Recovering from Disasters: Common Phases and Experiences

Reading Time: 4 minutes

We’ve been hearing a lot about phases recently as Washington State rolls out its approach for reopening businesses and physical distancing measures. With Skagit County now officially in Phase 2 of the Governor’s Safe Start plan, it is exciting—and relieving—to begin seeing things get back to somewhat “normal.” At this time, it is important to be thinking about some other phases: specifically, the phases of recovery that we may be experiencing in regards to our mental and emotional health.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides a thought-provoking graph titled, “Phases of Disaster,” which tracks a typical community’s response to a disaster. A large-scale disaster can take many forms, such as natural disasters (hurricanes or tornados) or human caused (acts of violence or terrorism). And though it may not seem like it when we are hunkered down in our living rooms, we are currently in the midst of a very different type of crisis.

“Phases of Disaster” Adapted from Zunin & Myers as cited in DeWolfe, D. J., 2000. Training manual for mental health and human service workers in major disasters

According to the graph, it is normal (and even expected) that an individual or community may feel the effects of a disaster for quite some time—a year or more in some cases. There are six phases of recovery written into this model. This is how the phases are defined:

Phase 1: Pre-Disaster
This is the period of time before a disaster takes place and is “characterized by fear and uncertainty.” In the case of COVID-19 and Washington State, this would have been prior to the State’s first confirmed case back in March, when we were reading news about the spread in other countries. 

Phase 2: Impact

This is when the disaster takes place and is “characterized by a range of intense emotional reactions … [and] can range from shock to overt panic.” For many, this phase of the pandemic began when the state reported its first positive case or when schools and businesses began to shut down in late March. We can all recall feeling unnerved during this time as we began to see our daily routines changed suddenly.

Phase 3: Heroic
People come together during disasters. Skagit County witnessed so many amazing acts of heroism, from health care staff and first responders on the front lines, to people volunteering as Meals on Wheels drivers, to  large amounts of donations to non-profits helping those in greatest need. And we continue to hear new stories of compassion. While it comes as no surprise that our County would step up to a challenge, it is also amazing to see how these selfless actions are tracked on this graph.

Phase 4: Honeymoon

The opening of our drive-thru testing site in mid-April is a perfect example of the Honeymoon Phase, when disaster assistance becomes readily available. This time is “characterized by a dramatic shift in emotion,” when “community bonding occurs.” It is also when optimism peaks and people believe everything will return to normal quickly.

Phase 5: Disillusionment

For some, it may feel like we are in this phase now. This is when “optimism turns to discouragement and stress continues to take a toll.” It might also be a time when “negative reactions, such as physical exhaustion or substance use, may begin to surface.” Constant media bombardment, reporting an increase of new cases after a few days of low numbers, and other triggering events in the news can all greatly impact our ability to recover. This phase can last for months, and it is normal to experience periods of emotional highs and lows throughout. If you are feeling disillusioned, please know that this is a very human reaction, and that there is help available.

Phase 6: Reconstruction

Reconstruction is possible when “individuals and communities begin to assume responsibility for rebuilding their lives, and people adjust to a new normal.” Even still, it is typical to grieve over losses during this phase. While our County is well on its way toward Reconstruction, it is important to give ourselves some grace as we continue on our collective road toward recovery.

SAMHSA lists the following suggestions for coping with a disaster:

1. Talk with others who understand and accept how you feel. Reach out to a trusted friend, family member, or faith-based leader to explore what meaning the event may have for you.

2. Body movement helps to get rid of the buildup of extra stress hormones. Exercise once daily or in smaller amounts throughout the day.

3. Take deep breaths. Most people can benefit from taking several deep breaths often throughout the day. Deep breathing can move stress out of your body and help you to calm yourself. It can even help stop a panic attack.

4. Listen to music. Music is a way to help your body relax naturally. Play music timed to the breath or to your heartbeat. Create a relaxing playlist for yourself and listen to it often.

5. Pay attention to your physical self. Make sure to get enough sleep and rest each day. Eat healthy meals and snacks and make sure to drink plenty of water. Avoid caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol – especially in large amounts. Their effects are multiplied under stress and can be harmful, just making things worse.

6. Use known coping skills. How did you handle past traumatic events like a car crash or the death of a loved one? What helped then (such as more time with family, going to a support group meeting)? Try using those coping skills now.

