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.

Needles? No Problem! Coping with your COVID-19 Vaccine

Reading Time: 3 minutes

People react to needles in all sorts of ways: some people are fascinated by them, other people have a mild dislike for them, and many people flat out cannot stand them. Whatever camp you fall into, you most likely already know how important vaccinations are.

And when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine, its importance cannot be overstated. A COVID-19 vaccination will help keep you from getting COVID-19—protecting you from severe illness and even death—and may also protect the people around you, particularly people at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19. The COVID-19 vaccine is one of the best tools that we have against ending the pandemic and gradually returning to some type of “normal.”

Still, this may not make lifting your sleeve any easier. Deciding to make an appointment—and actually following through—may seem like an insurmountable feat for someone with an intense fear of needles. After all, a fear of needles (known as trypanophobia) is said to impact about 25 percent of adults in the U.S., and can cause increased heart rate, fainting, and even full-blown panic attacks.

If you are one of those individuals who struggles with vaccinations, here are some tips to prepare yourself for the COVID-19 vaccine.

1. Talk to your doctor

Getting a shot can be anxiety inducing, even when it is something as common as an annual flu shot. With the COVID-19 vaccine, there is a lot of fearmongering and politicization that may be heightening your anxiety. For this reason, you may want to talk with your primary care doctor about the vaccine to dispel any rumors that you’ve heard.

Your doctor will be able to explain the differences between the available vaccine brands, can discuss possible short-term side effects, and can also address any medical concerns that may need to be addressed prior to vaccination.

If you really struggle with vaccinations, talk to your doctor about which local vaccine provider location will be best suited to your needs.

2. Book the appointment

Worrying about making an appointment will not make the process any easier, and it won’t do anything positive for your mental health. When you’ve talked with your doctor, gotten the information you need, and feel ready to take the step forward…do it! Then celebrate your bravery!

3. Familiarize yourself with the site

Sometimes when you feel anxious about a new experience, it can be helpful to familiarize yourself with the place or process. If you have questions about a specific vaccine provider location, visit their website and read about what you should expect when you arrive for your appointment.

If you are making an appointment with Skagit County Public Health at the Skagit County Fairgrounds, reading our blog post may help to calm your nerves: https://skagitcounty.blog/2021/01/21/covid-19-vaccine-clinic-step-by-step/.  You can also access our website by visiting www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine or call our Hotline at (360) 416-1500.

4. Take Your Time & Talk to our Nurses

When you arrive to your appointment, make sure to give yourself some time. Try to arrive a few minutes early so you aren’t rushing through traffic and be sure to eat a bit before you come.

If you have questions or concerns, be sure to talk with the nurse. Letting them know that you are nervous about receiving a vaccine is totally okay! Trust us, it wouldn’t be the first time they’ve heard this!

Your nurse will most likely offer some advice on how to deal with getting your shot and will provide you with some information that you will need post-vaccine (such as what to do for pain management if you have a sore arm). If you have questions, ask! We are here for you.

5. Use Your Coping Skills

If you know from experience that you will be feeling particularly anxious during your vaccine appointment, make sure to have some coping skills at your disposal. Here are some examples:

Deep Breathing

Slow, deep, and calming breaths can help you avoid panic. There are many different breathing techniques that you can call upon. It is important to find the ones that work for you.

Box Breathing is an exercise where you breathe in for four seconds, hold for four, breathe out for four, hold for another four and repeat. It can help to imagine your breath creating an imaginary box in the air.

Another technique is Pursed Lip Breathing. To practice it, you breathe in through your nose and breathe out at least twice as long through your mouth with pursed lips.

Focus Shifting & Distractions

Distracting yourself may not help you get over your fear of needles, but it can help you cope in the moment. Need some ways to shift your focus or distract yourself? Here are some tricks:

  • Talk to someone about something random—the weather, sports, a TV show. Whatever!
  • Count backwards from 50 or try to say the alphabet backwards.
  • Think about fun plans that you have or what you would like to do on the weekend.
  • Look around and find three things you hadn’t noticed before.

Positive Affirmations

As you are waiting to receive your shot, be thinking about some positive affirmations. Remember that you have gotten vaccinations before and have been fine. That you’ve overcome difficult things. That you are not in danger, though your body or brain may be causing you to think so. You are okay, you are brave. You are making a difference in your community!

