Are playgrounds re-opening? What you need to know.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I was scrolling through my social media newsfeed on a recent Saturday morning, when a particular post caught my eye: Mount Vernon playgrounds have re-opened. As a mom of a toddler who has been shut out of all playgrounds and splash-pads this summer, I nearly jumped for joy. My first thought was, “FINALLY! Shoes on! Let’s go!” … But then reality set in. Is it too soon? Is it safe? All the anxieties of the past six months flooded my brain and I spent the rest of the morning debating about our next move.

After quickly scoping out our nearest park, I decided that we would give it a try. My daughter couldn’t put her shoes on fast enough when I told her we could go. Before I knew it, we were walking up to her favorite twisty slide, and she looked back at me with reservation in her eyes. It felt so alien to be at a playground again, and even weirder to encourage her to climb onto the steps.  

All in all, it was a wonderful morning. She had a blast! But I was glad that I’d talked to my daughter about my expectations before we went, and about how we had to continue to be careful about keeping our distance when around others. Here are some things that I took into account before we left the house that may be helpful for you and your family.

Talk to your child about keeping their distance

Even though playgrounds may be reopening, we should be trying our best to keep a six-foot distance from others, and this can be really hard to accomplish between children at a playground! Talk to your child before you leave the house about what your expectations are, and even practice what six feet looks like. Discuss some things that your child can say if another child is getting too close, and reassure them that you will be there to help them.

Note: While you may be able to control what your own child is doing, it may be difficult to make sure other children are keeping their distance. Stay close to your child and discuss any concerns that you may have with the parents/caregivers of the other children at the playground (if it becomes problematic). If it is too difficult to keep distance, be prepared to leave.

Go during “non-peak” hours

Go to the playground when it isn’t busy, and leave (or take a snack break and come back) if it gets crowded. Though the park was empty when we arrived in mid-morning, within several minutes we were greeted by two other families. I think if we went again, I’d make a point to go earlier (since it was a sunny Saturday, after all) or maybe even a bit later in the afternoon. Keeping your distance—as mentioned above—is much easier to achieve if the playground isn’t crowded.

Take the usual health precautions

This is nothing new, but it is important to keep in mind regardless! Adults and children must wear masks when at the playground (exception being children younger than two  years old and those with health exemptions), and sanitize your hands often. Bring some hand sanitizer with you to have in your pocket, and talk to your child about avoiding touching their eyes, nose, and mouth.

Be sure to follow the signs!

Some parks may not have opened their restroom facilities yet, so make alternate plans for going to the restroom. If the facilities are open, be sure to wear your mask and try to avoid congregating in big crowds. When you are using the restroom families, take the opportunity to wash everyone’s hands! Hand sanitizer is great, but nothing beats good, old-fashioned soap and water.

Weigh the pros and cons

I had to wrestle with the pros and cons of going back to the playground and even made a few false starts before we actually made it there that morning. Even though being outdoors lowers the risks of infection, there are absolutely some risks associated with crowding and contaminated surfaces. In the end, I trust the benefits to our mental health outweigh the potential risks. That being said, I made sure to follow instructions on all posted signage, and practiced safe distancing and proper hygiene throughout our trip. I also don’t know if we will continue to go if the parks begin to get crowded. I guess I’ll make that judgment call when and if the time comes.  

Take care of yourself, and take care of others. Oh, and don’t forget the sunscreen!


Back to School: Create a Schedule that Works

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Along with Skagit school districts’ back-to-school reopening plans, each school has provided students with a schedule. While it is very important to become familiar with this academic schedule, it is also important to develop a schedule at home that will work for your student, as well as the rest of the household. Here are some ideas that may help bring a sense of clarity to your weekly routine. 

1. Compartmentalize your day

For anyone who’s been working from home the past several months, you have probably weighed the costs and benefits of compartmentalizing your day. When the work day bleeds into the work evening, then into the work weekend, it becomes really important to define your time—for your mental health, if nothing else.

