Public Health Does What?!

Reading Time: 5 minutes

To say that it has been a weird time to work in public health would be an understatement. COVID-19 has completely shifted the day-to-day realities and priorities of health departments around the globe. And while everything has seemingly changed, the foundation of public health—what makes public health so vitally important—has remained the same despite it all.

Staff attending the Latino Health Forum (Oct 2019), pre-COVID.

As I sit here and reflect on my past three years with Skagit County Public Health, I’ve got to tell you, it has been one heck of a ride! I remember during those first few weeks learning (in astonishment!) all the things that public health is responsible for. After all, I had never worked for a government agency before. I knew that people visited their health department to pick up birth and death records or to get information about community resources, but I couldn’t have imagined the depth and breadth of the work that is done here at 700 S 2nd Street in Mount Vernon.

As I walked around the halls and met my new co-workers, I discovered the many divisions that make up our team: child and family health, communicable diseases and epidemiology, behavioral health and housing services, environmental health and food safety, senior services, and community health and assessment.

Of these, emergency preparedness and response was only one small (though critical) part of the puzzle. During a staff training one day, I learned a bit more about this division and was surprised to learn that all public health staff could be activated during times of public health crisis. At the time, I couldn’t fathom what this would look like. Now, a year into Public Health’s COVID-19 response, I can tell you exactly what this response is like!

When COVID-19 first appeared in Washington State last year, County leadership was the first to respond: Unified Command was established and plans were quickly put into place to mitigate risks associated with disease transmission.

Public Health staff working the COVID-19 Testing Site at Skagit Valley College on a foggy spring morning.

Our Public Health staff was activated—slowly at first, then almost entirely by the summer of 2020. On any given day in June or July at Skagit County’s COVID-19 testing site, you might have seen a hand-full of Public Health staff working to register people or help to administer tests—at times even jumping car batteries—whatever they had to do to get the job done.

Back at the office, a whole team of staff were called to conduct case investigation and contact tracing, conducting investigations seven days a week. Big plans for 2020 that had been on our work calendars were adjusted or put on hold to accommodate the ever-increasing demands of our COVID response.

More recently, with our vaccination initiative in full gear, we are in a much better (and sustainable) place. Our Vaccine Site at the Fairgrounds and Vaccine Hotline have been blessed by hundreds of hard-working and dedicated volunteers who show up every day to help get our community vaccinated. Our staff has also grown and changed, with an influx of new temporary and part-time staff that have been hired to conduct case investigations and to provide vaccine services at our clinic.

Case investigators staying cozy in their PJs on Thanksgiving Day.

As the numbers of vaccinated individuals in the state continues to increase, it begs the question: What will life look like after COVID? And even: What will Public Health look like if/when the demands of COVID begin to subside?

This week is National Public Health Week and is the perfect time to highlight the role of Public Health. Although our work has primarily been centered around COVID-19 this year, it is in no way all that we do.

Here is a quick look at some of the other things your local public health department does:

Behavioral Health Services

Public Health works with community organizations and coalitions, school districts, and regional partners to ensure that help is available to those in need, including access to mental health and substance use disorder treatment and recovery services. For more: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HumanServices/mh.htm.

Child & Family Services

The Child & Family Health Division works with individuals, families, and the community to assure that all Skagit County children have the healthiest possible start in life, with particular emphasis on pregnant women, infants, and toddlers. Programs include the Nurse-Family Partnership, ABCD Dental, Parent Cafes, and Skagit Bright Beginnings. For more information: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HealthFamily/main.htm.

Senior Services

Our Senior Services staff at the office are only the tip of the iceberg; this is a huge team! We have five senior centers in Skagit County and a robust Meals on Wheels and Senior Nutrition program. While many senior services have been put on hold due to COVID, the nutrition program has been instrumental to our crisis response. For more information: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HumanServices/SeniorCenters/Home/Main.htm.  

Developmental Disabilities Services

The Developmental Disabilities Program manages a variety of programs related to providing services to individuals with developmental disabilities, while also providing support for individuals and families and hosting community events and trainings to improve community awareness of developmental disabilities and inclusion. https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HumanServices/DD/main.htm

Housing Services

Skagit County Public Health partners with local cities and nonprofits to provide humanitarian response, emergency shelters, rental assistance and supportive services with the goal of improving access to housing and reducing homelessness. Most recently, Public Health has made emergency funding available to those who have been impacted by COVID-19, and this funding can be used toward rental or utility bill assistance. For more: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HumanServices/HousingMain.htm.

Environmental Health Services

Environmental Health is easily the most diverse division that we have here at Public Health. From drinking water and food safety to the on-site sewage program and hazardous waste, our EH team is always super busy ensuring our residents are safe and healthy. For more: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HealthEnvironmental/main.htm.

