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.
The Economic Development Alliance of Skagit County (EDASC) began the year of 2020 focused on its mission of strengthening local businesses and expanding our economy. EDASC was set to leverage Skagit’s great geographic and business-friendly location to attract industry and entrepreneurs to our beautiful area. While economic planning is a fine art, no financial crystal ball anticipated a sudden and global blow to businesses. Of course, COVID-19 changed everything within a matter of weeks.
The Skagit economy is facing the chaos and alarm that seems to be everywhere. But who has a better finger on the local pulse than EDASC, even in the middle of COVID-19? So – in what is our new normal – EDASC CEO John Sternlicht and Communications Manager Aaron Weinberg joined me for a conversation through video-conferencing.
Times are bad, without a doubt. But Skagit has always been resilient. Part of that is the nature of our people. Aaron also sees resilience in Skagit’s diverse economy. “When there is diverse business and industry, there is more resiliency and a greater ability to recover.” He added, “We have a range of prosperous industries including manufacturing, health care, maritime, informational technology, construction, retail, tourism and agriculture. This diversity will help us as we move forward.” In the meantime, businesses will need some help and solid advice.
EDASC and COVID-19 Resources
John and Aaron are frank about our current financial predicament. Workers and businesses have both been hit and hit hard. So, EDASC is doing what they can to give businesses access to the relief that is available. John described how opportunities like the federal Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) have complex application processes that can be daunting. “We make the application process understandable, especially to smaller businesses with limited resources. We do the research and extra support. We don’t just send out links.” You can contact EDASC by checking out its website at https://www.skagit.org/.
Going the extra mile is obvious when viewing EDASC’s COVID-19 Resource Guide at https://www.skagit.org/covid-19-resources-for-businesses-employees. Some of these resources will be key to local businesses and their workers. For others, the assistance may not be enough. Sadly, some businesses will not make it through the pandemic. John noted other businesses “were in a position to able to pivot to manufacturing PPE. Also, local distilleries switched to making sanitizers.” There is always innovation during times of upheaval. Opportunities will appear for entrepreneurs despite the tough times ahead. Aaron describes that to support businesses, EDASC “is constantly getting crucial information out to businesses, with our website and newsletter being up to the minute.” In a time of disruption, having EDASC as a trusted information source to our business community is critical.
Skagitonians are waiting for the day that businesses re-open and jobs are restored. We long for a sense of normalcy by heading out to a few shops or sitting down to a good dinner at a restaurant. But to keep ourselves, neighbors and the most vulnerable members of our community safe, businesses need to plan now for the day that reopening arrives. Planning includes how to resume operations while maximizing the safety of customers and employees. This means assuring at least 6 feet of distance, face coverings for staff to wear for as long as it is recommended, providing places for handwashing or hand sanitizing for both employees and customers, and ensuring no one comes to work sick. John underscored the need for wearing face coverings. “When we wear a mask, it’s not so much for protecting ourselves but protecting others. It’s a main way to stop the spread of COVID.”
Businesses need to create an environment in which both workers and customers take necessary precautions. Some businesses will struggle if their facilities make it difficult to create 6 feet of space between people. On the other hand, some organizations can get work done through telecommuting, and may continue this effective physical distancing practice. Fortunately, EDASC is offering guidance on re-opening. Small Business COVID-19 Prevention Best Practices for Businessesoffers information and further resources.
Another resource is Skagit County Public Health. In this time of COVID-19, Public Health is focused on helping businesses be successful in re-opening. The department provides guidance and support so workers and customers can be safe, and re-opening successful. Everyone has a stake in this response – owners, workers and customers. If all of us strive to take care of each other, transmission can be minimized and we can advance through the phases of the Governor’s Safe Start Washington. If we fall into reckless habits, COVID-19 can take hold again. This would be tragic to those who suffer infection and greatly undermine our economy. Check Public Health’s coronavirus webpage for business guidance as well as a vast range of information and resources regarding COVID-19: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HealthDiseases/coronavirus.htm.
EDASC will be a leader in the Skagit County Economic Recovery Strategic Plan, collaborating with a wide range of stakeholders. John notes, “Recovery is not yet in its early stages. It will require multistep planning with multiple phases. Recovery needs to be strategic – very well planned and thought out. This won’t be months – it will be years in the making in order to be successful.” The length of time should not be a negative. It shows we are in a marathon, not a sprint, but with the goal of recovery at the finish regardless.
The COVID-19 pandemic will come to a close after the historically mammoth scale of producing worldwide levels of immunization. This effort will be an economic driver in itself. But what will happen in Skagit then?
