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If Skagit has ever faced a challenge, this is it.

There is much unknown, and often the unknown leads to reasonable fear and anxiety. However, we are a strong community. You can see it in our people who come from all walks of life. People who are supporting neighbors, taking care of their families and changing their lives in order to protect us all. This mix of connection and diversity might be rooted in our geography. Skagit stretches from idyllic islands to unending miles of shoreline to incredibly rich farmland to the foothills of the majestic Cascade range. Yet all this varied land and diverse people are linked together in ways that are obvious, even during social distancing.

In this trying time, we strive to bring you useful information, health guidance, COVID-19 updates, stories of people persevering and some lightness to ease our uncertainty. These days, connection often seems a rare commodity, yet it somehow remains the foundation of the Skagit community. We look forward to the possibility of a continued connection with you.


Our Masked Heroes: Community Service During COVID-19

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Post by contributing author, Rosemary Alpert

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is…What are you doing for others?’”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The third week of January, we honored the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; welcomed President Biden and Vice President Harris; and, across the country, remembered all the lives touched and lost by the Coronavirus. With deep gratitude and compassion, two words rise in my heart: community and service. 

Volunteerism: The policy or practice of volunteering one’s time or talents for charitable, educational, or worthwhile activities, especially in one’s community. (Dictionary.com) 

“Skagit County, Washington”, ©Rosemary DeLucco Alpert, 2021 

Since April 21, 2020, the Skagit County COVID-19 Testing Site has welcomed 196 volunteers to assist with all aspects of support during the pandemic: traffic control, registration, testing, contact tracing and vaccination. These volunteers stepped up to the frontline with the purpose to serve our community. Skagit County Department of Emergency Management’s Volunteer Program Coordinator, Tina Bobbit, coordinates, organizes and schedules all the volunteers. Tina recently shared that as of January 15, 2021, volunteers have given approximately 13,000 hours in support of our community. 

While working at the testing site, I have witnessed the best of volunteerism, remarkable and impressive. Some of the employees at the testing site began early on as volunteers. Each volunteer has a story and reason why they are motivated to serve. All volunteers are Registered WA State Emergency Workers, registered and coordinated through the Skagit County Department of Emergency Management (DEM).  

Volunteers represent various groups:  

  • Skagit County CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) members from all over the County 
  • Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES) 
  • WA State Temporary Emergency Workers—Skagit County, registered to assist with the COVID-19 response drive-thru testing and vaccination site 
  • Skagit County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue 
  • Snohomish County Medical Reserve Corps 
  • Civil Air Patrol (CAP) will be assisting with our Vaccine Operations 

In addition, community agencies around our county have shared paid employees. True community collaboration during these challenging and transformational times. In reference to the awesome volunteers, Tina shared this, “The volunteers are what make my job easy, as they give so much of their time and dedication to helping the community during this COVID-19 response. Appreciate all that they do!” 

I asked a few volunteers at the testing site to share their thoughts in reference to their community service:

“The reason I decide to volunteer is because I was so impressed with how friendly the staff was and how quickly the entire process was at the testing site. I’ve since become a temporary part-time employee. It is a great work environment, feels like I’m doing something positive for the community.” 

“I was trained as a CERT, Community Emergency Response Team, member. As COVID broke out, it made sense to me to give a hand at the test site. I am a traffic guide. It is very safe. People stay in their cars, everybody is wearing masks. The COVID site managers make sure everybody follows safety protocol. Nobody that has worked at the site has gotten COVID. I volunteer twice a week for four hours. It has been a very satisfying job. We are appreciated by the management. It is a way for me to give back to the community.” 

“Some reasons why I started volunteering was to mainly help out the community. I want to see us better as a community and help give information to families that may not be as informed. My experience so far has been great. I really enjoy it!” 

As our National Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman, wrote so eloquently in the presidential inauguration poem, The Hill We Climb, in honor of all the volunteers and community members who tirelessly serve our communities, the following words are for you: 

When day comes, we step out of the shade,  
aflame and unafraid 
The new dawn blooms as we free it 
For there is always light, 
If only we’re brave enough to see it  
If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

If you are interested in volunteering at the COVID-19 testing/vaccine site, please contact Tina Bobbit for more information. She can be reached through email at tinab@co.skagit.wa.us, or by calling the DEM Main Office at 360-416-1850.  Specifically, we are seeking volunteers who can speak Spanish, and can work in either traffic or registration. We are also seeking those who are trained medical personnel. 


COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic at the Fairgrounds: A Step-By-Step Guide

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On January 14th, Skagit County Public Health announced that it would begin providing COVID-19 vaccine to Phase 1b, Tier 1 eligible individuals on Tuesday, January 26th at the Skagit County Fairgrounds. This will be in addition to continuing to serve 1a-priority populations, including those who work in healthcare settings and staff/residents of long-term care facilities. Vaccine will be made available based on supply provided by the State.

It is important to note that Skagit County Public Health is not the only vaccine provider in our community. A list of providers (local, regional, and state-wide) can be found here. With that said, a mass vaccination clinic at the Fairgrounds will make a large, and positive impact by allowing vaccine to be more widely available in Skagit.