For more helpful tips and resources: https://www.doh.wa.gov/Portals/1/Documents/1600/coronavirus/821-133-BehavioralHealthTipsGettingTheVaccine.pdf


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!


Restorative Practices to Heal Brain Fog

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Rosemary Alpert, contributing author

We have weathered this year, experiencing a “new norm.” Every aspect of our lives touched by a global virus, sending us home, keeping us separated and challenging our mental, physical and emotional endurance. It takes energy to keep going under stressful circumstances. If you are feeling exhausted, you are not alone: Pandemic fatigue is real. 

Last week, I forgot what day it was (a few times), my normal patience was running low, and exhaustion was taking hold. Friday, while getting ready for work, on a morning show I heard the term, “brain fog.” This referred to what some people, whether they have had COVID-19 or not, are experiencing after a year living this unusual “new norm.” Hearing the term gave me an odd sense of relief and a name to the mental exhaustion I had been feeling.  

For the past twelve months, we have been running a metaphorical race, restructuring our lives and trying to do the best we can, under extreme circumstances. Our collective exhaustion is understandable. It’s important to remember, take time to pause, breathe deeply and gift ourselves moments of rest. 

While experiencing the fatigue of the pandemic and foggy brains, it is important to be gentle with ourselves and those around us. Remembering the importance of selfcare, setting aside moments for ourselves is not being selfish, rather it is restorative. Not only for us, but for our families, too. The pandemic has taken an exhausting toll on our community from the young to our elders. Supporting one another with loving-kindness can make a huge difference in our collective movement forward.  

Over the weekend, I took time to rest and recharge. Thoughts traveled back to last spring. Remembering the unusual stillness, some days hardly a car drove past my window. It was so quiet. I could feel the earth reawakening, catching its breath without the busyness of all our coming and goings. Now as before the pandemic, I am continually grateful for time tending the garden, watching the hummingbirds zip among the blossoms and listening intently with all my senses to the unfolding of each season. Restorative time spent outside. 

These days, it is vitally important to create ways to recharge our inner beings. Refuel our endurance so we can show up with clarity and presence for our families, friends and community. 

Talking with some coworkers at the Skagit County Public Health vaccination site, each expressed experiencing some form of pandemic fatigue or brain fog over these past many months. I asked, “What is your favorite restorative practice?” 

Here are their responses:

“I head to the mountains.” 

“Every week I buy myself fresh flowers. Along with photography, it’s relaxing and creative.” 

“Play with my dog.” 

“I make sure I practice yoga every day.” 

“Call a friend, meet up for a glass of wine and walk outside.” 

“Crafting, that’s my jam!” 

“Put my phone away and unplug.” 

“Take a nap.” 

“Meditate.” 

“Listen to music.” 

“Sit quietly and watch the clouds.” 

“Gardening, tending the plants and soil, recharges me.” 

“Take a ride to the beach, spend time by the water, listen to the waves.” 

Whatever works, I hope these restorative practices can inspire you to creatively move through moments of fatigue and fogginess. Continue nurturing endurance for the days and months ahead as we move forward with deepening kindness, compassion and joy. 

Welcome Spring! 

“Daffodils” 
©Rosemary DeLucco Alpert, 2021

Phase 3…What Does That Mean?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

On March 22nd, Skagit County—and the rest of the state—moved to Phase 3 of the “Roadmap to Recovery” reopening plan. Counties now move through the phases alone, no longer tied to other counties in their region. What this means is that while Skagit has more freedom to move through the phases, we are also solely responsible for our progress. So how do we keep moving forward and not backwards?

What is Allowed Under Phase 3

Restrictions are looser under Phase 3 than they were under the previous phases. This is exciting news, especially as the weather gets nicer and summer slowly approaches.

That said, it remains more important than ever to continue practicing precautions: mask up, keep your distance, and wash your hands frequently. While restrictions around gathering have relaxed, it is best to continue to limit gatherings as much as possible. This—as well as the precautions above—are our best defenses against the spread of COVID-19.

Below are some of the most notable allowances under Phase 3:

Social and at-home gatherings

  • Indoor social and at-home gatherings have increased to 10 people from outside your household.
  • Outdoor social and at-home gatherings have increased to a maximum of 50 people.

