UW infectious disease experts are volunteering to help conduct on-site COVID-19 tests and implement CDC prevention guidelines at senior living communities in the Seattle area where positive COVID-19 cases have been detected. 

“Positive cases of COVID-19 have been detected in several Seattle-area senior living communities,” says Alison Roxby, Assistant Professor, UW Global Health, who has volunteered to conduct on-site testing in multiple communities so far. Testing in each facility aims to protect both the residents and healthcare workers, who are at high risk of infection.

Roxby is the leader of a team of volunteers with infectious disease expertise from the UW Department of Global Health and UW Department of Medicine, including Chase Cannon, Kevin Ikuta, Rachel Bender Ignacio, Emily Ford, Sylvia LaCourse, Jina Taub, Jason Simmons, Rupali Jain, Santiago Neme, Maria Corcorran, Jenell Stewart, Vidya Atluri, Danniel Zamora, Kim O’Connor, and Genevieve Pagalilauan.

The volunteer team is collaborating closely Dr.Thuan Ong, Medical Director, UW Post-Acute Care, Harborview Medical Center, which includes Harborview geriatricians, primary care doctors who have additional specialized training in treating older patients.

"The outstanding work in the community and contributions of these teams in the face of this pandemic go above and beyond," said Dr. Thuan Ong.

The team is assisting in infection control in these settings. This includes implementing the new CDC guidelines for stringent physical distancing and strict hygiene measures. When a case of COVID-19 is found in a facility, there is a need to isolate affected residents, and that includes testing of both staff and residents, including those who lack any symptoms of COVID-19,

Implementing the testing and CDC prevention guidelines on the ground, however, is difficult. “In the facilities, health care aides are facing high risks of infection, and may have limited literacy and English language skills, in addition to facing shortages of proper PPE (personal protective equipment),” says Roxby. 

In early March, when cases of COVID-19 were detected at a Seattle-area life care center, a CDC team arrived to investigate the outbreak. The center’s administration, staff and residents instituted stringent infection prevention measures.  These included physical distancing, in-room isolation with no communal meals or activities, visitor restrictions, exclusion of ill staff, and stricter hygiene, cleaning and disinfecting practices. All of these are new CDC guidelines for coronavirus prevention in independent and assisted living communities, that were recently published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report. Roxby was part of the team who identified infected residents and staff at the facility, working with staff to isolate cases. The teams found that adherence to the CDC recommendations appeared to prevent onward transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in the facility over time. In addition, they identified that older adults could remain asymptomatic and not develop severe disease from COVID-19.

“My global experience as an infectious disease epidemiologist in resource-limited settings working with staff from a wide variety of backgrounds has been key to helping me respond to this epidemic in my own backyard,” says Roxby. 

Read related stories at UW Medicine and UW Dept. of Medicine.