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COVID questions: First wave of vaccines, indoor ventilation tips

December 22, 2020 By Kristina LeVan

Editor’s note: We will be publishing answers to questions about COVID-19 and the pandemic each week in this COVID questions column. If you have a question, please email it to

Q: Are there any plans for how patients will be notified when/where to obtain vaccination? What if you are a health care worker or part of the first wave of vaccines?   

A: On Dec. 16, UWMadison sent emails to frontline health care workers and other individuals at the university who are eligible for the initial phase of vaccination, or Phase 1a. These individuals will soon have access to scheduling through the MyUHS website, which will give them more information about when and where they can get the vaccine. UWMadison is currently identifying individuals who will qualify for phases beyond 1a, which will also be affected by federal and state guidelines along with vaccine availability. More communication will be provided in the coming weeks.  

 Any individual (including those not affiliated with UWMadison) who believes they are eligible for a vaccine in this initial vaccine phase can email University Health Services (UHS) at In your email, include the subject line “Phase 1a eligibility” and provide your full name, contact information and a description of your eligibility. UHS will review the information provided and contact you if you meet current eligibility criteria for Phase 1a vaccination, as established by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. 

Health care workers should contact their employers to inquire about vaccine eligibility; most public service workers with patient contact should be in touch with their local public health agency, such as Public Health Madison & Dane County, for more details. 

– Devlin Cole, preventive medicine resident, UW–Madison Department of Population Health Sciences 

Q: What does good ventilation really mean indoors with doors and windows shut?  

A: In residential buildings, the exchange of indoor air with clean outdoor air can be very slow, especially during winter when we have our windows closed most of the time. This can lead to the buildup of indoor air pollutants or respiratory aerosol particles that can carry viruses. You can sense this by how long it takes for your smoke alarm to turn off if you don’t open a window/door when you burn something in the oven! To help mitigate this, you can leave your furnace fan running, with a filter that is appropriately sized for the HVAC system. This recirculation will help to remove aerosol particles from the air. I do not expect much impact of running fans without a filtration device. 

 Stepping back, in all residential spaces, I would only share this environment with your immediate family. If others join your house, it is best practice to have everyone wear a mask and crack a few windows for the short duration of their stay. 

 – Timothy Bertram, professor of chemistry; affiliate professor, atmospheric and oceanic sciences, environmental chemistry and technology