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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.


My Experience at the COVID-19 Test Site

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On Saturday morning, I started to feel a little tickle in my throat. By mid-morning, I was in full sick mode: sneezing, runny nose, and a headache. If it was back in January, I would have brushed it off as “just a normal cold” and kept on with my weekend plans. But now? There are some new precautions that I must take. By Monday morning, I still wasn’t feeling great. To be honest, I was feeling down-right horrible. So I jumped in the car first thing and drove myself down to the COVID-19 drive-thru testing site at Skagit Valley College.

I have been working at the testing site for about two months now, and know the process in and out. However, going through the site as a visitor—and a sick one at that—was a much different experience!

Here are some things that I learned on the “other side” of the car window.

1. Get there early
I knew that Monday would not be an ideal day to go since Mondays are always our busiest day. Unfortunately, I had little choice since I cannot go back to work or take my children to daycare until I am symptom-free with a negative test result. I arrived at 8:30 am (a half-hour before we open), and was greeted by a small line of cars. Registration opened slightly before 9 am, and it took me about 45 minutes to get through, all said and done. Wait times can vary dramatically by day, and even during the same day. If you’re worried about wait times, check out Skagit County’s Twitter page, which will be updated daily with wait times.

2. Use the bathroom before you go

I had just downed two cups of morning coffee before I left, and almost instantly regretted it when I pulled into the site. Even though there are porta-potties available for visitors, I knew that it is highly encouraged for all guests to stay within their vehicles. Adding that I had my 3-year-old with me in the car, I really did not want to get out of the car. So I suffered in silence, and thanked my lucky stars that she didn’t need to go as well!

3. Expect it to take some time

Along the same lines, it is important to expect the trip to take some time. For some cars, the trip takes 10 minutes from start to finish, while other cars may take upward of two hours. This wait is dependent on several things: time of day or day of the week, the number of staff/volunteers working that day, technical issues in testing or registration, and even extra time spent helping visitors find their insurance information or processing multiple people in one car.

I knew that I may have to wait a bit, so I made sure to have some things for my toddler to do while we sat. It was early and an overcast day. Thankfully, I didn’t need to worry about sweating it out in the car! It is typically expected that cars in line will need to wait with their windows up (for safety) and the engine off (so that workers can hear visitors’ responses and coordinate with other workers). It can be quite uncomfortable on hot and sunny days.

While many people do not have the option to leave children or even pets at home, if you are able to do so, I recommend it! Site workers will try to be as accommodating as possible on hot days, but it is easiest—and safest—for everyone if only those being tested come through the site.

4. Bring your documents

This is where I was really thankful to have some “insider” knowledge! Even though it is posted on the Skagit County website, there are times when people arrive to the site without the necessary documents. The test is free for uninsured guests. Those with insurance need to have either their insurance cards or the name of their insurance company, along with their group (if applicable) and ID numbers, with them. I already knew that my form of insurance requires that I share my social security number with the person registering me, so I wrote it down on a napkin in advance so that I wouldn’t need to yell it through the glass! This made the registration process move a little quicker, and I didn’t need to yell out my personal information.

Please note that Skagit County doesn’t pay for any lab bills. Northwest Lab bills for their lab processes. While State and Federal officials have required 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 checking their coverage, and if their insurance company will not cover a self-referred test, the individual will also be responsible for the bill. The Skagit County Commissioners sent letters to the Office of the Insurance Commissioner and the Federal Delegation asking that they fix this problem. However, it has not been resolved.

5. Have some patience and show some grace

Though I work at the site and know that it can take some time, even I got a little impatient after 30 minutes in the car with a restless kid! The site is staffed by Public Health, other county staff and a group of fantastic and selfless volunteers who donate their time and energies to support the wellbeing of our community. A crew of new volunteers have joined the team as of late because of how busy we’ve been. Each day, there are people being trained in the process, and this can inevitably slow down your visit. Though it may seem tedious, it is so important that things are done correctly so that people aren’t accidently billed for their test, or worst case, the tests are done incorrectly and can’t be processed at all!

Now, on Wednesday morning, I am feeling a bit better, but I am still waiting on my results. I know that it can take a maximum of 72 hours to hear back with a positive or negative, and I am using this time to stay inside with my family, and drinking plenty of fluids so that I can start feeling better soon!

