What a momentous week it has been. Yesterday, vaccine advisers to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officially endorsed emergency use authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine in the United States. Once the FDA approves this recommendation, expected tonight or tomorrow, we should have our initial allotment of doses on site at UW Medicine by early next week. For months, this is the news we have been waiting for and it’s finally arriving.
An additional milestone took place in our UW Medicine community earlier today when we opened registration for COVID-19 vaccination to the first group of eligible employees (which we are referring to as Priority Group 1). Managers of these group members have now received information to share with their teams on the scheduling and declination process and other logistics. Priority Group 1 was selected based on highest exposure risk and includes: units that regularly provide care for patients with COVID-19 (nurses, environmental services, providers, therapists, other staff); emergency departments (RNs, providers, environmental services, therapists, flight crew, respiratory urgent care staff, other staff); COVID-19 testing sites, labs and vaccination staff; and COVID-19 screeners and safety officers.
Vaccinations will start Thursday, Dec. 17 and we expect scheduling for the next group of employees to launch early next week. Priority Group 2 will receive separate notification when it is their time to register. For additional information on Priority Groups 1 and 2 and the vaccine delivery process, please see the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) and continue to submit your vaccine-related questions to email@example.com. Both priority groups are part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Phase 1a group for earliest administration of the first dose of the vaccine.
Amidst the excitement of these advances, we are unfortunately also seeing the numbers of positive COVID-19 cases continue to gradually rise in our state. Our current number of inpatients with COVID-19 is comparable to the peak we experienced in the early stages of the pandemic this spring. Even with a vaccine in place, it is absolutely critical that we maintain the health and safety guidelines of masking and physical distancing to avoid more infections. We talked a lot about flattening the curve in the spring, and the same goal is true now. Every action we can take to prevent transmissions is vital.
Below is a snapshot of the latest local, state, national and global data. I encourage you to review and share broadly to help build awareness on the work still ahead of us around infection prevention and control. My message today also announces new Respiratory Urgent Care Clinics opening next week at three UW Neighborhood Clinic sites. Read on for more information.
UW Medicine COVID-19 Activity Summary
King County: Public Health – Seattle & King County is reporting 51,671 total cases and 920 deaths as of Thursday, Dec. 10. The number of new positive tests is currently at 417/14 days/100,000 people. As of Dec. 10, the effective reproductive (Re) number was estimated to be 1.2 (estimate range: 1.0-1.4).
Washington: The Department of Health reports 192,413 cases and 2,850 deaths as of Wednesday, Dec. 9. Of the 3,256,838 people who have been tested, 5.9% have been positive.
United States: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 203,229 new cases on Friday, Dec. 11, 15,474,800 total COVID-19 cases and 291,522 deaths.
Global: The WHO COVID-19 Dashboard as of Dec. 11 reports 69,143,017 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 1,576,516 deaths.
Respiratory Urgent Care Clinics Opening Dec. 15
Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, we pivoted from in-person visits to telehealth for many of our patients, including those with respiratory ailments. As we continue to see a surge in COVID-19 positive cases and other respiratory problems, the UW Neighborhood Clinics have retooled three Urgent Care Clinics to focus specifically on diagnosing and treating symptomatic respiratory patients who are not ill enough for emergency room care, but who would benefit from an in-person visit.
These Respiratory Urgent Care Clinics (RUCC) will be fully operational starting on Tuesday, Dec. 15. Patients can self-refer or be triaged to these clinics through the Contact Center, nurse triage or by clinic staff. Open seven days a week, these clinics offer a great service to our symptomatic patients while protecting non-respiratory patients in our clinics from possible COVID-19 exposure. More information will be available on Monday, Dec. 14, at UW Medicine Urgent Care.
I know there are many questions now and more to come over the coming days and weeks about the vaccine. There is also some anxiety about not knowing exactly when everyone in our community will have their turn for vaccination. Even I don’t know yet when I’ll receive the vaccine, but I plan on getting scheduled as soon as I am eligible. Please rest assured that our teams are moving as quickly as possible to ensure equitable, safe and efficient access to the vaccine as supply becomes available.
During this pandemic we have made great progress as a healthcare community, and for that I am so grateful. Still, we cannot lose sight of the fact that we may face even tougher days ahead. We will need to maintain the courage and strength that has kept us going over the previous nine months. Thank you for your patience and collaboration as we continue to fight the spread of COVID-19.
John Lynch, MD, MPH
Medical Director, Infection Prevention & Control
Associate Medical Director, Harborview Medical Center
Division of Allergy & Infectious Diseases, UW School of Medicine