Vaccines will be administered at the Skagit County Fairgrounds for those eligible, by appointment only. Please note that this schedule will depend on vaccine supplies.

Those who are eligible under Phase 1b, Tier 1 include:

  • All people 65 years and older
  • People 50 years and older in a multigenerational (2 or more generations) household

Full guidance on phases from the WA Department of Health (DOH) can be found here. There are two categories of people who are eligible under the multigenerational household definition:

  1. People who are (a) over the age of 50 AND (b) are not able to live independently who either:
    1. are receiving long-term care from a paid or unpaid caregiver, or
    1. are living with someone who works outside the home
  2. People who are over the age of 50 AND are living with and caring for a grandchild


This is an exciting time for our community, as vaccine becomes available to a wider portion of our population. So, what should 1a and 1b, Tier 1 individuals expect when they make an appointment for a vaccine at the Fairgrounds? Here is a step-by-step guide to Public Health’s Vaccine Site at the Skagit County Fairgrounds.

Note: Vaccines are available through other providers in Skagit County, dependent on supply provided by the State. Public Health recommends that you please consult your doctor or pharmacy about other availability! You can also find a list of vaccine providers here.

Step 1: Registration

Before making an appointment, individuals will be required to determine their eligibility. There are two ways to do this: visit www.findmyphasewa.org or call our Vaccine Hotline at (360) 416-1500: Monday-Saturday, 7:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Whether you use the online Phase Finder link or call the hotline, expect to provide information like age, occupation, and living situation in order to determine your phase.

Appointments at the Skagit County Fairgrounds are currently only available for those eligible under Phase 1a and Phase 1b, Tier 1. Our ability to schedule appointments will depend on vaccine availability. We will post any changes in regards to phase eligibility on our website: www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine.

To schedule an appointment by visiting: https://prepmod.doh.wa.gov/. Appointment availability is based on vaccine supply.

Please call our vaccine hotline at (360) 416-1500 if you need assistance with registration. The hotline is available in English and Spanish, Monday – Saturday , from 7:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

There are very minimal barriers to accessing a vaccine. The federal government is covering the cost of vaccine, making it no-cost for those with or without insurance. Some vaccine locations may submit an administrative fee to your insurance if you have insurance.  Skagit County Fairgrounds vaccine site will not request any insurance information or bill an administrative fee. When you arrive, you will not be expected to provide insurance information or residency information. It is truly the goal of the County to provide vaccine to all those who want it.

Individuals must enter through the North Gate entrance. This map is subject to change. Please visit our website for updates: www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine.

Step 2: Arriving at the site

The Vaccine Site is located at the Skagit County Fairgrounds, North Gate Entrance (1410 Virginia St., Mount Vernon, WA 98273). Testing has been located here for several months now through the South Entrance. Those with an appointment for a vaccine should enter through the North Entrance only.

Once through the gate, vehicles will be directed to a holding area which will operate similar to a ferry system. Once there is space, vehicles will be moved through the site, either to a parking lot for the walk-in clinic (for first dose) or to the F-Barn for the drive-thru clinic (for second dose).

If instructed toward the parking lot, individuals will be asked to remain within their vehicle until instructed to come into the building. Please note: We ask that only individuals with a vaccine appointment enter the vaccine building at the A/B Barn. However, people requiring assistance from another adult are welcome to bring that adult in with them.  Children will not be allowed to enter the A/B building and should remain at home or with an adult in the vehicle.

If instructed to continue to drive toward the F-Barn, drivers will proceed based on instructions from our traffic staff.

Step 3 & 4: Checking in & Vaccination

Walk-in clinic (first dose):

We ask that people adhere to physical distancing requirements while in the building, and that a surgical mask is worn at all times. If you do not have a surgical mask, one will be provided.

Once an individual enters the Vaccine Building, they will be greeted and asked to fill out a consent form. This form helps staff fill out each person’s Vaccine Card, which documents when their first dose was administered, and what brand of vaccine was provided (note: Public Health is currently providing Moderna vaccine and will also be providing Pfizer in the coming days). This will also be a time for people to read about the vaccine they will be receiving.

Individuals will be asked to remain seated until called forward by staff.

Once the consent form is complete and when a nurse is available, individuals will be called to an enclosed area. Here, the nurse will be able to answer questions that you may have and will screen for any possible health issues that may be of concern for someone receiving a vaccine.

From here, the nurse will administer the vaccine: a simple shot in the upper arm, similar to a flu shot.

Drive-thru (second dose):

After following directions to the F-Barn, vehicles will enter one-at-a-time into the building. Those with an appointment will receive their vaccine while seated within their vehicle. A nurse will ask that individuals roll down their windows, and the vaccine will be administered in this way.

A nurse can determine if someone is not able to receive the vaccine while in their vehicle. If this is the case, there will be space for individuals to exit their vehicle and have the vaccine administered outside of their vehicle.

Step 5: 15-Minute Monitoring

Those who are vaccinated will be required to wait for 15 minutes in our holding space—either in our waiting room (for first dose) or in our holding parking lot (for second dose). Staff in this area will monitor individuals for any possible side effects, such as light-headedness, dizziness, nausea, or shortness of breath.