So while I would have brushed my illness off only a few months ago, I now have to go through several new steps. However, I do it to keep my family, friends, and community healthy. I hope that my insights into the testing site are helpful to you, and I encourage you to get tested if you are feeling under the weather. We can all do our part to fight COVID-19 and to keep Skagit healthy.

Take care!


Family, Though Far Apart

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Back in late March, there was a lot of talk between my family members and me about the possibility of the Canadian border closing due to COVID-19. With my mom, step-dad, elderly grandmother, brother, and his young family all located in Alberta, my sisters and I worried that a closure might mean we wouldn’t see our immediate family for a while. My mom sent me an article about the possibility of the border locking down, but I disregarded it. I was unable to conceive at the time that this could even be a possibility.

Now in August, I am going on five months without seeing half of my family. It feels downright heart wrenching at times knowing that they are so close, yet so very far away. On top of the day-to-day feelings of being isolated, we have also seen holidays, anniversaries, and several birthdays come and go without visits from grandparents and cousins.

Since I am a dual citizen, I could technically visit my family. However, the 14-day quarantine requirement in order to enter Canada makes a quick trip impossible, and it would mean leaving my husband and young children behind for weeks. Though I know this forced separation is a very common reality for many, this is the first time in my lifetime where I lack any control over being able to see my loved ones. The thought of being separated from my children sends chills down my spine, and I am thankful that this is not something that I have to endure.

To read more about the current entry restrictions at the Canadian border, visit: https://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/services/covid/non-canadians-canadiens-eng.html

To take away some of the sting, we connect on video chat frequently and make a point of checking in throughout the week. My mom and I definitely shed tears on a routine bases via FaceTime, while my stepdad provides emotional stability and support. Beyond checking in by phone, the distance has forced us to get creative with the ways that we connect.

Here are just a few things that we have done to make the distance seem smaller:

1. Send snail mail
This is something that I do with my three year old on the weekends. She loves creating little masterpieces, placing stamps on the envelopes, and kissing the letters before dropping them in the mailbox. When the letters arrive, she loves seeing pictures of her artwork placed lovingly on fireplace mantels and refrigerators.

Finding fun stamps can be an added bonus! I recently purchased Sesame Street stamps from the post office and these have been a huge hit with my daughter.

2. Gift loved ones with a digital picture frame
For my mom’s 60th birthday, we gifted her with a digital picture frame. By downloading the app, my siblings and I can upload our photos, and they pop up on her picture frame in real time. My mom jokes sometimes she sits in front of her frame for an hour, just watching the pictures change.

3. Share a meal or special occasion
Even though we can’t get together physically, we can enjoy a meal together on video chat. Every Saturday morning I call my mom and we chat over coffee and eggs, and talk about what household chores we need to get done before Sunday night. When someone has a birthday, we make sure to have everyone present virtually so that the whole family can sing “Happy Birthday” together.

4. Talk about each other, even when they aren’t on the phone
With young children who may not have the greatest long-term memory, I’ve found that it is crucial to talk about their extended family members throughout the week. I will ask my daughter about her aunts and uncle, will make reference to times that we spent together, and encourage her to talk about her cousins. While it makes me miss my family by talking about them, I’ve found that my daughter really enjoys recalling these memories. And for my baby daughter, I try to show her pictures and have her engage during video chatting sessions in order to keep her familiar with their faces.

5. Plan a trip for the near future
Even though it sometimes doesn’t seem like it, eventually we will be able to get together again. So we talk about what we will do in the near future, and it helps us feel a sense of control and direction. Though these plans may take a while to come to fruition, it can be really helpful to have something to look forward to.

When all the above still doesn’t seem to help, I try really hard to keep myself in the moment and avoid drifting into the “what-ifs.” This distance is really hard and emotionally exhausting, but there are also so many blessings to count. And when we finally do see each other again, the hugs will be even sweeter than they were before.


Coping with Pandemic Fatigue

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The COVID-19 pandemic has many of us stressed and worn out. We have all faced changes to our daily routines, reduced contact with friends and family, and a loss of our sense of normalcy. Many Skagitonians have been hit with financial challenges due to job loss or changes to their businesses that could not have been anticipated prior to a few months ago. Adding to the stress is that the pandemic conditions appear to be getting worse and there is not a definite end in sight.