Services (such as dining, retail, worship)

  • Indoor services now allowed at 50% capacity.

Sports and Fitness

  • Indoor sports competitions and tournaments allowed at all risk levels. Fitness/training and indoor sports at a maximum of 50% capacity.
  • Outdoor sports competitions and tournaments allowed at all risk levels. A maximum of 400 spectators allowed with capacity restrictions (depending on the facility).

Entertainment (such as museums, theaters, concert halls)

  • Indoor maximum of 50% capacity or 400 people (whichever is less).
  • Outdoor entertainment allowed by walk-up ticketing, and a maximum of 400 spectators with capacity restrictions (depending on the facility).
For a full list of allowances, you can read WA Department of Health’s report here: https://www.governor.wa.gov/sites/default/files/HealthyWashington.pdf.

What Metrics Need to be Met to Stay in Phase 3

Forward or backward progress will now be evaluated on a county-by-county basis, rather than by regional grouping. Counties will be evaluated by WA Department of Health (WA DOH) every three weeks to determine progress. Skagit County’s ability to move forward will be determined based on both of the metrics below:

  1. Case Rates: Skagit County must maintain at a case rate lower than 200 per 100,000 in the past 14 days to stay in Phase 3.
    (As of March 21, we are at 132.4 new cases per 100,000)
  2. Hospitalizations: Skagit County must maintain a 7-day average of five or fewer new COVID-19 hospitalizations to stay in Phase 3.

Also, if at any point the statewide Intensive Care Unit (ICU) capacity reaches greater than 90%, all counties will move down one phase.

As you can see, it wouldn’t take much for Skagit to move backwards. We need to continue limiting our gatherings and wear our masks, even with the lighter restrictions of Phase 3.

It is also critical to continue vaccinating our high-risk populations, as this will greatly impact our hospitalization numbers. Let’s do everything that we can to keep our high-risk populations safe and protected against COVID-19! If you know of someone who is currently eligible for the vaccine, please reach out! Call the Vaccine Hotline to schedule an appointment: (360) 416-1500.

What Comes Next?

We don’t yet know what the next phase will look like for the Roadmap to Recovery. More guidance will come from WA DOH in the coming weeks. In the meantime, let’s all do our part to ensure continued forward motion! Though the road has been long, we have so much to look forward to. Let’s show the state what we are capable of, Skagit!

To read more about the Roadmap to Recovery Plan and to find out guidance specific to businesses and workers, go to: http://bit.ly/3lH6bbI.


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.


COVID-19 Vaccines & Children

Reading Time: 5 minutes

On March 17th, Washington State will move into the next COVID-19 vaccine tier: Phase 1b-Tier 2. That means that even more people will soon be eligible for a vaccine. And—for the first time—some minors will become eligible for the vaccine, as well.

Those eligible beginning later this month will include people 16 and older who are pregnant and people 16 and older with disabilities that put them at high-risk for severe illness. In April, the State estimates that people 16 and older with two or more underlying conditions that put them at higher risk of severe illness will also become eligible.

Parents and those 16 and older may have questions or concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine—and that is okay! Below are some answers to commonly asked questions about the vaccine that may help parents and minors decide whether the vaccine is right for them. And of course, if you don’t find the answers you are looking for here, talk to your child’s pediatrician.

Are children currently eligible for the vaccine?

At this moment, children are not eligible for the vaccine in Washington State. Those 16 and older who are pregnant and people 16 and older with disabilities that put them at high-risk for severe illness will be eligible when the state moves to the next tier (Phase 1b-Tier 2) on March 17th.

When will I know when my child is eligible?

To determine your child’s eligibility (or your own), visit www.findyourphasewa.org. After completing the online survey, you will be notified when you or your child become eligible for the vaccine. You can also find updates about eligibility on our website at www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine.

Is the vaccine safe for children?

The vaccines that have been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) thus far are safe for the ages included in their authorizations. At present, only the Pfizer vaccine is authorized for use in people 16 and older; the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are authorized for use in people 18 and older. Currently, there are no vaccines that have been authorized for use in ages younger than 16.

For more information about vaccine safety, visit: https://www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/COVID19/VaccineInformation/SafetyandEffectiveness#heading62095.

Have the vaccines been tested in children?

