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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.


Moving Indoors: Staying Safe & Healthy this Winter Season

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The summer clothes have been put away and the coats have officially come out. It seems that there have been more rainy days than sunny ones in the last few weeks, and temperatures have been dropping steadily. The leaves are hanging on, but winter is just around the corner. As we plan to snuggle in for the colder months ahead, it is time to begin thinking about safety precautions regarding COVID-19 and being indoors.

Is outdoors really safer?

Up until this point, Washingtonians have been pretty lucky given our temperate climate. Unlike our fellow states to the South, where people have sought shelter indoors during the hot summer months, we have been able to spend a lot of time in the great outdoors.

Being outdoors poses fewer health risks, since natural outdoor airflow and sunlight help to dissipate or kill viruses. Now that the weather will force many of us inside this winter, we will need to be more thoughtful about the way we live and socialize indoors.

Why does being indoors pose more risks?

Closed windows and doors decrease fresh airflow which can increase risk, especially when you have more people inside. Drier, less humid air from heating may also increase the risk.  

Although the virus spreads mainly through close contact with an infected person, studies have shown that COVID-19 can at times spread farther than six feet through the air. While these situations have been relatively uncommon, spread can be a problem where COVID-19 can build up in the air, such as in crowded, enclosed settings.

What can we do to decrease risk while indoors?

The risk of COVID-19 transmission increases with indoor gatherings compared to outdoors, but there are ways to reduce the spread and stay healthy. While the recommendation is still to avoid gathering with people who are not in your household, and to socialize outdoors when gatherings are unavoidable, we must realistically expect that there will be times when social events will take place indoors this winter.

Here are some tips for reducing the risks of transmission if you do plan to gather with non-household family members or friends:

1. Mask up: Cloth face masks should be worn at all times in indoor public places, including in your own home when visitors are present. You do not need to wear a mask indoors at home with your household members. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more information about masks and which ones are most effective.

2. Keep your circle small: Try to limit the number of people you and your household are around as much as possible, and also be mindful of the amount of time you spend with these individuals indoors.  When socializing, stay as far apart as possible, even with masks on.  Remember, the guidance is not “mask up OR stay six feet or more of distance.” Rather, the safer thing to do is to wear a mask AND stay six feet or more apart from others.

3. Increase air flow:  Do what you can to improve ventilation in indoor spaces, including opening windows when possible. More fresh air means lower risk. The COVID-19 virus can build up in the air over time, especially in crowded, enclosed settings, where ventilation is limited. The risk of transmission further increases when people are not wearing masks, or when groups are doing activities that involve speaking loudly, singing or exercising (when we exhale more virus-containing particles into the air). 

If possible, adjust the ventilation system to increase the intake of outdoor air; this can be achieved by placing a fan on a window sill and encouraging outdoor air to flow into the room, or opening windows on either side of the home to encourage airflow throughout the house. Do not open windows and doors if doing so poses a safety or health risk to children or other family members (e.g., risk of falling or triggering asthma symptoms).

Check out the EPA’s webpage on home ventilation for more tips: www.epa.gov/coronavirus/indoor-air-homes-and-coronavirus-covid-19.

4. Clean and disinfect: The primary and most important mode of transmission for COVID-19 is through close contact between people. However, it may be possible for a person to contract COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. While experts do not believe that this is the main way the virus spreads, it is good to take precautions.

If an indoor visit is unavoidable, be sure to clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces, including counter tops, door knobs, light switches, and toilet seats. And of course, be sure that people are washing and disinfecting hands frequently. For cleaning tips, visit www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/disinfecting-your-home.html.

5. Take sniffles seriously: If you, or a potential guest, are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19 (no matter how mild), it is best to postpone your get-together for another time. It is much safer to take a rain check than to put yourself and your loved ones at risk of infection.

It is also important to remember that COVID-19 often spreads from people before they develop symptoms or recognize that they are sick. This means that there is a risk of transmission any time a group of non-household members congregate, so all the above precautions are necessary.

We can’t depend on any one preventative measure alone. Instead, we need to use a combination of strategies to most effectively reduce the risk of transmission. These steps include wearing a mask, limiting interactions with others outside the home, staying at least six feet away from others, improving ventilation, practicing good hygiene and cleaning, and staying home when sick.

