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King County to drop COVID vaccination requirements for bars, restaurants on March 1

King County's COVID-19 vaccine verification requirements for businesses have been in place since October 2021.

SEATTLE — King County will no longer require businesses to check patrons’ COVID-19 vaccination status beginning March 1 as case rates and hospitalizations continue to drop.

Executive Dow Constantine, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell and King County Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin announced the rule change Wednesday afternoon.

Businesses and organizations will be able to require their own vaccination requirement if they choose to do so, Constantine said.

“From the beginning of this pandemic, our aim has been to protect the health of our community and save lives. Our public health experts believe that now is the appropriate time to lift vaccine verification, based on high rates of vaccine coverage and the decrease in new cases and hospitalizations across the county. We are moving in the right direction, and can continue taking additional steps toward recovery,” said Constantine in a statement.

Showing a recent negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination has been a requirement for customers going to bars, restaurants and other venues throughout King County since October of 2021.

The current requirement includes guests at King County bars, restaurants and venues to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test from the past 72 hours of that visit or proof of full COVID-19 vaccination. 

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According to the King County COVID-19 dashboard, COVID-19 cases in King County have dropped by 24% over the last week and hospitalizations dropped by 16% as of Wednesday.

"The steady decline in positive cases is much-needed positive news. Seattle will continue to follow public health guidance and adopt strategies that best keep our communities safe," said Harrell Wednesday. "These steps forward show we are moving in the right direction and reflect that our region's strong COVID response is the result of a united team effort."

In Harrell's inaugural State of the City address Tuesday, he said the city will remain committed to its COVID response.

"As the omicron wave begins to crest, and with over 90% of Seattle residents having received at least one dose of the vaccine, a renewed focus on return and recovery has become more essential," Harrell said Tuesday. 

Constantine and Harrell also said that county and city employees who are still operating remotely will begin transitioning back to in-person work in March. 

Harrell said that since the start of the pandemic, more than 65% of city workers remained working in person or in the field, which amounts to about 7,000 employees. This includes road crews, police and firefighters.

Harrell added that some workers will remain remote in alternative work situations and hybrid arrangements. 

For the county, roughly 5,000 workers who have been mostly working remotely over the last two years will gradually come back to offices. Constantine said the county's goal is for each department to adopt the right working arrangement for its employees and its mission. 

Duchin said Wednesday that dropping the vaccination requirement, as well as the return-to-office efforts, are in step with where the county is in the COVID pandemic, but iterated that Wednesday's announcements were not meant to suggest the pandemic is over in the region. 

"Although our mandatory vaccine verification requirement is ending, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations remain elevated and layered COVID-19 prevention remains important," Duchin said. "Everyone should continue to take steps to reduce COVID-19 risk, including getting vaccinated and boosted when eligible, using high quality, well-fitting face masks, improving indoor air quality through ventilation and filtration, and limiting time in crowded and poorly ventilated indoor spaces."  

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