Large indoor and outdoor events in Washington will soon start requiring all attendees to provide proof of vaccination or a recent negative coronavirus test, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday afternoon.
The order will apply to all indoor events with 1,000 or more attendees and all outdoor events with more than 10,000 attendees, including conventions, concerts, sporting events, fairs and theme parks, Inslee said during a news conference in Olympia.
The order, which applies to everyone 12 and older, will go into effect Nov. 15.
Attendees who are unvaccinated or don’t have proof of immunization must provide event organizers with a negative coronavirus test from within the last 72 hours, Inslee said.
He clarified that the requirement will cover ticketed or registered events with “defined” entrances, not venues like shopping malls, museums or grocery stores that are open to the public “as part of their operations.”
Religious services or events held on K-12 school campuses also aren’t included in the order because they have “particular significance” in people’s daily lives, Inslee spokesperson Mike Faulk said.
The goal of the order isn’t to disrupt residents’ daily lives, he added, but rather to focus on large events that may attract attendees from various parts of the state or country, “where disease levels are higher or where more infectious COVID variants may be circulating,” Faulk wrote in an email.
“This is yet another step in an ongoing battle with this disease,” Inslee said during the briefing. “We believe it will be an important one. … We will not allow another wave to shut down our schools and close our businesses.”
Although most state government, health care or school employees are required to get vaccinated if they want to keep their jobs and weren’t given a testing choice, Inslee said he’s offering the option to event attendees to accommodate their medical and religious exemptions.
“It’s very difficult to ask a football team to assess the religious or medical exemption requests of 70,000 people,” he said. “So in order to accommodate that, we’ve opened up that door to folks. It’s the only realistic way we thought to handle this.”
Washingtonians can verify their immunization status by showing their record card (or a photo of it), a printed certificate or screenshot from MyIRMobile.com or other immunization records from health providers, Inslee said.
State Secretary of Health Dr. Umair A. Shah at the briefing said the state is working on a “more digital savvy” verification process and will have an update on a solution soon.
While some venues throughout the state already require proof of vaccination or a recent negative coronavirus test, including at Lumen Field and Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, Inslee said he’s hoping the order provides a “more uniformed” statewide approach.
“What we have done to date is not adequate,” he said. “The status quo is not adequate. We do not have enough protections. We do not have enough people vaccinated to give Washingtonians confidence that another wave is not going to hit us.”
A similar mandate will go into effect in King County on Oct. 25, requiring proof of vaccination or a negative test in most indoor spaces and at outdoor events with 500 people or more, including at restaurants and bars with indoor seating, sporting events, museums, gyms and concerts.
Thursday’s announcement comes less than a week before the governor’s Monday vaccination deadline for most state government, health care and school employees.
As of Thursday, Inslee said more than 90% of state employees were fully vaccinated, up from 89.5% reported earlier this week.
The state is seeing hopeful trends of decreasing infection and hospitalization rates across all age groups. Washington’s seven-day case rate was 234 infections per 100,000 people at the beginning of October, down from a peak in early September of over 300 infections per 100,000 people.
Infection rates, however, still remain higher in Central and Eastern Washington. Ferry, Grant, Klickitat and Garfield counties, which have the highest seven-day rates in the state, continue to report more than 300 infections per 100,000 people.
Statewide, hospitalizations have been decreasing for the past several weeks. At the beginning of October, epidemiologists recorded a seven-day rate of 11 hospitalizations per 100,000 people — close to where the state was at the peak of last winter’s surge — Department of Health data shows.
Still, health officials are urging the public not to ease up on mitigation efforts, especially as the holiday season, often filled with large celebrations and indoor gatherings, approaches.
“Disease trends are absolutely showing improvement, but because they remain high it’s important for us to continue to stay vigilant with the work we’re doing,” Shah said.
Inslee added, “All I can say is to the people who are frustrated, we can’t give a finish line on this today, but … that finish line gets closer if you get vaccinated. So help us out here. Let’s get through this.”