It may mean some challenges this winter, but we can all do our part to make it work.


Staying Healthy, Staying Active: Physical Education During Distance Learning

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It is National Health Education Week—a week in which we seek to increase national awareness on major public health issues and promote a better understanding of the role of health education. And who better to highlight than our fabulous health educators in schools?!

In celebration of National Health Education Week, I wanted to share what local Physical Education (PE) teachers have been doing to keep students healthy and active during this not-so-normal school year. This particular interview is with Michele Kloke, a PE teacher with the Sedro-Woolley School District.

What grades and subjects do you teach?

I teach Kindergarten through 6th grade currently. I’ve been a Specialist most of my years in Sedro-Woolley—a Librarian/Tech teacher, PE Specialist, and I’ve even taught Kindergarten and 1st grade. What I LOVE about being a Specialist at Lyman Elementary is that I normally get to see each child every day!  It is also what’s made teaching remotely so difficult. I’ve missed the personal contact with our students. We all have.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I have other teaching responsibilities besides PE so part of my day is devoted to those. While some of our PE teachers are teaching online, others—like myself—are teaching remotely because it works best for our situations. Time is spent researching sites and activities that reinforce the curriculum we are teaching within our district as elementary PE teachers. Other activities include: emails, Zoom Meetings, videotaping to make lessons more personal, Loom, work on Google Classroom, Google Slide lessons, creating Docs, PD Trainings, working on site and more.

What types of things do you do to keep students engaged?

I keep things perky and provide lots of options and choices for them to engage in as they work on lesson TARGETS and Success Criteria. Making sure the sites and activities are not only engaging but that they provide differentiation and awesome Challenges is important. The Challenges are usually ones we’ve done in class or are from experts in a sport or activity. It’s inspiring!  I also give students the choice to do their own activities and let me know what they did on their Exit Slips.

I use Google Slides and link them to PE Google Classrooms. What’s great about using Google Slides is that I can personalize them and it gives students and their families more flexibility. They can do a slide or two a day (lessons are meant to be done over several days) and they can do them when it works best for them. Having Exit Slips at the end of each lesson is a way to engage students and provide feedback. I also like to email, encourage, and congratulate students on their effort.

Those teaching lessons via Zoom mentioned they try to keep things light, lively, and keep students moving.

What are some things that students can be doing at home on their own time to stay active and stay healthy?

Take brain breaks often! Even 2 minutes of movement is helpful in boosting their ability to stay focused. Longer is better, of course! Getting outside, riding bikes, or just playing and moving will do wonders! Students are building and growing their bodies right now so movement is really important, and eating foods that are healthy. This time of year provides a lot of fresh and delicious food choices.

What has been the biggest struggle so far this school year?

One of my cohorts said it well: “…It seems ironic that PE teachers are using screen time to encourage physical activity, but that’s our means of communication with students at this time.”

Another challenge with PE in our elementary schools is consistent participation in the lessons. While each school is unique in its approach, the lessons are following a district-generated set of instruction which, unfortunately, not all students are receiving.

Troubleshooting technology issues and learning new technology has also been challenging.

What have been some really great moments for you this year?

For all of us, hearing from our students and families personally via emails, posts, or other means is THE BEST! We miss them SO much and love any and all contact we receive.

For example, one of my students mentioned that she hadn’t completed the PE Lesson yet because she and her family went on a long hike. Then she proceeded to explain all the crazy, exciting things that happened on their hike including getting snowed on. I loved hearing that story and it helped make me feel more connected. 

Also, recently beginning to teach PE in-person with our K-2 students has been WONDERFUL!

If you could tell parents one thing, what would you tell them?

Stay healthy and stay active! This isn’t forever, but being active is. Please, take screen time breaks as often as possible by doing something fun that involves movement. You’ll be glad you did…and so will your child. We miss you and your children!


Saturday, October 24th is Drug Take Back Day

Reading Time: 4 minutes

While stuck at home this past spring and summer, you might have done a bit of cleaning. If you happened to sort through your purse or rearrange your medicine cabinet, you might have come across some old medication that you no longer need. If so, you’ll be happy to know that National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is coming up on Saturday, October 24th! Now is the time to unload your unused or expired meds.

