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Are you confused yet? If so, you’re not alone. The Omicron surge has impacted our community in so many ways that it’s hard to keep it all straight. What’s the latest on testing? How long are we expected to isolate if we test positive? When can we get back to work? What’s required to return? Which masks are we supposed to wear? And what about the sub-variant we’ve been hearing about?

With everything changing so fast, you’re not expected to stay up to date on the latest guidance and protocols. I encourage you to take a look at our COVID-19 policy intranet (the yellow triangle icon on your desktop is a quick link) or contact Employee Health for answers to your questions and support. These teams have played a pivotal role in the drive to reduce infections and keep all of us at UW Medicine safe as we focus on providing care for our patients and community. I’m so grateful for all they do.

In keeping with that theme, our efforts seem to be paying off. We’re seeing welcome signs that we are on the other side of the Omicron peak with positive COVID-19 cases continuing the downward trend for both employees and patients.

UW Medicine COVID-19 Activity Summary

Local/National/Global Epidemiology

King County: Public Health – Seattle & King County is reporting 330,895 total cases and 2,311 deaths as of Thursday, Jan. 27. The number of new positive tests is currently at 1,072.8/7 days/100,000 people (community transmission level = high).

Washington: The Department of Health reports 1,257,918 cases and 10,580 deaths as of Jan. 25.

United States: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 561,181 new cases, 72,874,041 total COVID-19 cases and 873,957 deaths as of Jan. 27.

Global: The WHO COVID-19 Dashboard reports 360,578,392 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 5,620,865 deaths as of Jan. 27.

Across the region, COVID-19 hospitalizations remain stable. Hoping to maintain this stability, UW Medicine partnered with Public Health – Seattle & King County, as part of a health system collaboration, on an urgent plea to the public, asking our communities to do their part to help reduce pressure on hospitals, so we can provide essential care for those who need it. Again, it seems to be working. The steps we have taken in the hospitals, including the use of respirators by healthcare workers, earlier surveillance of inpatients, and the temporary hold on visitation, have also increased the safety of our clinical environments. This shows that the steps we’ve taken to keep ourselves and others safe and healthy are paying off.

Let’s continue the trend. With both the federal government and the state of Washington offering free tests, we have another tool in our effort to reduce uncertainty and prevent further spread. For guidance on how to use antigen tests at home, here is advice from our own Dr. Geoff Baird. This is a good opportunity to remind everyone that the PCR tests continue to be the most sensitive test for detecting COVID infections, so if you can make it to one of the sites for testing, please continue to do so. Also remember that a negative antigen test doesn’t definitively mean you don’t have COVID-19. So, if you have symptoms consider either getting a PCR test or repeating your antigen test.

You can order your free tests here:

You can also learn more about how to use the tests on the CDC website and on this video.

While there’s been a lot of confusion around testing, including whether PCR tests are needed after a positive antigen test, I think the strongest guidance we can offer is this: if you get a positive result on an antigen test, assume you have COVID-19 and act accordingly. You’ll help reduce the spread of the virus while giving your body a chance to recover.

I hope I’ve given you the resources you need to find answers to your questions, as they come up. While confusion is understandable, awareness and knowledge are keys to beating this disease once and for all. Remember that if you get COVID-19, it isn’t your fault, and you shouldn’t feel badly. Please let Employee Health know about any exposures and infections so that they can help you. And if you’re wondering about that Omicron sub-variant or looking for answers to the questions we opened this message with, please tune in to this week’s Town Hall on Friday, January 28 at 3 p.m. to learn more.


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