by Alex Garland
In late August, King County began reaching out to “cities, small businesses, chambers of commerce, labor unions, trade associations, sports teams, venues, community groups, and faith-based leaders throughout the county” to attempt an equitable arrangement on a vaccine verification policy for businesses and residents.
“Hospitals in King County and across our state are at their highest occupancy rates. Admitting more COVID-19 patients now than at any point since the pandemic began more than a year and a half ago. “ says King County Executive Dow Constantine. “Today I’m announcing a new local health order. It will require proof of an approved COVID-19 vaccine or a negative test to enter certain businesses and venues beginning October 25th.” According to King County Executive Constantine, “you can bring your physical card, a photo of your card, a copy of your card, we want to make sure it is easy at the outset to do this…The state is working on an app and should be available as soon as the end of the month.“
The health order will apply to outdoor recreational and entertainment events with 500 or more people (professional and college sports, concerts, etc.) and indoor recreational and entertainment establishments regardless of size (performing art centers, movie theaters, gyms, convention centers, indoor restaurants and bars).
According to King County Public Health, 85% of eligible residents have begun the vaccination process, saying in a statement, “We’re able to apply a verification policy that will keep people safe and keep businesses open.”
While this policy goes into effect for the majority of businesses on Oct. 25, some restaurants with seating for 12 or less will begin Dec. 6, for those who need more time.
Business owner Todd Minor from Nana’s Southern Kitchen spoke on the history of his family making people feel welcome, “part of feeling welcome is feeling safe.”
Seattle Theatre Group CEO, Nate Dwyer spoke on his approval of the policy: “Taking this action mitigates risk. It mitigates risk of a terrible public health scenario and it mitigates risk of us having to shut down again.” Religious institutions will not be included in this policy if holding services at their institution and can set their own policies regarding entrance.
Hospitals in nearby states have gone under “crisis standards of care.” Cassie Sauer, the president and CEO of the Washington State Hospital Association, said this means “rationing care, choosing who lives and dies based on the amount of resources you have.”
Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer and the Chief of the Communicable Disease Epidemiology & Immunization Section for Public Health–Seattle & King County, said Washington State is experiencing “all time high levels” of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. “Over the past 30 days in King County, compared to vaccinated people, unvaccinated people were 7 times more likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19, 41 times more likely to be hospitalized, and 42 times more likely to die from COVID-19 related illness.” According to a six month model forecast, it’s going to get worse. Without vaccination verification in place, the model estimates 300,000 new infections in King County, with 164,000 diagnosed and reported. That’s in comparison to the 145,000 total reported so far. According to Dr. Duchin, the vaccine verification policy is estimated to prevent between 17,900 and 75,900 infections from restaurants, bars, and gyms alone.
Now that the policy has been developed, residents of King County will have until Oct. 25 to be fully vaccinated if they wish to continue the privilege of attending sporting events or going out to bars and restaurants. Dr. Duchin made it clear that this is not permanent and that within six months the policy will be reviewed based on outbreak conditions to determine if the requirement is still necessary. Duchin said, “COVID-19 is not going away soon, and we are entering what could be a very rough fall and winter.”
While transmission rates are high, city and county officials place hope in the new Vaccine Verification policy.
“[W]e have to be smarter and innovate more quickly. This is something that everybody can do,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan remarked. “In brief, If you want to protect yourself, if you want to protect your family, if you want to protect the kids in schools and their teachers, you want to protect our healthcare workers? It’s all the same answer, get the damn shot.”
Alex Garland is a photojournalist and reporter. With a degree in emergency administration and disaster planning from the University of North Texas, Alex spent his early professional career as a GIS analyst for FEMA. Follow him on Twitter.
Featured image: Dr. Jeffrey Duchin speaks during a Thursday press conference, held in the Columbia City neighborhood, where city and county officials announced that proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test will be required to enter certain establishments and attend outdoor events. (Photo: Alex Garland)
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