John has “hope that we will learn that political boundaries are meaningless to a virus or climate change. There is no separate city, county or country when it comes to COVID-19 or our impact on the planet. And addressing both are part of a job-creating economy.”
As Aaron described above, the ranging diversity of our economy provides Skagit with the resiliency necessary to recovery. This diversity gives us the foundation to bounce back in the future.
Things are dire for us – and it’s not right to be cheerily optimistic when so many are suffering. But Skagit is fortunate to have leaders who cautiously point out that, at the end of the tunnel, there is light.
It is hard to escape news about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and many of us have settled into a predictable pattern. We read about COVID-19 in the newspaper, online, and are bombarded with information through social media on Facebook and Twitter. Inevitably, one source contradicts another. Sifting through COVID-19 information has become a daily routine for many Skagitonians.
In a situation where information is rapidly changing, myths, rumors and misinformation can spread like wildfire. You may have heard of the term “infodemic” used to describe an overload of information, which is often false or unverified, about a crisis. Unfortunately, the false information fuels fear and speculation, which makes the crisis worse.
Sometimes rumors may seem harmless and are almost funny. For example, there has been a widespread rumor that 5G cell phone technology is linked to the cause of the coronavirus. Most of us can easily laugh off that conspiracy theory, especially given that COVID-19 has spread in many parts of the world without 5G. However, there have been reports of cell phone towers targeted by arsonists. Almost 80 mobile towers have reportedly been burned down in the United Kingdom alone.
Other rumors are designed to take advantage of people through financial or other scams offering miracle cures, vaccines, or other solutions. For example, a physician in California has been charged by federal prosecutors with mail fraud for selling COVID-19 treatment packs for $3,995 to treat a family of four. The physician reportedly claimed that the “cure” would make a patient immune to the disease for six weeks. Obviously, the cure was not real. But unfortunately, such scams are all too common. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has sent more than 120 warning notices to marketers making false COVID-19 health claims.
Many of these scams are spread via social media. A recent Skagit Health Connection post titled Spammers Scammers & Crooks covered how to protect yourself from criminals exploiting COVID-19. Separating fact from fiction is especially difficult when the source is social media. Information spreads rapidly, and on sites like Twitter, posts can look legitimate, making it difficult to determine whether the post is credible or not. How do you find out if a rumor is fact or fiction?
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) maintains a Coronavirus Rumor Control Page that has guidelines for preventing the spread of rumors. The site asks us all to:
Find trusted sources of information
Share information from trusted sources
Discourage others from sharing information from unverified sources
FEMA advices that we seek out information from local public health agencies. When you are confronted by alarming national or global news, sometimes it is helpful to learn about what is happening in your own backyard. What is occurring in other parts of the U.S. or the world may be very different than what we are facing in Skagit.
The Skagit County Public Health Department also maintains an active Facebook page and has developed an online video series called Conversations COVID-19. We hope that Skagit County residents will share this information through their social media connections.
Summary of Resources to Separate Fact from Fiction
Want to seek out trusted, verified sources? Look into these options below.
While we struggle with COVID-19 and the often intense hardship and anxiety it brings, some dogs feel like they’ve hit the jackpot. Due to physical distancing, their owners are home all day! That means more attention and tons of petting, a few more treats, maybe the added bonus of more walks when owners step out for a bit of fresh air. But your constant availability to your pet might be setting the stage for future struggles. It’s unclear when we will be able to go back to work or school. But when that day gladly comes, we will spend much less time at home, and lots of dogs are going to plunge into some degree of separation anxiety. So it’s best to start preparing now.
You’ve heard of separation anxiety. But what exactly is it? Dogs are highly social beings. When some are left at home alone, they fall into patterns of highly anxious or troublesome behavior, such as constant barking or urinating in the house. The most costly result of social anxiety can be the all-out destruction of furniture, clothes, or other household items in a flurrying of chewing and ripping. If you are lucky and such a rampage hasn’t hit your home, check out destructive dog social media videos that inspire a mix of horror and amazement. By the video’s end, you will double over in laughter. The first time we left our dog at home alone, she bounded from dining room table to dresser drawers to kitchen table, trying in a panic to look out any window while leaving claw marks dug deep into the wood grain. It looked like we had pet sat a wolverine!
Why do dogs lose it when they’re home alone? We tend to think it might be because of the great love they have for us, their owners, and they can’t bear time away from us. Well, that can be true. But frequently dogs stress out because they want to go outside or become obsessed with outside noises, grow scared that there is something in the house, or are just bored.