The same holds true for your child! Create a routine in which your student gets up, gets dressed and has breakfast, then progresses into their school day. While it can be tempting, it is important to change out of pajamas (at least from time to time!) and put on some day-time clothing. Compartmentalize the day into natural chunks of time: morning classes, lunch, afternoon classes, and end-of-day. The late afternoon should include a period of free time to allow your child to decompress from the day and to wrap up their school work.

2. Take breaks and eat well

Along these same lines, be sure that your student takes breaks and sets aside a time to have lunch. It can be easy for kids to snack while they work, and to eat lunch at their study space. However, it is good for the mind and body to take a breather and spend some time in a different part of the house or outside.

For breaks, it may be helpful to take 15-20 minutes every few hours (or more often, for younger children). Be sure that your child knows that taking a moment to breathe, stretch, and come back to their work is extremely important (even adults need to do this!). If your child is really struggling with a project or assignment, encourage taking a quick break.

3. Get organized

It may be helpful to work with your child on reviewing their weekly academic calendar and any due dates that they may have for assignments. A planner (either paper or digital) could be a great tool for some students, while others may need something that is easily accessible and clearly visible. Just like in a school classroom, your child may find it helpful to have a whiteboard by their desk with a list of assignments, or even a large calendar with due dates clearly marked. This may also be a good thing for you, as the parent, since you can keep track of your child’s schedule from afar.

4. Get active…daily!

This is critical for your child’s physical and mental health. When the weather still permits, encourage your child to go outside to take a walk or bike ride. For younger kids, their local playground may be re-opening! Be sure to talk about keeping distance from others, even when outside, and wear a mask if in a more crowded area.

When the weather starts to turn chilly and/or rainy (or smoky), find some things to do indoors that get their blood flowing! Exercise and dance videos can be fun, and even stretching can be done in small spaces. Doing the same activities every day can get tiresome, so encourage your student to try different ways to get moving. And if you can, do it with them!

5. Encourage socialization

Your child might be excited to get back to school, even if it is remote and online. It may be the first time in a while that they have seen some of their friends and peers after a long COVID summer, and this re-engagement might be a seriously needed mood-booster. But don’t be surprised if by October your student is feeling burned out on online schooling. This kind of socialization might not be enough for many children, and it is okay to admit that!

When your child is feeling antsy or moody, encourage some socialization with friends. While it isn’t advised to schedule in-person meetups with large groups of friends, an occasional get-together between “besties” can be really good for your child’s mental health. Arrange a playdate outdoors for young children (being mindful of the 5-person per week limit), and for older students, maybe a study session outdoors? Take care to maintain social distancing and have your child wear a face covering. While it isn’t “school like usual” with the variety of opportunities to interact, a few social activities a month can go a long way to promote health and wellbeing.

6. Be flexible!

Expect the need to shake things up. A routine is awesome and a schedule is great, but sometimes things just don’t go as planned, and it is okay to modify it if necessary. There will be days that your student is rocking it and crossing off one assignment after another. However, there will also be days when PJs and a bubble bath are the most important thing. Both are okay. 

What we are asking of our youth right now is unprecedented, and we must always keep our children’s health at the forefront. If you ever feel like your child is struggling, connect with their teacher (or other school staff) and ask for some advice. You don’t need to take on these challenging times alone.


Include Preparations for Diseases in Your Emergency Planning

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Guest post by Skagit County Emergency Management

Emergencies come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes they become stacked on top of each other — like dealing with flood or wildfire season during a pandemic. Skagit County Department of Emergency Management recommends that you take the time to revise your family emergency plans to consider how you will keep your family safe in the event of an emergency during a disease outbreak. These plans will be critical not only during COVID-19, but in the case of possible future outbreaks of other diseases.

The most important thing you can do in preparation for emergencies during a pandemic or disease outbreak is to learn about and practice effective infection control. Illnesses are usually spread through the air (when someone coughs or sneezes) or through contact (you touch something contaminated, then touch your face). The easiest and most effective way to limit disease spread is to frequently wash your hands, use good cough and sneeze hygiene, and avoid close contact with ill people.

So how can you work those preventions into your family emergency plans? (You do have a plan, don’t you?) Focus on being able to keep your hands and face clean, to clean surfaces if needed, and to maintain space.

