As we approach the end of the year, the COVID-19 pandemic and our response to it continues to present a mix of news. The UW Medicine rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines is off to a great start with over 4,500 healthcare workers vaccinated since the end of last week, and we now have supplies of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. The Moderna vaccine has undergone the same rigorous testing for safety and efficacy, and we have equal confidence in both vaccines.
We also heard this week about newly described strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the United Kingdom and in the Republic of South Africa. Both strains have potential implications for disease transmission and vaccine development. Locally, the number of COVID-19 patients in UW Medicine hospitals has decreased over the past two weeks, but overall remains at high levels. Nationally, the number of cases continues to surge, and the impact of holiday travel and celebrations remains to be seen.
Today’s update includes:
- Local/National/Global Epidemiology
- COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout at UW Medicine
- New Virus Strain Discovered in United Kingdom and the Republic of South Africa
- UW Medicine – Post-COVID Clinic
UW Medicine COVID-19 Activity Summary
King County: Public Health – Seattle & King County is reporting 58,750 total cases and 1,022 deaths as of Wednesday, Dec. 23. The number of new positive tests is currently at 365/14 days/100,000 people, and the effective reproductive (Re) number is estimated to be 1.2 (estimate range: 1.0-1.4).
Washington: The Department of Health reports 221,695 cases and 3,162 deaths as of Tuesday, Dec. 22. Of the 3,620,650 people who have been tested, 6.1% have been positive.
United States: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 195,759 new cases on Wednesday, Dec. 23, 18,170,062 total COVID-19 cases and 321,734 deaths.
Global: The WHO COVID-19 Dashboard reports 77,228,903 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 1,718,470 deaths as of Dec. 24.
COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout at UW Medicine: I want to thank the UW Medicine COVID-19 Vaccine Team for their amazing work over the last few weeks to make giving this vaccine to so many people a reality. As of Wednesday night, we have vaccinated more than 3,700 employees and 800 community partners. Many more are now signed up to get vaccinated in the coming weeks. We expect that every member of Priority Group 1 will be able to receive their first dose in the next month.
More good news this week came in the form of 9,500 doses of the Moderna vaccine and a second shipment of the Pfizer vaccine. With two vaccines now available, we have accelerated our schedule by sending notifications to Priority Group 2, Wave 1. This group includes the following job classifications:
- Remainder of patient-facing inpatient staff and providers, including those not tied to specific units (i.e., pharmacy, nursing, phlebotomy, physical and occupational therapy, nutrition, food services).
- Remainder of EVS staff working in clinical areas.
- Cafeteria staff.
- UW Medicine ambulatory clinic patient-facing staff and providers.
- Remainder of UW residents and fellows working directly with patients and assigned to clinical service.
- Remainder of UW faculty working directly with patients and assigned to clinical service.
Please see the COVID-19 Vaccination Priority Groupings for UW Medicine Employees for additional information on who is included in each priority group and the timing of notifications. We also ask that you do not share your invitation to help people get vaccinated sooner. The vaccine will be offered to all employees based on availability and priority groupings to assure a transparent and equitable process and safe environment.
Beginning this Saturday, Dec. 26, the Moderna vaccine will be offered primarily at Harborview Medical Center and UW Medical Center – Northwest. The Pfizer vaccine will continue to be offered at UW Medical Center – Montlake and Valley Medical Center. While the sites will follow this protocol for first-dose vaccinations, all sites will have both vaccines available so that your second dose is always from the same manufacturer as your first.
Please continue to send questions about vaccines to firstname.lastname@example.org. In addition to addressing many questions at our town halls, we are working to reply individually as quickly as possible. You may also find answers to your questions in these FAQs on The Huddle: COVID-19 Vaccine Safety Q&A for Providers and Frequently Asked Questions About COVID-19 Vaccines for Employees. If you are being asked about vaccination by non-UW Medicine healthcare workers, please ask them to contact the vaccination team at email@example.com.
New Virus Strain Discovered in United Kingdom and the Republic of South Africa: Since it is natural for viruses to mutate, the new strains that were described this week are not unexpected. While it appears that these strains may have a higher rate of transmission, it is too early to know if they lead to more severe infections or if current vaccines will need to be adjusted to provide protection from them. The UW Medicine Virology Lab and other UW Medicine scientists are looking for these strains, and they have not yet been detected locally. More importantly, we know what we can do to prevent the transmission of these strains: masking, physical distancing and staying home when ill.
UW Medicine – Post-COVID Clinic: The Department of Rehabilitation Medicine has established a clinic at Harborview for patients who are medically stable after a COVID-19 infection, but who have ongoing physical, functional, cognitive, and/or mental health impairments. The clinic can also help patients with pain and fatigue symptoms that fall within the domain of rehabilitation. It will coordinate care with other clinics, as needed.
For provider referrals, please indicate “POST-COVID CLINIC” in the referral reason and detail the impairments and symptoms the patient is experiencing. Patients can also self-refer if they feel that they meet the criteria of post-COVID-19 infection.
Our progress in the fight against COVID-19 continues to be challenged, but I am confident that we are on the right track. We have the tools needed to protect each other while we wait to achieve population-level immunity from vaccinations: wear masks, maintain physical distancing and avoid large indoor gatherings. Please keep up the amazing work!
I wish you the best of the holiday season and a healthy new year!
John Lynch, MD, MPH
Medical Director, Infection Prevention & Control
Associate Medical Director, Harborview Medical Center
Division of Allergy & Infectious Diseases, UW School of Medicine