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Two weeks into the new year, one thing is clear: COVID-19 is everywhere. With the highly transmissible Omicron variant making its way through our community, it’s likely that every workplace and even every household will be affected in some capacity. Even those of us who have done everything right — from getting the vaccines and the booster shot to taking every precaution — can still get infected. If you test positive for COVID-19, you should feel no shame. It’s reached the point where exposure is almost impossible to avoid.

This brings me back to a constant refrain in these weekly updates: please get your booster shot. We’re seeing the difference the boosters make every day, with fewer infections, those infected reporting mild symptoms, and few requiring hospitalizations. The vaccines, especially in conjunction with the booster shots, continue to provide outstanding protection.

Speaking of slowing virus transmission, I urge you to get tested if you’re experiencing symptoms. The Omicron variant has already surpassed the Delta variant in terms of infections, and that number continues to climb. As of now, the positive test rate within the community is at 30 percent, and the positive test rate among UW Medicine staff is nearly 20 percent. Awareness of infection — and yes, the vaccine/booster combo is so effective that you may not know you’re positive — is a crucial step in allowing us to slow the surge. There may come a time when testing is even more limited for the public, and we’ll ask people to stay home and not get tested with symptoms, but we are not there yet.

Today’s update also includes:

  • Local/National/Global Epidemiology
  • Employee and Family COVID-19 Testing
  • Respirators and Fit testing
  • Visitor Policy Update
  • COVID-19 Treatment and Therapeutics

UW Medicine COVID-19 Activity Summary

Local/National/Global Epidemiology

King County: Public Health – Seattle & King County is reporting 264,207 total confirmed cases and 2,220 deaths as of Thursday, Jan. 13. The number of new positive tests is currently at 1,825.5/7 days/100,000 people (community transmission level = high).

Washington: The Department of Health reports 1,009,187 total cases and 10,103 deaths as of Jan. 11.

United States: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 797,216 new cases, 62,538,796 total cases and 840,286 deaths as of Jan. 12.

Global: The WHO COVID-19 Dashboard reports 315,345,967 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 5,510,174 deaths as of Jan. 13.

Employee and Family COVID-19 Testing

We encourage all employees and families to be tested if you have symptoms or believe you have been exposed to COVID-19. You and your family can access information about how to schedule a COVID-19 test by visiting Employee Resources on the website and clicking on the COVID-19 Testing Access quick link. Testing is easy and helps slow transmission of the virus. The Virology Lab has been working incredibly hard to decrease turnaround time for results, and it is better this week, but please be aware that getting results may take longer than in the past. Access for testing household members at the UW Medical Center – Northwest and Harborview test sites is also much better this week, but still may not be available on the same day.

Respirators and Fit Testing

Given the current situation, we continue to require all Harborview personnel (staff, trainees, faculty) involved in direct patient care to use an N95 respirator in clinical care spaces. UW Medical Center and UW Neighborhood Clinic personnel doing direct patient care are recommended to wear an N95, KN95, or KN94. Fit-tested N95 respirators are ideal, but if you are not fit tested, use the best fitting N95 respirator available. We still encourage those who do not provide direct patient care to use a respirator, or the highest-level mask tolerated, as well, until we see infection rates decrease. And we are in the process of ramping up our fit-testing capabilities to allow people to use other mask models and to manage supply and demand. If you are involved in patient care, please call Employee Health to make an appointment for fit testing.

Visitor Policy Update

With the current high census and the increased case rate of Omicron in the region, effective today, UW Medical Center and Harborview Medical Center are temporarily restricting all routine visitation in our hospitals. We will be revisiting this decision regularly and will reopen visitation with stricter vaccination and testing protocols that better reflect Omicron.

COVID-19 Treatment and Therapeutics

The therapeutics team, led by Rupali Jain, PharmD, Shireesha Dhanireddy, MD, and Santiago Neme, MD, continue to work hard to connect patients to treatment. The newer drugs (Sotrovimab, Evusheld, and Paxlovid) continue to be in very short supply, and the team is focused on rapid, equitable and appropriate access. For more information on therapeutics and referral for treatment, please go to the UW Medicine COVID-19 Resource site. Patients can find more information at UW Medicine Treatments and Therapeutics.

With our Emergency Operations Center operating at high level of activation and major developments seeming to come through daily, we are increasing our all-staff communications to keep you better informed. Beginning this week, you will receive surge updates every Tuesday and Friday (the first is planned for this Friday), and this message will come from me on Thursdays.

In addition to the email updates, we will continue to provide up-to-the-minute info at our Town Halls. The next is scheduled for this Friday, January 14, at 3 p.m. I hope you will join us.

In closing, with the Omicron variant raging, I want to say again that many of us may test positive. While COVID-19 — and its many variants — is a formidable foe, we are seeing proof every day that it’s not unbeatable. With your commitment and resilience, we’ll get through this and be stronger for it.

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