Over these past weeks at home, all of this together time has likely amped up your dog’s dependency on you. This dependency is going to be more extreme if your COVID-19 project is a puppy you just adopted! What are some ways to prep your pup for some alone time? The American Kennel Club advises:
Social distancing. We have spent our share of keeping our physical distance from others; now it turns out our dogs need the same medicine. They can spend more time in a crate, alone in the house or by themselves in the back yard. If they are successful, give them a treat and praise.
Increase time alone. Gradually build up their alone time, a little bit longer each day.
Imitate your old routine. For the days before you return to your job, get up at the normal workday time, go through your morning routine – even leave the house for a while. This will make those first days alone more normal to your dog.
Exercise! Each morning, set aside time for a walk, a run or at least 15 minutes of fetch, tug of war, or other types of vigorous play.
Toys. Your dog chewing on toys is better than them shredding your shoes! Also, puzzle toys might keep your pet occupied for a good stretch of time. The more distracted your puppy is, the less likely they are going to go ballistic from a neighbor’s barking dog, the tedium of a long solitary afternoon or that evil squirrel that always hangs outside the living room window.
Stay mellow. This may be the hardest one of all, considering we are in the middle of a pandemic. But dogs sense our feelings. If you can be relaxed during this time of transition, the more likely your pup will accept that this change is okay.
Start now. Remember – this is the time for your dog to start building up its home-alone endurance.
We are already experiencing a pandemic. We can’t afford to experience a vaccine-preventable outbreak too.
If you’re like me, you’ve skipped your yearly wellness exam and dental cleaning due to COVID-19. Most of us will not suffer any long-term consequences from putting off these routine healthcare visits, but young children face additional risks that most of us older folks don’t have to worry about.
(REMEMBER! If you’re feeling unwell, call your doctor! Serious health conditions don’t stop during a pandemic. Don’t put it off! Hospitals have protocols in place to keep you safe.)
Children are blank slates, capable of learning anything, but also susceptible to a lot of diseases that are vaccine preventable, some of which can be devastating. In March, many healthcare clinics shuttered their doors to save personal protective equipment for hospitals dealing with COVID-19 patients. As a result, the CDC has noticed a sizeable reduction in the number of vaccinations given to children. This leaves children vulnerable to new disease outbreaks, especially as social distancing measures begin to relax.
The Washington State Department of Health reported in a May 8 news release that providers in the state vaccine program administered 30% fewer vaccines in March of this year compared to previous years. “In April, preliminarily we are seeing a 42% decrease,” DOH said in the statement.
While we deal with this pandemic, the last thing we need is an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable illness, like measles, whooping cough, or rotavirus.
For a while, it may have been difficult for parents or guardians to schedule immunization appointments for their children. Amie Tidrington, Correctional Health Manager with Skagit County Public Health, spent nearly 18 years as the Immunization Clinic Coordinator, overseeing vaccination clinics for children and adults. She knows first-hand how important vaccinations are to a child’s health, and also experienced the difficulty in scheduling an appointment for an infant.
Amie’s infant granddaughter was due for her six-month appointment and immunizations at the end of March, but due to COVID-19, the appointment was cancelled. Her daughter waited a few weeks and called to make an appointment, only to be turned down. A few weeks later, Amie called to make the appointment for her granddaughter, and, again, was turned down.
“I was bothered by it because if you’re not going to vaccinate because of COVID-19, those other diseases still exist. We’re just going to have another outbreak like meningitis or measles,” she said. “We risk an outbreak of childhood diseases that can be very serious.”
Amie’s granddaughter was finally able to get vaccinated at the beginning of May. The DOH is asking providers to prioritize newborn care and vaccination of infants and children up to age 24 months if possible.
“Even in these days, when COVID is the priority on everyone’s mind,” it’s still important to vaccinate children, Amie believes. “If we don’t keep the vaccination rates up, other diseases will use this as an opportunity to come back in our lives. We don’t have the capacity to deal with that, nor do we want our children to suffer through what are preventable diseases.”
If your child is overdue for immunizations, call your child’s healthcare provider and make an appointment. Hospitals and clinics are taking extra measures to keep patients safe from COVID-19.
