Tsunami Preparedness: Before, During, After

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A tsunami advisory was lifted this past Sunday for parts of the U.S. West Coast and Alaska after a volcano erupted in the Pacific on Saturday. The initial advisory went into effect on Saturday morning, with waves projected to be 1-to-3 feet along the coastline spanning from California to Alaska. Emergency alerts went to residents in King and Snohomish counties, as well as many other locations across Puget Sound.

While the Washington coastline thankfully saw minimal impacts from the tremors, we should use this experience as a reminder to be ready for future tsunami events. After all, being prepared is one of the best things that you can do for yourself and your loved ones. You can take steps today to lessen the potential impacts of a tsunami event in the future.

Here are some things to consider before, during, and after a tsunami. For the full list, go to Ready.gov.

Prepare NOW

  • If you live near, or regularly visit a coastal area, learn about the risk of tsunami in the area. Some at-risk communities have maps with evacuation zones and routes. If you are a visitor, ask about community plans.

    In Skagit County, a great way to stay informed is by signing up for CodeRed alerts. Register here to receive emergency alerts and notifications in your area through the CodeRed Emergency Notification System. For more information, contact Skagit County’s Department of Emergency Management at (360) 416-1850.
  • Learn the signs of a potential tsunami, such as an earthquake, a loud roar from the ocean, or unusual ocean behavior, such as a sudden rise or wall of water or sudden draining of water showing the ocean floor.
  • Know and practice community evacuation plans and map out your routes from home, work, and play. Pick shelters 100 feet or more above sea level, or at least one mile inland. Check with Skagit County’s Department of Emergency Management for public shelter information or download the free Red Cross Emergency app for a list of open Red Cross shelters in your area.
  • Create a family emergency communication plan that has an out-of-state contact. Plan where to meet if you get separated. Consider putting together a basic Disaster Supply kit for your family. A checklist can be found here.
  • Help educate your family about the importance of being prepared for natural disasters. Visit Ready.gov/kids for helpful tips.
  • Consider earthquake insurance and a flood insurance policy through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Standard homeowner’s insurance does not cover flood or earthquake damage.

Survive DURING

  • If you are in a tsunami area and there is an earthquake, then first protect yourself from the earthquake. Drop, Cover, and Hold On. Drop to your hands and knees. Cover your head and neck with your arms. Hold on to any sturdy furniture until the shaking stops. Crawl only if you can reach better cover, but do not go through an area with more debris. If possible, avoid touching your eyes, mouth, and nose.
  • When the shaking stops, if there are natural signs or official warnings of a tsunami, then move immediately to a safe place as high and as far inland as possible. Listen to the authorities, but do not wait for tsunami warnings and evacuation orders.
  • If you are outside of the tsunami hazard zone and receive a warning, then stay where you are unless officials tell you otherwise.
  • Leave immediately if you are told to do so. Evacuation routes are often marked by a wave with an arrow in the direction of higher ground.
  • If you are in the water, then grab onto something that floats, such as a raft, tree trunk, or door. Keep in mind that floodwaters may contain debris, chemicals, or waste that are harmful to your health.  
  • If you are in a boat, then face the direction of the waves and head out to sea. If you are in a harbor, then go inland.

Be Safe AFTER

  • Listen to local alerts and authorities for information on areas to avoid and shelter locations.
  • Avoid wading in floodwater, which can contain dangerous debris. Water may be deeper than it appears. Never drive through standing water.
  • Be aware of the risk of electrocution. Underground or downed power lines can electrically charge water. Do not touch electrical equipment if it is wet or if you are standing in water.
  • If you become injured or sick and need medical attention, contact your healthcare provider for further care instructions and shelter in place, if possible. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 9-1-1.
  • Stay away from damaged buildings, roads, and bridges.
  • Document property damage with photographs. Conduct an inventory and contact your insurance company for assistance. You may also reach out to Skagit County’s Department of Emergency Management at (360) 416-1850.
  • Save phone calls for emergencies. Phone systems are often down or busy after a disaster. Use text messages or social media to communicate with family and friends.
  • Take care of yourself physically and emotionally in the aftermath of a disaster. Follow CDC guidance for managing stress during a traumatic event. The Disaster Distress Helpline, 1-800-985-5990, is a 24/7, 365-day-a-year, national hotline dedicated to providing immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster.

Calling All Volunteers! Volunteers Needed at the Fairgrounds Testing Site

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January 14, 2022

The demand for COVID-19 testing has increased dramatically since the end of December 2021. The new Omicron variant has proven to be highly transmissible, causing a rapid spike in new cases over the past two to three weeks. Aside from vaccination, boosters, and masking, testing is one of the best tools that we have to slow the spread of the virus in our community.

