Triumph Over Diverticulitis: Nancy’s Story

There’s not much that slows Nancy Fauls down. She was one of the first female skippers to race schooners in the Pacific Northwest and knows how to stay calm and keep everything moving forward. Then in January 2019, the Port Townsend resident experienced a lower abdominal pain that was overpowering. “I’d never felt anything like it before,” she remembers. “I could hardly breathe or move. I was doubled over.”

Nancy went to the local emergency room and then to her general practitioner who prescribed antibiotics to curb bacteria growth. The medication didn’t have much impact on her symptoms and she spent several days lying flat on her back. A month later she experienced the intense pain again and her doctor referred her to Virginia Mason. Because of the distance from Port Townsend to the hospital and the severity of her pain, she was transported by ambulance and ferry boat to Virginia Mason Seattle. Diagnostic blood tests and a CT scan indicated her pain was caused by diverticulitis.

Diverticulitis occurs when a diverticulum (a bulging sac that can form on the colon wall and push outward) becomes inflamed or infected. The condition is most common in people whose diets are lower in fiber and higher in processed carbohydrates.

“Diverticulitis used to commonly be seen in patients who are 50 to 70 years old, but now we’re seeing it in younger patients,” says Virginia Mason colorectal surgeon Vlad Simianu, MD, MPH. The culprits, he adds, are often obesity, smoking and a diet of highly processed and packaged foods.

Free of diverticulitis and enjoying life again.High fiber diets can prevent the colon diverticula from forming, he says, because the fiber results in smoother elimination without the damage that can occur with the pressure on the colon that is caused by constipation. And as Nancy experienced, damaged sections of the colon wall can become thinner and burst.

“Once the disease occurs, diet changes may help the symptoms but they are no longer the cure,” says Dr. Simianu. “The truth is once you have diverticula we don’t really know what drives them to become inflamed and infected, and therefore can’t be sure whether a specific medicine or lifestyle change will prevent a flare.”

Often the diseased portion of the colon must be surgically removed.

“These days the surgery is much easier on patients,” says Dr. Simianu. “It is minimally invasive, usually requiring three to five small cuts in the abdomen, as opposed to traditional surgery which involves one large incision. Patients heal faster and their stay in the hospital is reduced.”

In Nancy’s case, the nine inches of her colon with the disease were removed using robotic technology. She was back home three days following her surgery. She’s made some lifestyle adjustments, lost 50 pounds and is enjoying an active life in the beautiful town she calls home.


A version of this story originally appeared in the Virginia Mason Health System Annual Report

New Research Applies the Brakes to Type 1 Diabetes

A prevention study involving diabetes researchers and volunteers at Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason (BRI) showed a drug that targets the immune system — Teplizumab — can delay type 1 diabetes up to three years in children and adults at high risk.

“This is great news for relatives of people with type 1 diabetes, who are at 15 times greater risk of the disease than the general population,” said Carla Greenbaum, MD, director of Interventional Immunology and the Diabetes Research Program at BRI.

Samples collected during the trial are being studied to help researchers understand why certain people responded to the drug better than others. Next, TrialNet researchers hope to conduct additional studies to look for ways to extend the benefits of the drug.

New Insight into Disease Progression

BRI Alice Long

BRI researcher Alice Long, PhD

When some people are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, the disease progresses so quickly that their pancreas stops making insulin within a year. For others, the process is slower and their disease easier to manage. BRI research revealed that it’s possible to identify the “fast progressors” early and match them with treatments that help keep them healthy for longer.

BRI’s Alice Long, PhD, and her colleagues made the discovery that opened the door to potential new treatment strategies for type 1 diabetes. In a paper published in Journal of Clinical Investigation, the researchers identified important differences between fast progressors and people whose disease progresses much more slowly. Dr. Long’s team showed that slow progressors have higher levels of exhausted CD8 T cells — cells that are worn out from attacking the pancreas. The discovery could lead to a test that identifies how quickly individual patients will lose their ability to make insulin.

“Doctors may be able to give ‘fast progressors’ a therapy that’s going to slow down the attacker cells or maybe even stop them,” said Dr. Long, a BRI principal investigator. “For this group of people with type 1 diabetes, that would prolong their ability to make insulin, which makes their lives much easier and significantly reduces their long-term health risks.”


