King County and City of Seattle announce updates to employee vaccine mandate
In alignment with updated Public Health – Seattle and King County guidance, Executive Dow Constantine and Mayor Bruce Harrell announced today that King County and the City of Seattle will no longer require proof of vaccination against COVID-19 as a condition of employment effective today.
Throughout the pandemic, King County and the City of Seattle have used the most up-to-date recommendations and expertise from Public Health officials to inform policy decisions to adapt to the conditions and threats from the virus. To keep employees and the community safe and healthy, in mid-2021 that included requiring all county and city employees, contractors, and volunteers to show proof they had received the initial COVID-19 vaccination series.
Before supporting a recommendation to lift the employee vaccine mandate, Public Health officials wanted to understand the impacts of a potential winter surge in 2022 – 2023. With King County’s high level of vaccination booster uptake and lower levels of community spread, hospitalizations due to COVID infection remained at a safe level, making the overall risk forecast low enough to lift the mandate for employees, volunteers, and contractors.
“Since the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, King County’s policy has been to follow the science, listen to the experts, and protect life and health. Establishing a vaccine mandate for employees and contractors was critical to keeping employees and the public safe, and keeping services flowing. Today our experts advise that immunity has reached a level that allows these requirements to be relaxed,” said Executive Constantine. “With high vaccination rates and effective, updated boosters available, we are in a different place in the pandemic, and our policies and regulations will change to reflect the best information we have available today, as they have throughout the last three years.”
“The vaccine mandate was an effective and necessary tool for protecting the health and safety of City workers and the public we serve,” said Mayor Harrell. “The City’s actions then and now have always been informed by the science of the pandemic and recommendations of public health officials – an approach based on data and dedicated to saving lives. Rooted in our shared values of safety and health equity, we will continue to follow this approach as we respond to next steps in the pandemic and continue to advance efforts to ensure a thriving and equitable recovery for all Seattle residents and neighbors.”
More than 98% of King County’s nearly 15,000 employees provided proof of vaccination at the time the mandate launched and the nearly 4,000 employees hired since, while less than 2% were separated at that time due to the requirement. At the City of Seattle, more than 99% of employees provided proof of vaccination or received an accommodation, while less than 1% were separated at that time.
In addition to the employee vaccine mandate, Executive Constantine also rescinded the county’s COVID emergency proclamation today. Executive Constantine reissued the order pertaining to Metro service reductions which will remain in effect. Today’s orders will not impact booking restrictions at King County correctional facilities originally adopted at the beginning of the pandemic, and that remain in effect due to staffing shortages at the correctional facilities.
Staying up to date on COVID-19 vaccines continues to be critical for preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death. Almost 90% of King County residents between 18 and 64 years of age have completed the primary vaccination series, although most have not yet received an updated bivalent booster and therefore are at increased risk for preventable serious infections compared to those who have received it.
“While the significant benefits of vaccination have not changed, the acute threat to our community and healthcare system has decreased. Therefore, it makes sense that vaccination is highly recommended but no longer required for King County and Seattle staff and contractors outside of health care settings,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County. “At this stage in the pandemic, we have higher levels of immunity from vaccination and from many people having had COVID-19 infections. Treatments such as Paxlovid antiviral treatment are available for people who get infected and may be at higher risk. We also have tools to further reduce the spread of illness through improving indoor air quality (e.g., through ventilation and filtration) and, in some settings, with the use of high-quality, well-fitting masks.”
Public health highly recommends following the current vaccination guidance which includes a bivalent booster dose for the best protection.
“We are now in a different phase of the pandemic compared to where we were in 2021 and 2022 and it makes sense to remove any requirements for vaccination,” said Dr. Faisal Khan, Director of Public Health – Seattle & King County. “Public Health continues to encourage everyone to be fully vaccinated and to be prudent about the use of masks in indoor settings.”