You have probably heard of the “fight-or-flight” response. This response works well if you need to run away from a bear, but not so great for long-term stressors like the COVID pandemic.

WHO Coping with Stress during COVID19

So what can you do if you are feeling stressed and worn out?

1. Limit how often you check news or spend time on social media.

It is important to be well-informed about the pandemic. Although some people take comfort in being informed, it is easy to get worked up and anxious from watching nonstop news coverage. Have you heard of the term “doomscrolling?” It’s a newly coined word for scrolling through a never-ending doom-and-gloom on your Twitter or Facebook feed for hours and hours. Many of us do it, but we can all find better ways to spend our time.

If you want to stay informed, you should seek out COVID-19 information from local and trusted sources, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Washington State Department of Health or Skagit County Public Health. And set reasonable limits for the time you spend on social media.

2. If you feel like you are stuck in a rut, change your routine.

We are now four months into the pandemic, and most people have settled into a familiar routine. Many of us are spending more time than ever at home and are growing tired of looking at the same four walls as our days blur together. If you feel like you are stuck in the same rut day after day, you should mix up your routine.

How? If your employer allows you to work from home and is open to flexible work hours, you can try working a different schedule. Take the time to exercise before you start work, or take a longer lunch hour and go for a long walk and end your workday later.

You can also take advantage of the time cooped up in your home by focusing on a do-it-yourself project that you have been putting off. Clean your garage, touch up some peeling paint, or take on a project in your yard. In addition to keeping you busy, when you are done with the project you will get the added satisfaction from having completed a project.

3. Find healthy ways to let off some stress.

The CDC provides some great tips on coping with stress during COVID. Most are common sense tips like:

  • Take care of your body—stretch or meditate, eat healthy well-balanced meals, and exercise regularly.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol and drug use.
  • Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.

4. Don’t be afraid to seek out professional help.

For some people, general stress and pandemic fatigue can become more serious. You should watch for warning signs that you’re having trouble coping, and should call your healthcare provider if stress gets in the way of your daily activities for several days in a row.

If you do not know where to turn, Skagit County is maintaining a list of behavioral health services and resources. A few key resources that are available 24 hours a day and 365 days a year are:

Don’t be afraid to reach out for help, and know that like all pandemics, this one will eventually end.


Family Beach Day During “COVID Summer”

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I don’t know about you, but the last several weeks my family and I have been feeling more cooped up than usual. It has been difficult to deal with the realities of our current situation as the days are now sunny and warm and perfect for all things SUMMER! I feel like I spend a good chunk of my time dreaming up ideas for the weekend, just to strike everything off the list because they are not COVID-safe activities. Last Friday was definitely a tipping point for me, as I sat deflated, and—let’s be honest—angry about not having anything fun planned for the weekend to come.

To pull myself out of this emotional slump, I picked up the phone. I dialed Deception Pass State Park and, with fingers crossed, asked the woman on the phone if their beach was open for visitors. She said that it was, and I thanked her profusely (and rather dramatically) before hanging up. “Woohoo!! Tomorrow will be beach day,” I shouted to my husband. I went to bed feeling over-the-moon excited about finally having a “normal” summer activity planned.

As we drove into the park, I looked around to gauge if anything looked different from last summer. I was nervous about being so out in the open and felt a little anxious about what I might find as we pulled into the parking lot. When we finally parked, I let out a sign of relief.

Deception Pass State Park – photo of the beach at 1:00 pm right before we left for the day.

Along with the regular beach things like sand toys, hats, sunscreen, and a packed lunch, I was sure to bring a face mask for my husband and myself. Even though our oldest is only three (and exempt from the State/County mask requirement), I packed a little pink practice mask along in case she wanted to imitate mommy (and yes, she absolutely did, and it was very cute). Thankfully, we had decided to get there early (as recommended online), in order to avoid larger groups that would gather later in the afternoon. This turned out to be a very smart move! By around 1:30pm, the whole beach was becoming packed with people, and we were able to make a mad dash to the car to keep socially distanced.

