- King County, Washington, which includes Seattle, has issued a new public health order requiring full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test before entering indoor establishments, including restaurants. The order, which goes into effect on Oct. 25, does not apply to outdoor dining, takeout business and “places that aren’t primarily used as a restaurant, such as grocery stores.”
- The order gives an option for a longer preparation period for restaurants that have fewer than 12 seats, with a Dec. 6 deadline. The county noted the order isn’t expected to be permanent and will be reviewed in six months to determine need.
- With this order, Seattle becomes the latest city to enact proof of vaccination for dine-in business. New York City, New Orleans and San Francisco have similar orders in place.
Such mandates come as the delta variant continues its surge across the U.S., with nearly 2,000 new deaths reported each day. In March, before the vaccine was widely available, and some dine-in regulations remained in place, the CDC released a study that found illness and death rates from COVID-19 higher in jurisdictions that permitted on-site restaurant dining. In September 2020, another CDC report found that dining out increased the risk of contracting the virus.
For its order, King County cited an analysis by the University of Washington predicting the vaccine verification policy at restaurants and other establishments could prevent “between 17,900 and 75,900 infections, 421 and 1,760 hospitalizations, and 63 and 257 deaths locally over six months.”
In a statement, King County Executive Dow Constantine said, "We are at a critical point in this pandemic, with high levels of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, and no certainty as to what will follow the Delta variant. Vaccination is our best shield against this deadly virus.”
Still, such policies create a risk for employees and business in general as the industry continues its recovery. A restaurant employee in New York City, for example, was attacked last week for asking for proof of vaccination. A July report from Datassential found that nearly 30% of diners would leave a restaurant if asked to present proof of their vaccination status, and another report from Gartner found just 24% of consumers think vaccinations should be required to dine indoors.
The potential loss of customers isn’t necessarily something King County restaurants are well positioned for. The county was hit by the COVID-19 crisis, and implemented restrictions, well before the rest of the country.
However, another study showed a similar proportion of consumers would actually be more likely to dine in a restaurant with a vaccine mandate as refuse to dine in one. King County's high vaccination rate, over 85% of residents have received at least one vaccine dose, could insulate businesses from the deleterious effects of the order.
King County’s order provides time for residents to get a second vaccine dose and for restaurants to train employees in verifying vaccination. The order, like the one in New Orleans, allows unvaccinated guests to enter an establishment if they’ve tested negative. But lawsuits, similar to one filed against New York City's vaccine mandate, could delay or stop enforcement.
Still, labor pressure is impacting the entire industry and the quit rate is at an all-time high. Adding vaccination enforcement could further deter some employees.
Even where orders have passed, some restaurants aren’t enforcing them. According to Inside Edition, many Manhattan restaurants are not enforcing the city’s vaccine mandate, which went into effect Sept. 13.