Skagit County Public Health has been working diligently to provide no-cost, low-barrier testing services to Skagitonians since April 2020. The current operation at the Skagit County Fairgrounds allows for an average of 300 tests per evening, every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.

While demand for testing services have ebbed and flowed over the course of the pandemic, present demand is overwhelming our Public Health and hospital systems. To address this strain, Public Health is seeking to expand testing hours at the Fairgrounds as soon as possible.

As many know, staffing shortages due to COVID-19 are impacting workplaces across the country. Unfortunately, the Skagit County Fairgrounds has also been affected by these struggles.

“A minimum of 15 staff and volunteers are required to run the Fairgrounds each day,” said Site Manager, Julie de Losada. “To expand our hours, we would need to quickly expand our workforce as well. Without new volunteers, it just isn’t possible.”

Public Health is calling on the community to help support the testing site. If you are 16 years of age or older and can commit to at least one shift per week through the end of February, the site could desperately use your help.

If/when staffing allows, Public Health is hoping to add an early afternoon shift to the current operating schedule on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. A volunteer would need to be available either between 11:30am to 3:00pm or 2:30pm to 7:00pm on these days.

All positions are open: testers, administrative help, traffic, and greeters. No experience is required; training will be provided on site. To be eligible, a background check is required, and only those who are fully vaccinated can volunteer at the site.

Please know that Public Health has had considerable success in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 at the testing site. All volunteers and staff are required to wear a surgical face mask (at minimum) at all times.

If you are interested, please contact our Volunteer Coordinator at ralpert@co.skagit.wa.us or call Public Health at (360) 416-1500.

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¡Llamando a todos los voluntarios! Se necesitan voluntarios en el sitio de pruebas del recinto ferial  

La demanda de pruebas de COVID-19 ha aumentado drásticamente desde finales de diciembre de 2021. La nueva variante de Omicron ha demostrado ser altamente transmisible, causando un rápido aumento en los nuevos casos en las últimas dos o tres semanas. Aparte de la vacunación, los refuerzos y el enmascaramiento, las pruebas son una de las mejores herramientas que tenemos para frenar la propagación del virus en nuestra comunidad. 

Skagit County Public Health ha estado trabajando diligentemente para proporcionar servicios de pruebas sin costo y de baja barrera a los skagitonianos desde abril de 2020. La operación actual en el recinto ferial del condado de Skagit permite un promedio de 300 pruebas por noche, todos los lunes, martes, jueves y viernes.  

Si bien la demanda de servicios de pruebas ha disminuido y fluido en el transcurso de la pandemia, la demanda actual está abrumando nuestros sistemas de salud pública y hospitalarios. Para hacer frente a esta tensión, Salud Pública está tratando de ampliar el horario de pruebas en el recinto ferial lo antes posible. 

Como muchos saben, la escasez de personal debido a COVID-19 está afectando a los lugares de trabajo en todo el país. Desafortunadamente, el recinto ferial del condado de Skagit también se ha visto afectado por estas luchas. 

“Se requiere un mínimo de 15 empleados y voluntarios para administrar el recinto ferial cada día”, dijo la gerente del sitio, Julie de Losada. “Para ampliar nuestros horarios, también tendríamos que ampliar rápidamente nuestra fuerza laboral. Sin nuevos voluntarios, simplemente no es posible. ” 

Salud Pública está pidiendo a la comunidad que ayude a apoyar el sitio de pruebas. Si tiene 16 años de edad o más y puede comprometerse a al menos un turno por semana hasta finales de febrero, el sitio podría usar desesperadamente su ayuda. 

Si / cuando el personal lo permite, Salud Pública espera agregar un turno temprano en la tarde al horario operativo actual de los lunes, martes, jueves y viernes. Un voluntario tendría que estar disponible entre las 11:30 a.m. y las 3:00 p.m. o de 2:30 p.m. a 7:00 p.m. en estos días.  

Todos los puestos están abiertos: probadores, ayuda administrativa, tráfico y saludadores. No se requiere experiencia; la capacitación se proporcionará en el sitio. Para ser elegible, se requiere una verificación de antecedentes, y solo aquellos que están completamente vacunados pueden ser voluntarios en el sitio. 

Tenga en cuenta que Salud Pública ha tenido un éxito considerable en la mitigación de la propagación de COVID-19 en el sitio de prueba. Todos los voluntarios y el personal deben usar una máscara facial quirúrgica (como mínimo) en todo momento.  

Si está interesado, comuníquese con nuestro Coordinador Voluntario en  ralpert@co.skagit.wa.us o llame a Salud Pública al (360) 416-1500. 