There’s a lot of information out there about immunizations. Here are some reliable sources:
Tips to protect yourself from criminals exploiting COVID-19
Criminals exploit; that is what they do best. It’s only 11 AM on Monday, and I have already received three unsolicited text messages from scammers telling me how I can receive a “free coronavirus test kit,” that I’m “eligible for an phone upgrade due COVID-19,” or that I need to “hurry up” before I “miss out” on what is ultimately a bogus coronavirus-related product. In my email, there are 11 similar messages. These text messages, emails and similar scam posts on social media sites can cost you lots of money, perhaps even your life savings! Today, we will focus on how you can protect yourself from the scammers, spammers and crooks hiding behind COVID-19.
HOW SCAMS WORK
Scams work for many reasons, but here are a few of the most common.
Scammers feed on fear and anxiety
Local, state and federal health officials are telling us to “stay home” to “stay safe.” A virus we cannot see with the naked eye is all around the community, threatening our health and our livelihoods. People are scared and worried. Scammers know this!
Scammers target senior adults
Scammers, spammers and crooks like to target seniors. The bad guys assume that senior adults are less tech savvy, have a “nest egg” or ample home equity to draw on, are lonely and easy to engage in scams. Scammers also know that seniors are less likely to report to law enforcement if they have been scammed.
Scammers pray on people who want to donate money
Some charitable organizations won’t make it through this crisis; they are relying on people to make donations to keep them afloat. Scammers are very skilled in writing emails and texts to try and convince us they are from an agency serving those in great need. They try to pull on your heartstrings and your wallet!
Scammers take advantage of opportunities wherever they see them!
Whether it’s trolling the obituary pages to target broken-hearted life insurance beneficiaries, stealing your identity to file a false unemployment claim, or price gouging, scammers and crooks see COVID-19 as an opportunity to strike.
WHAT SCAMMERS WANT
Ultimately, scammers want your money, but they probably won’t come right out and say that! The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) identifies three pieces of information scammers use to gain access to your finances. Protect this information well!
Passwords (email, bank, credit cards, online accounts of any kind)
Social Security numbers (yours, your spouse’s, your child’s, your parents’)
Account numbers (whether you access your account online or only via snail mail or phone)
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
The best way for you stay protected is to consult trusted sources and stay vigilant. If you think you’ve accidentally taken the bait, report it!
From the Federal Trade Commission
Not sure you can recognize these scams? The FTC and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) have teamed up to offer brief video examples to help you avoid these common scams.
From the Food and Drug Administration
From the Internal Revenue Service
Taxpayers should be on the lookout for IRS impersonation calls, texts and email phishing attempts about the coronavirus or COVID-19 Economic Impact Payments. These scams can lead to tax-related fraud and identity theft.
Scammers are pretending to be government employees. They may threaten you and may demand immediate payment to avoid arrest or other legal action. Do not be fooled!
From the State of Washington
The WA State Employment Security Department (ESD) is seeing an increase in fraudulent unemployment claims. There have been several false claims in Skagit County already. In these scenarios, the crooks have made claims for unemployment using the name of someone else employed in Washington State. If you have reason to believe someone has applied for unemployment benefits using your information or used a scam to obtain your private information, please report it to the ESD immediately!
The Office of the Attorney General – Attorney General Bob Ferguson has launched an awareness campaign encouraging Washingtonians to report price gouging in three easy steps: “See It, Snap It, Send It.”
From the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)
Scammers, spammers and crooks see COVID-19 as an opportunity to swindle you. By being informed and staying vigilant, you will be better able to defend yourself from falling victim.
If you think you’ve already been duped, you will need to report it. Gather emails, receipts and phone numbers so you’re prepared to complete your report. If the agency you need to report to is not listed above, you can also report to your local law enforcement office, or report to your state consumer protection agency. USA.gov has a great resource page to help you locate state consumer protection resources. The Washington State page can be found here.
Over recent weeks, you have likely heard media reports that expanded COVID-19 testing, case investigation and contact tracing are the main tools in combating COVID-19. These efforts are also necessary to safely launch Governor’s Inslee’s phased Safe Start re-opening of Washington’s economy. You probably have an understanding of what is involved in testing, and may know that drive-thru testing has been launched in Skagit (click here for details). But you may wonder: What exactly is case investigation and contact tracing? I called Skagit County Public Health’s Community Health Worker Graciela Ibarra and Public Health Nurse Ian Capron to hear what it’s like to be on the front lines of these efforts.
What is case investigation?
Skagit County Public Health staff contact people who test positive for COVID-19 to provide important guidance and complete detailed interviews. Guidance includes how to safely isolate at home after testing positive or developing symptoms, as well as ways to access resources. Interviewing is a methodical process in which answers are pieced together to create a detailed history of where the interviewee has traveled, eaten, slept, and bathed. These questions focus on other people who may have had close contact with the person interviewed and who are at risk for COIVD-19 infection.
