As we enter September 2021 and the new academic year for students, I am thinking about the last year and how much has changed. We have learned a lot about COVID transmission and how to reduce the risk with masking and improved ventilation (see the results of a new study supporting the benefit of masking in the community). Most importantly many of us have access to incredibly effective vaccines.
When thinking about the way forward, I keep returning to the things that we know work. Until COVID rates are low and vaccines are available to every person, regardless of age, we are going to need to stick with masking in indoor public spaces and crowded outdoor spaces (see the new King County outdoor masking requirement), avoiding large crowds, maintaining physical distancing as possible, avoiding poorly ventilated indoor settings, and staying home when ill (and getting tested).
What is different this year is that access to testing is not as easy as it once was and with kids in school, it is likely that we are going to see more respiratory viruses that can look a lot like COVID. UW Medicine staff, students, trainees, faculty, and their families can schedule COVID testing here, using the blue “Get Tested!” button for directions to the employee survey and public testing site locations.
We are about 45 days away from the Oct. 18 deadline for all UW Medicine employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or have an approved medical or religious exemption. If your exemption request has been denied, or you’ve been hesitating and haven’t yet received the vaccine, there is still time. But you need to act quickly. If you are planning on waiting until the last two weeks before the deadline to get the J&J vaccine, please know that UW Medicine and most other pharmacies do not have access to the J&J vaccine so it will be very hard to find.
To be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18, you would need to follow the below timeline depending on which of the three available vaccines you choose:
- Moderna (2 doses, 28 days apart): first dose no later than Sept. 6; second dose Oct. 4.
- Pfizer (2 doses, 21 days apart): first dose no later than Sept. 13; second dose Oct. 4.
- Johnson & Johnson (1 dose): single dose no later than Oct. 4 (though not available at UW Medicine vaccine sites).
Managers began reaching out last week to UW Medicine employees who are listed in our records as not yet fully compliant with the vaccination mandate. A few reminders:
- If you were vaccinated through the UW Medicine patient process via Epic, or through another healthcare provider (including other health systems like Seattle Children’s Hospital and the Veteran’s Administration Hospital), you still need to submit your proof of vaccination through our scheduling portal to be shown as compliant.
- If you were vaccinated with UW Medicine through the employee process, you don’t need to do anything because your records will be in our system. The same is true for most employees who were vaccinated at the SCCA.
- Non-clinical employees in the School of Medicine should complete the vaccine attestation in Workday. They do not need to complete the UW Medicine vaccine attestation.
If vaccine safety is a concern for you, your family or friends, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provide helpful data on their website for anyone interested in additional resources. All three vaccines available in the U.S. have proven to be effective and very safe.
Beyond vaccination, another way to help our community is by donating blood. Hospitals throughout the Northwest have been dealing with a blood shortage for months, and the situation has not improved. If you’re able to donate, I encourage you to schedule an appointment on the Bloodworks Northwest website to help meet this critical need.
Thank you, as always, for doing your part to ensure the health and safety of our patients, visitors and staff across the UW Medicine system.
Today’s update also includes:
- Local/National/Global Epidemiology
- Vaccination Summary
- Visitor policy reminder
- Expansion of monoclonal antibody treatment
- Beards and respirators
UW Medicine COVID-19 Activity Summary
King County: Public Health – Seattle & King County is reporting 130,312 total confirmed cases and 1,776 deaths as of Friday, Sept. 3. The number of new positive tests is currently at 184.3/7 days/100,000 people (community transmission level = high).
Washington: The Department of Health reports 512,162 confirmed cases and 6,643 deaths as of Sept. 1. Of the 8,963,933 people who have been tested, 5.7% have been positive.
United States: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 171,123 new cases, 39,488,866 total COVID-19 cases and 641,725 deaths as of Sept. 2.
Global: The WHO COVID-19 Dashboard reports 218,946,836 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 4,539,723 deaths as of Sept. 3.
UW Medicine Vaccination Summary as of Sept. 2
Visitor policy reminder
We recognize how much the presence of friends and family can contribute to the healing process for patients in our hospitals. Still, we continue to have restrictions in place to help us provide a safe environment while the spread of COVID-19 infection persists. As a reminder, the number of visitors permitted has not changed. Each hospital patient may have 1-2 visitors per day (not 1-2 visitors at a time), with visitation limited by each facility’s specific visiting hours and policies. There is a separate policy for patients with end-of-life care. Vaccination is not yet a requirement for visitors but is under review. We will continue to keep everyone informed as any additional visitor policy changes are implemented.
Expansion of monoclonal antibody treatment
On Monday, UWMC – Montlake and UWMC – Northwest launched additional UW Medicine monoclonal antibody treatment sites. Monoclonal antibody therapy for patients diagnosed with COVID-19 is by appointment only and the program will be expanding next week, opening a third location at Harborview Medical Center. For providers, please email any patient referrals to firstname.lastname@example.org for eligibility review, confirmation and scheduling. Valley Medical Center has been providing monoclonal antibody administration to patients since the spring. Providers who work at Valley should continue to follow the site-specific protocols.
Beards and respirators
Due to a rising number of patients in our facilities with COVID-19 and limited availability of PAPR hoods, we are again requesting that all employees who participate in direct patient care consider shaving their beards. This will allow the PAPR supply to be directed to folks who do not pass fit testing or must maintain a beard for religious or other reasons. Please note that we are unable to accommodate all requests for PAPRs in ambulatory areas and strongly encourage N95 use when appropriate.
With the chillier weather this week, and the school year kicking off, it feels like the pivot to fall is quickly approaching. The seasonal shift to more time indoors, plus schools now reopening for in-person learning, brings up another reminder of the importance of getting vaccinated to help protect kids under 12 who aren’t yet eligible and those who are immunocompromised in the community.
The upcoming holiday weekend also means more people coming together for BBQs, parties and other events. When in public spaces, we don’t know who may be unvaccinated. That’s one of the reasons the CDC and Public Health — Seattle & King County this week recommended that Labor Day gatherings, even among the vaccinated, take place outdoors, that everybody wear masks indoors in public settings and in crowded public outdoor settings (like fairs and sports events) and that unvaccinated people avoid traveling over the holiday weekend. That’s all good advice.
Enjoy the holiday, but please be cautious as transmission rates remain high and hospital capacity across the region continues to be very challenged.
John Lynch, MD, MPH
Medical Director, Infection Prevention & Control
Associate Medical Director, Harborview Medical Center
Division of Allergy & Infectious Diseases, UW School of Medicine