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Over the last couple of weeks, we have heard and learned a lot about the COVID-19 delta variant. Many of the reports, including one about an outbreak in Provincetown, Mass., have focused on how many vaccinated people were infected with COVID. What many of these reports forget to highlight are two important points:

  1. Getting infected with COVID after vaccination continues to be rare.
  2. Among those vaccinated people who do get infected, serious illness and death are extremely rare.

According to the CDC report, of the 346 fully vaccinated persons who tested positive in Provincetown, only four were hospitalized and none died. The message I see is that the vaccines (J&J, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna) are working very well. This is exactly what health officials have been saying for months — that the vaccines not only reduce your likelihood of contracting the virus, they all but eliminate your risk of dying or becoming seriously ill with COVID-19.

The goal of last week’s updated guidance from the CDC on masking was to further reduce the risk of transmission in settings where vaccinated and unvaccinated people are together. This update was, in part, a result of the information gained from the Provincetown outbreak. Until everyone has equitable access to vaccination and rates are low, we should stick with what we know interrupts transmission: vaccination, masks, physical distancing, staying home when ill (and getting tested, even if vaccinated) and improving ventilation. This is especially important in areas with substantial or high transmission, including King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties.

So, I’ll say it again: get vaccinated. Don’t delay. If you have been exposed or are experiencing symptoms, you should get tested immediately. You can find details on how to do that on our employee testing quick reference guide. And wear a mask in public indoor spaces or in any crowded situation when you don’t know the vaccination status of those around you.

Together, these powerful tools will speed our progress out of the pandemic.

UW Medicine COVID-19 Activity Summary

Local/National/Global Epidemiology

King County: Public Health – Seattle & King County is reporting 114,396 total confirmed cases and 1,690 deaths as of Thursday, Aug. 5. The number of new positive tests is currently at 82.7/7 days/100,000 people (community transmission level = substantial). The effective reproductive (Re) number was estimated to be 2.0 (estimate range: 1.0-3.1).

Washington: The Department of Health reports 440,759 confirmed cases and 6,145 deaths as of Aug. 3. Of the 8,391,941 people who have been tested, 5.25% have been positive.

United States: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 103,455 new cases, 35,286,935 total COVID-19 cases and 612,386 deaths as of Aug. 4.

Global: The WHO COVID-19 Dashboard reports 200,174,883 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 4,255,892 deaths as of Aug. 5.

UW Medicine Vaccination Summary as of Aug. 3

*Site numbers show the number of employees, patients and community members who received vaccines at each site and the total number of first and second doses administered.

In closing, I want to address a question I’ve received a lot lately. That is, when will the pandemic end? When will we know it is over? I understand the fatigue. I know we can all relate to the feeling. My best answer to that question is when we have equitable access to the vaccine, meaning everybody, including children younger than 12, can be vaccinated, and not until transmission rates slow worldwide. By those measures, we still have work to do. But we are making progress, and the way forward is clear. We can do it if we all work together.


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