Asking personal questions, especially with someone you just met over the phone, can be a delicate process. Ian notes that people’s responses are “on a continuum.” Graciela adds that people “usually understand this is needed to keep them and others safe.” They may be hesitant to share the names of family members or coworkers. “We reassure them no one has done anything wrong. No one is in trouble or being punished.”
As you have likely concluded, case investigation requires a special skill set – a mixture of calm understanding and a steady focus on the goal of reaching all at-risk contacts. Investigators have to make certain that interviewees are heard and respected while ensuring that people who were possibly infected are identified.
What is contact tracing?
In contact tracing, the same investigation process is repeated in reaching out to those contacts who may have become infected as well. The number of contacts can add up fast and reside throughout the community. However, Ian notes, “Since Stay Home Stay Healthy began and people started physical distancing, the new cases and contacts tend to be in clusters within families or in the community at job sites of essential services.” One success of distancing is this narrowing of where exposures are occurring.
How do case investigation and contact tracing work?
Ian sums it up best: “Case investigation and contact tracing are our bread and butter. It’s the most proactive thing Public Health can do about COVID-19.”
One clarification before we go further: the difference between isolation and quarantine. Isolation refers to when a person separates themselves from others following a positive lab test or when they have symptoms consistent with COVID-19. Quarantine is for people who have no symptoms but have been exposed to the virus and could develop the illness in the 14 days after being exposed. Some people may quarantine and later become ill while others may not.
In short, case investigation and contact tracing:
Identify the spread of COVID-19 within the community.
Prevent further spread of COVID-19 within the community through reduced contact from people infected with the virus.
Provide people who are confirmed to have COVID-19 with guidance on how to successfully isolate so they can keep loved ones, neighbors and other community members safe.
Provide people who have been exposed to the virus with guidance on how to quarantine so they can help others stay safe.
Linkage to health care which can result in early diagnosis and care to those who need it.
High points and challenges in the day of case investigators and contact tracers
As you might imagine, the workdays of investigators and tracers might have several high points matched by ongoing challenges. The highpoints are obvious – at the end of each shift, public health staff know they have pushed backed against COVID-19 and prevented transmissions of the virus. They hear thanks from the public for the hard work and for keeping people safe.
The challenges tend to involve pre-existing issues affecting interviewees, such as lower income, a lack of resources and prior health conditions. These issues cause disproportionate hardship from COVID-19. Graciela describes a household in which ten family members live together but have only one bathroom, making risk of infection high and isolation all but impossible. Fortunately, Public Health is leasing a motel where people can isolate while other family members can safely quarantine, shortening the amount of time people are exposed to their sick family member. Ian points out that this temporary housing option enables “families to do the best they can” when facing COVID-19.
Other difficult situations involve quarantine in which some household members work in critical infrastructure and can continue to go to work as long as they don’t have symptoms. Other people in the household have jobs that aren’t in these essential service industries. They cannot work during quarantine, even if they show no signs of illness. The difference in financial impact between those who are working and those who can’t seems unfair and can result in friction. This disproportionate impact is not unlike what is happening in our county and country overall, where the social distancing necessary to save lives results in harsh economic losses to some and little financial impact to others. Needless to say, working right in the middle of such a polarizing issue can be very difficult for investigators and tracers.
Early on, Skagit County Public Health realized case investigation and contact tracing was where it needed to invest its time and effort. The investigation/tracer team expanded quickly by cross training a large number of staff to do this critical work. Ian describes his co-workers’ efforts as “unbelievable,” as they set aside the work they were used to doing and took on a new job for the betterment of the community. This team enables Skagit to do a rare thing in Washington State – contact tracing not only with people diagnosed with COVID-19, but also with close contacts who have also developed symptoms (also referred to as probable cases). More contact tracing strengthens our outreach and ability to prevent spread. Skagit County Public Health also upped its outreach to businesses. Some larger statewide and regional employers have expressed great thanks, noting they had not experienced outreach from public health agencies elsewhere. Working directly with employers is key to promoting on-the-job safety for local workers.
A contact tracer’s advice
When I asked for what guidance they may have for the community, Ian pointed out that some people who later are diagnosed with COVID-19 “thought they just had allergies or a cold. Don’t ignore any symptoms, especially if they get worse,” adding, “but call your doctor first before you go in.” Graciela advises, “Listen to your body. See what it’s telling you. But if you are diagnosed with the virus, don’t let the disease take control of you. Look at media that is positive instead of all the negativity. Let yourself heal.”
