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UW Medicine COVID-19 Update Nov. 19, 2021

As COVID-19 cases continue their slow downward trend, we’re seeing a decrease similar to last year’s around this time of year. One difference this winter, of course, is the availability of vaccines. While the vaccines have proven effective, we’re seeing more high-risk situations with the reopening of schools and universities, bars, and sporting events drawing large, more prolonged gatherings of people with and without masks.

Beginning this past Monday, Washington state now requires proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test at indoor events with more than 1,000 attendees and outdoor events with more than 10,000 attendees. These new measures are in place to continue opportunities to mitigate risk where possible. While this is good news, I encourage everyone to continue to do the things that will help slow transmission and reduce infections — like masking, physical distancing and handwashing.

Demand for pediatric vaccines continues to outpace supply, and we currently have a wait list of several thousand kids, but we are making steady progress. Everyone’s patience and enthusiasm for vaccinating as much of the eligible community as quickly as possible is much appreciated.

Likewise, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) of the CDC meets today to discuss authorization of boosters for all fully vaccinated adults (18+). If approved, Washington state would join four states that currently recommend boosters for all.

One of the unknowns that could complicate this winter season is the arrival of influenza. Unlike last year, we are already seeing evidence that influenza A is back and exploiting those situations that I mentioned above. There is an ongoing outbreak of flu at the University of Michigan involving over 500 students, 77% of whom are not vaccinated against influenza. UW Medicine vaccination rates are currently far below our goal and where we normally are at this time of year. If you are not yet vaccinated against the flu, please contact your Employee Health Clinic to arrange a time to make this happen.

Today’s update also includes:

  • Local/National/Global Epidemiology
  • Employee and Family COVID-19 Testing
  • Preventing COVID-19 During Travel and Holiday Celebrations
  • What’s Next for the Pandemic?

UW Medicine COVID-19 Activity Summary

Local/National/Global Epidemiology

King County: Public Health – Seattle & King County is reporting 171,007 total confirmed cases and 2,066 deaths as of Friday, Nov. 19. The number of new positive tests is currently at 90/7 days/100,000 people (community transmission level = substantial).

Washington: The Department of Health reports 669,378 confirmed cases and 9,086 deaths as of Nov. 17.

United States: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 107,933 new cases, 47,352,367 total cases and 764,473 deaths as of Nov. 18.

Global: The WHO COVID-19 Dashboard reports 255,324,963 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 5,127,696 deaths as of Nov. 19.

UW Medicine Vaccination Summary as of Nov. 18

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

Preventing COVID-19 During Travel and Holiday Celebrations

As we prepare for this holiday season, we still need to take precautions when traveling or spending time with family and friends. If you are traveling domestically or internationally, please review the CDC guidelines as you plan. You should also have a contingency plan in case of exposure or infection so that hospital operations can continue.

Before Travel

  • Follow current CDC COVID-19 travel guidance.
  • Educate yourself about the COVID situation at your destination.
  • Get the flu vaccine to reduce your risk of catching both diseases at once and to protect other people from an illness that usually claims tens of thousands of lives each winter.

 After Travel

  • UW Medicine personnel who test positive or who were exposed to someone with COVID-19 should contact Employee Health as soon as possible for recommendations.
  • If you work in non-clinical settings, please refer to the University’s COVID-19 Public Health Requirements and Guidance.

Holiday Celebrations

Wherever you spend the holidays, follow the advice in the CDC’s How to Protect Yourself & Others, such as continuing to wear a mask indoors, washing your hands and watching your distance in crowded places. The Washington State Department of Health also has an excellent Guide to Safer Gatherings that everyone should take a look at; it is available in many languages. Please remember that holiday gatherings are also allowed at work as long as we continue to mask, space out and keep food/drink only to go.

Employee and Family COVID-19 Testing

We encourage all employees and families to be tested if you have symptoms or believe you’ve been exposed to COVID-19. You and your family can easily access information about how to schedule a COVID-19 test by visiting Employee Resources on the uwmedicine.org website and clicking on the COVID-19 Testing Access quick link. Testing is easy and helps slow transmission of the virus.

We’ll discuss all of this and more at today’s Town Hall at 3 p.m. I hope you’ll join us.

Sometimes people ask me what comes next with this pandemic? Honestly, I don’t know, although I am pretty sure that COVID-19 isn’t going to disappear. Case counts and hospitalizations could continue to decline, which would be wonderful. But, as we are seeing in a band from Arizona to Michigan, and in Europe, COVID-19 counts could resurge. There is no reason something similar couldn’t happen here. And a resurgence could also be complicated by a season of influenza. How do we prepare for these possibilities? Of course, I listen to experts like Drs. Anne Browning and Trish Kritek for advice on building resilience. In my own life, however, this year has taught me a lot about the importance of prioritizing the colleagues that I work with every day, my friends, and my family. This is what I am thinking about when I consider the upcoming holidays, and I hope you can as well.

In closing, with the holidays next week, I want to take a moment to thank each of you for your hard work and dedication over the past year. Your commitment to the health and safety of our community is something I am grateful for every day. We will get through this together.

I wish you all a safe and healthy Thanksgiving and Native American Heritage Day with your loved ones.

Sincerely,

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

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