What is Drug Take Back Day?

This is an event that takes place each spring and fall: once in April, and again in October. It is a national event which is organized by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)—and co-hosted by local law enforcement—and has been taking place for 18 years. In October 2019, more than 880,000 pounds of unused and expired medications were collected nation-wide. In Skagit alone, more than 300 pounds were collected during last year’s fall event!

Why is it important?

The National Prescription Drug Take Back Day addresses a crucial public safety and public health issue. According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 9.9 million Americans misused controlled prescription drugs. The study shows that a majority of misused or abused prescription drugs were obtained from family and friends, often from the home medicine cabinet. Unused and expired medications typically remain in the home unmonitored, making them an easy target. Promptly removing leftover prescriptions from your home and safely disposing of your medication is a simple step to ensure that these medications do not end up being misused.  

Where are Take Back events happening locally?

There will be Drug Take Back events happening at the following locations, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.:

  • Anacortes Police Department: 1218 24th St, Anacortes, WA 98221
  • Burlington Public Safety Building: 311 Cedar St, Burlington, WA 98233 Burlington, WA 98233
  • Swinomish Tribal Police Department: 17557 Front St, La Conner, WA 98257
  • Skagit Valley Family YMCA: 1901 Hoag Rd, Mount Vernon, WA 98273
  • Sedro-Woolley City Hall: 325 Metcalf St, Sedro-Woolley, WA 98284

What should I expect?

Due to COVID-19, all locations will be providing drive-through services this October. Drivers will be expected to wear masks, and they will be instructed to stay within their vehicles and to adhere to all directions and posted signage.

Each location will have a law enforcement officer on site and will be responsible for monitoring the disposal bin and taking all medications into custody at the end of the event. Drivers will be expected to handle their own medications and will be instructed to place items into the bin directly.

Note: Call your local law enforcement department for more information.

What types of medications will be accepted?

Controlled, non-controlled, and over-the-counter substances may be collected. Individuals may dispose of medication in its original container or by removing the medication from its container and disposing of it directly into the disposal bin.

If an original container is submitted, the individual is encouraged to remove any identifying information (like a name or address) from the prescription label by either removing the label or using a permanent marker. Liquid products, such as cough syrup, should remain sealed in their original containers.

Intra-venous solutions, injectables, inhalers, syringes, chemotherapy medications, vaping devices that have batteries that cannot be removed, or medical waste will not be accepted due to potential hazard posed by blood-borne pathogens. These medications require special disposal (see below for more information).

If I can’t make it, what should I do?

Disposal of waste medicines is also available every day in Skagit County through the Secure Medicine Return Program operated by MED-Project LLC. Prescription medicines, legally prescribed controlled substances (e.g. narcotics and stimulants), over-the-counter medicines, and pet medications can all be disposed year round via the following MED-Project options:

  • Drop Boxes: Deposit medicine in drop boxes located at select Skagit County pharmacies and law enforcement agencies. Current Drop Box locations are listed at https://med-project.org/locations/skagit/convenient-locations/. Continue to check the website as the program will expand collection locations.
  • Mailer Sent to Individuals: Order pre-paid, pre-addressed, no-cost medicine return mailers to be sent directly to your home. Please go to https://med-project.org/locations/skagit/mail-back/ or call 1-844-633-7765 to order mailers. You can get standard mailers or special mailers for inhalers and prefilled auto-injectors (like Epi Pens).
  • Mailers Distribution Locations: Pick up a no-cost mailer at participating municipal building like fire stations, city halls and libraries. Continue to check https://med-project.org/locations/skagit/convenient-locations/ for an up-to-date and ever-growing list of mailer distribution location near you.

Can’t I just flush old medication?

Safe disposal not only helps prevent misuse and overdose deaths, it’s also important for the health of our environment. Scientists have found medicines in Pacific Northwest water and soils. Even at low levels, these medicines can harm the health of wildlife and leach into our drinking water. Take back programs, and secure medication drop boxes, are the only environmentally safe ways to dispose of opioid medications.

What do I do with the meds I am currently using?

Most people have some type of medication in their home, from prescription meds to over-the-counter items like ibuprofen or cough syrup. For many people, taking medication may be a part of their daily routine, and it just makes sense to have them out on a nightstand or countertop for ease of use.