A version of this story originally appeared in the Virginia Mason Health System Annual Report. 

Bad Break, Good Outcome: Team Effort Restores Joint Function

“This is me leaving my apartment on my first day in Rome,” says Roberta Kelley, looking through her photo collection. “See how happy I was? And here I am having my first and only cup of espresso.”

Roberta’s dream vacation ended abruptly when after a long day of sightseeing, she stepped off a surprise curb and went down hard. Holding her tour map and phone, Roberta’s elbow took the brunt of the impact, crushing it. She remembers bystanders helping her into a cab and later, falling asleep in her rented apartment.

The next morning Roberta’s shock gave way to the realization her swollen arm was broken. A local hospital took an agonizing X-ray, and Roberta learned she’d need surgery to repair her ruined elbow. She could have the surgery done in Rome, the doctor told her.

“But I said no, I’m flying back to Seattle,” remembers Roberta. “I need to go to Virginia Mason where I get all my care and my doctors know me.” Roberta shares another connection with Virginia Mason, retiring in 2018 as a speech-language pathologist and orofacial myofunctional therapist (treating muscle disorders of the mouth and face).

Fitted with a temporary cast from her shoulder to her wrist, Roberta made the long trip home and then to Virginia Mason’s Emergency Department. She relaxed for the first time in days, with the team making her comfortable and gently guiding her through X-rays. That same morning Roberta met orthopedic surgeon Laura Stoll, MD.

Roberta in chair

Roberta Kelley

“Dr. Stoll showed me the images and explained her plan for surgery,” says Roberta. “She wanted me to know it was a bad break and there were no guarantees about what function I’d get back. I was so worried and nervous, but she said ‘I will take good care of you’ and gave me a hug. That made a world of difference.”

Roberta’s severe elbow fracture and dislocation required a prosthetic replacement of the radial head, the knob-like end of the radius bone that helps form the joint. The radial head sits in a pocket of the ulna bone, allowing the forearm to both flex and rotate. In addition to the prosthetic, Dr. Stoll rebuilt and repositioned Roberta’s elbow with a stabilizing system of plates and screws.

“Because elbows are mechanically complex, they are tricky to repair and surgical outcomes can be unpredictable,” says Dr. Stoll. “Roberta’s dedication to recovery and her positive attitude were so important. Achieving a good outcome really becomes a team effort.”

“Team Roberta” included Dr. Stoll working side-by-side with an occupational therapist in joint visits, going over X-rays and creating a rehabilitation plan. Roberta began a rigorous therapy regimen, which included daily home exercises. Roberta set her smart phone to remind her when to do them. At first she felt discouraged, not able to bend her arm enough to wash her face, put on make-up or even earrings. But her occupational therapist stayed positive and encouraging, even as she challenged Roberta with those very tasks each week to help condition her new elbow.

“My range of motion is excellent now, but it came with a lot of effort and exercise,” says Roberta. “I told Dr. Stoll she did fabulous surgery. She said ‘yes, but you did all the hard work.’”


A version of this story originally appeared in the Virginia Mason 2019 Annual Report.

Yes, You Need a Flu Shot This Year — And Here’s Why

**By Christopher Baliga, MD**

Flu season is fast approaching, which means it may be harder for you to tell the difference between a flu symptom and symptoms associated with COVID-19. Those affected with either illness have the potential to run a fever, feel sluggish, and develop a cough and body aches. The good news is, you can protect yourself and others from both diseases by wearing your mask and getting a flu vaccination.

With so many myths and rumors floating around about whether the flu shot is necessary this year, it’s important to listen only to medical experts on this matter. We’re here to provide the facts you need to help keep yourself and those around you healthy.

Since I wear a mask, do I still need a flu shot?

Yes. While masks are helpful in reducing the spread of pathogens, they are not as effective for preventing the flu. By combining mask wearing with  the flu shot, you will lower your risk of catching the flu while protecting yourself from COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses. Just as important, getting a flu shot means you are less likely to spread the disease to others.

Flu.signWon’t a flu shot increase my chances of catching the coronavirus?