Communicable Disease & Epidemiology

The shining star of 2020!  The Communicable Disease Program works closely with our healthcare provider partners to investigate notifiable conditions reported by health professionals, identify risk factors for disease, and provide education on how to prevent future infections. And we’re not just talking COVID-19! For more info: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HealthDiseases/main.htm.

Community Health and Assessment

Lastly, it is Public Health’s responsibility to think BIG: to analyze the data, identify the gaps, and propose new and innovative solutions. Public Health brings together a group of community leaders—called the Population Health Trust (PHT) —to solve Skagit County’s health issues that our community identifies. To learn more about the PHT, go to: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/PHTAC.

If you run into a Public Health employee this week, give them a big air-five! And next time you’re wondering what the heck Public Health does, please remember—we’re so much more than COVID!

For information about Skagit County Public Health’s divisions, please visit: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/Health/main.htm.

Celebrating Safely This Easter

Reading Time: 3 minutes

“Here comes Peter Cottontail, Hoppin’ down the bunny trail, Hippity, hoppity, Easter’s on its way…”

Spring is here, the tulips are blooming, and Easter is just a hop-skip and a jump away. Spring is an exciting time—especially in the Skagit Valley—as we say “see ya later” to winter and begin planning for the warmer days ahead.

After a relatively dreary winter season, I’m eager to begin putting together spring and summer plans for my family. Like most, we’ve been essentially homebound this past year, and now that more and more people have gotten vaccinated, I’m feeling excited for what the next several months may bring.

That said, we still have a little ways to go until things can really open up again. COVID-19 is still spreading in our community, and with the new variants that we’re seeing across the state, it remains vitally important that we continue to use precaution.

So, what does that mean for Easter this coming Sunday?

The CDC continues to recommend staying home and postponing travel at this time. Doing so remains the best way to protect yourself and others this springtime. The recommendations are the same as they’ve been for a while: Limit your gatherings, keep a 6-foot distance, avoid unnecessary travel, wear a facemask, and wash your hands frequently.

Skagit County—and the rest of the state—is currently in Phase 3 of the Roadmap to Recovery, which means that indoor social and at-home gatherings have increased to 10 people from outside your household, and outdoor social and at-home gatherings have increased to a maximum of 50 people. When gathering, remember to wear your mask and practice safe distancing from non-household members.

The CDC’s recommendations are slightly different for those who have completed their series of COVID-19 vaccinations and have waited two weeks after their final dose. That said, everyone must continue to do everything that they can to end the pandemic until more is understood about how the vaccines will affect the spread of COVID-19 and how long protection lasts for those who have been vaccinated.

If you intend to travel for Easter (or at any time this spring or summer), please keep current travel recommendations and restrictions in mind. It is still recommended that Washingtonians avoid unnecessary travel when possible and delay travel if the traveler is experiencing signs of COVID-19 or has been recently exposed to someone with COVID-19. After all, travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19.

If you must travel, the CDC offers the following steps to protect yourself and others:

  • If you are eligible, get fully vaccinated for COVID-19.
  • Before you travel, get tested with a viral test 1-3 days before your trip.
  • Wear a mask over your nose and mouth when in public.
  • Avoid crowds and stay at least 6 feet (about 2 arm lengths) from anyone who did not travel with you.
  • Get tested 3-5 days after your trip and stay home and self-quarantine for a full 7 days after travel, even if your test is negative. If you don’t get tested, stay home and self-quarantine for 10 days after travel.
  • Follow all state and local recommendations or requirements after travel.

This news most likely isn’t what you were hoping for, especially since this is our second COVID Easter. However, compared to 2020 (ugh!), we have a lot more opportunities to celebrate safely this year!

If you’re feeling like me, you may be itching to make this year’s festivities a bit more…festive? The mom guilt is strong and I’m looking for new (and safe) ways to make Easter fun for my family. For those looking to shake up the usual “Easter egg and chocolate” routine, there are some great ideas online! This is the perfect year to try an Easter-themed Nature Scavenger Hunt or an Easter Egg Relay Race.

Looking to do something out of the house and in the community? Check out Skagit Kid Insider’s EASTER EGG HUNTS & ACTIVITIES GUIDE for some local events taking place this Easter weekend. If you decide to take part, please remember to wear your mask and follow all COVID-19 guidelines.

Hoppy Easter!


COVID-19 Vaccines & People with Disabilities

Reading Time: 5 minutes

On Wednesday, March 17th, Washington State expanded vaccine eligibility to Phase 1b-Tier 2. This new Tier includes critical workers in congregate settings and individuals 16 years and older who are pregnant or who have a disability that puts them at higher risk of infection.