Some examples of things you should consider:

  • Keep a supply of face masks, hand sanitizer, and tissues in your go bag for every person in your house. Wear a face mask whenever you are around other people.
  • Practice good cough and sneeze hygiene:
    • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
    • Throw away used tissues in a lined trash can.
    • Immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
    • For answers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to frequently asked questions about handwashing, just click here.
  • Stock supplies to disinfect surfaces, whether in your home or at an evacuation location.
  • Consider how social distancing will work if you have to evacuate — maintain enough space from others with only a small amount of time spent close to people outside of your household. Plan on having enough supplies so you don’t have to borrow from anyone you don’t live with, and maintain enough space between you and other households to limit contact. Be aware that you may need to travel farther away from home to find shelter; in order to maintain social distancing, local evacuation centers may not be able to serve as many people as normal.
  • Be sure water sources are safe and surfaces are effectively cleaned during and after an event. Standing water and open sewage are places of contamination and disease spread.
  • Know where to get verified information, not only for evacuations and weather, but also regarding disease information. The Washington State Department of Health and Skagit County Public Health are good sources of current, local information.
  • Know the signs of any major illnesses in the area. For example, the CDC recently updated the range of COVID-19 symptoms, including:
    • Fever or chills
    • Cough
    • Shortness of breath or difficult breathing
    • Fatigue
    • Muscle or body aches
    • Headache
    • New loss of taste or smell
    • Sore throat
    • Congestion or runny nose
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Diarrhea
  • Think through how you can keep others safe if you were to fall ill during an emergency. Plan ahead for a safe location where you can maintain appropriate distance from other people if you need to leave your home. Consider ways to limit other’s exposure to you, such as wearing a face mask and isolation.

Planning for emergencies is a never-ending process. If you don’t have a plan, talk with your household and come up with one. If you do, you can find ways to make your plan better. Adding a few things to your plan to keep you healthy during a disease outbreak — even if it’s not a pandemic — makes you and your family better prepared for anything that happens.


Healthy Community Recovery: Add Your Voice

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Skagitonians have discovered a wide range of fun and interesting ways to capture their day-to-day COVID living: creating video montages of each day using the 1 Second Everyday app, photobooks of puzzles completed, “QuaranTime capsules,” COVID plays, song parodies, and more. Cataloging these trying times in creative ways helps us process our new reality and expand our connectivity. Also, these activities will give us tangible ways to look back on these strange days when we emerge from the crisis.

The Population Health Trust (often known as the Trust) has another way for individuals and families to capture their experiences with COVID-19—a way that will help us understand the behavioral, economic, social and emotional impacts resulting from the outbreak. We are rolling out the Community Recovery-Oriented Needs Assessment (CORONA survey), which is open for responses between now and the end of September. By participating in the CORONA survey, you will add your voice to this countywide discussion.

Survey participants can opt into a prize drawing! Take the survey today!

It is the Trust’s role to pull together information from across the community, determine key health issues facing Skagitonians, and devise a strategic plan for regaining health and wellness. We need to understand the variety of ways that COVID-19 has impacted you and your family in order to prioritize the critical needs arising as a result of COVID-19. 

You can support our community’s recovery by completing the CORONA survey at wacoronasurvey.com. To take the survey by phone, call 855-530-5787; interpreters are available to assist. We rely on your experiences and needs to drive our work toward healthy community recovery. Thank you for taking the time to add your knowledge and perspective to this community conversation.


Back to School: Create A Space

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Well, folks … “COVID Summer” is almost officially in the rear-view mirror, and autumn is quickly approaching. Our local school districts have announced their fall re-opening plans, and families all around Skagit County are preparing for remote learning, at least for the foreseeable future. While these changes to normal life can feel intimidating, frustrating, and even emotional, we can take comfort in knowing that there are things we can do to support our at-home learners.

In order to help your student stay engaged this school year, there are several things to consider before school begins. Over the next few weeks, we will be posting about different topics that promote healthy, engaged, and effective learning environments for students, parents, and the family as a whole.

Today’s topic is all about SPACE!