All in all, our little adventure at the beach went swimmingly (HA!). Except for having to wear a mask and being a bit more protective of our personal space than I typically would, the day seemed like any other beach day that my family and I might have enjoyed in the past. We all left feeling physically spent, but emotionally energized. On the car ride home, my husband suggested that we should go grab a bite to eat at a local restaurant (which we haven’t done since early March). For the first time in a very long time we sat and enjoyed a meal all together on an outdoor patio. Something that would have been so normal last year now felt like the most delicious treat, and I was impressed and grateful as I watched the restaurant staff and patrons abide by safe-distancing protocols.

What I realized in venturing outside of my comfort zone last weekend is that I cannot feasibly hole up forever. I need to make peace with the fact that this is a marathon—not a sprint—and I need to find balance in order to keep my sanity intact. So, while it isn’t safe or responsible to take on a full calendar of summertime events like before, it is absolutely okay to get out and safely find a little normalcy in very abnormal times.

Don’t forget the sunscreen!

Remember: find some balance this summer and take care of your mental and emotional needs. A little sand between the toes does a lot of good once in a while!

So here are a few take-aways for other households who may be looking for a little beachy fun.

  1. Go early. Like I mentioned above, this is essential in order to make sure that you avoid the crowds that will inevitably arrive come mid-afternoon. We got to the beach at 11am, and it was perfect timing! We were able to secure a space for our things that allowed for safe distancing, and we made an effort to steer clear of more congested areas. Just about the time when we were all feeling sunned-out and a little cranky, it was time to go!
  2. Have your face mask on hand. You will be expected to wear it when using public facilities, and it is smart to wear one when passing people in the parking lot or along trails. Children four and younger and those with underlying medical or behavioral health conditions are exempt from the mask requirement. However, parents of children ages two to four are encouraged to have masks available for their kids when in public settings. Lastly, the CDC states that masks are not required to be worn while people are in the water because they can be difficult to breathe through when they get wet. However, this means that it is even more important to maintain social distancing while swimming or wading.
  3. Pack what you will need and avoid unnecessary stops. And with multiple children, this can be a huge undertaking! Be sure to pack your own sand toys, sunscreen, towels, swimwear, hand wipes, and food (when applicable). Before arriving at the beach, talk to your children about keeping track of their toys and explain why—in this particular situation— they shouldn’t share. Talk to your kids about what they should expect when they get to the beach, and talk them through the experience. 
  4. Practice good hygiene and follow posted instructions. This not only will ensure that you keep yourself and your loved ones safe, but also lets the people around you know that you are taking these new requirements seriously. The more people that are seen following these safety precautions, the more likely that others will follow suit.
  5. Don’t go if you are feeling sick. Also, do not go if you have had recent exposure to a confirmed COVID-19 case. Keep in mind that many infected people never show symptoms but can still be contagious. We can all do our part to curb the spread of the virus, and that means staying home when we have symptoms. You can find the list of symptoms here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html

Updates from Skagit’s COVID-19 Test Site

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The COVID-19 drive-through testing site has been in operation since April 2020, and it is time to share some new updates!

Since the site opened at Skagit Valley College, we have performed almost 15,000 COVID-19 tests with the help of 143 volunteers who have put in over 60,000 hours of time. Skagit County is the ONLY county in Washington State who has been able to continuously offer drive-through testing. We are so proud of the work we’ve been able to do so far, and we’re so thankful for our community partners and Skagit Valley College for helping to make this possible.

Skagit County mayors visit the testing site on July 22, 2020 to thank volunteers and learn about the site’s successes.

As we’ve continued to operate the test site, we’ve made some adjustments to help us serve the community better.

Since its inception, we’ve:

  • Expanded our testing criteria to allow anyone who feels they need to be tested to be tested. This has helped us with contact tracing and slowing the spread of COVID-19.
  • Removed the requirement that people have an appointment to get tested, making the test site more accessible.
  • Expanded from two lanes of registration to four.
  • Lowered the testing age for minors from seven to five.