The impact on our collective, and individual, mental and emotional health cannot be understated or ignored at this time. For some people, recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic will be quick and relatively painless. For others, recovery may need to take place on several levels: emotional, social, economic, and even physical. And while we all must deal with the impacts of the pandemic on our own terms, we must also carry the impact as a community, and learn to rebuild, readjust, and move forward with patience and understanding.

If you are feeling stressed or anxious, depressed or lonely, please know that these are all common reactions to a crisis. The Disaster Distress Helpline is dedicated to providing immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster. This service is toll-free, multilingual and confidential. Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor. For more resources click here.

So remember, wherever you may be at on your road to recovery, please know that your feelings are valid—and even backed by science!


15 Tips Safer Shopping

15 Tips for Safer Grocery Shopping

Reading Time: 6 minutes

With the number of COVID-19 infections in Skagit County still on the rise, we should all keep doing our part to stay home and stay healthy. But is it safe to go grocery shopping? There are grocery delivery and pick up options available at some stores. But if somehow these options don’t work for you, it probably means a trip out of the house. Today, we will share 15 tips for safer grocery shopping, including how to handle your food when you are home.


Full disclosure, I rarely do the cooking in my house and so I rarely do the grocery shopping. When I do buy groceries, it is usually because my spouse is out of town or my kiddo has texted saying there is, once again, “nothing to eat in the house”. On these occasions, I usually stop by the grocery store after work, strolling every aisle until something catches my attention, chatting with friends I might see and buying things I didn’t come for. By the time I get home and sort through my hodge-podge of food and sundries, it might be 8 pm before dinner is on the table. Just as we sit down to eat, I’ll probably realize that I forgot the milk! So back to the store the next day, or maybe even the same night.

My way of shopping – my former way of shopping – wasn’t cost effective or a good use of time. But I never thought of shopping as unsafe! Today, it absolutely would be – unsafe for me, unsafe for essential grocery store workers, and unsafe for you! Below are 15 tips for safer grocery shopping we can all follow to make grocery shopping safer everyone.

PLAN AHEAD

1. Stay home if you don’t feel well.

The symptoms for COVID-19 vary, but fever and cough are most common. Some people with the virus have mild symptoms while others don’t feel sick at all. If you have symptoms or if you just don’t feel well – even if you’re just feeling “a little off” – PLEASE STAY HOME. Today is not your day to go out in public or to the grocery store.

2. Limit trips to buy groceries — a shopping list helps!

Limiting your trips to the store is important! Every time you visit the grocery store, you increase your exposure to others and your risk for COVID-19. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommend that you plan to buy 1- to 2 weeks-worth of groceries at a time.

Good Housekeeping and nutrition.gov have some great suggestions for budget friendly and nutritious foods to help you shop. We also suggest these tips:

  • Scan your refrigerator and cupboards for what you need or want and start making a list!
  • Stock up on non-perishables such as frozen vegetables, meats you can freeze, beans, and grains.
  • Make sure you add any toiletries, household cleaners (bleach is very effective), and medicines you might need.
  • Check in with others in your home to see if they need to add anything to the list.
  • Remember the pets! Make sure Fido and Fifi are covered.
  • Organize your list in a way that will help you get through the store the fastest. You don’t want to linger in the store or walk up and down every aisle. Be strategic!

3. Leave the family at home.

For the same reasons you should limit your trips to the store, you should limit who goes with you. If you are a couple, only one of you at a time needs to shop. If you have children and someone who lives with you can watch the kids, please don’t take them with you.

4. Choose a time when the grocery store is less crowded.

Many stores now have special hours for people over age 60 or those of any age with underlying health conditions. Check out our resource page for a list of local stores with special hours.

You can also use Google Search to see when the busiest shopping times are your favorite grocery store.  Saturdays and Sundays are generally when stores are most packed with customers, however there are times of day that tend to be slower than others. Try it out!

5. Consider not bringing your own shopping bags.

I know – this is exactly the opposite of what you usually hear. However, more and more stores are asking people to leave their reusable shopping bags at home. The primary concern is reusable bags may further spread the coronavirus in the store to employees, and to other shoppers. If you do bring your own bags, the FDA reminds us to please wash them between use. Also, be prepared to bag your own groceries – some stores will not allow baggers to handle reusable shopping bags.

6. Do consider bringing your own disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer.

The CDC recommends disinfecting your shopping cart before use and washing your hands frequently. Bringing your own supplies will guarantee that they are available when you need them.

