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I’d like to start by posing a question for everyone this week. Where do you think we should go from here? Key indicators of COVID-19 activity are again headed in the wrong direction in King County. We have at least another week in Phase 3 of Governor Inslee’s Healthy Washington: Roadmap to Recovery plan, and if current trends hold, it’s going to be hard for the county to stay there.

When King County is evaluated on May 3, there’s a growing chance we’ll be returned to the more restrictive Phase 2 that limits businesses and restaurants to 25% capacity. This happened last week to our neighbors in Pierce County, as well as those living in Cowlitz and Whitman Counties.

To avoid the rollback, King County must have either a two-week new case rate of less than 200 per 100,000 residents or a one-week hospitalization rate of less than five per 100,000. Right now, we meet the second standard (4.6 per 100k) but exceed the first (213.7 per 100k) — although neither statistic is trending in our favor. In King County, our COVID-19 hospitalization rate stands at 16 admissions per day. At UW Medicine, 56 patients are hospitalized with COVID-19 today; most are younger adults in their 20s through 50s.

The prevalence of more transmissible viral variants of concern is certainly a contributing factor, but with everyone 16 and older now eligible for the vaccine — and more people achieving full vaccination every day — reducing the spread comes down to personal and collective responsibility. We all have a role to play in ending this pandemic. Together, we can help make that happen, but we must maintain our discipline when it comes to masking, physical distancing and avoiding large indoor gatherings. I’ve said it before, but it still rings true: now is not the time to relax. We have done the work and made the sacrifices for the last 15 months; the promise of a highly-vaccinated population and all of the normalcy that will bring is so close.

If you can, get outside. We know COVID-19 is most easily spread indoors through close contact aerosol transmission. The warm spring weather this week offered a nice reminder of the natural beauty that surrounds us and the plentiful opportunities we have to enjoy nature. And what better way to close out Earth Week than a renewed focus on the outdoors? I know not everyone can or wants to spend time outside, but being outdoors can mean visiting a local park, taking a walk around the block or heading to the trails.

It might not seem like much after a year of living under COVID-19, but even a small act can make a big difference. You can do your part by sharing UW Medicine vaccine information with your friends and family, getting the vaccine (and letting everyone know it!), encouraging those close to you to do the same and maintaining the safety protocols we know work — even after you are fully vaccinated. This is the best way we know to show care for our patients and each other.

Today’s update includes:

• Local/National/Global Epidemiology
• Vaccination Summary
• Variants of Concern on the Rise
• New Vaccination Clinic in Shoreline
• Inpatient Visitor Policy on Hold

UW Medicine COVID-19 Activity Summary

Marketo_Inpatient Census 4.23.21

Local/National/Global Epidemiology

King County: Public Health – Seattle & King County is reporting 95,062 total cases and 1,500 deaths as of Thursday, April 22. The number of new positive tests is currently at 213.7/14 days/100,000 people. The effective reproductive (Re) number was estimated to be 1.3 (estimate range: 0.8 – 1.7).

Washington: The Department of Health reports 363,840 confirmed cases and 5,428 deaths as of April 21. Of the 6,369,809 people who have been tested, 5.7% have been positive.

United States: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 62,827 new cases, 31,666,546 total COVID-19 cases and 566,494 deaths as of April 22.

Global: The WHO COVID-19 Dashboard reports 144,358,956 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 3,066,113 deaths as of April 23.

UW Medicine Vaccination Summary as of April 22

Marketo_Vaccination Table 4.23.21

*Total Doses Given: 235,751. Site numbers represent total doses administered to employees, patients and community members.

Variants of Concern on the Rise

5 Marketo_VOC 4.22.21

* Chart shows increase in SARS-CoV-2 variants in a subset of positive samples collected from all SARS-CoV-2 PCR collection locations served by the UW Medicine Virology Lab.

One of the main reasons for our rising COVID-19 case count is the increasing prevalence of viral variants of concern (VOCs).These strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus are concerning because they have a collection of mutations that make them easier to transmit and to resist the immune responses of people who have already had COVID-19. We saw what happened in the U.K. and other parts of the world when these variants emerged: more cases of COVID-19.

As of this week, more than 75% of the cases and hospitalizations in King County are attributable to these variants, the majority of which are the strains first described in the UK (B117) and in California (B1429 and B1427). The good news is that the vaccines we are using are very effective against these variants. The spread of these variants adds urgency to our vaccination efforts and makes it even more important to continue following proven safety protocols.

New Vaccination Clinic in Shoreline

We’re excited to launch a new COVID-19 vaccination site in Shoreline. The UW Medicine North King County Vaccination Clinic will open April 27 at Shoreline Center (18560 1st Ave. NE, Shoreline, WA 98155) and be operated in partnership with several local fire departments. The clinic will begin taking appointments next week through the UW Medicine vaccine scheduling system with the goal of administering up to 1,000 doses per day.

Inpatient Visitor Policy Update on Hold

A quick note to let you know that the planned update of the inpatient visitor policy to allow one or two visitors per patient is on hold until the number of cases in the community and in the hospitals decreases. We will update the UW Medicine community when the decision is made to implement the change.

While we are experiencing an unfortunate increase in COVID-19 activity, we also must recognize the tremendous weight of recent events in our country that highlight the structural injustices continuing to plague our communities. This inequity is an issue, too, in the COVID-19 transmission data and vaccine distribution. We cannot ignore it or simply move on. This week marked another reminder of the importance of listening to and engaging thoughtfully with each other on racial justice and equity. Check in on your colleagues, listen and keep the discussion going.

Thank you, as always, for all that you do in service of our patients and in commitment to progress.

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