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The safety of every UW Medicine patient, staff, trainee and faculty member is our top priority. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rapidly evolve and new information becomes available, we have carefully considered the optimal strategies to ensure the safety of our patients and workforce, anticipating short and long-term needs. We have also heard your concerns and want our workforce to feel safe and confident as they continue to respond to this pandemic.

Last night, we began a roll-out of extended-use masking for healthcare workers at UW Medicine. We began in the Emergency Departments with plans to then expand to other clinical areas over the next 24 hours. The planned schedule is as follows:

  • Last night: We began roll-out in UW Medicine Emergency Departments.
  • This morning: Receive feedback on mask utilization, implementation, and staff safety from ED team.
  • Later today: Front door screeners, security, nutrition and food services, and all hospital units and clinics.

Why have we decided to transition to allow extended-use masking of healthcare workers?

We are continuing to learn new information as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves and are foremost focused on the safety of our healthcare workers. Currently, there is widespread community transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in our area. While COVID-19 is predominantly spread by large respiratory droplets produced when a person coughs or sneezes, we are learning that patients may be infected without having symptoms or prior to developing symptoms. Sometimes these symptoms can be mild leading to a delay in recognition in both ourselves and our patients.

We have heard your concerns and understand that many staff and clinicians are uncomfortable coming to work without additional personal protective equipment (PPE). We want our healthcare workers to feel safe and confident as they continue to respond to this pandemic. This change is made based on the continued expansion of the local COVID-19 epidemic and is contingent on our ability to maintain adequate PPE supplies. Please note that the ability to receive additional supplies of masks is not assured, and all staff are entrusted with thoughtful and judicious use of their masks as part of our PPE conservation strategy.

We are reassured that so far only 4.4% of all symptomatic UW Medicine employees, out of over 2,000 individuals, have tested positive for COVID-19 compared to 9.8% of all patients tested in the UW Clinical Virology Lab. We will continue to do all we can to support a safe work environment for our employees and appreciate your continued input and partnership.

Here are some key points to think about as you prepare for optional extended-use masking:

  • Each healthcare worker who decides to wear a mask outside of direct patient care will be issued a single procedure mask at the beginning of their shift. These masks will be worn for the duration of the shift.
  • A mask will be worn continuously unless it becomes wet or soiled.
  • When interacting with patients on droplet/contact precautions, a face shield should be worn to protect your eyes and the mask.
  • Masks should always cover the nose and chin when worn.
  • Hand hygiene must be done before and after touching your mask.
  • Your mask should be stored in a clean and dry place when eating or drinking.
  • For all, whether masked or not, there will be no more eating or drinking in patient care areas or within 6 feet of another person.

As we prepare for a surge in patients over the next several weeks, we will continue to learn and make adjustments to our policies for your safety and the well-being of our patients. For more information, please read our UW Medicine Extended-Use Masking Policy.

Thank you for all of your contributions to our difficult and vital response to the COVID-19 pandemic.


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

Santiago Neme, MD, MPH
Medical Director
UWMC – Northwest Campus
Division of Allergy & Infectious Diseases
UW School of Medicine

Chloe Bryson-Cahn, MD
Assoc. Medical Director, Infection Prevention
Harborview Medical Center
Division of Allergy & Infectious Diseases
UW School of Medicine

Seth A. Cohen, MD, MSc
Medical Director, Infection Prevention
UWMC – Northwest Campus
Division of Allergy & Infectious Diseases
UW School of Medicine