People with disabilities continue to experience barriers to getting the COVID-19 vaccine, and some disabilities increase risk for severe illness from COVID-19. This prioritization, by the Washington Department of Health (DOH), is intentional to provide access for a high risk group who experiences more barriers to access.

Under the category of disability, DOH has included:

  • Individuals with Down syndrome
  • Individuals with a developmental or intellectual disability
  • Those who are deaf/hard of hearing, blind/low-vision, or deafblind

In order to be considered eligible under Phase 1b-Tier 2, an individual’s disability must put them at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 (e.g. Down syndrome)—OR—the individual with a disability must have an underlying medical condition which increases their risk for severe outcomes per the CDC’s list of the conditions that put people at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19. This list can be found here: https://bit.ly/3escFtw.

Below is some information that may be helpful to those individuals with a disability who are newly eligible for a vaccine. There is a lot of information circulating about the COVID-19 vaccine and about how difficult it can be to make an appointment, so we hope that this information will prove to be useful for you and your loved ones.

Who should receive the vaccine?

It is recommended that anyone who is eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine do so! To find out if you are eligible, please visit: www.findyourphasewa.org.

The only exception to this recommendation would be if someone has experienced severe complications (such as anaphylaxis) in the past after receiving a vaccine. In this case, please consult your doctor prior to scheduling a COVID vaccine appointment.

Are caregivers eligible?

Caregivers who meet the definition below are eligible for vaccine in Phase 1a as workers in health care settings:

  • Eligible caregivers (licensed, unlicensed, paid, unpaid, formal, or informal) who support the daily, functional and health needs of another individual who is at high risk for COVID-19 illness due to advanced age, long-term physical condition, co-morbidities, or developmental or intellectual disability. For the caregiver to be eligible, the care recipient:
    • Must be someone who needs caregiving support for their daily, functioning, and health needs.
    • Can be an adult or minor child. For dependent minor children, the caregiver is eligible if that child has an underlying health condition or disability that puts them at high risk for severe COVID-19 illness. For example: a caregiver of a minor child with Down syndrome.

To determine eligbility, visit findyourphasewa.org and respond “Yes” when asked if you work in a health care setting.

Are there side effects after getting the vaccine?

Yes, minor side effects are possible after receiving the vaccine. Common side effects may include:

  • Pain at the site of the injection
  • Painful, swollen lymph nodes in the arm in which the vaccine was injected
  • Tiredness
  • Headache
  • Muscle or joint aches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever or chills

When side effects occur, they typically last just a few days. A side effect or reaction isn’t necessarily a bad thing! It may indicate that the body is building protection against the virus. Talk to your doctor about taking over-the-counter medicine, such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or antihistamines, for any pain and discomfort you may experience after getting vaccinated.

How do you make an appointment?

Eligible individuals can locate a vaccine provider by visiting: www.doh.wa.gov/YouandYourFamily/Immunization/VaccineLocations. Most appointments can be scheduled online, however there are other scheduling options available for those who need assistance.

Note: People can schedule a vaccine appointment for someone else, either online or on the phone! To learn more about what information you will need to do so, read our blog post here: https://skagitcounty.blog/2021/01/27/a-guide-to-skagit-county-public-healths-online-vaccine-scheduler/.

Blind and low-vision individuals can call BLIND COVID at (360) 947-3330 to ask questions regarding access to resources related to COVID-19. The purpose of BLIND COVID access line is to provide access to information over the phone that may otherwise be difficult to locate through the web or other means. Folks can use this resource to schedule an appointment, and staff will help to find a vaccine site that has accommodations for those with visual impairments.   

The Skagit County Vaccine Hotline is also an option for those who cannot schedule online. The Hotline is available in English and Spanish and operates Monday-Saturday, from 8am to 5pm. Please call (360) 416-1500 to schedule your appointment (when supply is available).

What to expect at the Skagit County Fairgrounds

The Skagit County Fairgrounds Clinic is one of many vaccine providers in Skagit County. You can make an appointment with us by calling the Vaccine Hotline at (360) 416-1500 or by visiting our website at www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine. And if you make an appointment with us, there are some things to note!

First-Dose Clinic

First-dose appointments are a walk-up clinic, meaning people with an appointment are required to park their vehicle and enter the clinic building. There is parking available right at the front entrance to accommodate individuals with mobility needs. A wide entrance can accommodate wheelchairs and walkers. There is also a ramp for individuals to get to and from our Observation Room (where folks wait 15 minutes post-vaccination for observation).

Second-Dose Clinic

Second-dose appointments are done through our drive-through system. In this case, folks will remain within their vehicles and will roll their windows down when the vaccine is being administered. If the window cannot be rolled down, or if the nurse is not able to reach an individual’s arm through the window, this person may be required to exit the vehicle to receive the vaccine.