Joint Statement on Local Healthcare Capacity & COVID-19 Transmission Rates

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January 13, 2022

Skagit County hospitals have seen a dramatic increase in the number of individuals admitted for inpatient care due to COVID-19 over the past week. This recent spike has only further exacerbated our already overburdened healthcare system both locally and across the state.

Today, our local hospitals together with County Health Officer Dr. Howard Leibrand are coming together to ask Skagitonians to help in easing the current strain on our healthcare system. Each person can take action to help alleviate this strain on our providers. Please, take necessary precautions to decrease COVID-19 transmission rates and be conscientious of seeking emergency medical services.

Vaccination continues to be the best tool in preventing serious illness due to COVID-19. While we know that breakthrough infections are expected with the Omicron variant, current data has shown that the vast majority of breakthrough infections have resulted in mild to moderate symptoms that do not require medical attention.

Transmission rates are also of grave concern. The Omicron variant is extremely transmissible and has resulted in more than a doubling of COVID-19 cases this week compared to last. Skagitonians can help to control the spread by taking precautions and not gathering when sick or if recently exposed. For this reason, it is our recommendation at this time that people postpone all large indoor gatherings, regardless of the vaccination status of those gathering.

Masking is also still an extremely important tool that people must use when congregating in indoor public settings and certain outdoor public settings. Ensure the quality and fit of your mask by going to the CDC’s masking guidance webpage here.

We understand that testing options are limited at this time, both in Skagit County and throughout Washington. If you are symptomatic or have been recently exposed to COVID-19 and cannot get access to a test, please follow the CDC’s updated isolation and quarantine guidance. Essentially:

IF YOU HAVE SYMPTOMS but do not need medical care and can’t get a test, assume you have COVID-19.  You should isolate for at least 5 days to keep from spreading the virus to others. Monitor your symptoms.

IF YOU WERE EXPOSED to someone with COVID-19 and need to quarantine and are unable to get a test 5 days after your last close contact, you can leave your home after day 5 if you have not had symptoms; wear a mask for 10 days after last contact.

Our hospitals and urgent care facilities have the capacity to care for those who are acutely ill. These are not the locations to go for COVID-19 testing if you are asymptomatic or are experiencing mild COVID-like symptoms. Please look to community testing sites and local pharmacies for testing options.

Severe COVID-19-related symptoms that would require emergency medical attention include:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Pale, gray or blue-colored skin, lips or nail beds, depending on skin tone.

“From looking at previous waves, we know that this current surge will level out in time,” said Dr. Leibrand. “Now is not the time to get together or socialize. That time will come, but it isn’t right now. It is essential that we work together to see ourselves out of this current wave.”

To find a vaccine provider near you, please use the Vaccine Locator or call 1-800-525-0127 (press #). For a list of local testing providers, please go to the Testing Locations page here.


Skagit County Health Officer Releases Statement on High Case Rates & Guidance for the Holidays

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October 25, 2021

Today, Skagit County’s Health Officer Dr. Howard Leibrand issued the following statement:

Our COVID-19 case rates are increasing once again. The WA DOH data dashboard shows our 14-day rate still hovering in the range of 600 per 100,000 population. At present, Skagit is at 552.7 per 100k over the last 14 days, with a hospitalization rate of 12.3 COVID patients per 100k over the last seven days.

Though cases may be declining in other parts of our state, we are not seeing a sustained decrease in cases here in Skagit. To put it mildly, this is not what Public Health—or our exhausted healthcare workers—have been hoping for.

Reported daily case counts are still extremely high. Local data shows that we have had an average of 59 new test positive cases per day reported to Public Health over the past 14 days, from October 8 through October 21. 

It’s very simple: to recover from this most recent wave and prevent needless deaths, people need to get vaccinated as soon as possible. And with Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccine boosters now available, we are encouraging each and every person to get their booster when eligible to do so.

Unfortunately, we know that there are folks in our community who are still reluctant to get vaccinated. Though our county’s population is 58.2 percent fully vaccinated now, this means that there is still nearly 40 percent of our residents, including children 11 and younger who aren’t yet eligible, who do not have protection against the virus.

Getting vaccinated not only protects you individually, but it slows spread and protects other vulnerable individuals. For our children’s sake—we are pleading with people to get vaccinated today.

Skagitonians need to continue to be stringent about masking up and limiting social gatherings, especially with the holidays coming up. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have clearly seen spikes in cases after holidays. We cannot afford a spike right now with how high our case and hospitalization rates are at this time.

If you are already vaccinated, please continue to use discretion. If gathering with family or friends who are unvaccinated, use extra precaution—or do not gather at all. Avoid gathering indoors and in poorly ventilated areas. Wear a mask when gathering with folks who are considered higher risk.