This is the perfect time for those receiving their first dose to enter the date of their second dose into their calendars. You will automatically be scheduled for your second dose of vaccine–either 28 days (Moderna) or 21 days (Pfizer) after your first dose as the same time of day.  If you need to change this time you will be provided with a phone number to call or can request that change during your waiting time.

Once the 15-minute holding period is complete, people are free to leave.

Step 6: Best practices and safety precautions post-vaccination

Once someone receives the vaccine (first and/or second dose), it is still important to keep practicing physical distancing and other safety precautions. Keep wearing your mask, keep your distance, and keep gatherings small.

There is not enough information currently available to say if or when CDC will stop recommending that people wear masks and avoid close contact with others to help prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. Experts need to understand more about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide before making that decision. Other factors, including how many people get vaccinated and how the virus is spreading in communities, will also affect this decision.

While we understand that this isn’t necessarily what people want to hear, it is the best way to protect our friends and loved ones who have yet to be vaccinated.

If you would like more information about the vaccine, please call Skagit County Public Health’s COVID-19 Vaccine Hotline, available in both English and Spanish. Staff will be able to assist you with general vaccine questions, and can provide information about priority phases, as well as vaccine locations. Please call Public Health’s main line at (360) 416-1500 to access the Hotline. Calls will be answered during regular business hours: Monday through Saturday from 7:30am-6:00pm.

And as always, for the most up-to-date information, visit our webpage at www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine.


Seniors Hopeful for a Vaccination

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Post contributed by Jackie Cress, Skagit County staff.

There is a valid question for many people amid this pandemic: When will life return to normal? Perhaps no one in modern times can truly answer this question. We’d have to step into a time machine and go back to one of the number of historic pandemics to really know.

The first recorded pandemic happened in 430 B.C. and here we are today facing this uncharted territory. Most of us could never imagine what has taken place during this Covid-19 time frame. For some, this would merely be a short inconvenience. We hoped that it would pass with warmer weather or as immunities built up. For others, the fear has been almost paralyzing. What we have in common though, is the knowledge that there is hope on the horizon.

Desmond Tutu said “Hope is being able to see that there is a light despite all of the darkness.” As the vaccine supply increases in the weeks and months to come, it is an important step for our senior community. We know that the risk for severe illness with Covid-19 increases with age and older adults are in the highest risk group. Fundamental ordinances have taken place to keep our communities safe such as instructions to stay-at-home, social distance and wear face coverings when in public. Now that the vaccine is becoming more readily available, we can start to imagine life returning to normal. 

There is much credit to our senior community during this time! Instead of accepting a life that can be often isolating, lonely and boring, seniors have adapted, possibly more than any other group and it is inspiring. Seniors have learned to use technology in a time frame that could have left them behind. Seniors have refused to let the institutions that strive to protect them define them into seclusion! They’ve learned to use smart phones, computers and new programs that brought us all together virtually. We’ve played Bingo together, sang along to online concerts and exchanged our every day celebrations and tribulations through technology. It’s nothing short of remarkable.

Our youth seem to learn all technological things in an instant. They’ve grown up not knowing a world without the internet. For them, familiarizing themselves with new electronic components comes naturally. It’s not so easy for us who have seen the birth of the internet which happened around the late 1980’s. Despite these challenges, seniors have adapted in many innovative ways to meet their needs. This alone is a cause to celebrate! These new found life skills will be advantageous even as we start to return to the life we knew pre-pandemic. 

Getting the Covid-19 vaccine is very literally our best shot at rebounding from what has kept us all apart. The vaccine has been rigorously tested world-wide. Side effects are mild and severe side effects are rare. We are all dreaming of when we can share a meal in person, do a crossword puzzle together and hug our friends. This vaccine is Desmond Tutu’s light in this dark time. Vaccine facts can be found on line at CDC.gov website and on Skagit County’s webpage at www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine

Until we meet again, Be safe. Continue to stay at home when possible. Wash your hands frequently. Wear a face covering when in public and most importantly, schedule your Covid-19 vaccination as soon as you are able. 


COVID-19 Vaccine Scams & What You Can Do About Them

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These are very exciting times as we begin to see vaccine administered across the country. It is also the perfect time for scammers to take advantage of individuals who may be feeling particularly vulnerable after months of COVID-19-related anxiety or fatigue.

Right before the holidays, a warning was sent out to the American public about several emerging fraud schemes related to COVID-19 vaccines. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have received complaints of scammers using the public’s interest in COVID-19 vaccines to obtain personally identifiable information and money through various schemes.

So how can you keep yourself and your loved ones safe from scammers? The FBI has provided a helpful list of things to look out for as you are navigating the vaccination process.

What should you look out for?