7. Plan for how you will pay.

How you pay at the check makes a difference. Some methods are better at reducing your exposure to the virus. If possible, use a touchless system such as phone app that lets you tap your phone to pay. If you must touch the PIN pad or handle cash, be sure to use hand sanitizer after!

8. Bring your face mask or cloth covering.

It is recommended by federal, state, and local health officials that everyone wear a mask when in indoor public places or anytime it is difficult to maintain proper social distancing. When you buckle your seatbelt, or start your walk to the store, ask yourself “Do I have my face mask?”

Don’t have a mask? Then check our April 5th blog post, Should I wear a face mask? for easy instructions on how to make and wear one.

AT THE STORE

9. Put on your mask!

10. Think twice about wearing gloves.

You may have seen people at the grocery store wearing disposable gloves and wondered if gloves could help protect you from contracting COVID-19. Well, that depends. In many cases, wearing gloves may simply provide a false sense of security, and the person would be better off not wearing them and just using hand sanitizer. If you’d like more information, our Skagit County Public Health Facebook page had a great post on this last week – Can wearing disposable gloves help keep you safe?

11. Disinfect your shopping cart.

Stores often have disinfecting wipes ready by the entry door. However, if they are out, you will be glad you have your own. The FDA provides easy instructions on how to wipe down your cart.

12. Whenever possible, maintain 6 feet distance from others.

Wearing a face mask does not eliminate the need to maintain proper social distancing while shopping. Keep at least 6 feet between you, other shoppers, and store employees. Always keep your hands away from your face.

AFTER SHOPPING

13. Wash hands or use hand sanitizer.

Use hand sanitizer after you finish loading groceries into your car or truck. When you arrive home, wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap, and again after you have put your groceries away.

14. Putting food safely away at home.

According to the FDA and CDC, there is no evidence of food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19. However, if you wish, you can wipe down product packaging and allow it to air dry as an extra precaution. COVID-19 or not, we all have a role to play in food safety. For general tips on how to shop safely, store food, and prevent foodborne illnesses, see the FDA’s Tip for Grocery Shopping and Storage sheet.

15. Consider alternatives to going to the grocery store.

If you can, avoid stores all together!

  • Delivery or Curbside Pick-up – Many grocery stores are offering delivery service or curbside pick-up. Check out our resource page for details on Skagit grocery stores small and large offering these special services. 
  • Farmers Markets are considered essential according to State Department of Health Guidance. Skagit County Public Health is working with local Farmers Markets to ensure social distancing practices will be followed as well as proper cleaning and sanitizing of commonly touched surfaces.  Check your local farmers market online for opening day announcements.
  • Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) ­–Support our local farmers and small business by subscribing to a CSA farm box. Local, seasonal, produce and dairy, straight from the Skagit Valley to your porch! Our Resource page has a list of local CSAs for you to explore.

So there you have it, 15 tips for safer grocery shopping. Practice these tips and share with others – together we can stop COVID-19!


Skagit Valley Disaster Response Fund

The Skagit Valley Disaster Response Fund

Reading Time: 2 minutes

WANT TO HELP?

Want to help? The Skagit Community Foundation, the EDASC Foundation, the United Way of Skagit County, Skagit County Public Health and other Skagitonians are rallying together to provide relief to our neighbors who need it most.

ACTION NEEDED

COVID-19 is undermining our community’s health, economy and overall wellbeing. Our neighbors are facing loss of income, increased poverty, hunger, and limited access to childcare. These are very daunting challenges.

When Skagit has faced hardship in the past, our community has risen to the occasion. COVID-19 is no different. Skagitonians are rallying together to create the Skagit Valley Disaster Response Fund. Donations are already being made by contributors. The Fund supports resources that will be quickly deployed to address impacts suffered by our most vulnerable citizens. The Skagit Community Foundation will manage this charitable resource in collaboration with the EDASC Foundation, the United Way of Skagit County, Skagit County Public Health and other charitable partners.

“We’re coming together around a common cause and purpose to meet people’s needs,” said Michael Stark, Executive Director of the Skagit Community Foundation.

It’s more important now than ever for the Skagit Valley community to support each other. This sense of caring and generosity makes this place we call home so special. The Skagit Valley Disaster Relief Fund pools community assets together. It will deliver support efficiently and directly to those most impacted by this emergency. Nonprofit organizations with proven success in delivering effective services will be eligible for funding.

How will the Funds be used?

“We will be funding collectively and supporting a network of community organizations.” Stark said.