There is no evidence to suggest that getting a flu shot will impact your risk of contracting COVID-19. But what we know for certain is that a flu shot will reduce your risk of getting the flu.

Does wearing a mask protect my immune system?

Wearing a mask has no effect on your immune system itself. It does reduce your risk of catching COVID-19 by up to 80%, but wearing a mask does not change your immune system on its own.

Some of us might remember the days when people were opposed to government mandates requiring the use of seatbelts in cars. Similarly, we’ve seen pushback against wearing masks in public. Just like wearing your seatbelt can save your life, masks help reduce your chances of catching COVID-19, while the flu shot reduces your risk of contracting the flu (or reduces the severity of illness if you do get sick). But unlike a seatbelt which only really protects you, masking and getting a flu shot also helps protect those around you.

If you’re in search of where to get a flu shot this year, consider visiting a Virginia Mason drive-thru/drive-up location, open through Oct. 23. Find more information on the location closest to you here.


Baliga, ChrisChristopher Baliga, MD, is board-certified by the American Academy of Internal Medicine in infectious diseases and internal medicine. He practices at Virginia Mason Seattle Medical Center. Dr. Baliga specializes in infectious diseases, HIV/AIDS care and travel health. 

Managing Screen Time in a Virtual Learning Era

**By Traci McDermott, MD**

Many students this year are attending school virtually. This means around eight hours of their day will be spent in front of a screen — far more than the recommended 60-minute daily screen-time limit. This can pose a lot of challenges for parents, who are dealing with having to manage their child’s schooling while balancing working from home. Parents may feel guilty about not being able to limit the amount of time their child is spending on screens.

While you may not be able to control the amount of screen time your children must spend in class, there are many things you can do to help offset your child’s screen consumption outside of school.

Set limits

Take advantage of automatic shut-off settings in order to limit screen time. It’s also more important than ever to ensure you are sitting down and talking with kids about safe internet content and safe use of social media.

Whenever possible, try to limit additional screen time outside of virtual learning to quality social connections with family members or friends. Live chats over Facetime, Skype or Caribu are better than quick texts, SnapChat or other social media platforms that don’t involve real-time conversations. Zoom meetings or practices that help keep kids engaged in their community and with other kids should be prioritized over free screen time use.

Take breaks

No matter if you are a child or a parent, in school or at work, everyone should build a habit of spending 10 minutes away from a screen each hour. You could do this by using a simple kitchen timer or by turning on automatic shut-off settings on your device.

family dance partyMake breaks from school work at home physical – not a game or video on the screen. Turn on music and have a make-shift dance party, or let kids create their own dance routine. Use painters’ tape to create hopscotch on the floor, or encourage them to learn a new active skill, like juggling.

Get physical

Parents should try to prioritize exercise or active play with their kids for 60 minutes most days. This will take away time spent in front of a screen.

If your child has an already established physical routine due to team sports or practices during normal times, do your best to keep a similar schedule. Your child might be used to a 30-60 minute practice two or three times a week at, say, football practice. Encourage them to continue that same schedule by keeping their bodies moving in some way on their own. With no games to attend on the weekends, the whole family could instead go for a walk or run, or have your own scrimmage in the yard (or closest open green space).

You can even consider virtual physical classes, like online workouts. Yes, this is inviting another screen into your child’s day, but in moderation, these encourage kids to move and exercise, which is beneficial to the body as a whole. Also, many dance classes have been shifted to virtual, which help kids keep social connections and stay active. This can be a good indoor option once the weather cools down.

Unplug at night

 Consider setting a limit for your child to ditch the phones, video games and YouTube videos no less than an hour before bed each night. Some parents even opt for “family charging stations,” where all electronics live at night to help kids (and parents, too!) unplug when it’s time for sleep.

Of course, these tips are not one-size-fits-all. While many families are able to easily set limits for their children, there are just as many where setting limits will pose a significant challenge.

If you’re worried that your child is still spending too much time in front of a screen even after following these steps, make sure to look for the following warning signs. Seek medical help if your child:

  • Develops problems sleeping
  • Develops regular/daily headaches
  • Has significant weight change (either gaining or losing)
  • Has emotional withdrawal

Good luck! Remember, making sure your child’s sleep and exercise needs are met will significantly reduce the overall time spent on screens, while boosting their readiness for virtual learning.


