It’s now been almost a full month since King County began requiring customers age 12 and older to verify full COVID-19 vaccination status or a negative test to participate in large outdoor public events or indoor entertainment and recreational establishments, such as live music, performing arts, gyms, restaurants, and bars.
On December 6, small restaurants and bars (those with seating for fewer than 12 customers) will also be required to comply with the policy. At that point, vaccine verification will be in full effect in King County, aiming to protect customers and workers, preserve local hospital capacity, and help keep businesses open.
An analysis by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) conducted for King County found that the vaccine verification policy could have a significant positive impact in reducing infections, hospitalizations and deaths.
How it’s going
With one of the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates of any metro area in the United States, at over 84% for people 12 and over, it’s not surprising that the policy has been well-received, with widespread compliance by customers and businesses alike.
We want to give a huge thank you to the many frontline staff and business managers and owners who have adjusted their operations to implement vaccine verification in their establishments to create safer spaces for their customers and staff.
“We have heard from businesses that vaccine verification is going well in King County,” said Rachel Smith, president and CEO of the Seattle Metro Chamber of Commerce. “While it may involve extra work in the short-term, this step is helping customers and staff feel safe as they get back to many of the activities we missed in earlier phases of the pandemic. We support vaccination because we know it’s the path out of the pandemic and toward an equitable economic recovery.”
Since the policy began, we’ve been collecting reports from the public of businesses they feel are not in full compliance with the policy, so we can follow up. To date, we’ve received complaints of about approximately 245 different businesses. To put this into context, we estimate over 10,000 King County businesses are covered by the vaccine verification policy.
“We hope that customers recognize and support businesses that are putting forth the effort to create a space where people can feel safe,” said Justin Young, owner of Flow Fitness in Seattle. “We know that vaccination is our way to end this pandemic and it comes at an additional cost to businesses.”
As with prior Public Health orders, our primary focus has been on education and technical assistance. Now that businesses have had nearly a month to come into compliance with vaccine verification, we will begin to implement enforcement mechanisms, if needed, for businesses that choose to violate the order even after multiple warnings from Public Health.
Here’s how the enforcement process will work:
- Education and outreach: If we receive a complaint of a business being out of compliance with the policy, we will reach out to the business to notify them of the complaint, share educational resources, and inform them of the enforcement process.
- In-person inspection: If we determine the business is choosing to be out of compliance, or if we receive three or more complaints about the business, we will send an inspector to the business to discuss the violations and investigate whether the complaints are accurate.
- Notice of violation: If the inspector determines that the business continues to choose to be in non-compliance, Public Health will issue a “notice of violation,” which serves as a warning of fines that could be issued if the business does not work to come into full compliance.
- Second inspection & fines: If, after a second in-person inspection, we determine that the business continues to choose to be non-compliant, we will begin issuing escalating fines, starting at $250.
- Business closure: If, after fines and multiple inspections, a business still chooses not to implement vaccination verification, we may explore temporarily closing the business.
“We worked with the business and arts communities to develop this vaccination verification policy and, in turn, we’ve seen strong compliance,” said Dennis Worsham, Interim Director for Public Health – Seattle & King County. “We want to ensure that all businesses covered by the policy are complying with it so that staff and patrons are protected. Ultimately, this is about reopening in a way that reduces the risk of COVID-19 transmission, and protects our healthcare system and our most vulnerable residents.”
Several other municipalities have instituted similar systems of enforcement for their local vaccination verification policies, including Los Angeles and San Francisco.
In King County, we’ve seen very strong support for other Public Health orders throughout this pandemic, and we anticipate strong compliance to continue with the vaccine verification policy.
The vaccination verification policy is slated to remain in effect for six months, until March 16, 2022, but could be reviewed sooner. We will adjust, extend, or remove this policy based on the status and impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak in King County.
Filing a complaint of non-compliance
If you feel an establishment is not complying with the vaccine verification policy, you can share this information with us via our online complaint form.
Assistance for businesses
Businesses can visit King County Vax Verified to download signage and access other vaccine verification implementation resources developed by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.
Find a vaccination site in your neighborhood
Visit Washington state Dept. of Health MyIR vaccine records system
Download business signage and toolkit at King County Vax Verified
Review our infographic explaining the Health Order
Originally published 11/23/21.