Novel coronavirus information

December 23, 2021

Omicron, holiday celebrations, winter weather (Message to UW Medicine patients)

This message was sent to UW Medicine patients.

To Our Valued Patients,

With COVID-19 cases rapidly increasing due to the Omicron variant, we are hearing many questions about how to celebrate the holidays safely. Our Pacific Northwest winter is also starting with a forecast for snow and freezing temperatures in the next week.

The Omicron coronavirus variant has emerged as the primary cause of new COVID-19 cases locally and nationally in the past month. While we are still learning about the risks and likely progression of this variant, we know that it is highly transmissible. For this reason, the prudent course for some people will be to postpone holiday celebrations with people outside of their immediate household. For others, we offer the following advice to make your holiday celebrations as safe as possible.

Get vaccinated and boosted
COVID-19 vaccines provide the best protection against serious COVID-19 illness. Although breakthrough cases are occurring where people who are vaccinated test positive, they often have no or only mild symptoms. Our current vaccines are very effective at keeping you out of the hospital, especially when combined with a booster vaccine.

Vaccines are available for everyone ages 5 and up. In addition, all people over age 16 who have completed their Pfizer or Moderna vaccine series more than six months ago or who have received a Johnson & Johnson vaccine more than two months ago should get a booster shot. Even if you are unable to be fully vaccinated before a holiday celebration, starting now may help to protect you against infection.

For information on scheduling a vaccine appointment at UW Medicine, please visit COVID-19 Vaccine Updates & Information. To find a location close to you, you can also check Getting Vaccinated in King County.

Get tested
If you have symptoms of any respiratory illness, get tested as soon as possible. While waiting for your results, stay home and limit your exposure to other people. In addition to our UW Medicine sites, testing is available at many other locations in King County . If you have a positive home test and have symptoms, you do not need another test to confirm, and you should follow Public Health recommendations on staying home with COVID-19.

Please note that volumes are currently high at all test sites and wait times are longer than normal. Appointments are strongly recommended and may be required at some locations.

Wear a mask
Wear a well-fitting mask in all indoor public settings and in outdoor public settings when physical distancing cannot be maintained. In general, surgical masks provide better protection than cloth masks. Public Health has a new guide to help you choose the best mask in response to Omicron: Up Your Mask Game: Omicron is Here.

Consider who is coming to your holiday celebration
As you make your plans, think about who in your group might be at greater risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19, such as adults 65 and older, people with underlying health conditions and pregnant people. It’s a good idea to share everyone’s vaccination status so that each guest can make an informed decision about whether they feel safe to attend. You may also consider asking everyone to take a COVID-19 self-test before indoor gatherings with others who are not in your household to further reduce the risk.

Remember what works
Don’t forget the other actions that have proven to be effective in reducing the risk of getting and spreading COVID-19. Limit your exposure to people whose vaccination status is unknown, move activities outside when possible, maintain good ventilation indoors and wash your hands often.

Stay informed
For new information as it becomes available and for answers to questions about COVID-19, please visit our UW Medicine website.

Winter Weather
Our hospitals and emergency rooms are always open. Under most circumstances, our primary, specialty and urgent care clinics, as well as our COVID-19 vaccine clinics and testing sites, will also be open. For weather-related schedule changes, please visit Winter Weather Information.

We hope that despite the continuing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, this holiday season brings you joy and comfort with your family and friends. Our best wishes for a healthy and happy new year!

Lisa Brandenburg
President, UW Medicine Hospitals & Clinics
Vice President for Medical Affairs
University of Washington

Timothy H. Dellit, MD
Chief Medical Officer, UW Medicine
Vice President for Medical Affairs,
University of Washington and
President, UW Physicians