We have also found some things that are continually problematic for visitors since we first blogged about the new site in April, so we’re here to offer some advice and clarification. People visiting the testing site should remember:

  • Skagit County doesn’t pay for any lab bills. Northwest Lab handles our 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. (Don’t worry- we also find this annoying. The Skagit County Commissioners sent letters to the Office of the Insurance Commissioner and the Federal Delegation asking that they fix this problem.
  • It is not necessary for people to get repeatedly tested if there is not a new known exposure or symptoms. Recently, we have been seeing people come through weekly, without cause. This is not necessary. If you are following all necessary precautions, and have tested negative previously, there is no reason to get repeatedly tested- it is unnecessary and is a strain on limited resources.
  • The hot weather is proving difficult for many. Unless someone has a known exposure, symptoms or some other time constraint, we highly recommend that an individual wait for cooler days.
  • On wait times- we are consistently seeing our longest wait times on Mondays. Wait times on Mondays’ have been three hours or longer. Unless you have a pressing time constraint, please try to come on another day during the week to spread out the workload.
Wait times on Mondays are consistently higher than the rest of the week. If you can, come on a different day.

As long as there is community need, we will operate a testing site.

We are so thankful for all our community partners, and the great residents of Skagit County for making the testing site such a success!


Asymptomatic Spread

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I feel fine. No COVD-19 symptoms whatsoever. No fever, cough, sore throat or shortness of breath. I can still taste my breakfast and smell if my cats’ litter boxes need to be cleaned. I don’t even have a headache. So I’m good, right? No symptoms = no COVID-19 = I can’t spread it to others.

Well, unfortunately, maybe not.

There are many instances of people spreading COVID-19 without even knowing they’ve been infected. And while we all know to stay home if we’re feeling unwell to keep our germs to ourselves, it’s a lot harder to contain the spread of a virus that can infect others when the spreader feels perfectly healthy. This is why social distancing and wearing masks are so vitally important. They help you keep your germs to yourself, even if you don’t yet know that you have those germs.

There are three main types of people who can spread the virus without knowing they’re ill.

  • Presymptomatic: This is the time period before symptoms start. Most people who contract COVID-19 eventually develop symptoms. People can spread the virus for about two days before they develop symptoms, while they’re still feeling perfectly healthy. People generally shed the most virus—meaning they are most contagious—just before and immediately after symptoms develop. So wear a mask and keep your distance, just in case you’re presymptomatic.
  • Mildly symptomatic: Some people are lucky enough to have very mild symptoms. It’s possible that the symptoms are so mild that the person doesn’t even recognize they have them, or that they might attribute to something else, like a slightly sore or scratchy throat that they think is caused by allergies. But even though the symptoms are mild for them, they could infect others who may not fare so well.
  • Asymptomatic: This refers to people who are truly without symptoms. Many people who are called asymptomatic would more accurately be described as presymptomatic or mildly symptomatic. It is unclear how easily the virus is spread by people who are truly asymptomatic. While the World Health Organization last month caused an uproar by saying that asymptomatic spread of COVID-19 “appears to be rare,” it later backtracked on this statement, stressing that the actual rate of asymptomatic spread isn’t known yet. The CDC says that asymptomatic people are just as infectious as those with symptoms. It’s still a new virus, and we’re still learning about it.

So how do you know if you or someone else is presymptomatic or asymptomatic? Unless you get tested often, you don’t. Which is why you need to take precautions to protect others all the time—not just when you’re sick. All. The. Time. In public? Wear a mask and stay at least six feet from others. Visiting with friends or family? Wear a mask and stay at least six feet from the people you don’t live with, even if you’re outside.

While there is still a lot we don’t know, we do know that people can spread the virus even when they feel healthy. And we know that there are simple things you can do to keep yourself and those around you safer.

  • Stay home as much as possible. It’s not fun, but it’s the safest thing you can do.
  • When you do go out, maintain a distance of at least six feet from people not in your immediate household.
  • Wear a mask when you’re around people not in your immediate household, especially indoors, but even if you’re having a socially distant get-together with friends or extended family outside. And don’t share food, beverages, or utensils. Bring your own.
  • Wash your hands often or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Bring it with you when you leave your house and use it after you touch anything that others have touched and before and after you touch your mask.
  • Try not to touch your face. This will probably be your greatest challenge.
  • If you think you’ve been exposed or have symptoms, get tested. It’s best to wait five to seven days after exposure to get tested because it takes time for the virus to reach a detectable level. While you wait, take precautions to avoid spreading the virus in case you have it. You can request a test from your healthcare provider, schedule an appointment online with Rite Aid, or get tested at the drive-thru testing site at Skagit Valley College.