In a typical school environment, students are given space: a desk, cubby, locker, or even a special place on a carpet. These spots are so important because it gives children a sense of belonging and purpose within their learning space. Now that students are doing the bulk (if not all) of their schooling at home, this personal space is even more crucial.

Here are some things to consider:

1. Type of Space

The type of space your child will need depends on their age. Young, elementary-age students will most likely need less structured space than an older child. Younger children will have a lot of questions, and may feel more comfortable being in a family space. While they will still need a table top for a tablet or laptop, much of their work could be completed on the dining room table (or even the floor!).

Older elementary school students and middle schoolers will require a desk with space for their laptop, as well as room for writing. These students will be required to log into virtual classrooms for longer periods of time, and may benefit from having their computer camera face a wall. That way, the student doesn’t need to be concerned about what is happening around them at home, and they can control what appears on the screen behind them.

High schoolers will need the most structured space, so a full-sized desk would be ideal. At this age, it may make sense to ask your high schooler about what type of environment would work best for them, and make a plan with their preferences in mind. For self-starters, maybe a desk in their room would work best. For social butterflies, perhaps having a space that still allows for controlled socialization would be the most effective.

2. Rotating/Flexible Space

Just like in a classroom setting, expect that your student will want to move around a bit. Elementary students are used to having different learning stations in the class, and middle and high schoolers move from room to room throughout the school day. It is okay—and even healthy—to allow for some movement at home. Maybe reading can be done on the couch, but all writing assignments should be done at the table. Maybe artwork can be done on the floor, and “class” can be moved outdoors on a beautiful, crisp autumn afternoon. Plan for some flexible learning space, and have expectations worked out with your children ahead of time.

3. Privacy and Limiting Distractions

There are so many distractions in our homes—TVs, toys, backyards, and soft couches for naps—so it is crucial to create a space that minimizes distractions and creates some privacy. For many, it may not be feasible to create an office space for each child, but there are some ways to get creative with space. An empty closet turned into a learning cubby, a strategically placed tri-fold on the dining room table, or a cute side table at the end of the hall can create “study stations” that feel purposeful—not thrown together—and keep distractions at bay.

For parents who aren’t able to be at home during the school day, talk to your students about cellphone usage during the day and make a plan about when (if at all) things like TV are allowed. Look into parental control options for TVs, smartphones, or tablets, if necessary.

3. Promote Health

Despite our best intentions, there is a good chance that our kids will end up doing a portion of their work from the couch, their bed, or sprawled out on the floor with their feet above their heads. When they are seated, try to make sure that their computer monitor and keyboard are at proper heights, and that the lighting won’t strain their eyes. Encourage your child to get up, stretch, and drink plenty of water during the day. All of these activities have been proven to help with information retention among youth.

4. Personalization

Your child may be feeling a bit bummed out about this new school year, and rightly so. By allowing them to personalize their own space, you can help to bring some of the fun and excitement back to “Back to School” prep. Not only will they be excited to use their new special space, the act of creating this space will give them a sense of ownership. Encourage your child to make the space their own, and allow them to decorate with pictures, quotes—whatever!—that makes them smile and feel good.

It is expected that there will be some bumps along the way, so if your system in September doesn’t seem to be working come October … switch it up! This year is all about experimenting, so try to have some fun with it. See you in the next edition!


What’s worse than a pandemic?! A pandemic during flu season!

Reading Time: 2 minutes

It’s the end of August-the weather is cooling down, the kids are headed back to (virtual) school and pumpkin spice is available once again. Flu season is also just around the corner and this year it’s more important than ever that everyone get a flu vaccine as soon as possible—ideally by the end of October.

Why is it important to get a flu vaccine?

There are lots of great reasons to get a flu vaccine: namely, that it prevents you from getting the seasonal flu, an uncomfortable and potentially deadly illness. Some facts:

  • During the 2016-2017 flu season, vaccinations prevented an estimated 5.3 million illnesses, 2.6 million medical visits and 85,000 flu-associated hospitalizations.
  • Vaccination for people with chronic health conditions can help lessen the severity of the illness and prevent hospitalization or other negative health outcomes.
  • Vaccinating pregnant persons has been shown to not only protect the individual from the flu, but to protect the baby from flu infection for several months after birth before the baby can be vaccinated themselves at age 6 months.  

