major Seattle sporting venues, including Lumen Field, Husky Stadium, and the forthcoming Climate Pledge Arena, announced their own proof of vaccination policies for entry, a dramatic shift from just a few weeks ago, when even mask wearing was optional outside. King County has since instituted a stricter mandate for face coverings at large outdoor events of 500 people or more, whether one is vaccinated or not.
But, compared to New York and San Francisco, Seattle is a bit behind the times on broader proof of vaccination policies for dining out (both cities officially began their mandates in mid-August). That has left it mostly up to local establishments to institute their own vaccine policies, and more than 140 local bars and restaurants have done so.
For its part, the mayor’s office seems to be onboard with Constantine’s plan to press the issue. “Mayor [Jenny] Durkan supports vaccine verification, and in the past month, Mayor Durkan, city government, and public health officials have been listening to our residents, small businesses, nonprofits, and venues, and we’ve heard that verification is a necessary public health policy for our communities,” says spokesperson Kelsey Nyland. And the potential rule seems to have wide appeal — in a recent Eater Seattle survey, more than 87 respondents said they want the city to institute a proof of vaccine policy for indoor dining, and the majority revealed they were already seeking out places that instituted their own vaccine requirements.
“We’re at a critical point in the pandemic,” said Constantine in his September 7 statement. “In a county where more than 4 out of 5 eligible residents have taken advantage of the opportunity to be vaccinated against COVID, vaccine verification is the best way for businesses and gatherings to remain open, vibrant, and at full capacity.”