We have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic for nearly eight months now, and there are certainly days when 2020 seems like the year that never ends. I know we are all feeling the COVID exhaustion from the challenges everyone is facing. As people are seeking connection and some-level of normalcy, we’re seeing more people engaging in risky behaviors — in the workplace and in the community — that can increase the spread of the coronavirus. I struggle with this like many of us.
Today, we announced that an outbreak of COVID-19 occurred on one of the units at Harborview this month. As of Oct. 15, 10 staff have tested positive and are in isolation. In an abundance of caution an additional group of 30 individuals have been placed in a 14-day quarantine because of exposure to those who have tested positive. Four patients who have been in the medical center in excess of two weeks on the 7 East Surgical Unit have also tested positive, and we are saddened that one of these patients has subsequently died.
It has become clear from our investigation that this virus was spread among patients and staff because of gaps in adherence to our prevention practices. We must do better. UW Medicine plays an outsized role in serving the overall healthcare needs of our region and we are leading the effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19. It is critical that we continue to double-down on our prevention methods and do all we can to protect our patients and co-workers by strictly following our safety policies and procedures:
- Wear a mask or face covering at all times — in patient rooms, at nursing stations, in breakrooms and while walking down the hallway. If your mask is off, you should be more than 6 feet away from another person. You cannot eat within 6 feet of another person who isn’t wearing a mask.
- Wear eye protection when providing any patient care. If this is hard to remember to do, consider leaving your eye protection on between patients.
- If you are sick — even with mild symptoms — please arrange testing for COVID-19 and do not come to work. If you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, do not come to work until you have talked to the Employee Health Exposure Team at your workplace.
- Reinforce with visitors that they must always wear masks, even when in a patient room. If they do not wear a mask, let your supervisor or manager know immediately.
- Visitors cannot come and go into a patient room —once they leave a patient’s room, they must leave the hospital.
- Patients will not be allowed to go outside or to visit the cafeteria without a hospital staff escort.
- If anyone is not properly masked, say something. We are all under some stress and can forget, so a kind reminder that their mask has slipped down can be helpful. If that doesn’t work, find a supervisor who will address the issue.
The hospitals reviewed current visiting hours to help minimize the numbers of individuals in our facilities. Based on this review, we will begin limiting visiting hours at Harborview to 2-6 p.m., effective Monday, October 19, and will continue monitoring best practices at all our other hospitals and clinics. We recognize the importance of families and friends in the recovery of our patients; however, the danger of COVID-19 transmission is real. Until there is a reliable vaccine, we must continue to find new ways to prevent transmission, be cautious and protect our patients and staff.
Despite this very real COVID exhaustion, I appreciate your commitment to making safe decisions, with our patients always in mind. Let me know what I can do to help or if you have ideas on how to improve the safety of our facilities. I recognize that in these messages I have called on you many times over the last year to continue to work together as a community against the pandemic and I am asking yet again. It is only by sticking with the basics — masks, eye protection, staying home when ill — will we continue to get through this safely. And, by doing so, we will return to the activities and people we miss so much.
John Lynch, MD, MPH
Medical Director, Infection Prevention & Control
Associate Medical Director, Harborview Medical Center
Division of Allergy & Infectious Diseases, UW School of Medicine