Additionally, COVID-19 (a respiratory illness with some symptoms in common with the flu) is still very present in our communities. Vaccination can prevent confusion on illnesses and reduce strain on already overburdened healthcare systems. Getting vaccinated for the flu will help keep testing, hospital beds and medical care available for COVID-19 patients who will need it the most.

I got one last year, do I need to get one again?

Yes. The seasonal flu virus mutates quickly. The virus is constantly changing, so flu vaccines are specially manufactured each year to best match/protect you from the current common viral strains of flu. Further, protection from a flu vaccine declines over time so yearly vaccination is needed for protection.

Can I get the flu from a vaccine?

No. Flu shots are made using either a dead version of the flu virus (called inactivated vaccines) or without virus at all (recombinant vaccines). Some minor side effects are relatively common like soreness, redness and/or swelling at the injection site, low grade fever and some muscle aches. You can talk to your medical provider or pharmacist about side effects and what to expect or watch out for in yourself and any kids you’re taking to get vaccinated.

Are flu vaccines safe?

Yes. Flu vaccines have an excellent safety record. Hundreds of millions of Americans have safely received flu vaccines over the past 50 years and extensive research supports the safety of seasonal flu vaccines. More information on the safety of flu vaccines is available at: www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/vaccine/vaccinesafety.htm.

Where can I get vaccinated?

Vaccination will be available through your primary care provider, health clinics and many pharmacies. You can also search for vaccines through Vaccinefinder.org.   

When will COVID-19 vaccines be available?

We honestly don’t know. Testing is still being conducted to ensure the effectiveness and safety of a variety of potential COVID-19 vaccines. Public Health is working now in planning efforts with our vaccine partners so we will be ready when COVID-19 vaccines become available in Washington State.  Be aware that the initial vaccine supplies will be limited and so will be targeted for the people at highest risk.  As soon as we have more information, we’ll let you know.


Visiting Loved Ones in Long-Term Care Facilities and Nursing Homes – Latest Guidelines

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Governor Inslee recently announced new visiting rules for long-term care facilities and nursing homes, which will give some families and friends increased access to see their loved ones. We know that people who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities are often older adults and people with chronic health conditions—the groups who are at highest risk of complications from COVID-19. Since people live together in close proximity in these facilities, COVID-19 can easily spread within these environments, so protections were put in place to safeguard residents from the disease.

The new visiting rules will include a four-phase plan that is different from the state’s four-phase Safe Start Plan for counties that you may have heard about. Nursing homes and long-term care facilities cannot be in a more advanced phase than the counties they are in (Skagit County is currently in phase 2). Facilities will also stay in phase 1 if the local COVID case rate per 100,000 residents exceeds 75, which Skagit County currently exceeds as of August 26.

The new rules took effect on August 12, and family members should check with the facility their loved one lives in, because not every site may be able to conduct visits right away. It may take some time for facilities to work through the application and approval process with Washington State.

What will visiting look like in the different phases?

Depending on the phase, visiting access will differ. As of the time of this article, Skagit County remains in phase 1 with a high risk level.

Long-Term Care Facilities in Phase 1:

  • Indoor visits are limited to compassionate care situations. Compassionate care situations include end-of-life circumstances and for psychosocial needs (ex. distress brought on by the death of a loved one or a sudden lifestyle change).
  • Outdoor visits are allowed and limited to two visitors per resident per visit. These visits must include masking, social distancing, and appropriate hygiene.
  • Facilities may invite “window visits” at their discretion with safety protocols in place.
  • Remote visitation through technology must be facilitated.

Additional Access for Long-Term Care Facilities in Phase 2:

  • Adds ability of a designated “essential support person” to visit a resident once per day if the resident is unable to participate in outdoor visits and if remote visitation technology is unavailable.

Additional Access for Long-Term Care Facilities in Phase 3:

  • Indoor visits are generally permitted, with limitations. Facilities will establish visitor hours, visitor limits, and safety precautions. Preference should be given to outdoor visits.