If unvaccinated, gathering with others this holiday season is extremely risky. Please know that you are taking a very poor gamble, and putting yours, and your loved ones, health and safety on the line. From state data, we know that unvaccinated 12-64 year-olds are 5-6 times more likely to get COVID-19 compared to those who are fully vaccinated, and 19 times more likely to end up in the hospital with serious health complications. The facts are clear.

Lastly, no one experiencing possible COVID-19 symptoms should be attending any group events, going to in-person work, or in-person school. People with symptoms need to stay home until they can get tested and recover from symptoms. If we do not practice these measures, COVID-19 will continue to spread at alarming rates in our community—causing needless long-term illness, death, and disruption to all our daily lives.

We can still have a wonderful holiday season, and we can always turn around our case trends. Please do everything that you can to help your community in this fight.


Dr. Leibrand has served as Skagit’s Health Officer since 1989.


Suicide Prevention: A Critical Conversation, This Year and Every Year

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This month during National Suicide Prevention Month, we are taking extra time to raise awareness about the importance of mental health and seeking help if and when needed. This year, as we see COVID-19 cases spiking and as many are feeling the affects of moths of chronic stress, it is critical that we revisit some important mental health talking points.

If someone you know is struggling emotionally or having a hard time, you can be the difference in getting them the help they need. Below are some tips to consider from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline when talking with friends and family about mental health, depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation.

Do They Need Your Help?

Some warning signs may help you determine if a loved one is at risk for suicide, especially if the behavior is new, has increased, or seems related to a painful event, loss, or change.

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

How Can You Help Them?

Note: It can be scary when a friend or loved one is thinking about suicide, and it can be difficult to know how a suicidal crisis feels and how to act. Call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) at any time for help if someone in your life is struggling.

Contact a Lifeline Center

Never keep it a secret if a friend or family member tells you about a plan to hurt themselves. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) so that you can find out what resources are available to you or encourage your loved one to call.

A few other resources include:

  • Crisis line 24-hour hotline: 800-584-3578 (for Island, Skagit, Snohomish & Whatcom Counties)
  • Veteran Suicide Hotline: 800-273-8255 press 1, text 838255, or chat online
  • LGBTQ+ Suicide Hotline (Trevor Project): 866-488-7386 or Text START to 678-678  
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233

Use The Do’s and Don’ts

Talking with and finding help for someone that may be suicidal can be difficult. Here are some tips that may help:

  • Be direct. Talk openly and matter-of-factly about suicide.
  • Be willing to listen. Allow expressions of feelings. Accept the feelings.
  • Be non-judgmental. Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or whether feelings are good or bad. Don’t lecture on the value of life.
  • Get involved. Become available. Show interest and support.
  • Don’t dare him or her to do it.
  • Don’t act shocked. This will put distance between you.
  • Don’t be sworn to secrecy. Seek support.
  • Offer hope that alternatives are available but do not offer glib reassurance.
  • Take action. Remove means, like weapons or pills. Do never put yourself at risk or in harms way. If the situation is unsafe or you feel threatened, call 911.
  • Get help from people or agencies specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention. Go to https://namiskagit.org/ for local resources.

Use the 5 Action Steps

These evidence-based action steps from bethe1to.com provide a blueprint for reaching and helping someone in crisis.

  1. ASK – Yes, you can ask the question: “Are you thinking about suicide?” By asking it directly, you are communicating that you are open to speaking about suicide in a non-judgmental and supportive way. Asking in this direct, unbiased manner, can open the door for healthier, more effective dialogue about their emotional state and can allow everyone to see what next steps need to be taken.
  2. BE THERE – It may seem that “being there” for people is harder recently. But you can be present in different ways. If you can’t physically be with someone, speak with them on the phone when you can or try sending supportive text messages; whatever you can do to show support for the person at risk. An important aspect of this step is to make sure you follow through with the ways in which you say you’ll be able to support the person; do not commit to anything you are not willing or able to accomplish. If you are unable to be physically present with someone with thoughts of suicide, talk with them to develop some ideas for others who might be able to help as well (again, only others who are willing, able, and appropriate to be there). Listening is again very important during this step – find out what and who they believe will be the most effective sources of help.
  3. KEEP THEM SAFE – First of all, it’s good for everyone to be on the same page. After the “Ask” step, and you’ve determined suicide is indeed being talked about, it’s important to find out a few things to establish immediate safety. Have they already done anything to try to kill themselves before talking with you? Does the person experiencing thoughts of suicide know how they would kill themselves? Do they have a detailed plan? What’s the timing for their plan? What sort of access do they have to their planned method?
  4. HELP THEM CONNECT – Helping someone with thoughts of suicide connect with ongoing supports (like the Lifeline, 800-273-8255) can help them establish a safety net for those moments they find themselves in a crisis. Additional components of a safety net might be connecting them with supports and resources in their communities. Explore some of these possible supports with them – are they currently seeing a mental health professional? Have they in the past? Is this an option for them currently? Are there other mental health resources in the community that can effectively help?
  5. FOLLOW UP – After your initial contact with a person experiencing thoughts of suicide, and after you’ve connected them with the immediate support systems they need, make sure to follow-up with them to see how they’re doing. Leave a message, send a text, or give them a call. The follow-up step is a great time to check in with them to see if there is more you are capable of helping with or if there are things you’ve said you would do and haven’t yet had the chance to get done for the person.