Traci.McDermott MDTraci McDermott, MD, specializes in Pediatrics at Virginia Mason University Village in Seattle. Dr. McDermott is an American Board of Pediatrics-certified practitioner.

New Friends for Life After Paired Donor Kidney Exchange

For a few years, Steve Harper had thought about donating a kidney. “I thought it would be a good thing to do,” Steve explains. “And sometimes thinking about doing something makes you feel like a better person and for a time, that was good enough.”

Then one night, Steve, the chief engineer of an ocean-going tugboat, was midway through the night watch in the engine room when he happened to listen to a podcast about Nobel Prize-winning economist Al Roth. Roth won the Nobel Prize in 2012 for his work creating markets for items that have no cash value. Items like kidneys. He was instrumental in creating the mathematical algorithms that resulted in the creation of the National Kidney Registry.

In the late night quiet on the tug, 46-year-old Steve started thinking. He had already achieved his lifelong goal to earn a pilot license, and had been wondering what his next goal should be. Maybe this time, he thought, the goal could be something that wasn’t so self-directed. It also might benefit someone else. It could even save someone’s life. “And that is when it occurred to me what my next goal would be, my next great adventure,” Steve says. “I would donate a kidney.”

“It took almost two years to get my work schedule set up to so I could make this happen,” Steve recalls. “Then there were six months of needle sticking, ultrasounds, MRIs, paperwork, psychological interviews and doctor visits. I got injected, inspected, and finally, selected.” 

Steve became one of four people in a paired donor kidney exchange that took place at Virginia Mason. “A beautiful, courageous, and generous woman named Wendy Johnson pledged her kidney to a stranger so her friend, DC Crist, would be moved to the top of the list,” Steve remembers.

Kidney foursome

Friends for life (left to right): Douglas “DC” Crist, Steve Tucker, Debbie Nayakik and Wendy Johnson

Wendy was not a match for DC, but Steve was. It was decided that Wendy’s kidney would go to her match, Debbie Nayakik, who lives in Utqiagvik, Alaska, the northernmost town in the United States. Before the transplant, both of Debbie’s kidneys were functioning at eight percent. “I prayed each day and night that God would pull me through each day so I was healthy enough to receive a kidney,” Debbie remembers. “Then one evening I got the call that there was a kidney for me.

“I didn’t realize what I was really getting myself into. The doctor told me I couldn’t eat raw whale muktak [outer skin and blubber], which I love. Then it finally soaked in my brain that I needed to do this and I obeyed the rules,” Debbie says. “I was blessed with a healthy kidney, thanks to Wendy. My life has been prolonged so I can see my two grandchildren grow up.”

DC Crist, the second recipient of the paired kidney donation, suffered from polycystic kidney disease. Clusters of cysts had developed in his kidneys and had become enlarged, diminishing kidney function over time. He and Wendy are both interested in civic causes on Bainbridge Island and their paths crossed often. When Wendy learned DC needed a kidney she felt compelled to investigate the donation process and eventually decided to donate.

“[Steve’s] kidney was essentially looking for a home. Thankfully that was me.”
— DC Crist

“Without Wendy donating her kidney on my behalf, I wouldn’t have had anything to trade for Steve’s kidney,” DC says. “I would have been just one of thousands of Americans on the waiting list. Because Wendy’s kidney was donated on my behalf for Debbie and Steve’s kidney was donated altruistically [without expectation], his kidney was essentially looking for a home. Thankfully that was me.”

The transplant team at Virginia Mason has performed more than 1,000 living donor transplants and is well up to the challenge of a paired kidney exchange. Transplant surgeons Nick Cowan, MD, and Jared Brandenberger, MD, operated, first on DC and Steve, then a week later on Wendy and Debbie.

“I felt a thousand times better immediately,” DC recalls.

Because the transplants occurred locally, as opposed to implanting a kidney that had been transported from another facility, the four participants had the unique opportunity to meet each other face to face. “We set up a meeting with DC two days after the surgery,” Steve recalls. “The meeting was great. He looked terrific. His creatinine level was lower than mine. We found that we had a lot in common. We are both sailors, we both play guitar and we both have amazing life partners.”