Additional Access for Long-Term Care Facilities in Phase 4:

  • Normal visitation resumes.
The graduated restart plan is based off of the Washington State Safe Start Model.

Families should also know that a facility or agency must meet certain criteria before entering a new phase, including a current 28-day period without a resident or staff member testing positive for COVID-19 and having at least a 14-day supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) stocked.

Questions or Need Help for a Loved One?

This can be a stressful time for family members and caregivers. Washington State has established a FamHelp Long-Term Care Phone Hotline at (888) 856-5691 that is open between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. to answer questions about long-term care and other DSHS facilities.


I’m traveling and I might be sick … what do I do?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

COVID-19 spreads quickly between individuals when in close contact with each other, like when on airplanes, trains or in cars. Sitting in close contact with anyone you don’t live with for a prolonged period of time puts you at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Further, when driving long distances, you increase the likelihood that you’ll come into contact with more people than you normally would (stopping at gas stations or rest areas when driving, getting food, etc…).

This is why Public Health strongly discourages people from traveling outside of their immediate geographic area right now. We’ve said it repeatedly: Now is not the time to go see Grandma in Arizona or travel to your cousin’s wedding in Missouri. In fact, we wouldn’t even encourage you to get lunch with a friend in Seattle right now.

However, our case investigation data is showing that people are still traveling, and unfortunately, some are getting sick. Some of this travel is essential, like for work or to care for an ill family member. But all travel puts the traveler, the communities they visit, and their home community and family at risk. So, we feel compelled to explain what one should do if they’re far from home and start to get that cough and fever (or any other COVID-19 symptom) we all dread right now.

First, and most importantly: DO NOT TRY TO GET HOME.

If you’ve got symptoms, you need to hunker down wherever you are and do your best not to expose anyone else to the illness. Do not go to the store, do not let housekeeping clean your hotel room, and do not get back on an airplane. When you’re symptomatic, especially in the first days, it’s likely you’re highly contagious. You have a personal responsibility to not be in close contact with other people and not put them at risk of contracting COVID-19.

Related to this, anyone in your travel party (or any other close contacts you’ve had) shouldn’t travel or continue to be around other people either. The average person is contagious two days before symptoms present, so anyone you’ve been in close contact with (sharing a car, hotel room, sitting next to each other on airplane, etc.) has likely already contracted COVID-19 by the time your symptoms start to present. They also have a responsibility to not put anyone at risk and quarantine themselves so that COVID-19 doesn’t further spread to others

Second: Seek testing and, if you need it, medical care.

Wherever you are at, some kind of medical care should be available. If you have active symptoms, get tested as soon as possible. If you are the travel companion of a person with symptoms, wait 6-8 days after your companion’s symptoms started, and then seek testing.

Third: Cooperate with contact tracers.

It’s likely that if you’ve been traveling, you’ve come into contact with others who may now also be infected. Sharing that information with contact tracers is vital to prevent a cluster from growing. The information you share is confidential.  

Fourth: If your test comes back positive, you will need to isolate.

You will need to isolate for at least 10 days since the onset of symptoms (or test date, if you are asymptomatic). It is absolutely vital that you or anyone you have been traveling in close contact with do not get on an airplane, or any other sort of public transportation, during this time.

As you can see, traveling does not just increase your risk of getting sick, it also increases your risk of being stuck away from home while you are sick. This could mean out-of-network medical bills, prolonged hotel stays, and a need to change travel plans, which could be costly. This is not to mention being far from your support networks and trusted medical care. If you are choosing to travel right now, you need to have a plan in place to ensure you can quarantine or isolate wherever you are headed if the need arises.

If you are stuck somewhere and are unable to safely stay where you are, Public Health recommends renting a car and driving home. It will be important that you stop as little as possible, wear a mask whenever you have to get out of a car and try to sanitize anything you touch as you go. Every time you get out of the car, you risk exposing others to the virus—the customers and workers at the gas station or restaurant, housekeeping at the hotel, etc. Again, it’s important to remember that even if you’re the only one in your travel party exhibiting symptoms, it’s likely that your whole travel party is already infected and also contagious. Everyone needs to take the same level of precautions.

