by Sally James
Public Health — Seattle & King County will lift its requirement for vaccination status verification at indoor entertainment and recreational events including bars and restaurants and large outdoor events as of March 1, according to county officials.
King County Executive Dow Constantine joined Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell and the county’s Health Officer Jeff Duchin, at a media event that was held online and in person.
Warning that “we are not out of the woods” in terms of the pandemic, Constantine said decreases in cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations were trending down. He also said that King County and City of Seattle employees will begin heading back to in-person work during March. However,he said every department might shape their plan for employees differently with some allowed to mix remote and in-person work.
“With the current state of the pandemic … this policy is no longer needed,” Constantine said. The policy began exactly five months ago, he said. Business owners do have the choice to maintain a requirement if they wish.
Business owner Jen Cen, who owns Wabi Sabi restaurant in Columbia City, told the Emerald that she welcomes this. Asking customers to show vaccine cards has been unpleasant for staff and customers.
Duchin cautioned that there are still many cases of COVID-19 in the community. He encouraged people to keep wearing masks when indoors, and avoid large gatherings without good ventilation.
Duchin does not think it is time to remove the requirements for indoor masking. He wants to see lower case numbers and more strength in the health care system before he would recommend that, he said, but reinforced that people should get vaccinated.
“The best reason to get vaccinated is not so you can go to a bar or a restaurant, but so you can be healthy and not get hospitalized … and not die,” Duchin said. He added that what is called “long COVID,” or symptoms that persist for months after infection, can be serious and should also be a concern.
Efforts to promote vaccination in communities that have been slower to receive shots will continue, according to Duchin and Harrell. A person from a Somali community told the officials he worried that this announcement would somehow diminish the efforts to reach those who are unvaccinated.
During the event, Duchin said the average number of COVID-19 cases per day over the past two weeks has been about 1,000. This level is almost as high as the worst surge last fall of the Delta variant. The Omicron variant is more transmissible, but less deadly, and nearly 90% of eligible King County residents have received at least one shot of the coronavirus vaccine, according to the King County dashboard.
For some in the community, especially children under 5 who can’t be vaccinated and people with underlying immune problems, the risk remains high. To protect those people, Duchin recommended wearing masks, getting vaccines and boosters, and continuing to test if exposed or if you have symptoms.
For gym owner Taylor Johnson-English, this news will not change her practice at her Georgetown studio 777 Strength & Conditioning. She told theEmerald that she will continue to ask members, new and old, to be vaccinated. She keeps a folder of their proof of vaccinations on record.
“I’ll continue doing this for the foreseeable future,” Johnson-English said. She believes vaccinations protect both gym members and her staff, as well as those who visit the premises, like her own children.
“My members appreciate that they are sharing a facility with like-minded people and others who are trying to protect themselves as well as the community,” she wrote in an email.
Sally James is a science writer in Seattle. You can read more of her work at www.seattlesciencewriter.com. She’s written about biotech, cancer research, and health literacy and volunteered as president of the nonprofit Northwest Science Writers Association.
Featured image: King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell speak at a Feb. 16 press conference. (Photo: Alex Garland)
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