Practice Active Listening

Hearing someone talk is different than actively listening to what that person is saying. Active listening requires concentration and understanding. Improving your listening skills is easy to do with practice and these helpful tips below:

Acknowledge the Speaker

This can be as simple as a head nod or an “Uh huh.” By acknowledging the speaker, you are letting them know that you are listening to what they have to say and reminding yourself to pay attention to what is being said to you.

Respond Verbally

Asking questions or making statements may help clarify what the speaker is saying. It reminds the speaker that you are listening attentively and that you are here to help them and are truly concerned. Be sure to let the speaker finish talking before asking any questions.

Summarize What You Hear

Reflecting on what the listener is saying is also a positive verbal active listening technique. By repeating, paraphrasing, or even summarizing what the speaker has said shows that you are putting in effort to better understand them. Use phrases like; “what I’m hearing is…”or, “sounds like you’re saying….” These tactics can also allow the speaker to hear what they are saying, which may help them find positive reinforcement.

Be Mindful of Body Language

Keeping eye contact, maintaining good posture, and staying focused are key components of active listening and interpersonal communication. Being distracted and unfocused gives the speaker the impression that you aren’t paying attention. When you actively listen to someone, you are letting them know that you care about what they are saying and can indicate that you are concerned for their health and safety.

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It is important to take care of yourself when you are supporting someone through a difficult time, as this may stir up difficult emotions. If it does, please reach out for support yourself. Know that anyone is encouraged to call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline to speak with a trained professional. They’re here for you.

This September let’s actively try to reach out to those in our lives. And if you are struggling yourself, consider reaching out for help. There is absolutely no shame in needing help, and you deserve to feel better.


For Our Health Care Workers, It’s Not Just About COVID-19

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Post contributed by Josh Pelonio, Skagit County EMS Director

Our healthcare system, including hospitals, emergency departments and emergency medical services (EMS) are there to take care of you during times of crisis, but we’re unable to do this critical work if we’re in crisis ourselves. With COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations continuing to be at historic highs, the healthcare system is taxed and we’re seeing impacts to quality, and availability of care, system wide.

Increased hospital patient volumes are creating region-wide challenges with bed availability. When emergency department or in-patient hospital beds aren’t available, hospitals in Skagit enter what’s called ‘diversion status,’ meaning that EMS personnel are asked to route patients arriving by ambulance to alternate hospitals, including neighboring counties. EMS personnel must then drive farther to get patients the care they need, or they must wait longer at local hospitals for emergency department beds to become available. Either way, hospital bed delay results in delayed patient care and can negatively impact patient outcome. It can also mean a delay in available personnel and equipment to respond to the next emergency in the community.

Statewide, we are seeing the highest COVID-19 hospitalization rates ever, with 17.7 patients per 100,000 residents between August 22 and August 28 (the most current complete data). This is higher than December 2020, when we saw between 8 and 10 patients per 100,000 residents averaged over a seven-day period.

We also seeing about one-third of all ICU beds in the State being occupied by COVID-19 patients, which is again higher than December 2020 when we saw about one-fifth of beds occupied. Locally, our total ICU occupancy is at 88 percent, meaning that we’re nearly at capacity.

All this to say, the healthcare system is overwhelmed and healthcare staff, including first responders are exhausted. Skagit—we need your help to protect the capacity of our healthcare system.  

This situation doesn’t just impact COVID-19 patients. It impacts car crash victims, heart attack patients, people in mental health crisis, those struggling to control their diabetes, gunshot victims and the child who broke his arm climbing a tree. It impacts everyone. When our healthcare services are in crisis, every single individual in our community is at greater risk of poor health outcomes from any acute injury or illness. This is not a good situation to be in.

Fortunately, there are two simple things that you can do to help:

1. Reduce your risk. Not just from COVID-19, but from all injuries and illnesses. Take caution and use appropriate healthcare services like your primary care doctor or urgent care for minor illness and injury and only use 911 for emergencies.