All four paired exchange partners eventually met. “I traded a kidney for three new friends.” Steve adds, “Good trade.”

Steve has a heartfelt message for the care team that performed the transplants: “There is no way for me to express my respect and admiration for the incredibly smart, dedicated, well-trained people who make miracles like this possible. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for studying so much harder in college than I ever did. You are the true heroes of this story.”

Helping Your Child Wear a Mask During COVID-19

**By Rebecca Partridge, MD**

If you are a parent of a young child during the pandemic, you know firsthand how hard it can be to explain what is going on and why your child must wear a face covering when in public places or around people outside of your household. I’m sure many of you have felt like giving up on having your little ones mask up.

As a parent myself, I recognize that teaching children the importance of wearing a mask has its challenges. Still, I’m here to tell you that even if your child is struggling with this new directive, you can do it! It’s just going to take time and persistence. Current CDC guidelines state that anyone able to wear a mask, excluding children under 2 years of age, should do so in order to keep each other safe. Advice for younger children includes prioritizing mask wearing for times when it is difficult to maintain a distance of 6 feet from others, such as in carpools or when standing in line. 

mom-maskAs a mother and a physician who sees many parents struggling when it comes to teaching their young children why and how to wear their masks, I’ve come up with a few kid-friendly tips.

Get them excited about it

I’ve found that kids respond well to masks featuring their favorite cartoon characters or other designs that excite them. By providing your child with different choices in terms of the color, shapes, styles and features on the mask, you can turn something that is foreign and uncomfortable into something exciting and actually fun. Many children love to look like Spider-Man or Minnie Mouse; if their mask gives them an opportunity to “become” their favorite characters, your child is more likely to wear it. Parents should also express their own enthusiasm for masking up when around their kids to serve as an example that hopefully gets followed.

Gradually increase mask time

I’m hearing from many parents that their child is willing to try on the mask, but that they can only keep it on for a few seconds before they get bored and take it off. Parents should work with their child on wearing a mask for short periods of time to start and then graduate to longer periods of mask wearing. Try doing a countdown with your kids, distract them by playing their favorite video or giving them their favorite toy. Provide praise and positive attention when they keep the mask on. Do this until your child is able to keep the mask on for the time needed to run an errand in public or other activities you’d like to enjoy with your family.

Read stories with your child that include mask-wearing characters

For children who are having a really hard time tolerating wearing a mask, consider reading books to them about the topic. Book characters might go into the steps of putting on a mask or its importance to protect one’s health and those around them. Hearing and seeing these behaviors in a child-friendly format might resonate with your child, helping them better understand why mask-wearing is so important.

Don’t give up!

It will take time to get your child used to wearing a mask. Continue to employ these steps and your efforts will pay off. If your child is still having trouble after trying some of the advice above, you might consider a face shield. Although a mask is the best way to keep your child and others safe, a face shield is a good option for parents of kids who might be more sensitive to touch or having things touching their faces. In these cases, a shield can be a good introduction in teaching your child to wear a mask later on. 

Meanwhile, don’t forget to give yourself credit for everything you’re doing to support your family during such a challenging time. Good luck and be well!   


Rebecca Partridge

Rebecca Partridge, MD, is a Pediatrics specialist at Virginia Mason Issaquah Medical Center. Dr. Partridge is board-certified by the American Board of Pediatrics. Her medical interests includes general pediatrics, Down syndrome and emergency pediatrics.

Prioritizing Your Health During COVID-19

**By Donna L. Smith, MD**

Reports indicate nearly one-third of U.S. adults have avoided seeking medical care because they are worried about contracting COVID-19, and experts are concerned about deaths from non-COVID-19 illnesses that could be due to people not seeking treatment. This trend is alarming.

As a physician, I will always encourage people to be active participants in caring for their health. While staying healthy is understandably a top priority for all of us right now, it is also a time when many people might be tempted to minimize and deprioritize symptoms of serious illness. Although hand hygiene, social distancing and masking are key actions to avoid infectious diseases such as COVID-19, it is also important to seek prompt evaluation and treatment for any other health concerns. This includes care for yourself and for those you love.