Mask Requirement

Please know that masks are required for the safety of our staff and guests. If you are exempt, please be sure to let our staff know when you arrive to the site.

Site staff and volunteers will do everything they can to assist you. With that said, it is important to note that for some individuals, the Fairgrounds clinic may not be the best option. If someone has had a traumatic experience in the past with vaccinations or medical interventions, or if someone is easily over-stimulated, the Fairgrounds Clinic may be problematic.

If you have concerns, please talk with your doctor about clinic options that may suit your specific needs. You can also call Public Health for more information about our site at (360) 416-1500 or visit our website at www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine.


Springing into Healthy Eating

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Rosemary Alpert, contributing author

Joyfully, spring is returning. Time to welcome back longer days of sunlight, sow seeds and celebrate movement forward. Together, we have made it through an unprecedented year. Twelve months ago, just as spring was arriving, we were all sent home. Now is a perfect time to pause and ask: How are we nourishing ourselves, families and community? 

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has designated March as the month to focus on nutrition. In addition to attention on food, the focus is also on healthful care of ourselves, home and community. Seeking a balance within our busy lives to embrace a healthy lifestyle that encompasses all aspects of nutrition. 

First and most important, we must be kind to ourselves and keep it simple. March is a perfect month to open the windows, spring clean our spaces, including the refrigerators and cupboards, discarding expired or tired items. Making way for healthy choices, stepping into a new season, refreshed and replenished. 

Here are a few healthy, nourishing suggestions: 

  • Revisit Meal planning. Some of us may remember, “Wednesday as Prince Spaghetti Day,” an advertisement that made everyone think about eating pasta in the middle of each week. Weekly meal planning can offer structure to our busy lives. Create themes for specific days of the week, like “Taco Tuesday” or “Leftover Thursday.” For inspiration, revisit favorite recipes and fun cookbooks, make meal planning a family activity and experiment with new recipes and foods.  
  • Grocery list. Best to stick with a shopping list and don’t go shopping hungry. 
  • Plant a garden. March is a perfect time to get seedlings started. Create a simple kitchen garden. Plant containers on a deck are a wonderful way to get started. The taste of homegrown nutritious food is the best. Encourage young ones to get involved in planting and tending a garden. Exploring the wonders of growing food and enjoyment of creating meals can influence them for a lifetime.  
  • Get outside. Pack a picnic and go explore beautiful Skagit Valley and surrounding sites. Grab healthy snacks, like fruit, nuts or low-sugar granola bars and hike the local trails. Eat lunch outside, especially on the sunny days. Get exercise and keep hydrated.
  • Support local. If you are not able to grow your own food, buy locally grown, supporting community farmers and food suppliers. In addition, when ordering out or dining at local restaurants, remember to make healthy choices. Local honey is also beneficial, especially during allergy season.  
  • Share meals. Over these many months, every Friday night, a friend prepares a fresh homemade meal for me, all packaged and ready to be picked up. Besides being healthy, the thoughtfulness of these home-prepared meals is appreciated and nourishing for the soul. Find ways to share meals with family and friends. Maybe you have a special recipe you could prepare and share with a friend. 
  • Be creative. The best way to nurture ourselves is to do the best we can each day. Make good choices. Find a healthy balance. Be present for one another. Supporting and nurturing our communities, cultivating healthful possibilities for now and reaching into the future. 

While preparing this post, I connected with our local Skagit Valley Co-op for a few springtime garden and recipe suggestions. Here are some fun gardening tips and recipes: 

Access to healthy, nutritious food is important. Skagit Gleaners is a local organization, serving our community since 1984, offering access to local food. “Skagit Gleaner provides fresh and nutritious food to help working families achieve personal financial and health goals. We do this by rescuing and redistributing surplus fresh food to our members.” For more information about Skagit Gleaners, call (360) 848-1045, info@skagitgleaners.org

Let’s welcome spring, stay healthy, wear our masks and creatively nurture ourselves!  

“Stepping into Spring”  
©Rosemary DeLucco Alpert, 2018 


Overdose Prevention & You

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Bob Lutz, Washington State medical advisor for COVID-19 response, states that “Washingtonians with substance use disorders may have found themselves using more frequently [during the COVID-19 pandemic], and unfortunately, the data suggests they are also overdosing more often.Alarmingly, Skagit County has also observed an increase in opioid-related overdoses. Keep reading for preliminary, 2020 State- and County-level overdose data.

But first, a quick terminology refresher!

Overdose happens when a toxic amount of a drug, or combination of drugs, overwhelms the body. People can overdose on lots of things including alcohol, Tylenol, opioids or a mixture of drugs. When an opioid overdose occurs, the overdosing individual may experience slow or no breath, choking or snore-like sounds, pinpoint pupils, blue/ashy skin, nails and lips, unconsciousness and/or death. Fortunately, there are harm reduction practices and prevention interventions that can significantly reduce one’s chances of overdose and death. Visit SkagitRising to learn more.