Any of the following could be an indicator of potential fraud:

  • Advertisements or offers for early access to a vaccine upon payment of a deposit or fee.
  • Requests to pay out of pocket to obtain the vaccine or to put your name on a COVID-19 vaccine waiting list.
  • Offers to undergo additional medical testing or procedures when obtaining a vaccine.
  • Marketers offering to sell and/or ship doses of a vaccine, domestically or internationally, in exchange for payment of a deposit or fee.
  • Unsolicited emails, telephone calls or personal contact from someone claiming to be from a medical office, insurance company or COVID-19 vaccine center and requesting personal and/or medical information to determine eligibility to participate in clinical vaccine trials or obtain the vaccine.
  • Claims of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for a vaccine that cannot be verified.
  • Advertisements for vaccines through social media platforms, emails, telephone calls, online or from unsolicited/unknown sources.
  • Individuals contacting you in person, by phone or by email to tell you that government officials require you to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Where should you go for credible information?

If you have questions or concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine, Skagit County Public Health has two easy ways to get information.

  1. Visit our COVID-19 Vaccine webpage at: www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine
  2. Call our new COVID-19 Vaccine Hotline at (360) 416-1500. The hotline is available in English or Spanish, and operates Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

What else can you do?

  • Check the FDA’s website for current information about vaccine emergency use authorizations.
  • Consult your primary care physician before having any vaccination.
  • Don’t share your personal or health information with anyone other than known, trusted medical professionals.
  • Check your medical bills and insurance explanation of benefits (EOBs) for suspicious claims, and promptly report errors to your health insurance provider.
  • Follow guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other trusted medical professionals.

What should you do if you suspect a scam?

If you believe you have been the victim of a COVID-19 fraud, immediately report it to the FBI (ic3.govtips.fbi.gov, or 1-800-CALL-FBI) or HHS OIG (tips.hhs.gov or 1-800-HHS-TIPS).


Eyes of Hope

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Rosemary Alpert, contributing writer. 

Over the past ten months, we have been wearing our masks, washing our hands more than we ever thought we would, strategically getting our groceries, keeping our distance and so much more. A collective community effort to keep ourselves, families and friends healthy.  

Since June, I’ve been looking into thousands of community members’ eyes through car windows while registering them to get tested for COVID-19. First, at Skagit Valley College and now Skagit County Fairgrounds (south entrance, F Barn). Each person has a story for why they are getting tested. Eyes filled with worry, fear, anxiety and deep concern, not only for themselves but for their families too.  

So many eyes. 

Last Thursday, Skagit County Public Health and its community partners worked tirelessly to get our first 1a-eligible COVID-19 vaccine clinic started. The County is working directly with 1a-eligible employers to identify individuals to be vaccinated. Eligible community members were invited and scheduled for a specific time last Thursday and Friday, to receive their first vaccination for the COVID-19 virus.  

From registration to vaccination; a moment in time that I will remember for all of my days. 

I’ve been asked to greet each person immediately after they receive their vaccine: instructing them to sit for 15 minutes post-vaccine, to be observed and make sure that they do not have any reactions. After I shared with a friend and coworker from Skagit Valley Family YMCA about how powerful it is to be a part of this historical time for our County, she said, “You’ve come full circle, starting off being the first person people see when getting tested for the virus, to being the first person they see once they receive the vaccine.” 

Full circle—filled with deep listening, loving-kindness and compassion. 

What profoundly struck me last week, quite unexpectedly, was everyone’s eyes. Each pair of eyes, filled with a sense of relief and gratitude; some glistening with tears, and most of all, eyes filled with HOPE. 

Just as each person has a reason for why they get tested, the relief and appreciation for receiving the vaccine are also deeply meaningful. Some of the responses I heard were: 

“I can’t wait to see my granddaughter.”  

“I have no words. Just so grateful.”  

“Thank you, thank you, thank you.”  

“This gives me so much hope.” 

#OurShotSkagit. Photo taken by Julie de Losada of Rosemary Alpert receiving her first COVID-19 vaccine dose.

Looking into eyes of our community, filled with hope and movement forward. Slow and steady progress.

For a first-hand account, as a frontline worker, I was invited to receive the vaccine. Last Friday afternoon, I received my first shot. After working months, looking into the eyes of our community, I was filled with emotions and gratitude, feeling the light of hope. 

My first thought was my two adult children, who I haven’t been able to see in over a year. My eyes glistened with tears of relief. The only reaction I felt was a sore arm, and the next day, a little tired. I also woke up at 3:38 a.m. the next morning and could feel the vaccine working. It was a wonderful feeling! I visualized the vaccine as golden-healing liquid responding and strengthening my being, heart and eyes full of hope. 

For more information about the COVID-19 vaccine, please check out Skagit County Public Health’s website at www.skagitounty.net/COVIDvaccine. You can also read our press release with WA DOH’s latest guidance here: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/Home/press/010721.htm.


What Is Binge Drinking, Anyway?

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New year’s resolutions aren’t for everyone. Making big plans and setting high expectations for the months to come can seem too burdensome for some—and that’s totally fine! The beginning of a new year does present a good opportunity to reflect on the prior year, though. An opportunity to think about the things that we’d like to work on or change.

This past year was definitely a doozy, and it wouldn’t be surprising if some of our routines were uprooted or thrown out the window entirely. While, before last March, it might not have been acceptable to take a meeting in sweats, or to shower in the middle of the workday, we’ve adapted and made concessions out of pure necessity.