We all have a part to play in stopping the spread of COVID-19 and returning to normalcy, even those of us who are feeling healthy right now. We all have a responsibility to protect others from us.


Camping and COVID

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With many people’s more exotic summer travel plans canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic, some families are seeking out simpler vacations close to home. And with summer weather finally here, many are considering camping trips. Camping has always been a way to get away from it all, and by taking some common-sense precautions and planning ahead, spending time in the great outdoors can be a safe option.

Tips for a Safe Camping Trip:

  1. If you or someone from your party is sick, stay home! If you have symptoms like fever, coughing, or shortness of breath, you should cancel your trip and save your adventure for another day. The same advice applies if you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID.
  • Five People or Less. Parks are asking people to keep groups small to avoid crowds, and only camp with members of your immediate family to reduce transmission risk. Now is not the time to carpool or sleep in tents or RVs with friends or family outside your immediate household.
  • Practice Physical Distancing. You should maintain 6 feet of distance and use a face covering when you are not able to maintain distance. The National Parks Service has created a handy graphic to illustrate what 6 feet looks like. Please keep a moose antler or grizzly bear away from people outside your household.
  • Plan ahead and pack everything you need. Make sure to pack all of your food and bring essentials like hand sanitizer and face coverings. This will also help you to limit the number of stops you need to make on the trip. Let’s face it, the goal of camping should be time in nature, not time running errands.
  • Stay closer to home. Parks are asking visitors to consider visiting a park that is closer to them in order to follow state and county guidelines. This will reduce the need for making stops along the way. More isolated communities have smaller hospital systems and are not set up for an influx of visitors.

What about Bathrooms?

Believe it or not, there is a lot of online chatter about campground and park bathrooms. The consensus is that public restrooms in general are riskier spaces for disease transmission, because they are often highly trafficked and poorly ventilated spaces. To reduce risk, visitors are asked to wear a face covering in restrooms and make sure they have a supply of hand sanitizer on hand. Visitors should also avoid bunching up in a line. Some campgrounds are asking people who camp in an RV to use the restrooms in their unit to help reduce traffic in shared restrooms.   If you have a self-contained unit with a bathroom and shower, please consider using it. 

What about Backcountry Camping?

If you are a more adventurous camper and are used to camping in the backcountry or at dispersed camping sites (camping outside of developed sites), planning is now more important than ever. For backpacking trips, some National Parks are not providing walk-up permits this year, and dispersed camping has been limited in some locations, so you should call or visit the park’s website ahead of time. Some backcountry ranger stations where you might normally get information might also be closed. The Washington Trails Association has created a helpful blog post with links to up-to-date information about wilderness permits.

So while pandemic is causing a lot of challenges this year, enjoy a break outdoors, follow the physical distancing and other guidelines, and enjoy a great camping trip this summer.


COVID-19 data: what does it tell us?

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In late April, Skagit County opened the drive-through COVID-19 testing at Skagit Valley College. By most measures, it has been a huge success. Just this week, the site broke a record and tested 599 people in one day! Widespread testing is critical to being able to slow the spread of COVID-19 and keep the community safe while businesses reopen. We’re so proud of our testing site team for all they have accomplished.

Testing also gives us real-time data on where COVID-19 is spreading and increasing in our communities, but as much as we’d like the data to be crystal clear and perfectly accurate all the time, it’s not. Because of this, there has been some confusion in the community about what our epidemiological data means. We want to clear it up.

Each day, Skagit County reports the following data points:

  • New cases: These are new, laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19. New positive cases are not recorded based on symptoms only. Positive cases must be confirmed by testing to be counted. Further, no matter how many times an individual is tested, a person can only be one positive case. Duplications are removed by the Washington State Department of Health and Skagit County Public Health. 
  • Recoveries: Our Public Health Department checks in with confirmed COVID-19 cases daily. After 21 days, a person is considered recovered if they also report that they are no longer experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. COVID-19 behaves differently in different people, and there have been some who have experienced symptoms for weeks or months, so it’s important to us that we only report recoveries for people who have actually recovered.
  • Hospitalizations: This is the total number of positive COVID-19 cases who were hospitalized at any point during their illness. It is a cumulative number, not the number of current people in the hospital.
  • Deaths: This is the number of Skagit County residents who unfortunately lost their lives due to COVID-19. As we get further into the pandemic—and are able to look back at the data more closely—it is possible that this number could change. This is because the Washington State Department of Health has been recording deaths of anyone who was a positive COVID-19 case and died. It’s possible that a person who passed away was a positive COVID-19 case, but they did not actually pass away from COVID-19. As we refine the data, you may see some deaths removed from the total because of this. We want to ensure that we report accurate data. Please understand that our reporting may change as time passes and we are better able to analyze and understand that data.