If looking for COVID-19 testing, please do not go to your local emergency department ! Find a testing provider near you by going to: www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/COVID19/TestingforCOVID19/TestingLocations.

2. Get vaccinated against COVID-19. And if you have been vaccinated, talk to others  in your life about getting vaccinated as well. Getting the vaccine is a safe, effective, and totally free tool that you have available to you. CDC data shows that over 99.99% of people who were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 did not die or even require hospitalization and the highest hospitalization rates remain in areas with low vaccination rates. By getting vaccinated, you help stabilize our healthcare system, and directly help improve health outcomes for those in crisis.

Skagit Public Health offers free COVID-19 vaccination for those 12 years of age or older at the Fairgrounds site from 5 p.m. –  8 p.m. Monday through Friday. You can also find other providers in our community at www.skagitcounty.net/covidvaccine.

Get vaccinated, or help someone get vaccinated, today.


Prepare to Protect – September is National Preparedness Month

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As if the current pandemic wasn’t enough, the wildfires and extreme heat this summer definitely helped to remind us of the importance of preparing for disasters. Now that we’re in September, it is time to celebrate National Preparedness Month (NPM), an awareness campaign which promotes family and community disaster and emergency planning. It’s an opportunity to remind folks that we all must prepare ourselves and our families for when emergencies happen.

The goal of NPM is to increase the overall number of individuals, families, and communities that engage in preparedness actions at home, work, school…wherever! This year’s theme is “Prepare to Protect. Preparing for disasters is protecting everyone you love.” Each week in September, a different aspect of preparedness is highlighted. The weekly highlights this year include:

September 1-4: MAKE A PLAN

What this means…

It may help to ask yourself a few questions as you create your emergency plan and discuss them with the other members of your household. They include:

  1. How will I receive emergency alerts and warnings?
  2. What is my shelter plan?
  3. What is my evacuation route?
  4. What is my family/household communication plan?
  5. Check with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and update my emergency plans due to COVID-19.
  6. Talk to your friends and family about how you will communicate before, during, and after a disaster. Make sure to update your plan based on the Centers for Disease Control recommendations due to the coronavirus.

Talk to your friends and family about how you will communicate before, during, and after a disaster. Make sure to update your plan based on the Centers for Disease Control recommendations due to the coronavirus.

Once you’ve made your emergency plan, practice it! Try testing your communications plan and meeting at your agreed-upon shelter if you get separated. For guidance on making an emergency plan, go visit Ready.gov here.

September 5-11: BUILD A KIT

What this means…

Gather supplies that will last for several days after a disaster for everyone living in your home. Don’t forget to consider the unique needs each person or pet may have in case you have to evacuate quickly. To assemble your kit, store items in airtight plastic bags and put your entire disaster supplies kit in one or two easy-to-carry containers such as plastic bins or a duffel bag.

A basic emergency supply kit could include the following recommended items:

  • Water (one gallon per person per day for several days, for drinking and sanitation)
  • Food (at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food)
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
  • Flashlight
  • First aid kit
  • Extra batteries
  • Whistle (to signal for help)
  • Dust mask (to help filter contaminated air)
  • Plastic sheeting and duct tape (to shelter in place)
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties (for personal sanitation)
  • Wrench or pliers (to turn off utilities)
  • Manual can opener (for food)
  • Local maps
  • Cell phone with chargers and a backup battery

Note: Since Spring of 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended people include additional items in their kits to help prevent the spread of coronavirus or other viruses and the flu. Some additional items include face masks, soap, hand sanitizer, and disinfecting wipes to disinfect surfaces.

For more guidance on building an emergency kit, go to Ready.gov here.

September 12-18: LOW-COST, NO-COST PREPAREDNESS

What this means…

Limit the impacts that disasters have on you and your family. Know the risk of disasters in your area. Learn how to make your home stronger in the face of storms and other common hazards.  Check your insurance coverage to make sure it is up-to-date. For information on ensuring your property, go here.

September 19-25: TEACH YOUTH ABOUT PREPAREDNESS

What this means…

Talk to your kids about preparing for emergencies and what to do in case you are separated. Reassure them by providing information about how they can get involved.

Establish a family meeting place that’s familiar and easy to find, and don’t forget to think about specific needs in your family. Your family’s needs change over time, so update your plan regularly. For guidance on emergency plans for families with children, go here.


For more preparedness information, including how to make a disaster or emergency plan and how to make your own emergency kit, go to www.ready.gov.

Skagit County also has local disaster information on our emergency preparedness website. Here, you can register to receive emergency alerts and notifications in your area through the CodeRed Emergency Notification System.  This system is a great way to receive local, timely and critical information when it matters most.


Calling All Skagitonians! We Need Your Input!

