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King County's new COVID vaccine verification system relies on honor system

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and King County Executive Dow Constantine show proof of their COVID vaccinations on their phones to a cashier at Cafe Allegro in Seattle.
Bellamy Pailthorp
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and King County Executive Dow Constantine show proof of their COVID vaccinations on their phones to a cashier at Cafe Allegro in Seattle on Monday.

A vaccine verification mandate goes into effect Monday in King County. You’ll have to show proof of COVID vaccination, or a negative COVID test, to be served at most public gathering places.

But public sector employees across Washington were already facing a midnight deadline to follow state law or lose their jobs.

Bus drivers and ferry workers are already in short supply, a trend that many people blame on the vaccine requirement. And there’s concern about police and firefighters, especially in the most populous areas of Seattle and King County.

But Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins told a well-attended Monday press conference in Seattle that the workforce he oversees is almost entirely in compliance.

”Ninety-three percent are vaccinated or close to being fully vaccinated,” he said of Seattle firefighters.

Scoggins said as of midday Monday, only about 55 people on his staff had applied for exemptions.

Scoggins' comments came after King County Executive Dow Constantine and Mayor Jenny Durkan staged a show-and-tell at the U-District’s storied haunt Café Allegro, where they used images and QR codes on their smartphones to prove their vaccination status before sitting down for coffee.

King County called this the launch of a new social media campaign “aimed at highlighting what businesses and customers can expect – and how to get prepared – once the new policy takes effect across King County on October 25.”

A county news release says this will “include resources for businesses such as planning checklists and signage, information on ways to show vaccination status or proof of negative COVID-19 test and how to get vaccinated in King County if residents have yet to do so.”

But how do you know if the vaccine status someone presents in public places is real?

And can you really call 911 without worrying about cheaters?

Scoggins said, unlike in a restaurant or other business, the proof of vaccine that public employees submit is verified.

“Anyone who submits their paperwork is going through the vaccination verification system, and we're checking the information,” he said.

That’s how authorities are deciding if public employees can keep their jobs.

Durkan told reporters at the scrum with press outside Café Allegro the same thing about her police force. She defended the policy, saying that when residents call for help, they want to know the person who's responding is fully vaccinated — as a requirement for the job.

But Dennis Worsham, the interim head of Public Health — Seattle & King County, said for the general public, it’s still a bit of a guessing game. There’s no enforcement.

We've really relied on the integrity of people showing up and doing the right thing. We haven't had enforcements around masks. We haven't had enforcements around a number of things,” Worsham said.   

If there's egregious complaints, either from patrons or from businesses, we'll follow up with them," he added. "There will be a way for them to complain and we'll check in with them on those particular things. But it's going to be on an honor system.”  

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to