To date, only the Pfizer vaccine has been authorized for use in those 16 year and older. This is because the Pfizer vaccine included those 16 and older in clinical trials, and data was collected on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine on this population.

Vaccine developers are now studying their vaccines in younger adolescents between the ages of 12 and 16. Once these studies are complete, the developers will report the results and apply for authorization through the FDA to vaccinate children as young as 12. Developers will begin studying their vaccines in children between age 5 and 11 after results from adolescent trials are made available.

Are the vaccines effective in children?

The Pfizer vaccine (which has been authorized for those 16 years and older) boasts 95% protection against COVID-19 after an individual has received both doses of their vaccine. This is an extremely high level of protection! Please keep in mind that this is a two-dose vaccine, given 21 days apart. Your child will not be considered fully protected until two weeks after they receive their second dose.

Will the vaccine affect my child’s future fertility?

No. There is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine affects future fertility. Experts believe that COVID-19 vaccines are unlikely to pose a risk to a person trying to become pregnant in the short or long term. The COVID-19 vaccines are being studied carefully by scientists around the globe, and their safety will be studied continuously for many years, just like other vaccines.

My child has already had COVID-19. Should they still get the vaccine?

Yes, people should be vaccinated regardless of whether they already had COVID-19. Experts do not yet know how long people are protected from getting sick again after recovering from COVID-19, and information is still being gathered around how long protection lasts. If your child was treated for COVID-19 with monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma, talk to their doctor before making a vaccine appointment.

Should my child get the COVID-19 vaccine if they are currently sick with COVID-19?

No, it is recommended that those who are currently sick with COVID-19 should wait until they have fully recovered before receiving the vaccine. If you have questions, please consult your child’s pediatrician before scheduling a vaccine appointment.

Are there side effects after getting the vaccine?

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 where 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 child’s pediatrician about taking over-the-counter medicine, such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or antihistamines, for any pain and discomfort they may experience after getting vaccinated.

Note: If your child has experienced severe complications (such as anaphylaxis) in the past after receiving a vaccine, please consult their pediatrician before scheduling a COVID vaccine appointment.

Where can my child get the vaccine?

When your child becomes eligible for the vaccine, they will be able to schedule an appointment with any provider that is administering the Pfizer vaccine (which is authorized for use in those 16 years and older). To find a provider near you, visit: https://www.doh.wa.gov/YouandYourFamily/Immunization/VaccineLocations. You can also call Skagit County’s Vaccine Hotline at (360) 416-1500 for assistance.

Who should come to my child’s vaccine appointment and what should they bring with them?

Check with the vaccine provider for specific instructions regarding minors with vaccine appointments. For some providers, a parent or legal guardian may be required on-site at the time of the appointment in order to provide consent for vaccination of a minor.

If making an appointment at the Skagit County Fairgrounds Vaccine Site: Consent to vaccinate will be required for dependent minors. Dependent minors should either bring a parent/legal guardian with them to their appointment, or be prepared to have their parent/guardian provide verbal consent by phone at the time of their appointment. If a parent/guardian is planning to accompany a minor, please limit to one accompanying adult per patient. For more information about our clinic, visit: www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine.

How much will the vaccine cost?

The federal government will pay for the full cost of the vaccine. You should not be charged out of pocket costs or receive a bill from your provider for the COVID-19 vaccine administration fee.

As my child’s caregiver, am I also eligible to be vaccinated?

Most people will become eligible for vaccine based on their age, occupation type, or medical status. To find out if you are eligible, visit: www.findyourphasewa.org. You can also access the state’s full prioritization plan here: https://www.doh.wa.gov/Portals/1/Documents/1600/coronavirus/SummaryInterimVaccineAllocationPriortization.pdf.

If you are a caregiver of a child with disability who is eligible under Phase 1b-Tier 2, you may be eligible under Phase 1a. 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 your eligibility, visit findyourphasewa.org and respond “Yes” when asked if you work in a health care setting.

My child is over 16 and pregnant. Should they receive the vaccine?

There is currently no evidence that antibodies formed from COVID-19 vaccination cause any problems with pregnancy, including the development of the placenta. In addition, there is no evidence suggesting that fertility problems are a side effect of any vaccine. If you or your child has specific concerns, please consult your child’s physician.


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. 


