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Update on the UW’s preparations related to the novel coronavirus

As you may have heard, today public health officials announced that the first death in the United States attributed to the novel coronavirus has occurred in King County. While this individual was not a UW student or employee, our hearts are with his family and friends during this time of tremendous loss. They’re also with those who have been affected by this outbreak directly, including through the impact on their loved ones, and through heightened anxiety and fear, discriminatory experiences or economic loss.

It is important to emphasize that thus far the vast majority of people who have become ill with COVID-19 (the disease caused by the novel coronavirus) have experienced relatively mild symptoms, such as fever and cough. As of this writing, fewer than 10 individuals in Washington have been diagnosed with this disease. One of them has already recovered and returned to a normal life, and we expect others will follow. Currently, no members of the UW community have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

I write today to ensure you are aware of how the University is working with public health officials to be as prepared as possible to protect the health of the UW community.

We are extremely fortunate to live in a region with outstanding medical services and public health infrastructure and are optimistic that these significant investments in public health preparedness will support a rapid, effective response. At the UW, we are working closely with local and state public health officials and following guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to align our plans with the most current recommendations from experts. This includes encouraging everyone to monitor their own health, practice good hygiene and stay home if feeling sick.

University preparations
The University has extensive and thorough emergency procedures, and will do everything it can to ensure the health and safety of our community.

Out of an abundance of caution, we are making the same types of preparations that we would for any other potentially disruptive situation, such as a natural disaster. This includes working with campus leadership and regional public health partners to help colleges, schools and departments take steps that can minimize disruptions to student learning, such as assessing their readiness to conduct class activities online, should that be required, and ensuring students and employees who are ill can be properly supported so they can stay home and recover. We are also making similar preparations related to maintaining our vital research, service and patient care missions in the event of a disruption. Further guidance for staff, faculty and other academic personnel will be forthcoming.

Even if these measures are not ultimately needed, ensuring we are prepared for disruptions now will serve us well in the future.

What you can do
Many people are asking what they can do. Community preparation helps us support and care for each other. Here are actions you can take to help us all stay as healthy as possible:

Stay informed
Refer to and share the UW’s coronavirus FAQ page, which is developed in close consultation with public health officials and includes information about considerations for travel, steps to take if you feel sick and resources for UW community members. There are also updates available from the Washington State Department of Health and county public health departments.

Practice good hygiene

    • Stay home from work and school when you feel sick.
    • Cover your mouth and nose with your elbow or a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and immediately dispose of the tissue.
    • Wash your hands often with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds, and if soap and water are not available use a 60-95% alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
    • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
    • Clean and disinfect surfaces that are frequently touched.

Remain calm and show compassion
Data on COVID-19 is still emerging, and the Washington State Department of Health is reporting that while the immediate health risk from COVID-19 has increased with the newly diagnosed cases in our region, for the general public it still remains low. And as a reminder, the vast majority of individuals with the disease experience mild symptoms.

Additionally, it is vital that we support each other and act as a community, avoiding acts of discrimination and bias, and showing compassion for those affected by this disease. This virus poses a global challenge — it requires a unified response.

Again, we are taking all necessary precautions and are working with public health officials to prioritize your health and safety. Please continue to be kind and respectful to each other. We are best equipped to deal with any threat to health when we work together.

We will continue to provide you with updates as we have them, including through University-wide email messages when warranted and on the UW’s coronavirus FAQ page.