Don’t ignore symptoms

A single symptom could be just that, or it could be an indication of a more systemic health condition. Though not always the case for every concern, it is often better to identify the cause of symptoms sooner rather than wait until they progress.Staying current with your health care is important, even during a pandemic.

Pay attention to changes in your body; you know your body best. An acute increase in symptoms, a new symptom that persists, or something that persists and then increases could all be causes for concern. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your health care provider when concerns arise.

Get it checked out now, for better future outcomes

Delayed care can result in a need for more involved treatment later. Diseases such as cancer are a prime example of this.  It is important to have routine, recommended screenings for diseases such as cancer, especially if you are at increased risk.  With regular screenings, diseases can be detected earlier and result in better health outcomes.

If you have chronic disease, regular check-ins are essential

For those living with and managing chronic disease, a change in daily life patterns, including eating habits, exercise routines and social activities, can leave you stressed and vulnerable to developing new or increased symptoms. Make sure to keep up your regular check-ins with your health care team to ensure you are taking the best actions to optimize your health.

Health care facilities have COVID-19 prevention top of mind. Here at Virginia Mason, we rigorously screen patients for symptoms, and have a separate entrance for those with respiratory illness. We provide masks to all patients and visitors upon arrival. We’ve arranged our waiting areas to provide at least six feet of distance between patients. And of course, we always have intensive cleaning processes in place including disinfecting all surfaces and handles in exam rooms after each patient visit.

There are virtual options for care available as well. Call or send portal messages to talk with care team members and determine if virtual care or in-person is optimal for you. And, if you prefer in-person visits, be certain to tell the team member of this preference, and they will advise accordingly.

We encourage you to continue seeking medical care even in the time of COVID-19 to protect your health and the health of your family, whether it’s virtually or in-person. When you do seek care, Virginia Mason providers are ready and able to help.


Dr. SmithDonna Smith, M.D., MBA, is Executive Medical Director and Associate Chief Medical Officer of Virginia Mason Medical Center. Previously serving in multiple medical leadership roles at Virginia Mason, she is responsible for oversight of the health care system’s hospital and clinics. Dr. Smith is board-certified by the American Board of Pediatrics and also specializes in primary care. She practices at Virginia Mason University Village.

Why You Should Vaccinate Your Child, Even During a Pandemic

**By David J. Schneider, MD, FAAP**

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently reported a plunge in vaccination rates for children, with numbers suggesting childhood vaccination rates essentially halting from March to April 2020 during the height of coronavirus concerns.

While many families continue to stay home to prevent the spread of COVID-19 until there is a proven, safe and effective vaccine, parents shouldn’t delay seeking health care for their children, particularly routine immunizations.

Current unvaccinated children for vaccine-preventable diseases do not have a higher risk of contracting COVID-19, but they do have a higher risk of contracting other preventable diseases, like meningitis, whooping cough and measles that can potentially lead to worse outcomes. Measles is still spreading globally, with two outbreaks in Washington state last year. Measles is more infectious than the novel coronavirus and young children, pregnant women and immunocompromised children are at an increased risk for complications and have a higher fatality rate.

As a pediatrician who supports children’s overall health, my advice to parents is to not delay health care for your child if you are worried about COVID-19. Aside from vaccine-preventable diseases, delays in care for your child can slow the detection of congenital or developmental issues, diagnosis of new problems or treatments for chronic illnesses.

At Virginia Mason, we are doing new things to help put parents’ worries at ease. We are separating well and sick children into different clinics at physically distant locations so that parents and kids who come in for routine care will have decreased likelihood of being exposed to kids who are unwell. We are doing extra sanitizing of each exam room between patients, using personal protective equipment (PPE) for all visits with full PPE for sick visits, masking all patients at the entrance, and making it possible to maintain a six-foot physical distance from other people within the clinic.

This outbreak has reminded us how important vaccines are, as they help prevent the quick spread of infectious diseases and the horrible consequences that come with an outbreak.   –David Schneider, MD

Patients who are scheduled in the “sick clinic” are asked to wait in their car and they are called when we are ready for them to come in. They are led directly to a clean exam room to avoid possible exposures in waiting rooms and hallways. For visits that do not require in-person care, we offer video visits and have seen a significant increase in this service.