Fentanyl is a synthetic or “man-made” opioid that is 80-100 times stronger than other opioids like morphine and heroin. There are pharmaceutical forms of fentanyl that are used for anesthesia and pain. However, most recent cases of fentanyl-related overdose and death have been linked to illegally made fentanyl. Any illicit drug in any form – powder, pill, etc. – could have fentanyl in it. You can’t necessarily tell if fentanyl is present based on taste, smell, or look of the drug. According to the DOH, we should assume that any drug not from a pharmacy could have fentanyl in it.

POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING:

In Washington, fentanyl has been found in counterfeit pills made to look like prescription opioids (often with an imprint of “M30” or “A215”), as well as in powders and black tar heroin.

Opioid Overdose Data

Last month, the Washington State Department of Health published a News Release, which includes preliminary overdose data for the first six months of 2020.

Here is a Brief Snapshot:

  • Overdose deaths in Washington State increased by 38% in the first half of 2020, compared to the first half of 2019. Most of this increase came from deaths involving fentanyl.
  • Fentanyl-involved deaths more than doubled from 137 to 309.
  • Most deaths involved multiple substances, sometimes called polysubstance use.

Skagit County also observed an increase in opioid-related deaths when compared to 2019. While Public Health and many other community partners have been working diligently to reduce the impacts of opioid misuse and overdose in our communities (see list of collaborative efforts here: https://skagitrising.org/what-is-being-done/), we need your help!

How YOU Can Help

We all play an important role in reducing opioid overdoses and saving lives in our communities.

  • The COVID19 pandemic has affected us all. Stress and social isolation may increase risk of substance misuse and overdose. Offer support to friends and family – send a text, call, video chat, get together in one-on-one or in a small group outside.
  • Know the signs of an opioid overdose and how to help.
  • Naloxone (also called Narcan®) is a safe medication that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. If you use opioids or know someone who does, make sure to carry naloxone. You could save a life! Under the statewide standing order, anyone can get naloxone at a pharmacy without a prescription.
  • If you think someone is overdosing don’t hesitate to call 911. The Good Samaritan Law (RCW 69.50.315) protects you and the person overdosing from prosecution of drug consumption and drug possession.
  • Help those struggling with opioid use disorder find the right care and treatment. Buprenorphine and methadone, two medications used to treat opioid use disorder (MOUD), can cut the risk of a fatal opioid overdose in half, and support long-term recovery. Find local MOUD treatment programs by visiting https://skagitrising.org/  
  • If you use drugs, please practice harm reduction techniques. If you must use alone, call 800-484-3731 (Never Use Alone Hotline).

Additional Info

Feeling overwhelmed and/or don’t know where to start? You are not alone. Visit the WA Recovery Helpline (or call 1-866-789-1511) where they provide emotional support and connect callers with local treatment resources and community services. You can also learn about local resources by visiting https://skagitrising.org/resources/

If you have questions, want to learn more about behavioral health services in Skagit County, or would like to pick-up free naloxone or fentanyl test strips, contact McKinzie Gales, Community Health Education Specialist at mgales@co.skagit.wa.us or (360)416-1528.


Reflections: A Year Of COVID-19

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Dr. Howard Leibrand, Skagit County Health Officer 

Today is the first of several heavy anniversaries for Skagit County. On March 10, 2020, the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Skagit County. On March 13, Governor Inslee closed schools in order to protect students, staff and the community at large from COVID-19 spread. On March 17, Skagit County first became aware of the Chorale outbreak, which would lead to the loss of 2 Skagitonians- some of the first known casualties from COVID-19 in Washington State. On March 23, the first ‘Stay Home, Stay Healthy order’ began.

Since then, we’ve learned a lot. The science has come a long way- we now know how effective masks are at preventing spread of COVID-19; we know that surface transmission is pretty unlikely (so wiping down groceries isn’t really necessary), and we have three vaccines that are highly effective against the wild coronavirus.  All of this is a testament to human innovation and resiliency. 

We’ve also worked incredibly hard. Skagit Public Health, Department of Emergency Management and Unified Command have put in long, hard hours and accomplished so much. Skagit operated the longest continuously running COVID-19 mass testing site and has opened one of the largest mass vaccination clinics in the region. This clinic has administered over 6,000 doses of vaccine so far and has the capacity to do up to 940 total doses per day.

Residents and friends of Skagit County have also made huge efforts. Beyond everyone taking precautions to keep the community safe, individuals have donated thousands of masks, volunteered over 14,000 hours at the test site, vaccine clinic and staffing the hotline, and given $700,000 dollars to the Skagit Community Foundation’s COVID-19 fund which helped families in need through this difficult year. I am continuously in awe of my colleagues and the community that I serve. 