Funding priorities will support critical human needs such as shelter, food, and other necessary staples. Non-profit organizations seeking funding should contact the Skagit Community Foundation by email. Thanks to generous community support, early commitments total more than $90,000.

How to Contribute to the Effort?

To donate to the Skagit Valley Disaster Response Fund, visit the Skagit Community Foundation website at https://www.skagitcf.org/.

One hundred percent of all fund donations will go directly to meet community needs.


Tiffany's "home". She Sleeps in the driver's seat while her fiance sleeps in the back.

Homeless in the Time of COVID-19

Reading Time: 3 minutes Reading Time: 3 minutes

For the first time in a year and five months, Tiffany Holien has a bed to sleep in and a private bathroom. She’s not sleeping upright in her truck or on a mat at the cold weather shelter, just feet from someone else, without access to a shower and with no privacy.

Tiffany lost her housing in November 2018, less than two months after she lost her mother to heart disease. With just her own income, she was no longer able to pay rent and began living in her truck with her cat. Ever since then, she’s been homeless.

But almost two weeks ago, an opportunity for housing opened up, even if it’s only temporary. Tiffany now has a motel room. She can finally sleep lying down. It’s one bright spot during a global outbreak that has killed tens of thousands.

“If I was living in my truck, I’d probably already be gone,” Tiffany said. “Because I’d be around other people all the time.

During the COVID-19 outbreak, grant funds from the state Department of Commerce is enabling Skagit County to pay for motel vouchers for people experiencing homelessness who are a high risk of complications from COVID-19, including those over age 60, and those with underlying health conditions. Tiffany, at age 39, falls into the second category.

In fact, she was just in the hospital in mid-March. Tiffany’s fiancé, who lived with her in her truck, took her to the ER when she became ill to the point of deliriousness. It wasn’t COVID-19, it was pneumonia. And while she’s on her way to recovery, some days just walking about her room is difficult.

“I know that my immune system just got beat to hell. Staying in the motel, I don’t have to worry about that as much. In my truck, the basic foot traffic downtown could take me out. All it takes is one person walking by me coughing and I’m doomed, she said.

Currently, Tiffany and her fiancé are leaving their motel room only for necessities, such as grocery shopping or going to the food bank. Tiffany knows that she has this motel room only because of the outbreak. Even with an influx of state and federal money, there’s only enough funds to cover about 50 motel rooms through April. The need far exceeds this capacity. There are dozens of Skagit County residents left outside in the cold with no ability to “Stay Home, Stay Healthy.”

“It’s bittersweet,” she said. “It’s great that we’re being put into motel rooms so we have a place to sleep and stay warm and everything, but it’s a bitter pill to take that it takes people dying to get this for us. While we’re appreciative of this, we also feel guilty because we’re getting something at the cost of other people’s lives. We watch the news and we feel relief, yet are bothered that people are dying in order to get us these motel rooms.”

Tiffany

Those of us with a roof over our head, well, we might feel frustrated about being told not to leave our home except for essential activities. We’re just so bored! And it’s spring and we want to go out and have fun! But we have to remember there are people, like Tiffany, who are grateful to have a small room they can’t leave, a warm bed to sleep in, and a sink to frequently their wash hands. Because it wasn’t that long ago that she didn’t have these things, and she knows that, for her, it’s only temporary. And then she’ll be back to living in her truck, wishing she had a home to be safe in.

Want to Help?

If you are in a position to help others in dire housing situations, considering donating to:


Should I Wear a Face Mask? The Answer is yes

Reading Time: 3 minutes Reading Time: 3 minutes

How and when to cover your face to slow the spread of COVID-19

For weeks people have been asking, “Should I wear a face mask in public?” In short, the answer is YES.

Staying at home and limiting contact to only people in our household is best. But at some point, many of us will need to go to the grocery store, or the pharmacy, or to our jobs if we work at one of the identified essential businesses.  How do you stay healthy and keep others safe when you need to venture out into the world to meet you or your family’s essential needs?

The CDC and Skagit County’s Health Officer are now recommending we wear face masks or coverings in public for any group gathering, including workplaces. This will be a key tool in preventing the spread of infection from COVID-19.

Wearing a mask/covering does not mean you should go about your life as before. To stay safe for yourself and others you still need to:

  • Maintain good social distancing practices – 6-feet of physical distance from non-household members, and
  • Frequently wash your hands with soap and warm water (best) or with alcohol-based hand sanitizer (good second choice when soap and water aren’t available) , and
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Never touch your face with dirty hands.