Perhaps, for some, one of these concessions has been around drinking habits. While it was once acceptable to have an occasional glass of wine over dinner or a few cocktails on the weekend, now a quaran-tini (or two) each night has become the standard.

While it’s perfectly fine to have a drink here and there, it is important to monitor one’s drinking habits. When does drinking become “too much,” and when do rates of consumption go from healthy to possibly dangerous?

Isolation, the disruption of routine, and an inability to use pre-COVID coping mechanisms can cause one to feel especially vulnerable during times of crisis. Partnered with other stressors like economic uncertainty or unemployment, an individual may be at increased risk of developing a reliance on alcohol or other substances in order to cope.

What is binge drinking?

Not everyone who drinks—even regularly—engages in binge drinking. Even still, the definition of “binge drinking” may surprise you.

Moderate drinking, for men, is drinking no more than 15 drinks per week and no binge drinking. For women, the limit is seven drinks per week, with no binge drinking.

Binge drinking, however, is defined as drinking five or more drinks in a two-hour period for men, and four or more drinks in that same two-hour period for women.

Note: Women metabolize alcohol less efficiently than men, meaning they have higher concentrations of it in their blood when they drink the same amount.

The CDC states that one in six US adults binge drinks about four times a month, consuming about seven drinks per binge, with the highest percentage of binge drinking happening amongst 25-34 year olds. A person who binge drinks may or may not have an alcohol use disorder.

Recent Findings

A recent study published in the American Journal of Alcohol & Drugs Abuse reported that “thirty-four percent [of those studied] reported binge drinking during the COVID-19 pandemic.” It was also found that more binge drinkers increased alcohol consumption during the pandemic (60%) than non-binge drinkers (28%). And for every one-week increase in time spent at home during the pandemic, there were greater odds of binge drinking.

Also of note was that binge drinkers with a previous diagnosis of depression and current depression symptoms had greater odds of increased alcohol consumption compared to those reporting no depression.

Why can it be dangerous?

Binge drinking is associated with many short- and long-term health problems. Short-term side effects include:

  • Poor balance and coordination
  • Nausea
  • Dehydration
  • Vomiting
  • Hangover
  • Shakiness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Poor decision-making
  • Memory loss

From the American Addiction Centers, some long-term effects of repeated binge drinking include: alcoholism, brain damage, liver damage, cardiovascular disease, and even sexual dysfunction.

Tips for a healthier relationship with alcohol

Keep track. Whether you can keep track in your mind, or you need something in writing to help you monitor throughout the week, it may be a good idea to have a system in place. Did you have a few drinks over the weekend? Maybe take a break for a few days this week. Even taking a couple days off from alcohol can help your physical (and even mental) wellbeing!

Count and measure. Being your own bartender at home can surely be cost efficient, but it can also pose a challenge for proper measuring! According to NIAAA, a standard alcoholic drink is 12 ounces of regular beer (usually about 5% alcohol), 5 ounces of wine (typically about 12% alcohol), and 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (about 40% alcohol). Keep these measurements in mind when pouring (and counting) drinks.

Set goals. Along these same lines, try setting some goals for yourself over the coming weeks. Maybe it isn’t realistic right now to cut out alcohol together. How about cutting out a drink here and there to start, and work your way into a healthier routine? Don’t get discouraged if you lapse or if you have to start over. Changing behaviors can be extremely difficult—but also entirely doable! Maybe set a goal with a friend or loved one so that you can work toward a common goal together, while also keeping one another accountable.

Find alternatives. If having a drink at 5 o’clock has become the norm recently, try replacing this habit with something else. Try taking a walk during this time, or taking a hot bath. If having a drink makes you feel calm, find something that provides a similar sensation. If you feel like a drink is a nice way to treat yourself after a long day, find something else that feels like a little reward. Just be sure not to replace one unhealthy habit with another!

Avoid “triggers.” A trigger can be anything that causes you to want to drink. This could be something stressful like watching the nightly news or scrolling social media. However, it can be something pleasurable like cooking a meal or video-chatting with a friend. It is important to recognize what your triggers are in order to plan for and work through it.

Remember non-alcoholic drinks. For some people, just having alcohol in the house can pose a difficulty in regulating consumption. If this is the case, move the alcohol out of the refrigerator, or avoid having it in the home altogether. Try having something in the fridge that you can go to instead when you’re craving a drink. Carbonated water (which comes in a variety of flavors) can be a nice go-to, or even diet soda.

Need more help?

Need a little extra help? That’s okay! The Washington Recovery Helpline is a great resource available to all Washingtonians who may be struggling with substance use. Call 1-866-789-1511 to speak with a specialist (available 24/7/365). You can also text this same number during Monday-Friday between 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. for treatment options, resources, and referrals.

You can also access www.skagithelps.org for a list of helpful resources.


WA Department of Health Releases Next Phase of Vaccine Prioritization

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January 8, 2021

On January 6th, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) released guidance for phase 1B, which is the next phase of COVID-19 vaccine prioritization. DOH worked closely with the Governor’s Office to finalize prioritization for phase 1B, while also relying on federal guidance and public input through focus groups, interviews, and surveys over the past few months.