Unfortunately, the work is not yet over. While I look forward to further reopening of Skagit businesses and activities, now is not the time to let up on our basic precautionary measures. The B117 variant was confirmed in Skagit County two weeks ago, and it is likely that this more contagious version of the virus is circulating at large in the Community. Because it spreads more quickly and easily, if we don’t continue to observe precautions we risk a large fourth wave of illness. We also risk the B117 or the wild virus potentially mutating further and lessening vaccine efficacy; something that we have seen early evidence of in places like Brazil (P1) and South Africa (B1351). I encourage the community to double down their precautionary efforts. Wear masks- two if you can- at all times in public or during private social gatherings. Stay six feet apart from anyone you don’t live with, continue to practice good hand hygiene and please, stay home if you feel ill. 

I promise you, spring is coming. We will further reopen, and learn to live with COVID-19. You will see loved ones in unmasked social gatherings again. Vaccines will protect us. But we cannot get there without everyone’s help. Over the last year, I’ve said this many times but it bears repeating: wear a mask, wash your hands, and stay safe, stay healthy. 


Getting There: Traveling to your Vaccine Appointment

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Vaccine roll-out has been slow over the past two months due to limited supply. Now that we will begin to see more supply arrive in Skagit County, more appointments will be available to those who are eligible. At present, only those who qualify under Phases 1a and 1b-Tier 1 are eligible; however, in the coming days, Public Health expects the State to move to the next phase.

Skagit County Public Health and our partner providers in the County have been working with local transportation providers to work through issues around accessibility. As eligibility widens and more people are able to make an appointment, providers must be able to respond to the needs of our diverse population.

Fairgrounds Clinic Layout

The Vaccine Clinic at the Skagit County Fairgrounds uses a walk-in clinic for first doses. This means that individuals will park their vehicle and enter the clinic on foot. For those with mobility issues, disabled parking is available next to the clinic entrance.

Those who arrive for a second dose at the Fairgrounds will be ushered through our drive-through clinic. Here, people will be able to receive their vaccine without leaving their vehicle. To date, this is the only drive-through vaccine clinic available in Skagit County.

For both first-dose and second-dose appointments, visitors will be required to wait 15 minutes post-vaccination for observation. It is important to keep this in mind when planning for transportation. Appointments can vary in length; it can take between 30-60 minutes from start to finish.

Foot Traffic versus Walk-ups

While there are no walk-ups permitted at the Fairgrounds Vaccine Clinic (meaning only those with an appointment will be permitted), the site does allow for individuals who arrive on foot. Because of this, people can absolutely use public transportation to get to and from the Fairgrounds Clinic. This applies to those arriving for both first-dose and second-dose appointments.

For information about how to schedule an appointment at the Skagit Fairgrounds Vaccine Clinic, visit: www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine.

Transportation Assistance Options

For those who need transportation assistance to the Fairgrounds Clinic (or other vaccine provider locations in Skagit County), you have some options:

1. Fixed Route Services through Skagit Transit

Those using the Fixed Route service may access any route—at no cost—by showing proof of a vaccine appointment. Since there are numerous vaccination sites in Skagit County, the driver will ask which location the person is trying to get to.

If traveling to the Fairgrounds Clinic, take Route 202 from Skagit Station and exit at South 2nd Street and Hazel Road. A short walk will get you to the site entrance at 1410 Virginia Street in Mount Vernon. Here, people will check in with staff at the front entrance and will be directed to Registration.

Any person who is unfamiliar with the Fixed Route service and/or bus stop locations should contact Skagit Transit’s Dispatch Center at (360) 757-4433 for assistance on where to catch the bus and/or which routes to take to their destinations. You can also use Skagit Transit’s online trip planner here: https://www.skagittransit.org/trip-planner/.

2. Paratransit Services through Skagit Transit

Those who cannot use the Fixed Route service can use paratransit services. If you respond “NO” to any of the following questions, you may qualify for the Paratransit service.

  • Are you able to get on or off a bus?
  • Are you able to get to or from the nearest bus stop?
  • Are you able to wait (standing) at a bus stop for 5 to 10 minutes?
  • Are you able to ride or to understand instructions on how to ride the bus?

To access this service, riders must call the Dispatch Center at (360) 757-4433 and speak to a Scheduler, who will work with them to find the best possible pickup location and arrange the pickup times. Since Paratransit is a reservation-based service, a minimum of 24-hour advanced notice is required. Riders must be prepared to show the driver proof of a vaccine appointment in lieu of bus fare.