I was never the person who dreamed of their wedding day, but when my fiancé Taylor Han and I got engaged in September 2019, there were a few things that I knew for sure:
First, we were going to have a year-long engagement. Long enough to plan the party and enjoy being engaged, but no longer.
Second, I was going to take my fiancé’s last name. This is a personal decision that is different for everyone, but I always knew that I was going to be Laura Han.
Finally, it was going to be a big wedding. We’re both very connected with our extended families, and we wanted to celebrate with everyone. Our guest list easily topped 200 people without even thinking, and many of our loved ones would be coming from out of town, including quite a few from out of state and abroad.
When COVID-19 first appeared in Everett in February, I wasn’t worried about our wedding. It was more than eight months away, and for us, that seemed like a lifetime. Fast forward to May, and the picture is very, very different. Even before Governor Inslee issued his four-phase Safe Start plan, which wouldn’t allow groups of more than 50 until mid-July at the earliest, we decided to drastically change our wedding plans. We recognized that it is just not safe for our loved ones to gather with us at this time.
There are a number of people in our lives who are in the high-risk demographic, including Taylor, who was born with a heart defect. It doesn’t affect his day-to-day life, but he is at much higher risk for heart and lung complications than many others in our age group. With Taylor and many of our relatives having various conditions that put them at higher risk, we couldn’t responsibly bring them together and risk widespread transmission. We love them too much.
We also recognize that a group of that size could have widespread ramifications for the community at large. My family has been in this area for four generations. Most of my family still lives in the region. If someone with COVID-19 came to our wedding and a number of my relatives got sick, it could cause a major health event. Taylor’s family lives in California. We could see a cluster in the San Diego area directly resulting from our gathering, as well. We have a civic responsibility to not put anyone at risk, especially for something as non-essential as a wedding reception.
Some of our friends are choosing to postpone weddings, and that’s a great option, but Taylor and I don’t want to wait any longer to get married. Instead of our giant celebration, we’ll get married at my parents’ house with our immediate families. It will look very different than the day we had originally planned, but at the end of it, I’ll still be Mrs. Han, and he’ll still be my partner. It’ll be okay.
I do want to make it clear that while the decision for us was straightforward, it was definitely a painful one. If you’re in the same situation, it’s okay to be upset and a little angry. It’s a big life event that has been altered irrevocably for you. Even while recognizing that changing or postponing a wedding celebration is not the end of the world, it’s definitely okay to grieve what would’ve been.
COVID-19 has changed a lot of our day-to-day lives, and everyone is entitled to some sadness about it. It’s important to remember that by not having your big wedding, family reunion or annual block party barbecue, you’re doing an important service to keep your loved ones and community members safe. We all have to make sacrifices in order to beat COVID-19, and I applaud all of you who are making responsible decisions as we head into the summer months.
Also, you can believe Taylor and I will be throwing one GIANT party when all this is over.
The novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, that causes COVID-19, has been compared at times to the flu. The flu kills tens of thousands of Americans every year. Yet we don’t shut down businesses, close schools and issue “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” orders to limit the spread of the flu. What makes the coronavirus so different? Why do we need to take strong action such as physical distancing with COVID-19? While the full picture is not yet complete, it’s increasingly clear that the flu, while it should be taken seriously, pales in comparison to COVID-19
Novel coronavirus spreads more rapidly than the flu.
While all flu strains are slightly different, research shows that, on average, a person infected with the flu infects 1.28 additional people. By contrast, a person infected with the novel coronavirus spreads the virus to two or three additional people.
What does this look like? Even if we take the conservative estimate of spreading COVID-19 to just two people instead of three, you can see that the spread of the virus happens much more rapidly than the spread of the flu.
2. COVID-19 is contagious longer before people start showing symptoms, meaning people are more likely to spread it before they know they’re sick.
With the flu, you typically have symptoms between one to four days after exposure, with most people showing symptoms after two days, and are contagious 24 hours before you feel sick Once people start feeling sick with the flu, they generally stay home, minimizing the spread of the virus.
Infected people start showing symptoms of COVID-19 one to 14 days after exposure, with most people showing symptoms after four or five days. It appears that the coronavirus can spread 48 to 72 hours before the onset of symptoms, and we’re discovering some people have minimal or no symptoms at all. These people don’t know that they have COVID-19 and may not follow social distancing guidelines. In turn, they can pass the virus along to people who may get severely ill or even die from COVID-19. This is one possible explanation for why people who are infected with the virus spread it to more people than the flu.