Public Health also talks regularly about the “rate of transmission,” or how many new cases Skagit County seeing per day. It’s important to remember that the rate of transmission both predicts the number of cases that will be coming in the next 14 days or so, and reflects the actions/precautions taken by the public in the last 14 days or so. For example, the rate of transmission from the Fourth of July—when we suspect a large number of people gathered together with people from outside their household—will not be apparent until this week. In many cases, COVID-19 has such a long incubation period that people who contracted COVID-19 two weeks ago may just now be developing symptoms and getting tested.

One final note: Data is not an exact science. For our Public Health team and the Washington State Department of Health to be collecting and releasing this data in real time is almost unprecedented, particularly with death data, which typically goes through a much more rigorous investigative process before they are considered final. We expect to make adjustments to case and death data as we continue battling COVID-19. But we promise that we’ll always give you the best data we have at the time.


Child with face mask

Tips for Face Covering for Kids

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Beginning Friday, June 26, Washington State now requires everyone to wear a cloth face covering in public when they cannot maintain six feet of distance from others. Here are some answers to questions that parents and other caregivers might have about face coverings and children. 

When does the face covering requirement apply to children? 

The requirement applies to children ages five years and older, unless they are medically directed to do otherwise. The Washington State Department of Health strongly recommends, but does not require, children who are two to four years old use face coverings in public settings under the close supervision of an adult. Children who are younger than two should never wear face coverings. With smaller airways, breathing through masks are difficult for little ones. For infants, there may be an increased risk of suffocation. Also, older infants and young toddlers are likely to pull the mask off, resulting in them touching their face more often. The risks outweigh the benefits for children younger than two years old.

Children older than five do not need to wear face coverings when they are at home or in the car if they are only with people from their own household. They also do not need to wear a face covering when playing outdoors when they can maintain six feet of social distance from others. When you are outdoors as a family, it is a good idea to keep face coverings in a pocket or bag to use in case you come across other people from whom you cannot stay six feet away.

What are some tips for encouraging younger children to wear face coverings?

ParentMap recently published an article with some great tips on encouraging children to wear face coverings. The advice includes:

  • Children often learn through play; you can introduce the idea by placing a face covering or mask on your child’s favorite doll or stuffed animal.
  • Buy or make masks in patterns that match your child’s interests. If your child is into unicorns or superheroes, choose a pattern that they will be excited to wear.
  • Practice wearing a face covering at home, even if it is just for a few minutes. This is especially important if your kids are headed to a place where a face covering is required, like on an airplane flight. 

What should I look for in face coverings?

The face covering should fit securely over your child’s nose and mouth. If you are purchasing one, look for washable covering made from multiple layers of tightly woven fabric. Every child is different so you might need to try a few styles and sizes before finding one that works best.

If you would like to make your own, there many tutorials online that can be made without any sewing skills and with materials you probably already have at home. The CDC has several easy-to-follow templates and mask-making instructions on its website

How should I care for my child’s face coverings?

It is safest to wash your face covering after each wear because it has the potential to be contaminated when you are out in public. The best practice is for children and caregivers to wash or sanitize their hands before putting on and after removing their face coverings. You should try to avoid touching the outside of the covering by folding it carefully and storing it in a private place, such as a personal plastic zip-top bag.

Finally, it is important to remember that wearing masks enhances but does not replace the other prevention measures that we have already been doing. We all still need to stay home when we are sick, keep six feet away from others, and wash our hands frequently.