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Every few years, the Population Health Trust is tasked with undergoing a Community Health Assessment (or “CHA”). Through this process, the Trust is able to identify our County’s areas of strength and weakness in regards to the health and wellbeing of our residents.

The CHA is based heavily on data. From this data we are able to better understand what is—and what is not—working for Skagitonians. We compile this data from standard data sources like you can find on SkagitTrends, and for more current data, we partner with community agencies who have strong anecdotal experiences that reflect community need. All this data provides weight and rationale for why the Trust chooses to focus on specific priorities.

But data alone does not drive this ship. The Trust relies on the input and feedback from community members throughout Skagit County.

In a typical CHA cycle, the Trust has collected and analyzed the data, then brought preliminary findings to the public for their thoughts. But this year, we’re doing it a bit differently.

To best serve and respond to the great needs of our constituents, the Trust decided to go to the public first. Based on these initial conversations, the Trust was able to determine the needs and desires most pressing to the public. We were able to learn directly from the people what a healthy, thriving—and recovered—Skagit would look like, and what we would need to do to achieve this outcome.

So now that we’ve taken this information and collected the data necessary to really dive deeply into these topics, the Trust is once again ready for public feedback!

If you are passionate about affecting change in your community; if you feel compelled to weigh in on the health and wellness of Skagit County; if you have creative solutions for difficult challenges: We want you!

Join the Population Health Trust to hear what key sector leaders and other community members have shared with us in a series of interviews and equity panel discussion…and then share your own experiences and perspectives!

Three dates and locations are available for your convenience:

  • Thursday, July 29 – Anacortes Public Library from 5:30-7:00
  • August 3 – Concrete Community Center from 5:30-7:00
  • August 12 – Burlington Senior Center from 12:00-1:30

A light meal will be served. Please wear your mask if unvaccinated.
RSVP is not required but appreciated! To RSVP, email Belen at belenm@co.skagit.wa.us.

Want more info? Email Kristen Ekstran at kekstran@co.skagit.wa.us or call (360) 416-1500.

Hope to see you at one of these events!


Get SMOKE READY this Wildfire Season

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Thankfully, we haven’t seen much smoke in Washington skies yet this year. Unfortunately though, we know that all it takes is one spark. Today—June 14th—marks the beginning of Smoke Ready Week, so let’s use this time to get prepared!

Like last year, there continues to be heightened concerns around the health impacts of breathing in wildfire smoke, and how this can worsen symptoms for those with COVID-19—or who may be at increased risk of contracting the virus. How we protect ourselves from wildfire smoke now is different than during other years when COVID-19 wasn’t a factor. Especially for those who are unvaccinated, it may be more difficult to go to public spaces where the air is cleaner and cooler than private homes may be. N95 respirator supplies continue to be somewhat limited, however not nearly as limited as last year. And we now all know from experience that cloth face coverings don’t provide much protection from wildfire smoke!-

So before we dive in, let’s discuss why getting Smoke Ready is important.

How can wildfire smoke harm your health?

Smoke is made up of gasses and microscopic particles. When inhaled, these particles bypass our bodies’ normal defenses, traveling deep into the lungs and even entering the bloodstream. Breathing in smoke can have immediate health effects, including the following:

  • Coughing     
  • Trouble breathing      
  • Stinging eyes     
  • Scratchy throat
  • Runny nose  
  • Irritated sinuses        
  • Wheezing         
  • Chest pain
  • Headaches   
  • Asthma attack           
  • Tiredness         
  • Fast heartbeat

Who is at most risk from wildfire smoke?

Inhaling wildfire smoke can be harmful to anyone, but it is especially harmful to these vulnerable groups: people with heart and lung disease, people with chronic respiratory conditions, infants and children, pregnant women and adults 65 and over. People in these high-risk groups should reach out to their healthcare provider to discuss specific ways to be prepared against wildfire smoke.

So, are you #SmokeReady? Here are 10 tips to help you prepare:

1. Plan ahead with your doctor.

If you or a family member has asthma, or suffers from heart or lung disease, have a plan to manage your condition. Children, pregnant women, and people over age 65 are especially at risk during smoke events. Learn more.

2. Get HEPA filters, recirculate your AC, and share space if able.

Use a HEPA filter in your home’s central air system or your air conditioner unit or air purifier. Learn how to turn your AC to “recirculate” in both your home and your car.

If purchasing a portable room air cleaner isn’t in your current budget, there are DIY instructions for building a “box fan filter.” These are fairly simple to assemble and cost around $50. View a tutorial to create a box fan filter.

For those who are vaccinated, you can also check with your neighbors—something we couldn’t do last year! If you or your neighbor doesn’t have good air filtration or air conditioning at home, arrange to share spaces with those who do.