While this may be okay for people who live alone or do not have frequent visitors, those who have children in their home should consider securing their medication in a lockable compartment. Locking up medication is one of the easiest things that a parent, grandparent, or caregiver can do to prevent youth misuse—or even accidental poisonings for small children.

Email prevention@co.skagit.wa.us for information about free lock boxes (please note that supplies are limited).

To find out more about National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, visit its website.


Skagit County COVID-19 Mortgage Relief Grant Program

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Have you missed your mortgage payment because your income has been negatively impacted by COVID-19? You may be eligible for assistance.

Funding is available to help homeowners who have fallen behind on their mortgage payments because their income has fallen due to COVID-19. This one-time grant is for eligible Skagit County residents to pay up $6,000 of past-due or currently due mortgage payments per household as a result of a temporary job loss, reduction in work hours or other income hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Applications are available online and will be accepted until November 23, or until all funds have been spent. Completed applications can be mailed or hand-delivered from 9am-4pm to Skagit County Public Health, 700 S 2nd Street, Mount Vernon, WA 98273.

Eligible Uses of Funds

Direct payments will be made to the mortgage company on the applicant’s behalf. No payments will be made directly to the applicant. Payments may be used for mortgage principal, interest and Private Mortgage Insurance, but not for escrowed items like property taxes or hazard insurance.

How do I know if my income qualifies?

To qualify, your household’s current adjusted gross income (AGI) has to be at or below 50 percent of the Area Median Income.  See the table below.

What if my household income is currently over the limit?

Unfortunately, you are ineligible for this assistance if your household income is above the maximum amount. If you can’t pay your mortgage, or can only pay a portion, you should contact your mortgage company immediately.  You should also know that if you have a federally insured or backed mortgage, there is currently a foreclosure moratorium that runs through December 31, 2020. Homeownership counseling and assistance is available to all Washington residents, and you can call the Washington Department of Financial Institutions toll-free number 1-877-RING-DFI (746-4334) for assistance. 

Contact for Skagit Mortgage Assistance Program Questions:

Skagit County Public Health
(360) 416-1500
housing@co.skagit.wa.us


Red Ribbon Week & Youth Substance Use

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Red Ribbon Week is dedicated to spreading awareness about youth substance use prevention and the mission of keeping all kids drug-free. It takes place every year from October 23 through October 31st, and this year is no exception. Your student’s health teacher or prevention specialist may be touching on some prevention messaging right now, so it could be a prime opportunity to continue this conversation with your child (if you aren’t doing so already). So let’s talk prevention!

Why is it important?

Ninety percent of people with addictions started using substances in their teen years. Beginning at age 10 through the mid- to late-20s, massive changes are underway in the brain. This includes the development of capabilities related to impulse control, managing emotions, problem-solving and anticipating consequences. Substance use during this time period can cause the brain to be more susceptible to addiction and other mental health disorders, especially for kids who are vulnerable.

Substance use and COVID-19

Some early research is coming out that shows that youth substance use rates are being negatively impacted by COVID-19 and social distancing measures. An article written in the Journal for Adolescent Health noted that, of those adolescents surveyed, “the percentage of users decreased [since the beginning of COVID-19]; however, the frequency of both alcohol and cannabis use increased.” Perhaps of more concern is that, while the majority of those using substances were engaging in solitary substance use (49.3%), “many were still using substances with peers via technology (31.6%) and, shockingly, even face to face (23.6%).” For parents who are actively working to keep their kids COVID-free, this added information may be worrisome.

Risks of use and COVID-19

We do not know yet if the occurrence of COVID-19 is higher for people who use drugs or have substance use disorder than for those who don’t use drugs, however some underlying medical conditions seem to increase risk of severe illness from COVID-19. For example, vaping may harm lung health, and emerging evidence suggests that exposure to aerosols from e-cigarettes harms the cells of the lung and diminishes the ability to respond to infection. For this reason, it is possible that drug use could make COVID-19 illness more severe, but more evidence is needed.

Can parents really make a difference?

Absolutely! Parents are the biggest influence in a teen’s life. Even though it may not appear to be true at times, deep down they still want you involved. A strong parent/child bond, especially during the teen years, helps reduce the chances of them engaging in unhealthy behavior and helps set the stage for preventing nicotine, alcohol, and drug use.

