Skip to main content

You may have received a message from the University of Washington from Dr. Geoffrey Gottlieb and me discussing the importance of practicing all of the safety measures that we know prevent the spread of COVID-19. I am reiterating that message below and sharing some insight into the numbers we are seeing in our community, how UW Medicine is responding to local outbreaks and an update from our Vulnerable Populations Task Force.

When we started on this pandemic journey back in January, I did not imagine that we would still be dealing with COVID-19, at least at this level, in July. It’s been a long six months for everyone. While we have seen a downward trend in new cases and admissions in Western Washington in June and UW Medicine hospitals remain well below the high we saw at the peak of the pandemic in Seattle, the number of new cases in the community is beginning to creep up. More concerning is the significant increase in new diagnoses in King County over the last week. The City of Seattle testing sites on Aurora Avenue and in SODO are working at capacity to keep up, and one of the UW Medicine testing vans is reporting a large number of new cases in the Auburn area. We are seeing increased numbers in adults between 20 and 40 years of age and a continuing, disproportionate impact on the Hispanic and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander communities. As much as we want this to be over, it is not going away any time soon.

As a system, UW Medicine has never stopped preparing for the COVID-19 pandemic. We have the staff, personal protective equipment (PPE), expertise and training we need to respond, but within limits. We cannot exceed those limits. As a community, we need to continue to do all of the things that we know work to prevent new cases and further spread of the disease, including:

  • Physical distancing. This is a hard ask after so many months, with good weather on its way and the July Fourth holiday. We need to stick with it. Please avoid parties or get-togethers that exceed Phase 2 recommendations (five people from outside your household, preferably outdoors). Avoid parks, beaches and similar places where there are lots of people.
  • Wear a mask. The science supporting mask use is getting better and better. If you are, or think you will be, within six feet of anyone outside your home, wear a mask. Masks keep you safe AND they keep those around you safe. You can be infected and have no symptoms and can spread the infection without knowing it. Wearing a mask helps prevent transmission and can save lives.
  • Don’t eat or drink at work within 6 feet of another person. Many healthcare workers think the greatest risk of exposure to COVID-19 is from their patients, which is a mistake. We are seeing more exposures between co-workers who are taking breaks and lunches together while not wearing masks.
  • Wash your hands frequently throughout the day.
  • Spread the word (not the disease). As healthcare workers, we play a role in how our community responds. So many of you have sacrificed time, effort and emotion during this response. You have taken a risk to come to work and to take care of patients or support the care of patients. It is reasonable that everyone in our community takes the steps needed to keep you safe. This doesn’t mean confronting people without masks in the grocery store. Instead, let’s be a role model for our communities and make sure that our extended families and friends are physical distancing, wearing masks and washing their hands.

We are seeing what can happen when we don’t continue to take this seriously. You have likely read about what is happening in Yakima, Benton and Franklin counties. The number of new cases in Spokane is also rising. Across the country, in California, Florida, Texas, Arizona and Utah, cases are dramatically increasing and threatening how hospitals deliver care. No one wants that to happen here, but it will if we don’t follow the guidelines that we know help prevent the spread of the disease.

UW Medicine Hospitals COVID-19 Activity

COVID-19 Positive Inpatients Data July 2

State, National and Global Updates

Washington: The Department of Health reports 33,435 confirmed cases and 1,339 deaths as of June 30. The state has tested 571,964 people, and 5.8% have been positive.

United States: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 2,679,230 COVID-19 cases and 128,024 deaths as of July 2.

Global: The World Health Organization reports 10,533,779 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 512,842 deaths as of July 2.

Vulnerable Population Testing Update

In March, a COVID-19 Vulnerable Populations Task Force was created as part of UW Medicine’s COVID-19 response to ensure that high-risk populations have access to testing. Two vans, funded by generous donations from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and the UW Medicine Emergency Response Fund, travel throughout Seattle and King County to provide vulnerable populations access to screening and testing. Van 1 focuses on screening and testing at local shelters. Van 2 rotates to locations in Rainier Beach, West Seattle, Auburn and Kent during specific days and times to provide no-cost screening and testing. The screening/testing teams have worked with the Somali Health Board, Community Health Board Coalition, Public Health — Seattle & King County, HealthPoint and Sea Mar to identify specific target populations.

Between May 28 and June 24, Van 1 conducted 1,681 tests with a 1.7% positivity rate; Van 2  tested 1,300 individuals with a 4.38% positivity rate. Additionally, the Harborview Pioneer Square Clinic has completed 158 tests with a 3.16% positivity rate. Although test results for Van 2 testing for June 25 through the present are still pending, a preliminary review indicates a significant increase in rates of positivity in Auburn and South King County.

Testing of homeless populations through the Harborview Pioneer Square Clinic is funded by the Allen Family Foundation.

In addition to testing, the goal of this important outreach is to engage individuals who test positive in long-term medical care.

I want to give a huge thanks to the individuals who have spearheaded this important effort.

COVID-19 Outbreak Response Team

I want to close by highlighting an amazing UW Medicine response and making a few requests. Over the last several days, a combination of UW Medicine faculty and staff, led by Darren Layman and Chesna Briceno (both with UW Neighborhood Clinics), responded to an outbreak north of the UW campus by putting together a complete walk-up testing site within 24 hours on the UW campus. In just 2 1/2 days, they tested almost 900 exposed individuals. I would put this response up against any health system in the world. I am especially grateful to the many volunteer faculty who made time to work as testers and the staff who stayed late to make this all happen. It is absolutely incredible work.

As for my requests: first, please follow the recommendations above, especially over the holiday weekend. Second, if you know someone, even peripherally, who works in public health, please thank them. Like many of us in healthcare, these teams have been working non-stop since January and are often out of the public eye. I know that I am incredibly grateful for everything they are doing.

I hope you have a safe and wonderful holiday with your family and/or small group of friends.


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