3. Employers, plan ahead with your employees
.

Have a plan in place for employees who work outdoors. Consider alternate work assignments or relocation to reduce employee exposure to smoke. For staff that work indoors, ensure your air filtration system is protective for smoke. Prepare for employees to face childcare closures, home emergencies, etc. Check with Washington Labor & Industries for guidance

4. Have a Plan B for outdoor events.

Have a contingency plan prepared in case you need to cancel or reschedule. If you have children in summer camps or childcare, ask the organizers about their smoke plan. If the only viable plan B appears to be moving the event indoors, be sure to check with Skagit County Public Health before proceeding with plans. Visit the website or call (360) 416-1500.

5. Information about respirator masks.

If you have to be outdoors for extended periods of time, consider a N95 or N100 respirator. Thankfully, N95s are now a little easier to find in 2021 than last year, but the Washington Department of Health is still encouraging people to look at other options before getting a respirator.

If you do purchase a respirator mask, keep in mind that it can be difficult to find a mask that fits correctly. Test the fit and comfort of your mask before you need it. Learn more.

6. Stock up.

Stock up safely and responsibly. Have several days of water, groceries, and family needs on hand so you don’t have to go out when it’s smoky. Learn how to prepare.

7. Don’t forget your pets!

If the air quality is forecasted to be poor while you’re away from home, plan ahead to keep your pets inside or with a caregiver. Learn more.

8. Learn the air quality index numbers and colors.

During periods of poor air quality, watch for air quality alerts, pay attention to numbers and colors of air quality monitors, and know when to limit your time outdoors.

9. Make sure to get alerts.

Sign up to receive air quality email alerts for your zip code. Also, bookmark or subscribe to this blog for statewide air quality and wildfire updates.

Wildfire season doesn’t need to slow you and your family down, but proper planning is a must! Keep up to date by following the Washington Smoke Information blog. Learn more about being Smoke Ready at EPA’s Smoke-Ready Toolbox for Wildfires and Washington Department of Health’s Smoke From Wildfires Toolkit.


Take it Outside!

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Rosemary Alpert, contributing author

Spring is in full swing. It is, without a doubt, the best time of the year to get outdoors and enjoy the longer days of sunlight. Now is the time to welcome these special spring-time opportunities; to appreciate the beauty, fresh air and growing abundance that surrounds us here in Skagit County.  

On April 15, the Governor exclaimed excitedly that it is time to “Take it Outside”. He suggested that, over the coming weeks, we should all be thinking about ways to take our plans outdoors. As he stated about the increase in COVID-19 cases, “Extraordinary times, take extraordinary measures…we are not out of the woods yet.” But ya know what? We can go out into the woods and explore! 

Across the state, many counties are on the verge of moving back into Phase 2 of the Roadmap to Recovery reopening plan, as we are in the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. To keep moving forward, we must continue our collective, healthy progression by getting vaccinated and wearing our masks in public.

Whatever you are planning, take it outside. Let’s think “out of the box”! There are so many unique possibilities to explore here in Skagit County. Let’s take advantage of them!

Need some inspiration? Here are a few ideas to give a try!

Note: Please be sure to wear your mask when in public settings and when gathering with other unvaccinated people (including children)!

  • Plan a small gathering with family or friends at a park or in someone’s backyard.
  • Make a picnic lunch or dinner and find a local park to enjoy your meal. 
  • Watch the sunrise or sunset. 
  • Meet a friend for a walk along the river or under the stars. 
  • Celebrate a birthday or special occasion at a playground!
  • If you can, take work outside! Arrange a meeting or call out of the office. 
  • Explore hiking, running and walking trails across our state. 
  • Plant a garden! There’s nothing more relaxing than tending the earth and listening to the birds. 
  • Paint, dance, sing, photograph—all can be taken outside!
  • Learn a new sport. 
  • Find a quiet spot to read, meditate, or enjoy yoga. 
  • Play with your dog…you know he’ll love it.  
  • Experience outdoor dining and support our local establishments. 
  • Listen to or create music. 
  • Connect with your community; volunteer!

Let’s take advantage of our longer days, be creative, replenish and have fun. After all, there are so many more options available to us this year compared to spring-time 2020. As we move forward with vitality, please–mask up, get vaccinated and “take it outside”!

If you haven’t already, start your spring and summer by getting vaccinated, and help your loved ones do the same. This is the very best thing that you can do to protect yourself and your family and friends, as well as ensure that we continue to move forward with reopening. For more information on COVID-19 vaccinations please visit, www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine or call the hotline at 360-416-1500. If you have any questions about the vaccines, talk with your health care provider!

“Rosario Beach” 
©Rosemary DeLucco Alpert, 2021