This guidance is for planning purposes only. Washington State and Skagit County will remain in Phase 1A of vaccinations until all Phase 1A individuals who want the vaccines have it. As a reminder, Phase 1A includes:

Tier 1: High risk workers in health care settings; High risk first responders; and residents and staff of nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other community-based, congregate living settings where most individuals over 65 years of age are receiving care, supervision, or assistance.

Tier 2: All workers in healthcare settings.

Skagit County Public Health and its partner providers are ready to vaccinate our community; however, the ability to do so remains reliant on when and how much vaccine is received from the State. Current allocations have been very limited. To date, Skagit County has only received vaccine to meet approximately 25% of our 1A eligible workers and long term care facility residents.  Phase 1A will need to be completed before we will be able to move on to Phase 1B in Skagit County.

People should not expect Skagit County to move into Phase 1B until February at the earliest. If we receive greater dose allocations from the state, this timing will improve. Public Health will announce movement into the next phase of vaccinations via our press release system, web site and social media. Sign up here to get press releases from Skagit County.

“Skagit County Public Health and our partner providers have put a lot of time and effort into preparing for this moment. We are ready! As soon as we receive a consistent supply of vaccine from the State and are clear to begin phase 1B, we will let Skagitonians know how and where to get vaccinated.”

Jennifer Johnson, Skagit County Public Health Director

Due to limited vaccine availability, Phase 1B has been broken up into four separate tiers. Groups eligible for vaccination in phase 1B will include:

Phase 1B1 – (Tier 1)

  • All people 70 years and older
  • People 50 years and older who live in multigenerational households

Phase 1B2 – (Tier 2)

  • High risk critical workers 50 years and older who work in certain congregate settings: Agriculture; food processing; grocery stores; K-12 (teachers and school staff); childcare; corrections, prisons, jails or detention facilities (staff); public transit; fire; law enforcement

Phase 1B3 – (Tier 3)

  • People 16 years or older with two or more co-morbidities or underlying conditions

Phase 1B4 – (Tier 4)

  • High-risk critical workers in certain congregate settings under 50 years
  • People, staff and volunteers all ages in congregate living settings:
    • Correctional facilities; group homes for people with disabilities; people experiencing homelessness that live in or access services in congregate settings
Skagit County Public Health’s vaccine roll-out timeline, estimated based on WA DOH’s guidance and timeline, as well as adequate vaccine allocation from federal and state government.

WA DOH has also announced the creation of the Phase Finder online tool that allows people to assess their eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine. It is currently being tested for Phase 1A eligible individuals and will launch broadly on January 18th. Phase Finder will be available in multiple languages and will be used to confirm individual eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine.

For COVID-19 vaccine information, visit our webpage at www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine.


Keep It Simple: Self-Care in the New Year

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Article and image contributed by Rosemary Alpert.

The calendar has turned,
a new year’s begun,
here we go 2021!

Stepping into this new year with hope and resilience, slow and steady movement forward, one day at a time. No resolutions, rather, deciding to keep it simple, focusing on daily self-care and compassion.

At least three times a week, I call a dear friend who turned 99 years old last October. She lives in an assisted living facility in Connecticut. Our conversations are brief and meaningful, for both of us. Almost guaranteed, with each call, especially during challenging days of separation and isolation, my friend, Sylvia, shares two pieces of advice: “Put your oxygen mask on first,” and, “You’re dealt a hand, play it out the best you can.” Daily wisdom from an almost centenarian.

The simplicity of this advice resonates within. “Put your oxygen mask on first,” does not mean being selfish, quite the opposite. Rather, it is true self-care. Being full of care for ourselves is vitally important, especially these days. What works for you?

Keep it Simple. Besides making sure to get enough rest, drink plenty of water, wash our hands, and wear our masks, here are a few keep-it-simple self-care thoughts: Let’s notice our breath; be gentle with ourselves; learn our limits; be our best advocate; ask and reach out; express daily gratitude; get outside; however it may be, take super-duper care! Then, we can show up for one another, with more presence and awareness.

Each day, we are gifted 86,400 seconds, a fresh start. Over these many months, when my mind started to turn into a hamster wheel, spinning out of control, I would stop whatever I was doing. Pause, focus, take a few breaths, remember what my friend Sylvia would say, “You’re dealt a hand, play it out the best you can.” One of my daily practices has become starting fresh with each new day. As with any practice, it is an ongoing learning experience. Some days, it’s not so easy. What this advice has offered is a way to appreciate, notice, and celebrate the littlest of moments within the progress of each day. Our accumulation of seconds count!

While working at the COVID-19 testing site, I asked a few coworkers how they keep it simple with self-care. Here are some of their responses…

  • Relax in bed, all propped up with a bunch of pillows, surround myself with snacks and watch Hallmark movies
  • Take a long hot bath
  • Search for painted rocks on hikes with my son
  • Call a friend
  • Long walks by the river
  • Learned how to quilt
  • Walk my dog
  • Quiet meditation
  • Spend time reading and journaling
  • Go for hikes
  • Spend time gardening, getting my hands in the dirt, connecting to the earth
  • Listen to calming music
  • Make dinner with my partner, then watch a funny movie.