If using the Paratransit service, please keep in mind that the Paratransit driver will most likely not be able to wait the full length of your vaccine appointment. As noted above, it can take 30-60 minutes for an appointment depending on wait-times. When scheduling your ride, be sure to let the scheduler know that you are going to a vaccine appointment and that there will be a wait.

Those arriving by paratransit (or any other service like a cab or Uber) will be dropped off at Registration and will be processed similar to someone who has arrived on foot. Please plan to schedule a pick up at the site following the 15-minute post-vaccine observation period. For those with mobility issues, staff will assist getting individuals to and from the Site entrance.

For more information about Paratransit Services, visit https://www.skagittransit.org/additional-services/dial-a-ride/.

3. Medicaid Transportation

Those who are eligible for Medicaid and have a Medicaid Provider One Identification Card (medical coupon) may be eligible for transportation assistance to a Skagit County vaccine provider location. People must call two days in advance to schedule a trip; call (360) 738-4554 to reserve a ride.

When reserving a Medicaid transport, be sure to let the scheduler know that you are going to a COVID-19 vaccine appointment, and that it may take 30-60 minutes. Your driver may be able to wait on site, or a pick-up will be scheduled. In this case, please let the Vaccine Clinic staff know about your arrangement, and staff can work to accommodate your specific needs. 

Carpooling to the Fairgrounds Site

We realize that it might make sense to carpool with a friend or co-worker if you both have an appointment on the same day. However, for safety reasons, it is still recommended that only those within the same household ride together in a vehicle.

If you do plan to come to the site with someone else, please try to limit to two people per vehicle. This allows for staff to process vehicles more efficiently than if there are multiple people getting a vaccine in a vehicle. Remember: Only those with an appointment will be permitted into the clinic unless assistance is required.

If you have any questions about the information above, contact the Vaccine Hotline at (360) 416-1500 or visit our webpage at www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine.


Heartful Care

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Rosemary Alpert, Contributing Author 

“Beneath the skin, beyond the differing features and into the true heart of being, fundamentally,  
we are more alike, my friend, than we are unalike.” 

-Dr. Maya Angelou 

As communities across the globe face ongoing challenges of the pandemic and need for vaccinations, we know each of us is affected. Dr. Angelou’s quote, reflects, no matter what our differences, underneath, we all have hearts. Hearts that are vital and keep us moving forward during these unprecedented times. 

Both our physical and emotional hearts need care—especially now, as we are almost a year into this time of drastic change and adjustments. It is important to maintain good heart care, as best we can. Making sure to reach out to our family, friends or professionals, if we experience any physical or emotional concerns or challenges; remembering we are not alone.  

A few months before the pandemic, I participated in a spiritual activism class. One of the exercises was a meditation on our hearts. We were asked to sit quietly and place our hands on our hearts. Breathe in and out at our own pace, and focus in on giving thanks to our hearts. Until that moment, I hadn’t thought of thanking my heart for keeping me alive, blood pumping and all the emotions it holds. It was a moving experience and a good place to start for heartful care and appreciation.

Here are some heartful care suggestions: 

  • Hold our hearts and say, “Thank you!” 
  • Be gentle with ourselves. 
  • Remember to take a few focused intentional breaths. 
  • Get outside as much as we can. 
  • Connect with the earth. 
  • Move our bodies: dance, yoga, hiking, biking, whatever makes us feel good. 
  • Notice the beauty. 
  • Reach out, if feeling isolated. 
  • Check in on family, friends or neighbors. 
  • Continue with regular health check-ups. 
  • Eat some dark chocolate (professionals say it’s good for the heart!). 
  • Keep wearing our masks, good for everyone’s health! 
  • Look into someone’s eyes. 
  • Smile from our hearts. 
  • Drink plenty of water, stay hydrated. 
  • Keep it simple! 

Let’s take care of our health in all ways, so we can show up wholeheartedly for our loved ones, friends and community.  

“Heartful of Seeds,” ©Rosemary DeLucco Alpert 2021 

This Sunday, Let’s Play it Safe

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I’m not going to lie. I do not care about football. At all. Games are long and boring. In pre-COVID times, I’d go shopping while my husband watched games. When it came to the Super Bowl, I was 100% in for the snacks and hanging out with friends. But this year, like so many other things COVID-19 has taken away, I won’t be hanging out with friends. It will just be me and my husband. And the snacks.

That doesn’t mean we can’t still be social! If there is one thing the pandemic has shown us, it’s that it’s really not that hard to connect with friends and family, no matter where they are. Zoom, Skype, FaceTime—whatever your preferred method of video chat—are available 24-7. Use them! If you’re looking for a social connection this Sunday while you watch the game, set up a group call with friends and/or family, and react to the plays (and commercials and halftime show) in real time from a safe distance.