Everyone carries some level of risk for contracting COVID-19. Fortunately for children, most cases of COVID-19 appear to be mild, but there are some children who develop more severe symptoms and complications. It’s important to continue good hand washing, physical distancing and maintaining hygiene practices to help avoid infection.

This outbreak has reminded us how important vaccines are, as they help prevent the quick spread of infectious diseases and the horrible consequences that come with an outbreak. When a COVID-19 vaccine is available, it will be important for everyone to stay up to date with the vaccination to achieve herd immunity and avoid a devastating outbreak like we are having now.


Dr David Schneider_2019David Schneider, MD, FAAP is board-certified in general pediatrics. He practices at Virginia Mason Bellevue Medical Center. Dr. Schneider specializes in pediatric and adolescent medicine, with special interests ranging from well child visits and sports-related injuries to LGBTQ health and mental health concerns around ADHD, depression and anxiety.

Tips for Summer Travel During COVID-19

**By Chia Wang, MD**

Summer is underway and many of us are feeling restless and ready to get out and enjoy the warm weather. Some of us are itching to see family and friends whom we may not have seen for a while. But is it safe to travel this summer amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic? There is no question that in terms of catching the virus, isolating at home is the safest thing to do. However, each person must weigh their individual risks, and for those who are very elderly, or who have underlying risk conditions, staying at home until there is a vaccine or until rates of transmission are very low is still the best advice.

To travel or not this summer also depends on where you are traveling to. Personally, I would be hesitant to travel from a place where viral transmission rates are low to one where transmission rates are high. Conversely, if traveling from somewhere where transmission rates are high, you would want to consider carefully whether you would be putting others at risk by traveling, and take steps to mitigate any risk, such as bringing your own food and water and monitoring for symptoms. I would also caution against traveling to a place where being able to practice physical distancing would be difficult, such as to a dense urban area or visiting someone with a very small apartment.

People must take into account their own risk profiles, as well as their own comfort level with risk.  –Dr. Chia Wang

Here are some things to keep in mind if you choose to travel this summer:

Couple tandem bikeConsider your mode of transportation

Travel by car is generally preferred to plane travel, because you have more control over your surroundings, and you are not breathing the same air as many strangers for hours on end. That is not to say that plane travel is unsafe in terms of COVID-19, but car travel is generally safer. However, if you need to travel cross-country, and traveling by car would involve multiple hotel stays and eating at many restaurants, particularly if traveling through virus-hot spots, then plane travel may actually be safer than car travel.

Choose lodging that minimizes contact with others

The virus does not seem to be transmitted as easily outdoors as indoors, so choosing hotels or lodges with doors that open to the outside, instead of into a hallway, are also choices that may make you safer. Avoid lodging that requires you to use an elevator. The less contact you have with other people, whether other travelers, or staff at hotels and restaurants, the safer. Staying in private homes through services like Airbnb, staying in cabins, tents or RVs are all ways that you enjoy less risky travel.

Wearing a mask while indoors, or when around people while outdoors, is one safety measure that is recommended. Washing hands frequently, and avoiding touching the face, are also important.

Bring the appropriate supplies

Masks and hand sanitizer are the most important things to bring when leaving the home for most reasons. For road trips, bringing things that will allow you to minimize contact with others is helpful, such as extra food and drinks, and day trip supplies including sunblock, bandages and pain relievers such as Tylenol.

Think outside the box – or just think outside

Camping, hiking, biking, and outdoor adventuring seem like activities that will allow families to adhere best to physical distancing guidelines. Sitting outdoors at a scenic location reading a book or just nature-gazing can also be a nice change of pace for those who are tired of being cooped up. For those who prefer the comforts of home rather than sleeping on the ground and using a Porta-potty while camping, “glamping” may be a great option—with beds and flush toilets and hot showers, but still in tents that are well-distanced from each other and lots of fresh air. Overall, for travel this summer, trips that emphasize time outdoors are the safest. People must take into account their own risk profiles, as well as their own comfort level with risk. Until transmission rates have dropped much further than they have so far—basically until there is a vaccine—the safest option for most people is still to stay home.


Dr.WangChia Wang, MD, is an infectious disease specialist at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle. She is board-certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine. Dr. Wang also specializes in HIV/AIDS care and travel health.