Simple pleasures nourish the soul, keep us in the present, and keep us moving forward. Remember my dear friend Sylvia’s advice: Don’t forget to “put your oxygen mask on first,” and each day, do the best you can with your 86,400 seconds.

Happy New Year!!!


Preventing Poisoning During COVID-19

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Earlier this month, the Washington Poison Center (WAPC) released its data “snapshot” for 2020. This is something that WAPC puts out annually in order to educate the public about poisoning trends at the state level. These trends are based on the types of calls that WPAC’s hotline receives throughout the year, compared to years prior.

This year has been one for the books in so many ways, and the new data snapshot tells an interesting story. I had the opportunity to talk with one of WPAC’s staff, and I’d like to share what I learned.

But first: What is the Washington Poison Center (WAPC)?

The Washington Poison Center (WAPC) provides immediate, free, and expert treatment advice and assistance on the telephone in case of exposure to poisonous, hazardous, or toxic substances. Each year, its specialists answer more than 63,000 calls from Washingtonians related to poisoning and toxic exposures. All calls are free, confidential, and help is available 24/7/365.

Major Takeaways

COVID-19 has increased our risks of accidental poisoning. Period. So what is the reason for this increase? WAPC staff believe that it is due to several factors, including:

  • We are home more due to social distancing and other safety guidance
  • We may have new daily routines this year that are out of the ordinary
  • More products in the home (perhaps due to stockpiling) may cause increased access
  • More stress can cause people to be less focused
  • Rumors and misinformation can lead to dangerous choices

Calls to the Center have increased in 2020, and staff have seen spikes in calls regarding substances common to COVID prevention (hand sanitizer and household cleaners). They have also seen spikes in calls for vulnerable demographics like adolescents and adults over 60.

This data is concerning, and parallels poison trends across the U.S.

Cleaners & Sanitizers

It isn’t unusual for WAPC to receive calls about household cleaners; however, this year has definitely seen a serious uptick. Most calls have been in regards to accidental poisonings, or poisonings due to misuse (mixing products, using in low ventilated areas, etc).

The vast majority of hand sanitizer exposures have been in children ages 0-12, most likely due to increased access to the products in the home. The high alcohol content in these products can be very dangerous for young children, so it is extremely important to supervise kids when using hand sanitizer and to make sure that bottles are always out of reach.

Nicotine

An interesting find this year has been the decrease in nicotine exposure calls. In 2020, nicotine exposure in children ages 0-5 actually decreased—a trend that even WAPC staff were a bit surprised about. Perhaps the decrease is due to parents being home more? Or perhaps the new Tobacco 21 law has decreased access to these products? While it is difficult to pinpoint direct correlations, it is certainly nice to see this type of data!

That said, it is still very important to keep nicotine products stored safely and away from children. The vast majority of calls for 0-5 year old’s were for raw tobacco, with vape products in second. WAPC staff explained that raw tobacco can be dangerous, but vape liquid—if ingested—can be fatal. Always, always, keep these products away from children, as flavored liquids can be especially enticing to little kids.

Cannabis

WAPC 2020 Data Snapshot

Trends for THC exposure are less rosy. All age groups saw an increase in THC exposures this year, with a sizeable increase among children 0-5. Among this group, exposures were almost 100% due to unintentional use (getting a hold of an edible, plant-based product, or concentrate). Safe and secure storage of these products is crucial to keeping kids safe.

Medications

This is another area that has historically been a concern for WAPC, however COVID has exacerbated the problem. Stress, distractions, and new routines can lead to user error and poor judgement. WAPC staff encourage people to use medication lists, trackers, and reminders in order to decrease risk of double-dosing or mixing meds.

It is also encouraged that people secure medications in the home. This simple step can decrease the likelihood of accidental poisonings in young children, or misuse among adolescents.

Adolescent Self-harm

By far, this data tells the most worrisome story. Historically, data has shown an increase in youth self-harm/suicidal intent since 2014, and this trend continues. COVID-19 related isolation and stress may increase these risks—something that mental health experts have been concerned about for months.

WAPC 2020 Data Snapshot

It is encouraging, however, to see this data and to realize just how amazing our kids are. Despite all the ups and downs of 2020, our youth are showing resilience in magnitudes. We must not forget that we can all make a positive difference everyday in the lives of our young people.

Two steps that each of us can take today are: 1) locking up medications (even over-the-counter meds like Tylenol and Advil); and 2) talking to our children about substance use. Don’t know where to start with this? Visit Start Talking Now for some ideas.

What to expect when you call

It doesn’t need to be an emergency to call the Washington Poison Center—you can call to get advice or directions if you are concerned or confused about poison-related issues.

You will speak with an expert (nurse, pharmacist, or poison information provider), and there are always Board Certified Medical Toxicologists on-call if necessary. You are not required to give your name, however providing your age and gender can be extremely helpful in order to gauge risk. What was taken, when, and how much are other vital details to provide to the staff.

