Novel coronavirus information

December 16, 2021

Omicron variant detected at UW; COVID-19 booster strongly recommended (Message to the UW community)

This message was sent to students, staff, faculty and academic personnel across the University of Washington.

Dear UW Community,

The Omicron variant of the COVID-19 coronavirus has been presumptively detected in several samples collected by the Husky Coronavirus Testing voluntary research study. While we are still learning more about the new variant, vaccine boosters have been shown to provide additional protection and we strongly encourage a COVID vaccine booster for everyone who is eligible to receive one.

The Omicron variant was first detected in the state of Washington earlier this month, so its presence in our UW community is not unexpected, and we will likely see more cases as the variant spreads. This variant appears to be significantly more contagious than the Delta variant, meaning it takes less exposure to the virus to infect you. It also means that a small number of cases in a community can more quickly turn into another wave of infections.

Emerging data suggests that people who are fully vaccinated but haven’t yet received a booster have less protection from the Omicron variant than those who have received a booster. Unvaccinated individuals remain at the highest risk.

The UW joins the CDC in recommending that all eligible individuals get a booster as soon as possible. With winter break just around the corner, it’s an ideal time to get a booster before returning to campus for the new quarter, and they are available at UW Medicine or a range of pharmacies, clinics and vaccination sites. UW employees are allowed to use release time to get a booster shot.

The emergence of Omicron is another reminder to continue our layered efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19:

Husky Coronavirus Testing will continue to evaluate positive samples from the study participants to determine the prevalence of Omicron and other virus variants in our community.

Many of us are excited to see family and friends this holiday season. These connections with loved ones are meaningful and important, but please take the same precautions you would take on campus — and you are encouraged to get a free COVID test before and after travel and gathering.

The virus will continue to evolve, and we will continue to monitor and adapt to the changes over time. The coronavirus spreads when we let our guard down, and this new Omicron variant is even better at taking advantage of lapses. We’re all fatigued, but high vaccination rates among our students, faculty and staff, coupled with adherence to safety guidelines, have helped us avoid significant outbreaks and disruptions to instruction and research this quarter. Thank you for everything that you are doing.

Wishing you all a safe and happy holidays and winter break.


Geoffrey S. Gottlieb, M.D., Ph.D.
Chair, University Advisory Committee on Communicable Diseases (ACCD)
Medical Director, Environmental Health & Safety Department
Professor, School of Medicine, Division of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
Center for Emerging and Re-emerging Infectious Diseases