Novel coronavirus information

April 26, 2022

Update on current COVID-19 conditions, masks 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,

I write to provide an update on current COVID-19 conditions at the University and in our region and to share some additional steps you can take to help keep yourself and others healthy, including a strong recommendation to wear well-fitting, high-quality masks indoors. I will also share some details on new COVID-19 treatment options.

COVID-19 conditions this spring

As we have experienced in prior quarter transitions, we began to see an expected increase in cases among University students and personnel at the start of spring quarter following increased travel and participation in social activities and the greater prevalence of the more transmissible Omicron BA.2 subvariant. That is why we strongly recommended masking the first two weeks of the quarter, despite the fact that state and local mask requirements were lifted in mid-March.

Fortunately, due to your continued caution, our 10-day case count and positivity rate at the University have both been declining. Meanwhile, cases in King County continue to rise, although hospitalizations in our region remain relatively low.

The Washington Department of Health and county health departments utilize the Centers for Disease Control’s county-by-county risk assessment to guide their responses. This framework uses measures related to hospitalizations in addition to case counts to evaluate risk. A county is automatically moved from the “low” to the “medium” level when the seven-day average for new cases per 100,000 people reaches 200 or more, regardless of whether hospitalization numbers have also risen. While hospitalizations in the county remain relatively low, King County has been automatically moved to the “medium” level due to increasing cases. Pierce County is currently at the “low” level, although case rates there are also increasing.

Masks are now strongly recommended

The majority of University community members have been wearing masks this quarter and even though cases at the University are declining, due to increases in our region, the University now strongly recommends wearing a well-fitted, high-quality mask indoors (e.g., KN95, N95, KF94 and surgical masks) to further reduce the potential for transmission.

These types of masks provide you with more protection than a cloth face covering and are available for free in several locations on each campus.

Masks continue to be required in health care and clinical facilities. This includes the Health Sciences Express, UW/Fred Hutch South Lake Union and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance shuttles.

Additional recommendations to help keep yourself and others healthy

Getting vaccinated and boosted remains your best way to avoid serious illness, and boosters are widely available. And in all instances, if you have symptoms of any respiratory infection, do not go to work or class or socialize with others. Allergies are common this time of year, so pay extra attention to any new or a change in symptoms and get tested if your symptoms are new or seem different than usual.

Contact tracing indicates that the vast majority of positive cases being reported to the University are due to off-campus social gatherings and events, including some held by UW units, or are a result of roommates or family members passing the virus to someone else in their household. If you are planning to attend or host a social gathering, taking a coronavirus test beforehand — particularly a rapid test immediately before the gathering — is a good way to reduce the risk of unknowingly spreading it to others. If you are hosting a social event, encourage attendees to test beforehand.

No matter the type of test, if you do test positive, please report it to UW Environmental Health & Safety to help reduce transmission to others. The Husky Coronavirus Testing voluntary research study has also increased the number of invitations for community tests it has sent out to individuals with no symptoms, focusing on students living in residence halls.

Finally, if you haven’t already, please activate WA Notify on your phone so you can receive exposure notifications and anonymously let others know of their exposure if you test positive.

New treatments for COVID-19

There is a new therapy to prevent COVID-19 in individuals at higher risk for severe illness as well as new treatments for infections. UW Medicine has launched a self-attestation process for eligible patients to request an appointment for Evusheld, a monoclonal antibody therapy for pre-exposure prevention. Additionally, the monoclonal antibody Bebtelovimab and the oral antivirals Paxlovid and Molnupiravir are available for patients who have contracted COVID-19 and who are at higher risk of severe illness. To be effective, antiviral medications must be started within five days of the start of symptoms. Consult with your health care provider about whether these are options for you or use this federal website to find pharmacies that offer both tests and antiviral medications.

Contracting COVID-19 can still cause you to experience symptoms, including severe illness for some individuals — especially for those who are not vaccinated or who are at high risk — and a positive test result certainly disrupts our daily lives. But high vaccination and immunity levels in our community, coupled with these new medications, mean that there is less emphasis on case counts as an indicator and a greater focus on hospitalizations when it comes to evaluating community risk levels and adjusting our response. As I mentioned, hospitalizations remain relatively low, in large part due to our community’s high vaccination rates, immunity from past infection, new treatments and other mitigation measures.

COVID-19 community levels and the University’s response

We have not relaxed our vigilance, even as we have experienced the benefits of resuming a sense of greater normalcy and socialization within our community. Just as we have done throughout the pandemic, as conditions change, we will change our response accordingly, always following the best available science and the guidance of experts at the UW and our health department partners.

The continued evolution of the coronavirus — countered by rising levels of immunity in our own community — means our response must also continue to evolve. By staying vigilant and nimble, and by taking a few straightforward steps, we can reduce both individual risk and help keep our broader community healthy as we continue the spring quarter. Thank you for your continued efforts to keep each other healthy and well.


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