When and how to talk about substance use?

These conversations should happen frequently, and typically work best when a parent and child are already engaging in some type of activity together. It is important to listen, show empathy, and be understanding. Connecting often, communicating about your expectations and setting boundaries, and even encouraging healthy risk taking are all things that parents can do to set their children up for success.

Parents can begin talking with their children about drug prevention at a surprisingly young age! These early conversations may not sound exactly like “drug prevention;” instead, the focus should be on laying a strong foundation of trust and openness, while also teaching (and demonstrating) healthy habits. For tips on how to talk to your child at any age, visit: https://drugfree.org/article/prevention-tips-for-every-age/.

What should parents be looking out for?

Figuring out if your child is using substances can be challenging; many of the signs and symptoms are typical teen or young adult behavior. However, sometimes they can be attributed to underlying issues.  Mental health concerns like depression and anxiety, as well as traumatic events or periods of transition, can create a greater risk for the development of problematic substance use. Children and teens are dealing with a lot of changes right now, making it all the more important that parents be looking out for concerning behavior.

If you have reason to suspect use, don’t be afraid to err on the side of caution. Prepare to take action and have a conversation during which you can ask direct questions like “Have you been drinking, vaping or using drugs?” No parent wants to hear “yes,” but being prepared for how you would respond can be the starting point for a more positive outcome.

Where do I go for help?

There is help available if you are concerned that your child may be using substances—or even if you’re struggling with how to begin a conversation! Drugfree.org has one-on-one help available for parents: visit https://drugfree.org/article/get-one-on-one-help/ for ways to connect.

Want to get involved in your community?

Between now and December 15th, our three prevention community coalitions are collecting information from Skagit County adults (18+) about their perceptions regarding local youth substance use. Do you live or work in one of these communities? Consider filing out the survey! Your feedback has direct influence on prevention programming available for youth and families.

Mount Vernon
English- https://www.research.net/r/SKMTVEEN2020
Spanish- https://es.research.net/r/SKMTVESP2020

Sedro-Woolley
English- https://www.research.net/r/SKSEWOEN2020
Spanish- https://es.research.net/r/SKSEWOSP2020

Concrete
English- https://www.research.net/r/SKCOEN2020

For more information about prevention in Skagit County, visit: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/Health/preventionmain.htm


Changes to Operating Hours at the COVID-19 Test Site

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October 9, 2020

If you’ve driven past the Skagit County COVID-19 Testing Site recently at Skagit Valley College on a Tuesday or Thursday, you may have noticed something different. That is because, beginning on September 21st, the hours of operation were adjusted. The adjustment was made in order to better accommodate working people.

“It has been difficult to balance resources, staff time and community needs at the testing site,” said Public Health Director Jennifer Johnson. “We’re glad to be in a place where these adjusted hours are possible. It will help fill an important community need.”

The new operating hours are:
Monday, Wednesday and Friday: 8:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Tuesday and Thursday: 11:00 a.m. –
7:00 p.m.

The drive through testing site is located at Skagit Valley College in Mount Vernon, and has been in continuous operation since April 21, 2020. The testing site is open to those who live, work, or study in Skagit County, or out-of-state visitors of Skagit residents. There is no appointment necessary! The testing site is the longest continuously running drive-through testing site operated by a county in Washington State and has the capacity to test up to 600 people per day.

“Working people have a high need for testing,” said County Commissioner Ron Wesen, Chair of the County Board of Commissioners. “Our front line workers and employers want a testing option that will be accessible after the typical workday. We’re grateful that our Public Health team can offer this service.”

The adjustment to the testing site hours will be permanent, as long as the testing site is in operation. For up-to-date information on Skagit County’s COVID-19 response, including additional information on the testing site, visit www.skagitcounty.net/coronavirus. For daily wait time information, follow Skagit County on Twitter at @SkagitGov.

If you need additional questions or need further information, call Skagit County Public Health at 360-416-1500.

Note: We have had some recent issues with individuals receiving bills in the mail for their tests. Please know that Skagit County doesn’t pay for any lab bills; Northwest Lab handles billing. While State and Federal officials have required that COVID-19 testing and treatment be free for all “medically necessary” treatment, it is possible that your insurance company will not cover a self-referred test. The individual is responsible for the bill, and for checking their coverage with their insurance company.