These calls are always confidential. You do not need to be worried about law enforcement or CPS getting involved. WAPC is concerned about your safety and about providing care.

Staff are trained to provide direction on what to do, what to watch for, and most of the time this can all happen with the caller at home. If/when it is decided that the caller needs medical intervention, staff can advise the caller to go to the emergency room, or WAPC can actually contact EMS on the caller’s behalf.

Finally, WAPC staff will follow-up with you—just to make sure that everything is alright!

It is important to be vigilant when it comes to poisoning prevention—now more than ever. With that said, I feel comforted in knowing that there are trained professionals available to answer my questions. If you don’t have the Washington Poison Center’s phone number somewhere in your home, I encourage you to jot it down! 1-800-222-1222

You never know when you might need it!

To view the Washington Poison Center’s full data report, visit: www.wapc.org/programs/covid-19-resources-information/covid-19-data/.


Gratitude: 2020 Reflections from Testing Site Staff & Volunteers

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Guest post by Rosemary Alpert, Skagit Valley Family YMCA

For many, the first step in their COVID-19 experience is driving to the testing site, now located at the Skagit County Fairgrounds. You are greeted by a staff member or volunteer, asked a few questions, then directed to the queue, like waiting for a ferry. Upon entering the barn, with your car window cracked, you are greeting by another staff member or volunteer to register you for the test. After, a nurse greets you with important information and directions for taking the test. The journey has begun, with hopes to receive a text in a few days with the singular word, “Negative.”  

As this unprecedented and challenging year comes to a welcome close, I never would have imagined my job as Volunteer and Community Engagement Coordinator for Skagit Valley Family YMCA would evolve into one of the most important experiences of my life: registering community members to get tested for COVID-19. 

Early on during the pandemic, Skagit County Public Health collaborated with the Y to support two full-time employees from the Y to work at the testing site. Over these past nine months, community collaborations have been created. A team of dedicated staff and volunteers have been working on the frontlines tirelessly through summer heat, high winds, bitter cold, sideways rain and ongoing challenges, day after day. These are the faces you see through your car windows: community members wholeheartedly supporting Skagit County.  

In early June, I started splitting my time between the Y and the COVID-19 testing site, registering community members at Skagit Valley College. Then, mid-September, I became full time at the testing site, putting my job at the Y on hold for the time. So many stories, reasons why people come through to get tested, are heartful and sometimes heartbreaking. Eyes to eyes, deeply listening, with respect and compassion. Dedicated coworkers and impeccable leadership keep our team fluid and flexible each day. They’re a privilege to work alongside.  

Last week, this group photograph was taken of our COVID-19 Testing Site team of staff and volunteers. In addition to registration, I was asked to contribute to the Skagit Health Connection weekly blog. This first blog is dedicated to the incredible group of testing site workers. I asked a few to share their thoughts about working at the testing site, what are they grateful for, an experience, or possibly an unexpected gift because of this time. Here are a few of the responses… 

Skagit testing site
Photograph taken inside the Skagit County COVID-19 Testing Site facility at the Skagit County Fairgrounds.

“I am grateful for getting the opportunity to work at the site and help our community get through this pandemic. And meeting all the amazing people who I work with.” 

“I’m grateful for being part of such an amazing team and being able to give back to our community. It’s honestly a rewarding job. You definitely learn how to communicate with so many different people. And being able to provide service for all, even those with a language barrier.” 

“I am grateful to be working at the site because seeing the relief on the faces of the people that go to get tested once they have been helped honestly lights up my day. Being able to provide the reassurance to the people. And unexpected gift I have got from working at the testing site is the ability to interact more with the people in my community and the opportunity I have been given to help better the community.” 

“Working here reminds me that people are kind. Folks wait an hour or more, often in bad weather, sometimes with kids and dogs in the car. All this stuff is scary and frustrating; but people are unfailingly kind, mostly patient, and always ready to share a (masked) smile. This is my best medicine for these times. (And staff and volunteers are wonderful!)” 

“I think I’m most amazed by the 200 volunteers who provided an estimated 12,000 hours of their time. In the rain, snow, smoke, wind and blistering heat, they are there!” 

“Each car is an opportunity to connect with our community, offering a little comfort, reassurance and hope. We keep our community moving forward during these challenging times. I’m grateful for the tiny moments of connection, whether it be the little girl who noticed the twinkling lights or the great-grandma wanting to visit her 16th great-grandchild. I didn’t expect to become a part of an elite team of community rock stars! Grateful for the opportunity to share a little light and serve our community.” 

As we wrap up 2020, let’s keep moving forward, find the moments of gratitude. Be vigilant, wear your masks, wash your hands, practice social distancing, keep your connections safe, and know you are not alone.

Please remember: If you or someone you know needs any support with the mental and emotional challenges of these days, PLEASE reach out! It’s OK to ask for help. The Disaster Distress Helpline 24/7 crisis counseling and support is always available. Call 800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66749. Skagit County also has a new website—SkagitHelps—that can assist people in getting connected to local and state resources.