3. COVID-19 doesn’t seem to slow down with warmer weather, like the flu.
In the U.S., flu season usually begins in the fall and lasts until March or sometime in early spring, with the peak in cases occurring between December and February. As the weather warms, flu activity generally decreases. While there are many reasons why this may be the case, research shows that the virus spreads more easily in cooler temperatures. Higher temperatures can cause degradation of the flu virus in a much shorter time.
With COVID-19, however, there’s no guarantee that warmer weather will slow the spread. Countries such as Singapore, Indonesia, Brazil and Ecuador, all in their summer season, are experiencing high spread of the virus. As social distancing guidelines ease in Washington State over the coming months, it’s possible we’ll see a resurgence of the virus despite warmer weather. Only time will tell.
4. COVID-19 kills at a faster rate than the flu.
We’re still in the middle of this pandemic, so it’s impossible for us to say with certainty what the death rate of COVID-19 will end up being. As it becomes clearer that some people have the novel coronavirus without symptoms, the implication is that the death rate should be lower than the one to two percent initially estimated. But it’s also becoming clear that many deaths that should have been attributed to COVID-19 have not been. Even though we cannot know for certain what the death rate of COVID-19 is, we can clearly say that it has killed more people in far shorter a time period than the flu.
The CDC estimates that in the 187 days between October 1, 2019, and April 4, 2020, 24,000-62,000 people in the U.S. died of the flu. These numbers mean that between 128 and 332 people died per day of the flu. This is a huge range, I know. The CDC uses modelling to estimate the number of flu deaths each year, so it’s not always possible to get an exact death toll.
The first known U.S. death from COVID-19, once thought to be in Kirkland, Washington, on Feb. 28, has been discovered to have occurred in the San Francisco Bay area on Feb. 6. In the 85 days between Feb. 6 and May 1, there have been 37,308 deaths directly attributed to COVID-19 by lab confirmation, equaling 439 COVID-19 deaths per day.
If we also consider deaths of cases with no lab confirmation – but who were considered probable for COVID-19 (based on symptoms, known exposure to the novel coronavirus, etc.) – there have been more than 67,000 COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. This equals 788 COVID-19 deaths per day.
This is not a perfect comparison because the CDC uses modeling to estimate the number of flu deaths per season. The COVID-19 numbers reported here are actual deaths, not based on a model. The CDC does have a COVID-19 death forecast, but it changes based on the data, including when Stay Home orders are lifted. You can find it here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/covid-data/forecasting-us.html
Let’s look at just Skagit County now. The 2019-2020 flu season, which has now come to a close, resulted in just one death in Skagit County. But COVID-19 has been another story. Skagit County’s first diagnosed COVID-19 case occurred on March 10. Just 11 days later, we sadly lost our first person to COVID-19. And since then, we’ve lost 13 Skagitonians to COVID-19, more than doubling the death count of the worst flu season in recent years. While 13 people isn’t a huge number, the families and friends of those 13 people lost huge parts of their worlds to this virus. We don’t want more people experiencing the pain of such a loss. It’s safe to assume that this death toll would be higher without the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order; look at the death rate in Sweden, which has not instituted social distancing guidelines, versus the other Nordic nations that have.
It’s likely the number of reported COVID-19 deaths is underestimated, and likely significantly underestimated. The CDC has begun estimating the burden of COVID-19 deaths by looking at the number of excess deaths from what would be expected. More information on that can be found here: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid19/excess_deaths.htm
5. COVID-19 does not have a vaccine.
Influenza is a long-known, well-studied virus. There are vaccines available for all sorts of strains of the virus, and a well-established supply chain ensures enough doses are available for each new flu season. While some years the vaccine is less effective than other years, people who get the vaccine and still get the flu generally have a milder case of the illness than unvaccinated people.
Of course, not everyone gets vaccinated, sometimes because of personal choice, sometimes because of health conditions that make vaccination dangerous, sometimes because it’s easy to let things slip by unnoticed. The CDC estimates that right around 60% of Americans, give or take a few percentage points, get the flu vaccine each year. The more people who get the vaccine, the fewer people the virus can infect and the slower the spread.
There is no vaccine available for the novel coronavirus. Even if you want it, you can’t get it. In the past, vaccines for new viruses took 10 or more years to develop. Scientists are working hard to have one available sooner than that, maybe even within a year or so. But until then, this virus will spread, infecting millions and killing hundreds of thousands around the world.