Take Time to Invest in You

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Guest post by Kari Pendray at Brigid Collins Family Support Center

As we find ourselves well into our sixth month of living with Covid-19, many parents have one thing in common – we are all juggling multiple demands in a time that leaves us feeling more uncertain. The idea of being at home for some is isolating and for others it feels more like a safe haven. No matter which side of the aisle you are on, the role of a parent has suddenly become more demanding. That’s because stressful events, like being in the midst of a global pandemic, adds a layer of unpredictability in our lives.

Whether you are feeling stressed out, burned out, or just plain tired, you are not alone. Stress is sometimes defined as when the need to respond exceeds our capacity to respond. How can you recognize stress and burnout? Stress comes in three forms. Acute stress is healthy stress, like when you have a deadline for work or school. Episodic stress is short episodes of high stress, such as taking on too much work, then, being unable to get the stress out of your system. Finally, chronic stress is one that has been linked to chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Chronic stress is very serious and needs to be managed with care and helping professionals. Burnout is a complete feeling of exhaustion and can make you withdraw from other people. Burnout can lead to cynicism and can cause you to delay tasks.

During our Coping with Stress virtual seminars at the Parenting Academy, we talk to parents and caregivers about managing stress and building our capacity, as parents, for emotional well-being, which centers around three main strategies:

  • Awareness of unhealthy thinking
  • Shifting negative self-talk and automatic thoughts
  • Challenging unhelpful thoughts
Focus on the things that you can control, and let the other things go.

First, ask yourself, “What evidence do I have for this thought or idea?” Then, ask, “What could be another explanation?” Finally, ask yourself, “What can I do to change or shift my thinking that would lead to a positive outcome?

To prevent stress and burnout, it’s important to plan daily activities that alleviate stress, just like you would plan to get a cup of coffee at Starbucks or watch your favorite show on Netflix. It’s important to invest in yourself in ways that add years to your life.

Here are a few examples:

  1. Invest in your heart – Eating heart healthy foods such as leafy green vegetables, lean fish and meat, and minimizing sugar, can contribute to having a good nutritional balance. (See My Plate.gov or Harvard Healthy Eating Plate). You can use cooking as a way to learn math, science, experiment with food and enjoy eating new foods.
  2. Invest in your body – Pumping oxygen into your blood is not only good for your heart it is also good for your mind. Studies show that exercising can release positive “happy” hormones into your body and relieve stress. Children love to exercise with their parents. Families are taking more walks, riding bikes, playing soccer and making the most of their own backyards.
  3. Invest in your brain – Has anyone ever given you a prescription to laugh? Well, if not, consider this your first one. Laughing soothes tension, stimulates organs, re-wires new neural pathways in your brain and alleviates stress. When parents take time to play with their children, this can involve 5-10 minutes of mutual enjoyment, laughter and a break from your day. Children learn from play and play can be a great way to co-regulate.

When you invest in yourself, you will not only improve your own health, you will also be modeling health and wellness for your children; you will be more present for your child, and you will be having fun in the process. That’s a gift that will last a lifetime.

If you would like more information on the Parenting Academy or wish to register for parenting coaching or virtual seminars, please go to www.parenting-academy.org.

Resources:
www.choosemyplate.gov
www.hsph.harvard.edu
www.hhs.gov/fitness/beactive/physical-activity-guidelines-for-americans/index.html
www.parenting-academy.org


When September Ends: Keeping Up the Conversation

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Over the last decade or so, there has been a lot of effort put into decreasing the stigma around mental health disorders, depression, and anxiety. Celebrities and community leaders have shared their stories, and national and state campaigns have been developed to spread awareness about these causes. You may have been noticing a lot of messaging this past month about mental health and suicide prevention, and that is because September is National Suicide Prevention Month. From posts on social media and radio ads, to webinars and virtual trainings; there have been a lot of great opportunities to discuss the importance of our mental health.

Now, as Suicide Prevention month has officially come to a close, I am wondering about ways that my community can continue to support our collective mental health, especially now when some individuals may need it more than ever. I am thinking about the little things that each of us can do on a daily basis to help out our friends and loved ones—and stay connected—even when far apart.