Before Your Appointment: Recommendations from our Vaccine Nurses

Reading Time: 3 minutes

You finally got your vaccine appointment—awesome! So, now what?

As COVID-19 vaccine supply increases in Washington State, you will begin to see a lot more opportunities for people to schedule an appointment. However, with increased supply also comes more advice about how best to prepare your body before your vaccine appointment.

While some advice may be helpful, you may also begin to find suggestions circulating online, including some with little or no research backing them up. So, what’s credible and what’s not? Below is a helpful list of tips and reminders for the days leading up to your vaccination appointment—all of which come straight from the CDC and our vaccine clinic nurses.

Talk to your doctor about the vaccine

Before you make a vaccine appointment, be sure to talk to your doctor if you have concerns. Also, those with a history of severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) to vaccine or injectable (intramuscular or intravenous) medication should consult with their health provider to assess risk prior to receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

Don’t get a COVID-19 vaccine at the same time as other vaccines

Wait at least 14 days before getting any other vaccine, including a flu or shingles vaccine, after you get your COVID-19 vaccine. If you get any other vaccine first, wait at least 14 days before getting your COVID-19 vaccine. This is because there is currently limited information on the safety and effectiveness of getting other vaccines at the same time as a COVID-19 vaccine.

As more information becomes available, this recommendation may change. Your healthcare provider can help you decide the best vaccination schedule for you and your family.

Consult your doctor if taking medication for underlying medical conditions

For most people, it is not recommended to avoid, discontinue, or delay medications for underlying medical conditions around the time of COVID-19 vaccination. However, your healthcare provider should talk to you about what is currently known and not known about the effectiveness of getting a COVID-19 vaccine when taking medications that suppress the immune system.

If you have questions about medications that you are taking, talk to your doctor or your vaccination provider.

Don’t take a pain killer beforehand to prevent vaccine-related side effects

It is not recommended you take over-the-counter medicine, such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or acetaminophen, before vaccination for the purpose of trying to prevent vaccine-related side effects. It is not known how these medications may affect how well the vaccine works.

However, if you take these medications regularly for other reasons, you should keep taking them before you get vaccinated. It is also not recommended to take antihistamines before getting a COVID-19 vaccine to try to prevent allergic reactions.

If you currently have COVID-19 or if you’ve been exposed recently—WAIT!

If you have tested positive for COVID-19 or been exposed to someone who has the illness, you should not go to the vaccination site to get your shot until your symptoms and isolation period have passed.

However, if you have had COVID-19 in the past and have since recovered, it is recommended that you get the vaccine. If you were treated for COVID-19 with monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma, you should wait 90 days before getting a COVID-19 vaccine. Talk to your doctor if you are unsure what treatments you received or if you have more questions about getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

Talk to your doctor if you have severe reactions after your first dose

If you receive an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine (Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine or Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine), you will need two shots to get the most protection. If you receive the viral vector COVID-19 vaccine, Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen (J&J/Janssen) COVID-19 vaccine, you will only need one shot.

You should get your second shot even if you have minor side effects after the first shot unless a vaccination provider or your doctor tells you not to get it. If you experience severe reactions to your first dose (such as anaphylaxis), your doctor may advise you against receiving your second dose.

Give your body what it needs!

And lastly—take care of yourself before the big day! Before your appointment, make sure to stay hydrated and eat some nutritious foods. Try to limit alcohol intake prior to your vaccination and get some good sleep the night before. You’ll want to continue practicing these habits for a day or two after your appointment, as well.


My Vaccination Experience

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Post by Rosemary Alpert, contributing author.

Across the country, vaccination distribution is ramping up. Each week, Skagit Public Health has been working diligently to provide updated, reliable information and notice on vaccine availability. Together, we have experienced an unbelievable year of unknowns, questions and challenges. Each of us, hopefully, doing the best we can and getting the most updated accurate information. 

Since June, I’ve had a firsthand viewpoint on the pandemic, registering thousands of community members to get tested for COVID-19, and now as a part of the vaccination team. Last week, I had the privilege to receive my second Moderna vaccination. Prior to receiving my first vaccination, I had heard all kinds of rumors, including what I read scrolling through social media platforms. I understand how challenging it can be to keep up with information pertaining to the vaccines. And most importantly, making sure to get information from reliable sources. 

