Skip to main content

As we head into the holiday season, it feels like we are back where we were in the spring. The number of new cases is rising very quickly, and we are seeing more and more patients in clinics and emergency departments and being admitted to our hospitals. There are some important differences, however. We have much greater access to testing; we know more about how to take care of patients with COVID-19 safely; and we know what we can do, again, to flatten the curve.

Also unlike the spring, the holidays over the next six weeks are typically associated with people gathering together indoors. How everyone celebrates these occasions will have a significant impact on the number of people with new infections and hospitalizations. With Thanksgiving and Native American Heritage Day next week, COVID-19 numbers surging and Gov. Inslee’s new statewide restrictions in place, I know various questions are on everyone’s minds: How is this holiday season going to work? How do I ensure the health and safety of my family, friends and community? Will things get worse before they get better?

We certainly don’t have all the answers. What we do know is that we can continue to do what we know works to protect public health in our state and ensure that hospital systems like our own are not overwhelmed. This comes with some careful decisions and an acceptance that the holidays this year will not – and cannot – be the same in order to slow the spread of rapidly increasing COVID-19-related cases and hospitalizations. The big, festive indoor holiday gatherings and crowded dinner tables will have to hold off until next year.

You may have close friends or family who are not as close to the reality of how quickly and dangerously this virus is spreading. As I’ve mentioned before, some of us are looking at the COVID-19 numbers on a daily basis. Since that’s not necessarily typical practice for everyone else, I encourage you to share these weekly all-employee messages, data trends and the Town Hall recordings with others outside of UW Medicine. Hopefully, this broader distribution of information will help shed light on the severity of this pandemic – so that together we can alleviate the situation before it gets worse.

My message this week highlights the governor’s latest guidance to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, provides an update on UW Medicine’s new travel policy and includes links to helpful online resources.

Updates for today:

  • UW Medicine COVID-19 Activity Summary
  • Local/National/Global Epidemiology
  • New Washington State Restrictions
  • Updated Travel Policy
  • Links to Online Resources and Testing Survey Downtime

UW Medicine COVID-19 Activity Summary

data chart

Local/National/Global Epidemiology

King County: Public Health – Seattle & King County is reporting 35,993 total cases and 834 deaths as of Nov. 18. Approximately 3.6% of all tests performed are positive, and the number of new positive tests is currently at 294/14 days/100,000 people. As of Nov. 18, the effective reproductive (Re) number was estimated to be 1.4 (estimate range: 1.1-1.8).

Washington: The Department of Health reports 135,424 cases and 2,592 deaths as of Nov. 18. Of the 2,835,472 people who have been tested, 4.8% have been positive.

United States: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 165,000+ new cases on Thursday, Nov. 19, 11,465,722 total COVID-19 cases and 249,670 deaths.

Global: The WHO COVID-19 Dashboard reports 56,623,643 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 1,3554,963 deaths.

New Washington State Restrictions

This week, Gov. Inslee announced modifications to the Washington state “Stay Safe – Stay Healthy” order, effective through Monday, Dec. 14. With the holiday season and colder weather, key regulations to note include:

  • Indoor social gatherings with people from outside your household are prohibited unless they quarantine for 14 days before the social gathering.
  • Outdoor social gatherings should be limited to five people from outside your household. Ideally this remains the same five people any time an outdoor gathering occurs.

The governor’s full list of updated statewide restrictions is posted here.

Updated Travel Policy

As was announced yesterday, UW Medicine is restricting work-related travel for all employees due to the significant increase in COVID-19 cases locally and nationally. These restrictions include travel for conferences and meetings related to professional membership societies and associations as well as meetings or gatherings related to grants.

UW Medicine also strongly discourages non-essential personal travel, including for the holidays. For more details, please see the recommendations from Governor Inslee and the UW: Inslee issues travel advisory for Washington and New state health restrictions and travel recommendations.

Links to Online Resource and Testing Survey Downtime

If you are looking for the UW Medicine Employee COVID-19 Testing Survey, please use this link: I recommend that you bookmark it or forward this email to your personal email so it is always accessible. Note the testing survey will be unavailable from 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 20, until 1 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 21, for a critical upgrade. During this brief period, you will not be able to take the survey, which is required prior to scheduling an appointment for COVID-19 PCR testing.

You can also find this link, along with the UW Medicine COVID-19 Treatment Guidelines and all of the COVID-19 policies and protocols, at

I know I’ve said it countless times, but I can’t say it enough: We can get through this together. Thank you for everything you’re doing, and have done over the last many months, to support each other, our patients and community during this relentless pandemic. I’d like to highlight that we all received some very encouraging news this week about two vaccines that are being evaluated for widespread use. Both research teams reported greater than 90% efficacy, which is incredible. These new tools have the potential to change the course of the pandemic. Setting goals is helpful for me, so I am focusing on the possibility of having a vaccine available for healthcare workers in the coming months and what we need to do to get there as safely as possible.

I will pick up my weekly update the week after the holiday. Until then, l hope you find time to relax a bit and connect with family and friends (remotely!). Take advantage of sunbreaks to get outdoors. Check in with each other. Let’s keep focused on the reward of a “normal” holiday season next year when we can look forward to spending time with our extended families and friends in person again.


John Lynch, MD, MPH
Medical Director, Infection Prevention & Control
Associate Medical Director, Harborview Medical Center
Division of Allergy & Infectious Diseases, UW School of Medicine