Skip to main content

It’s typical for the month of March to be a time of transition. In nature, it’s marked by the turn from the cold and gray of winter to the longer, sunshiny days of spring. But for us, March will also be a time of change on the pandemic front, where we have made great strides with declining transmission rates and in the health and safety of our community.

We continue to see progress across the region with new infection numbers trending down, and hospitalizations following suit. As a result, Governor Inslee and King County leaders announced the end of the indoor mask mandate, effective Saturday, March 12. Many in our community will welcome this change; others will worry; and still more will land somewhere in the middle — certainly tired of masking up but not feeling entirely ready to face the world sans mask.

No matter where you land on that spectrum, I encourage you to do what’s best for you and your community. While I’m encouraged by the progress we have made, I will still wear a mask when I go to the grocery store or into crowded indoor areas so I can continue to protect those around me who are still vulnerable. I hope you will choose to do what makes you most comfortable and keeps everyone safe.

Continuing with the theme of transition and the subject of masks, we will no longer be requiring the use of respirators at UW Medicine with some important exceptions. Under the updated policy, which will take effect on March 8, surgical masks will be allowed except for those involved in aerosol-generating procedures, working with patients with known or suspected COVID-19, or who work in urgent care clinics, emergency departments or operating rooms. And again, while many of you will be thrilled with this change in policy, others may still choose to wear respirators in the clinical setting. We will continue to supply respirators for those who want them.

Another key policy change that will be implemented next week is the return to a 10-day isolation period (or after 7 days following a negative antigen test) before returning to in-person work for all employees who test positive for COVID-19. This is an update from the 5-day isolation period implemented when we were working under contingency staffing protocols and is in alignment with CDC guidance. In addition, over the last couple of weeks, we have new evidence that many people continue to be antigen positive beyond 5 days. What this means in terms of infectiousness remains unclear, but does support moving to a longer period of isolation for higher risk areas like patient care. Our new policy is also made possible by the good news that we have gone from having more than 800 employees in isolation or quarantine in January to fewer than 40 today.

Deadline Extended: The UW Medicine booster requirement, which applies to all employees except for those in non-clinical roles in the School of Medicine, has been extended to March 31. There is still time to get your booster or to fulfill the other requirements for compliance. For more information, please see COVID-19 Booster Campaign.

UW Medicine COVID-19 Activity Summary

Local/National/Global Epidemiology

King County: Public Health – Seattle & King County is reporting 366,643 total cases and 2,575 deaths as of Wednesday, March. 2. The total number of cases over the past seven days is currently at 96.2 per 100,000 people (community transmission level = substantial).

Washington: The Department of Health reports 1,427,013 cases and 11,954 deaths as of March 1.

United States: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 42,129 new cases, 78,900,375 total cases and 950,112 deaths as of March 2.

Global: The WHO COVID-19 Dashboard reports 438,968,263 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 5,969,439 deaths as of March 3.

Finally, I want to take a moment to acknowledge what is happening in Ukraine, and in all the places around the world where people are suffering, be it from violent conflict and oppression, the ravages of disease and hunger, or a lack of adequate medical care. While I usually focus on our community and the needs of our patients, times like this remind us that we are part of a much larger global community too. I hope you’ll join me in sending positive thoughts for both our Ukrainian friends and colleagues here in Seattle as well as in Ukraine, and everyone facing overwhelming safety challenges.

Here at home, please continue to stay safe. As we look ahead to spring and what will hopefully be the beginning of the end of this pandemic, I am optimistic about the changes. Thank you for your ongoing commitment toward progress and public health.


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