My vaccination experience

Engaging with the community has reminded me how unique we all are. Our responses and reactions to COVID-19 and the vaccination are also individual. I would like to share my experience. Because of this work at the testing site, in early January, I was able to receive my first vaccination. My reactions to the first shot were a sore arm and tired the day after receiving the vaccine. I rested and was grateful.  

Prior to receiving my second shot, I heard the possibility of a stronger reaction. Since the data is still being gathered, I had no idea how my body would respond. Some people that I talked with post second shot had little reactions to full blown flu-like symptoms. Within 24 hours of receiving the second vaccination, I experienced a whopper headache, chills, body aches, fever and extreme exhaustion. As uncomfortable as I felt, I knew my body was responding to the vaccine. I personally waited 24 hours before I took a Tylenol for the headache and fever. I rested, kept hydrated and the fever passed.

Within a few days, I felt reinvigorated and sincerely appreciated the opportunity to receive the vaccine.  

Reflections post-vaccination

While resting, I thought about all the lives touched by this virus. Tears fell for the 500,000 people who have died, along with thoughts for their family and friends. Also, grateful for the incredible medical teams of nurses and doctors across the country caring for the patients and administering vaccinations. This reinforced how important it is to be informed with accurate information.  

Upon returning to work, I spoke with my most reliable sources and true “Rock Stars,” the lead nurses at the testing/vaccination site. I shared my body’s response and they said, “That’s great! You have a strong immune system!” I felt much better hearing their words.

Over these many months, the nurses, in addition to the Skagit County Public Health website, have kept me informed. I asked the nurses about frequently asked questions they hear and any suggestions they have pertaining to the vaccinations. Here are their responses. 

Can I get COVID-19 from the vaccine? 
NO. The vaccine contains a “blueprint” for a specific type of protein so your immune system can recognize that protein if you become exposed to the virus. The vaccine does not contain the actual virus.

Can I take a pain reliever for any symptoms after receiving the vaccine? 
Yes, you can. Research says that people can take an anti-inflammatory and it doesn’t affect the efficacy of the vaccine. 

Which arm should I get the vaccine?
It doesn’t matter. 

The nurses also provided the following suggestions: 

  • Please eat before you come to get your vaccination. 
  • Don’t be afraid of reactions; it’s your body responding. 
  • Be aware of physical and emotional responses. Some people are overwhelmed with relief, gratitude and hope. This can be a tender time. 
  • Please keep wearing your masks and social distancing, even after receiving your second vaccination.  
  • Get your information from reliable sources, not social media. The CDC is always a great place to start, and the WA Department of Health has great information pertinent to our state specifically.  
  • Reach out to assist community members who may not have access to computers. 

Common Side Effects

Each of us responds differently to vaccinations, and this is normal. The side effects that I experienced post-vaccine—though uncomfortable—all fell within the normal range.

In large clinical trials, most side effects have been minor. When side effects occur, they typically last just a few days. A side effect or reaction isn’t necessarily all bad, by the way; it may indicate that the body is building protection against the virus.

Common side effects may include:

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

Severe Side Effects

Rarely, a potentially life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis may occur, most often in people known to have had severe vaccine reactions in the past. Signs of anaphylaxis include:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Swelling of the face and throat
  • Rash
  • Low blood pressure.

Severe side effects usually occur soon after vaccination and can be treated with epinephrine (like an EpiPen). That’s why people are observed for at least 15 minutes after receiving the vaccine with epinephrine at the ready. If you experience any severe reactions post vaccination, please call your doctor or go to emergency department immediately.

V-Safe After Vaccination Health Checker

People can download the V-safe smartphone-based tool that uses text messaging and web surveys to provide personalized health check-ins after you receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Through V-safe, you can quickly tell CDC if you have any side effects after getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Depending on your answers, someone from CDC may call to check on you and get more information. For more information, visit: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/safety/vsafe.html.

As a community, we are moving forward. Please keep informed and share reliable sources with your family, friends and neighbors. March is here, spring is approaching, and hope is refreshingly leading the way forward. Stay Healthy! 

For more information about the Fairgrounds Vaccine Clinic, call the Skagit County Public Health COVID Vaccine Hotline at 360-416-1500 or visit www.skagitcounty.net/covidvaccine.

Re-emerging Lupines, ©Rosemary DeLucco Alpert, 2021