I experienced a really wonderful example of this type of “small-scale” support the other day when I was visiting my doctor. Though I was there for something unrelated, the nurse began the visit by not only checking my physical vital signs, but my mental and emotional vital signs, as well. Now, this may be nothing new to anyone; clinics have been collecting these sorts of measures for some time. But the nurse extended a beautiful gesture after she completed the list of depression-screening questions: She said, “Thank you for sharing these answers with me.” And she meant it.

Once again, this is no big gesture and could have easily gone unnoticed. Yet, I so appreciated that the nurse took the extra second to recognize the importance of these questions and showed respect for my courage to respond. After all, answering these types of questions with honesty can be hard, especially when you’re not used to being asked about depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation in such a matter-of-fact manner. Sometimes you may even surprise yourself with the answers that come from your mouth because, for so many of us, we were trained from a young age to “pull ourselves up by the boot straps” and power forward.

Personally, I am really lucky to have people in my life who reach out on a pretty regular basis and check in with me about my mental health. I find that talking things out with a friend or family member can help diffuse the stress that can build up when I get too lost in my own head.

I try to return the favor and reach out to people in my life, and at times it can feel a bit awkward. I absolutely understand how it can be challenging to broach this subject with a family member, friend—or even an acquaintance. However, it is necessary that we connect with those around us and engage in these potentially challenging conversations, because many times a hurting person will not reach out for help themselves.

So, in honor of the end of September and Suicide Prevention Month, I encourage each of our readers to begin a conversation with someone about mental health and wellbeing. It can be as simple as asking a person about what they are doing to cope with social distancing, or even what brings them joy each day. It can be as simple as thanking someone for their time and honesty, just like the nurse did for me.

Whatever it is that you do, it makes a difference in the lives of others. And it may make a difference for you too!

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has resources available for Spanish speakers, as well as resources specific to veterans, and options for deaf and hard of hearing individuals.

Some things to keep in mind…

Some warning signs may help you determine if a loved one is at risk for suicide, especially if the behavior is new, has increased, or seems related to a painful event, loss, or change. If you or someone you know exhibits any of these, seek help by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves
  • Looking for a way to kill themselves, like searching online or buying a gun
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or isolating themselves
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Extreme mood swings

Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or chat with a professional. For more information, visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-someone-else/.


Halloween How To’s: Let’s Get Creative!

Reading Time: 3 minutes

One of the things that has kept me going mentally over the past six months has been my garden. Trust me…this thing is nothing to write home about! But it gives me a sense of pride when I look out from my window and I see the tall stalks of our corn blowing in the wind. While I haven’t been able to control a lot since March, I know that this little space I’ve created will be there every day, ready to be watered and weeded. The champions of my garden, without a doubt, have been my pumpkins. I’ve watched these things grow from tiny green balls, to beautiful orange spheres. I’ve been waiting with so much anticipation for October so I can finally cut them off the vine and bring them into our home. Halloween, here we come!

With our Health Officer’s recent announcement about in-person trick-or-treating, along with recommendations from the CDC, I will be honest: I was disappointed. It is okay to feel this way (something I tell myself frequently), and it is normal to mourn our “normal” holiday traditions. That being said, to dwell on this would do a great disservice to ourselves and our loved ones.

So traditional in-person trick-or-treating isn’t happening this year? Okay. There is so much that we can still do—and still control—despite these challenges.

So let’s explore these creative options!

1. Decorate your house and/or yard. You can even hold a contest with your neighbors and vote on the spookiest house!

2. Carve your pumpkins in the front yard this year and have your neighbors do the same. Enjoy this holiday tradition with other families, while keeping a safe distance. Play some Halloween-themed music (Monster Mash, anyone?), and do your best Thriller moves.

3. Coordinate a Halloween scavenger hunt by giving your kids a list of Halloween-themed decorations to look for while they walk outdoors (think cobwebs, ghosts, and black cats).

Make it a bingo game and use this template, or create your own!

4. Hold a virtual costume party via video chat with family or friends. Hold a contest for most creative, scariest, sparkliest, best overall, etc.