Share snack recipes or see who can come up with the most unique game day treat. Compete with each other for who can dress in the best football garb. Play Game Day or commercial BINGO. There are free printable versions online, or make up your own if you’re creative! Take bets on the final score. Loser owes the winner cupcakes or beef jerky or whatever you’re into.

But if you absolutely cannot fathom being physically apart from friends and/or extended family for the big game, please take steps to keep your party from becoming a super spreader event. Remember: COVID-19 spreads really easily, even without symptoms.

So what can you do to hold a safer gathering?

  1. Limit your gathering to one other household. The more households, the greater the risk of virus transmission.
  2. Stay outside. Use a projector to watch the game. Go inside only when absolutely necessary.
  3. Stay six feet or more from people you don’t live with. This also means no high fives except for air high fives.
  4. Wear a mask. Even if you’re outside and at least six feet apart, you still need to wear a mask. Take it off when you’re actively eating and drinking, but put it back on between bites or sips.
  5. Limit your yelling/cheering. The louder you speak, the more aerosols you emit, and the more likely you are to spread the virus if you have it. Bring a noisemaker, clap, stomp your feet, silently swear to yourself—whatever you need to do to keep your volume down and your aerosols to yourself.
  6. Bring your own food/drinks. Share snacks only with members of your own household. Obviously, this means you need to make the most delicious appetizer so everyone else is jealous. And for once, you don’t need to share!
  7. On that note, bring your own plates, cups, utensils, etc.
  8. Keep hand sanitizer handy. If you touch a common surface, wash your hands or use sanitizer.
  9. Moderate your alcohol intake. We all know alcohol lowers our inhibitions. If you have a few too many, you may be less likely to take proper COVID-19 precautions.
  10. Looking for more tips: Check out these from the CDC.

Public Health definitely doesn’t encourage you to hold or attend a gathering this Sunday. But if you do choose to gather, please be as safe as possible!


Glimmers of Light in the Vaccine Observation Room

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Contributing author, Rosemary Alpert.

It has been almost a year since our lives began to be touched by a mysterious virus, one we now know all too well. We watched the evening news: images of people in other countries wearing masks, something so unfamiliar to our “norm” here in the States. 

Then, we were all affected, in one way or another. A challenging time—filled with a plethora of emotions and stories.  

One year later, we are in the midst of mass vaccinations across the country, offering a glimmer of light for our communities. But we’re also encountering new challenges, as the supply of vaccinations is slow and unpredictable. The monumental need for vaccinations can be frustrating: trying to figure out when, where and how to receive the vaccination is not easy.

“Clicker” ©Rosemary DeLucco Alpert 2021 

Despite these challenges and frustrations, our goal continues to be to get as many people vaccinated as possible. With the supply we received last week, Public Health was able to vaccinate more than 1,100 community members at the Skagit County Fairground Vaccination Site. Community members, mostly 65 and older, received their first vaccination dose between Tuesday and Saturday.  

With a heart full of joy, I greeted each community member after they had received their first dose. In the Observation Room, I spoke with each person as they sat for their 15-minute monitoring period.

Clicking off a fuchsia-colored counter is one of the best jobs I’ve ever had; happily greeting and congratulating each person, feeling the smiles hidden beneath our masks, and seeing the welcomed relief and glimmers of sparkling light shining from their eyes. Once again, each person has a story and reasons why they received their vaccination.  

I asked a few community members how they felt and if they’d like to share a thought while sitting in the Observation Space.

Here are some of the responses: 

“Feels like I won the lottery!” 

“It was frustrating at first, trying to get an appointment. Once we got through, everything has been seamless.” 

“Everyone has been so helpful; you’re all so organized.” 

“I feel so relieved.” 

“I’m grateful and concerned for the communities who don’t have access to technology.”

Glimmers of light are found all around our community: in the eyes of each person who is grateful to receive their vaccination, neighbors checking in on one another, a caretaker or support person bringing an elder to receive the vaccine. Creative community collaboration—each of us doing the best we can—making sure we move forward and stay healthy. 

When you come for your first vaccination, here is a reminder:

  • Bring a form of ID
  • Dress appropriately to receive your vaccine (ex: t-shirt or button up)
  • Bring a coat or blanket, since we keep the doors open for ventilation
  • Consider bringing a book, crossword puzzle, knitting–whatever you’d like as you sit for 15 minutes post-vaccination

We have a safe and welcoming space available for our guests, with local artwork on the walls, calming music and great company. I look forward to greeting you on vaccination day and clicking off the counter!

The vaccination process is an enormous collaborative community endeavor. Information is constantly being updated. For the most updated information in both English and Spanish, please visit the Skagit County Public Health website: www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine. Please share this information with your friends, especially those who do not have easy access to a computer.