The only defense we have against this virus is to limit the spread ourselves. This means washing our hands often and using hand sanitizer when we can’t. It means avoiding crowds and only going out when we absolutely need to, wearing a mask in public, and staying at least six feet away from non-household members. As businesses start to open back up, it may be tempting to forget social distancing, but that is likely to lead to a resurgence of the virus, meaning we’ll have to shut down all over again. So take precautions and limit your trips out. It’s not easy and it’s not fun, but it saves lives.
As always, pandemic or not, healthcare providers are keeping a watchful eye on our community. I must say, although people are following most advice, there is one thing that I have noticed from the front line; some people are waiting far too long and are arriving at our healthcare facility doors very late and very sick.
People have told us they are avoiding coming to doctor’s offices, urgent care clinics and emergency departments. I have seen patients and heard stories of people delaying their concerns about chest pain, then finally arriving at the hospital with very serious heart attacks that could have been prevented by coming in earlier. Patients have tolerated abdominal pain and come in with a hole in their appendix after it ruptured and now requires prolonged surgery. Likewise, I know of a pregnant woman who developed a medical issue and showed up late for fear of catching COVID-19 in the hospital. And I have heard from other physicians that people are not going for their important blood thinner testing. I am afraid people are putting themselves at risk because of COVID-19 fear.
Clinic Spaces are Kept Safe
I and my fellow healthcare providers want to make sure you know we are keeping our spaces safe. We screen all people coming into our clinics and hospitals, we offer telemedicine visits you can join from home, we stood up Acute Respiratory Clinics to keep people with symptoms separate from those without, we boosted our already strict cleaning procedures to be super clean and designed separate areas in our hospitals to care for those with COVID-19. We are a safe place to come when you need care.
My ask is that you call us, use the telemedicine options to connect for regular appointments and discuss the importance of maintaining your screening program (such as mammograms, blood testing, etc.) with your doctor. If you have a chronic illness, stay on the rhythm of appointments and tests as you normally would. If you are experiencing new or worse symptoms, you must quickly connect with your doctor, or go to urgent care or the hospital. We want to make sure that you visit a healthcare provider for the same level of care you would expect at any other time.
I value the trust that you put in our teams to provide for your health and well-being. You can trust us now, more than ever, with your care.
Many of us adore our pets. They give us tail-wagging, purring, squawking doses of pure love, whether we’ve earned such huge affection or not! This is good medicine, especially as our lives have narrowed. Plus, we get to hang out with someone who is not going to say one thing about COVID-19. What a relief! It seems like we tend to worry about even good things these days. A lot of that worry keeps us safe when we practice physical distancing and a little obsessive hand washing. But it also brings up new and strange ideas like, “Can I catch COVID-19 from my pet?”
Who’s at risk: us or our pets?
There is limited evidence on the subject, but the evidence we have suggests animals can become sick with COVID-19 from us! Several dogs have tested positive for coronavirus after contact with infected humans. Ferrets seem to be susceptible. I didn’t see that one coming! Cats also. As you may have heard, this includes not only house cats but also the four tigers and three lions that tested positive for COVID-19 at the Bronx Zoo. So, remember, if you are within six feet of a tiger or lion, wear a face mask!
On the other hand, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states, “At this time, there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading the virus that causes COVID-19.” The risk from animals, including your pet, is low. All the same, the CDC upgraded its guidance telling us to be a bit more cautious about our pets. Here’s what we should do:
Physical distancing and your pet
Think of your pet like any other member of your family; we should make sure they stay at least six feet away from non-household members, both humans and animals. No puppy tussling, no snuggles from the neighbors!
Keep dogs on a leash to maintain distance.
Keep cats indoors when possible so they don’t have contact with other people or pets.
Dog parks or crowded public spaces are a no go.
If you are sick, protect your pets!
The CDC has added chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and new loss of taste or smell to its list of COVID-19 symptoms, expanding on the long-known symptoms of fever, cough, and shortness of breath. You can learn more about these symptoms by clicking here. If you have any of these symptoms, keep your distance and do not have contact with your pets. That involves:
When possible, have another member of your household care for your pets while you are sick.
Avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food or your bed.
If you have to care for your pet while you’re sick, wear a face mask or covering and wash your hands before and after contact with them.
If your pet becomes sick while you are ill, don’t take your pet to the veterinary clinic yourself. Call your vet and let them know you have been sick, possibly with COVID-19 or a confirmed diagnosis. Some vets offer telemedicine consultations or have other plans for seeing sick pets. Your vet can identify solutions that keep you, others and your pet safe.