As health educators and medical providers in Spokane and eastern Washington, we are witnessing the devastating health and economic effects of the Sars-CoV-2/COVID-19 pandemic in our cities and rural communities throughout eastern Washington.

During this phase of reopening, we are working in collaboration with our region’s health care providers to promote the safety of our patients and our communities based on the latest science and best practices as the medical evidence evolves.

The University of Washington has been on the cutting edge of this epidemic, from testing to predictive modeling, and the research currently supports three key steps to keep ourselves and others around us safe: hand hygiene, physical distancing and masking.

In communities throughout eastern Washington, we continue to have hospitalized patients experiencing severe symptoms. We’ve put patients on respirators; and some of our patients have died. Most of our health care workers are tired and many of them are scared as they put themselves at risk every day to care for our collective loved ones.

In the U.S., more than 110,000 people have died from the COVID-19 virus that we know of: not all of them old, and not all of them with co-morbidities. They were grandparents, moms, dads, sons and daughters, of all ethnicities, races, ages, religions and political affiliations.

In eastern Washington, where we have a population of roughly 1.6 million residents as of June 7, there have been 8,205 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and of those cases, 244 deaths.

We know from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as leading infectious disease researchers at the University of Washington and around the country, that the COVID-19 virus is very serious and potentially deadly. It also can spread silently by people who are asymptomatic – those with no obvious symptoms.

To stop the spread, no single intervention is enough. The data shows that we can slow the spread of this virus by everyone adopting these relatively simple interventions:

Wash your hands. Meticulous hand hygiene comes from washing for 20 seconds with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Frequency of hand washing has been shown to decrease respiratory virus spread.

Maintain a safe physical distance. More and more data shows that there is increased risk of transmission in enclosed spaces. In fact, physical distancing cuts the risk of transmission to 3 percent from 13 percent. As a result, we recommend that you keep a distance of at least six feet from other individuals and avoid larger group gatherings and crowded spaces when possible.

Wear a mask. Respiratory infections occur through the transmission of virus-containing droplets and aerosols exhaled from infected individuals during breathing, speaking, coughing and sneezing. A large proportion of the spread of COVID-19 appears to be occurring by people without symptoms during breathing and speaking.

Emerging data from the UW’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, as reported on CNN, shows that wearing masks delivers a 50 percent protection against transmission.

Each of us can do our part to make a difference. We ask each of you in our eastern Washington communities to lead by example. Wash your hands, maintain a safe physical distance and wear a cloth mask in public spaces — as ways to show you care. These simple measures, if adopted broadly, will save the lives of our friends, family members, neighbors and fellow citizens.

Darryl Potyk, M.D., is the UW School of Medicine associate dean for eastern Washington. Geoff Jones, M.D., is the UW School of Medicine assistant clinical dean for central and eastern Washington. Bill Sayres, M.D., is the UW School of Medicine assistant dean for Foundations, Spokane. John McCarthy, M.D., is the UW School of Medicine assistant dean for rural programs.

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