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Expert conversation: A nurse and a doctor on COVID-19

COVID-19 and travel at SEA Airport More Information

April 23, 2021

 

When this pandemic hit last year, the health and safety of our community came first. team The SEA Airport team rolled up our many sleeves to support public health efforts to keep our employees, passengers and community safe. The Port of Seattle’s Director of Health and Safety Teresa Cummins R.N. is an integral leader in our response to COVID-19.   

We also teamed up with Dr. John Lynch to help Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) throughout the pandemic with how to best tackle our COVID-19 infection prevention efforts. He is a board-certified physician and medical director with Harborview Medical Center as well as a University of Washington associate professor of Medicine and Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Over the last year, Dr. Lynch used this expertise as the clinical lead for the UW Medicine COVID-19 emergency response and has worked on the response as the local, state, regional, national and international level, including developing national guidelines for PPE use in healthcare settings. Over the course of the pandemic, he worked with other large organizations ranging from Alaska Airlines to the NFL on COVID-19 planning and response.  

At SEA, we take a multi-layer approach to protecting you against COVID​-19. That means it’s not just one measure of protection, but many tactics working together to keep you safe. 

To start, we required face coverings or masks, implemented physical distancing, escalated cleaning and integrated more no touch tech. We’re even doing things we never expected to at the airport. ​We offer onsite COVID-19 testing for travelers and a vaccination clinic for airport workers. ​Over 6,500 vaccines have been administered at the SEA Vaccine Clinic! Each dose brings all of us closer to a safer and healthier community. ​ 

As you’re ready to travel, we are ready to welcome you back to SEA. ​These two experts recently had a health and safety conversation on the latest COVID-19 public health guidance.   

Teresa: Are vaccines safe?  

Dr. Lynch: Yes, absolutely.

These vaccines are remarkably effective and safe. Right now, we have three vaccines out there. There's the two dose versions. These are the what are known as the Pfizer vaccine, and the other one is the Moderna vaccine. Those are the ones that came out first that were followed by the one dose version, Johnson & Johnson. All three are effective and have been given to millions of people.  

Teresa: Should we be concerned about variants and why?  

Dr. Lynch: Yes, we should be concerned. Vaccines are the ultimate solution to this pandemic as the tool that will get us to the new normal to decrease COVID-19 transmission.

We have done a good job in Washington state, which means most people are not immune. The challenge with variants is that they are more transmissible. 

The UK variant, B117, is probably the most well-known variant and it is here. The other one of concern for us locally are the California variants, known as 1429 or 1427. The testing by the state and the UW clinical virology lab indicates that more than half of the virus in our area is now those variants.  

So, when you think about a population that is not very immune and add more transmissible variants, that puts pressure on getting the vaccines out to people as quickly as possible. We must also stick with the tools we know work effectively like masking and distancing.  

Teresa: Tell us about the progress in finding better ways to treat people with COVID-19. Are we seeing higher survival rates and quicker recovery?  

Dr. Lynch: Last spring we saw a lot of people with COVID-19 that were very ill, and unfortunately many who died. That was true through the spring, summer, and winter surges.

Part of the reason is that those getting infected and sick were older adults, those living in long-term care facilities and people with other medical issues that we call comorbidities.  

What is different now is that the vast majority of those people are vaccinated. There are huge decreases in those patient populations getting infected, and we’re seeing this across the country. Long-term care facility residents and older adults are not getting COVID-19 because they are vaccinated.  

The flipside of that is recently within the four UW Medicine hospitals there are now younger patients with COVID-19, people in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s who have not had access to the vaccine yet. Clinicians have learned a lot in the last year for how to take care of patients. Most of this is around supportive care like oxygen, steroids, and proning (turning a patient onto their belly) are extremely helpful. We have no magic bullet for COVID-19. There is no pill or IV medicine that gets rid of COVID-19, but there are things in trials that look promising. The goal is prevention. The most powerful way we have to save people’s lives is preventing them from getting COVID-19 through tools the Port is already using and vaccination.  

Teresa: What I am hearing is that we should not give up our personal safety mitigations like masking, physical distancing, and hand sanitization in public spaces. What should we do to protect ourselves in our social lives? 

Dr. Lynch: Let’s acknowledge that we are humans. We want to be with other people. It has been a hard and horrible year for many people and many communities.

I want to get back to normal too, but I am still cautious. As a healthcare worker I was fortunate to be vaccinated, but I am still toeing the line and continuing to wear my mask and be distanced.  

Small gatherings can lead to larger infections. The challenge now is as restaurants and bars are re-opening, and other activities going on, people feel the need to gather. We still are not at majority immunity. The variants that we talked about are moving us into with a fourth surge.  

What we do outside of work is what is driving community spread, so keep practicing masking with it above the nose and below the chin, distancing, and hand hygiene. We haven’t seen other respiratory viruses this year, so that shows it’s working.  

And we are so close. We know universal vaccine rollout is just weeks and months away. We’re seeing great data for kids for the safety of the vaccine in 12 to 15-year-olds. We’re looking at a real shift with widespread access to vaccines. Until then, let’s stick with what we know works.  

Teresa: What are your predictions for the next three to six months with this virus and pandemic? 

Dr. Lynch: We have amazing tools like vaccines, and we must get them out to people. Review the evidence, review the efficacy, and make a good choice around getting vaccinated.  

Other considerations for a prediction is that we have some supply chain issues, we have variants, and we have a non-immune population in Washington state and shifts in our status towards Phase 3. I am concerned about rising rates of COVID-19. We will see more hospitalizations, which is not a good outcome. I see a race over the next two to three months between these situations. We as a community must decide what to prioritize.  

I am extremely optimistic looking out six months from now if we can share enough of the evidence and the science for the majority of our population to make the choice to be vaccinated. If we do that, we can look forward to a time where universal masking is not required and normalcy returning to our lives and activities. We are seeing signals of that now where the CDC says you can travel safely without quarantining or testing if vaccinated. There will be a vast expansion of that over the summer. 

Teresa: I look forward to that time where we can gather once more without masks and hug one another. We’re not quite there yet, but what we do between now and then is going to be crucial.  
Visit this vaccine locator to find a COVID-19 vaccine appointment. Stay up-to-date on Port news and guidance for travelers by subscribing to our emails
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