Health Inequities – a Further Review

Reading Time: 3 minutes

June 15, 2020, Skagit County Public Health issued a press release and a call to action on racism and health inequities. We wanted to provide some additional information and context about that call to action. Examining health disparities and inequities is not new to Skagit County Public Health or the Population Health Trust, which is the community advisory committee that guides the department’s health assessment and planning. The Population Health Trust adopted a vision for health equity that guides this work:  

“Health Equity means that everyone in our community has a fair and just opportunity for healthy living. This requires that we address and remove barriers to individual and community health that arise from poverty and discrimination (whether based on race, education, gender identity, sexual orientation, job status, housing status, or disability) that result in compromised health and powerlessness, and are often derived from lack of access to: good jobs with fair pay, quality of education, healthy housing, nutritious food, safe environments and active lifestyles, and quality health care.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted deep-seated inequities that are impossible to ignore.  We are still learning about these impacts, but four immediate examples include: a disproportionate share of COVID-19 disease burden among communities of color, unequal healthcare access, employment circumstances that disadvantage some groups compared to others, and an unequal social safety net.

  1. Disproportionate COVID-19 Disease Burden

In May, 75% of identified Skagit County COVID-19 cases were from members of the Latinx community, even though the group represents only 18% of the county’s population.  We know that there are consistently higher rates of infection in communities of color throughout Washington State and nationally. According to the Washington State Department of Health, 37% of the people diagnosed with COVID-19 are White, while 68% of our population as a whole is White.  Statewide, members of the Latinx community make up 13% of the population but represent 43% of the people diagnosed with COVID-19. This is a clear and indisputable health inequity. As is noted below, primary reasons for this inequity include unequal healthcare access, differences in employment circumstances and an unequal social safety net.    

  • Unequal Healthcare Access

Sadly, although communities of color are most impacted by COVID-19, those same communities are less likely to have health insurance and access to medical care. As the table below illustrates, the uninsured rate for Latinx adults in Washington State is nearly four times the rate of White residents. Native Americans and African Americans also are less likely to have health insurance compared to White residents.

 LatinxNative American/ Alaska NativeBlack/African AmericanWhite
Adult Uninsured Rate in Washington19%17%11%5%
  • Differences in Employment Circumstances

In Skagit County, workplaces are a major source of COVID-19 spread. Many people take for granted that their jobs offer them the ability to work from home or take time off when they are sick. Frontline workers face tough economic and health choices, and there are stark racial differences in employment situations. Many of these workers were laid off while others continued in essential services that involve a high degree of interaction with others and consequently place them at greater risk for COVID-19 infection.

Nationally, nearly a quarter of employed Latinx and African American workers are employed in service industry jobs compared to only 16% of White workers. Also, Latinx workers account for 17% of total employment but 53% of agricultural workers. In Skagit County, where agriculture is such an important part of the economy, Public Health is working with the farming community to foster safe working conditions for farmworkers. 

4. Unequal Social Safety Net    

The coronavirus crisis is not just a pandemic; it is also an economic crisis. Unfortunately, we do not have a social safety net that helps everyone equally. Many non-citizens did not qualify for the federal stimulus checks. Even citizens married to non-citizens were locked out of these payments.  Children who live in mixed immigration-status households were also penalized and no one in their family received a stimulus payment.

Millions of people lost their jobs, including people whose presence in the US is based on a temporary visa, and some workers find themselves in limbo where they do not qualify for unemployment payments and cannot seek new work. The process to receive unemployment benefits is confusing for people with limited English skills, who work non-traditional or ‘gig economy’ jobs, or for people who are self-employed. 

These are just a few of the health equity issues that have become more apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic, and this just scratches the surface of health equity issues in our community. We know there are similar inequities in chronic disease rates, educational outcomes, housing, and other economic segments of our community.

Skagit County Public Health and the Population Health Trust will continue proactively exploring these and other health equity topics. In response to the current crisis, this process will start with listening sessions where Public Health will reach out in consultation with the communities that are most impacted. 

Sources

Skagit County Race & Ethnicity Data from US Census 2018 American Community Survey 5 Year Estimates, https://data.census.gov

Kaiser Family Foundation estimates for uninsured (nonelderly) adults based on the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, 2008-2018: https://www.kff.org/statedata/

Viruses don’t discriminate, But We Do, Washington State Department of Health, June 19, 2020: https://medium.com/wadepthealth/viruses-dont-discriminate-but-we-do-fcec9758c18f

Labor Force Characteristics by Race & Ethnicity, 2018: https://www.bls.gov/opub/reports/race-and-ethnicity/2018/home.htm