5. Exchange candy with a few families you know. Do a drop-off delivery at their doorstep for a Halloween surprise for the kids. If you are preparing goodie bags, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 second before and after preparing the bags.

6. Trick-or-treat inside your home—or in the yard—by hiding candy for your kids to find. A few jump-scares may be in order for older kids (so long as this is something that they would find enjoyable!).

7. Have a spooky movie night or Halloween craft party with the family. Call your local library and ask to have some Halloween-themed DVDs or books put together, and pick them up using the library’s curbside pick-up.

If none of these strike your fancy, ask around and see what other people might be planning. Get creative and try some new things. Who knows…you may incorporate some of these 2020 Halloween activities into your future holiday traditions! For some more helpful insights into COVID-safe holiday fun, visit the CDC’s holiday page. Take care of yourself, and happy haunting!

Note: Skagit County’s Health Officer has recommended against in-person trick-or-treating this year because it “presents too much of a risk for widespread community transmission.” We realize that there may be families who still participate this year, despite the recommendation. For those who intend to trick-or-treat, it is imperative that the following health precautions be taken.

Handing out candy:

  • Offer no-contact treats by bagging up separate treats and placing them away from your front door or in your yard or near the sidewalk. Allow trick-or-treaters to gather candy while remaining physically distanced.
  • If you are preparing bags of candy, wash your hands well before and after preparing the bags. 

Trick-or-treating:

  • Do not substitute a Halloween mask for a face covering. Wear an approved face mask. Find one that fits in with your costume!
  • Maintain six feet of distance from other trick-or-treaters or residents who are handing out candy.
  • If you are trick-or-treating with others outside your household, keep six feet of distance between yourselves.
  • Stay away from large costume parties or trick-or-treating events.
  • Bring plenty of hand sanitizer with you.

Know Your Family Health Hazards

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Guest post by Skagit County Emergency Management

Emergency Management is mostly about risk management. The theory is that if you know what your risks are, you can plan for a better response when an emergency hits and be able to recover more easily. Risk management works alongside prevention, protection and mitigation, which reduce risks before an emergency; all are vital to emergency management. We have a variety of major hazards in Skagit County — flood, volcano, fire, storms, tsunami, and hazardous materials to name a few. Do you know what your personal and family hazards are? Including any health hazards you know of in your family plan is an important component of risk management.

Current events have shown how important it is to be prepared for health hazards. Along with the facemasks and hand sanitizer, what can you do to protect your family’s health during an emergency?

First, know what your family’s health hazards are are. They could include allergies, diabetes, respiratory illness or necessary medications. Any medical condition that requires specific medication or medical equipment or that gets worse from stress can be a health hazard.

Second, include your family’s health hazards in your emergency planning. Know what can trigger the condition or make it worse, what the reactions look like, and what’s needed to make it better. If possible, have back-up medicine or equipment in your evacuation kit. I know it’s not always possible, especially for equipment. At a minimum, include the following in your kit:

  • A list of all medications with dosage requirements and prescription information
  • A list of equipment, including where it came from and any required settings
  • Non-medical emergency provisions
  • A copy of your medical insurance information and doctor contact information with your important documents
  • Some medical conditions can decrease your immune response, so you may want to increase your supplies of facemasks and hand sanitizer

What does that look like in practice? If you have allergies that have an anaphylactic response, keep an epinephrine injection (commonly called an EpiPen) in your kit and be extra cautious of triggers. If it’s a reaction that can be triggered by skin absorption, have gloves in your kit. If you have diabetes, have a list of medications, what kind of insulin and needles you use, the location of your glucose meter, and some appropriate emergency food for when your blood sugar gets low. Let your family know what it feels like when your sugar is low and what they can watch out for.

Preparing for health hazards doesn’t end once the emergency is over — it includes being aware of potential triggers afterwards. Medical equipment may need to be replaced; having a list of where the equipment came from and any special settings needed can speed up replacing it. Cleaning products, mold, and other contaminants can trigger medical conditions, so be alert for medical reactions. Long-term stress can also aggravate some conditions.

Health hazards come in all shapes and sizes. Planning for an emergency should include health hazards to help you respond and recover from the emergency. Knowing what the triggers are, what reactions to look out for, and what’s needed to combat that reaction can help save a family member. It’s always a good idea to take First Aid and CPR training, too!