Wearing cloth face coverings will not prevent spread of COVID-19 without these other protective measures.

Why Now?

Recent studies show that many people with COVID-19 transmit the virus even when they are not showing any symptoms. This means people who don’t feel sick or look sick can spread COVID-19 through speaking, coughing, or sneezing. In light of this new evidence, the CDC and Skagit County Public Health concluded face masks or coverings are necessary to the Skagit community’s health.

Cloth Face Coverings vs N-95 Respirators

Cloth face coverings made from household items and common materials at low cost is recommended. Do It Yourself (DYI) cloth face coverings are also called “face masks”.

The CDC is not recommending N-95 respirators for the general public – these are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders.

Cloth Face Coverings 101

Don’t have a face covering? Check out these options – even if you don’t sew, there are effective options for everyone.

How to safely wear your new cloth face covering.

The CDC notes that cloth face coverings should:

  • Fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face.
  • Be secured with ties or ear loops.
  • Include multiple layers of fabric.
  • Allow for breathing without restriction.
  • Be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape.

Remember


Social Distancing: People with Developmental Disabilities

Reading Time: 3 minutes Reading Time: 3 minutes

Answers for people with developmental disabilities – as well as a call for us to be there for our neighbors

We are staying home and staying safe to protect our loved ones and our neighbors throughout Skagit. We know our seniors are at high risk for COVID-19. We worry about elders when they are isolated at home, and worry about them when they live in group settings. But often our neighbors with developmental disabilities are overlooked.

Many people with developmental disabilities have medical conditions that put them at higher risk from COVID-19. Much like seniors, they may now live somewhat isolated at home or in group housing which can increase physical contact with others. Children and adults with developmental disabilities rely heavily on caregivers and service agencies in their day-to-day lives. Key in-person support has been disrupted during this time of social distancing.

People with developmental disabilities have jobs and enjoy social activities. But employers are closing, group homes can no longer accept visitors, and community events have been cancelled. The resulting isolation can create creates loneliness, depression, and anxiety.  Many adult children have long and proudly lived on their own. Now COVID-19 forces them to move back into their parents’ homes to stay safe.

So, what can be done? Know a family in your neighborhood who has a child with a developmental disability? Reach out by phone, text, email or more than 6 feet away. See if they need anything. Check out local group homes and give the agency a call to see if there are ways you can support their residents. There’s been a burst of creativity in Skagit over the past weeks as we all learn to socialize in different ways. Let’s see if we can spark that creativity to keep this group of people connected!

One example of a creative idea is #PandemicPals, created by Rex Huppke of the Chicago Tribune. #PandemicPals is a way for people to reach out  through social media. Rex created an example you can just copy and paste into their social media page to start these conversations:

“I’m worried about seniors and people with disabilities feeling isolated because of coronavirus restrictions. If you know someone feeling that way, I’m happy to call or write that person. Message or email me at (YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS) and let’s set something up! #PandemicPals.”

The idea of #PandemicPals is to break down the isolation caused by COVID-19. We can all think of someone in our lives who is lonely.  It’s an easy way to connect with those people in need.

If you have family members with developmental disabilities at home, there are a lot of creative, engaging ways to maintain connection. Below is a list of a few:

  • The Mighty, a website for individuals with disabilities, is hosting daily interactive online activities plus a blog to share how people are dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak. Check out: https://themighty.com/ 
  • The Arc of King County has:
    • Two online art group meetings, one for young adults and one for adults
    • Coffee Hour for Parents to give some support to parents struggling with COVID impacts
    •  A phone buddy system if you’re experiencing loneliness and want to talk with someone. Just call (206) 829-7053 or email at ask@arcofkingcounty.org  

In Skagit, Heather Milliren serves as the county’s Parent to Parent Coordinator. Heather has her finger on the pulse of families in our community. Overall, families are adapting to these strange times. But their most common concern is how to access the resources needed to provide care to their loved ones. Heather wants to emphasize, “The good news is that most parents of individuals with developmental disabilities and/or complex healthcare needs are amazingly RESILIENT. We have to be since our loved ones are counting on us to be advocates for their needs every single day.”

Let’s see what the rest of us can do to support families of people with developmental disabilities. Let’s show them Skagit will do what we can to help them during this trying time.


Welcom

Welcome

Reading Time: < 1 minute

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.