COVID-19 has taken a lot of things away from us, travel being one of them. Please, act responsibly so we can take care of each other and get back to normal as soon as possible.


Your Choices Matter: Gather Safe, Gather Small This Labor Day

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Over the last two weeks, we have seen a reduction in the number of new cases each day in Skagit County and throughout Washington State—and that’s great! But context matters. With Labor Day coming up, Public Health is concerned that we could see another spike in cases related to social and family gatherings. About ten days after every major holiday since the start of the pandemic, we have seen a fairly significant spike in cases, mostly related to gatherings. Unless folks continue to make good choices, we expect Labor Day will be no exception.

So, what can you do over Labor Day weekend to ensure that cases don’t increase in the following weeks?

Just think: Gather safe, gather small.

What is “Gather small”?

Gathering small means gathering with no more than five people you don’t live with in any given week. Skagit County is in Phase 2 of the Safe Start—Reopening Washington plan, under which you are not allowed to gather with more than five people you don’t live with each week. This means that if you have dinner with four people on Friday night (or any weeknight leading up to Labor Day), you can only see one additional person throughout Labor Day weekend.

Gather small

What is “Gather safe?

We’d all like there to be a silver bullet, but gathering safe means following Public Health and Washington State Department of Health guidelines for mask wearing, social distancing and hand hygiene. As a reminder:

  • Masks should be worn any time you’re in the company of someone you don’t live with. This includes outdoor activities, private social gatherings, and indoor interactions. Masks reduce the likelihood of transmission by up to 70 percent. If you’re going to gather at all, wear a mask.
  • Host gatherings outside and keep six feet apart from anyone you don’t live with. COVID-19 travels when a person coughs, talks, sneezes, sings, etc. Staying six feet apart reduces the likelihood that someone’s infected particles will get into your system and vice versa.
  • Wash or sanitize your hands frequently. Have a hand sanitizer setup that people can easily access.
  • Ideally, plan your gathering without food at all. Consumption of food requires removing your mask, and once the masks come off, it’s hard to get people to put it back on. If you want to have food, don’t share. At all. Labor Day and other upcoming holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas are times where we would typically share a meal with our loved ones and friends, but it is safest to not share communal food or drinks right now. Have folks bring their own food and drink or prepare separate plates for everyone—no shared potlucks during the pandemic.
  • Make a plan ahead of time and talk about boundaries. Set out chairs and/or tables with proper distance prior to arrival. Talk about keeping masks on and maintaining six feet of distance before you commit to the gathering. Let guests know they should not come inside to help with any food prep and what will happen if they need to use the restroom.
  • Assess your personal risk and comfort and show compassion for others who may need to set firmer boundaries.
  • Also, don’t attend if you feel any ill at all. It’s not worth the risk.
Gather safe

We all want cases to continue trending downward. Looking toward the fall flu season, some school districts going back to in-person session, and everyone spending more time indoors and in enclosed spaces, it’s vital that we get the virus under control—now. Please, make good choices this holiday weekend and gather safe, gather small. Every one of us has a chance to make a difference.


Reach Out: We Can All Do Our Part

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Social distancing has impacted us all differently. For some people, it has meant spending day-in and day-out with antsy children, while others have had way too much time on their hands. Others may be experiencing unexpected financial hardship due to COVID-19, causing an increase in stress and anxiety.

For some older adults in our community, social distancing has put a lot of new restrictions on their ability to access care and resources, as well as their ability to connect with the outside world. Thankfully, there is a lot each individual can do to support the emotional well-being of our senior population. We can all do our part!

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has a list of ideas for reaching out to our senior population during this time:

  1. Check in regularly on your older adult friends, neighbors and family members.
  2. Call or video chat with them, since texting and social media may not be the best method of connecting. (Note: You may need to help friends and loved ones with new technology!)
  3. Seek advice from them based on their experience and wisdom. People realizing they are needed can make all the difference!
  4. Ask how they are doing during this period of time, how their routines might have had to change, and what kinds of things they are doing to cope with the stress. Encourage your loved ones to stay connected with community by reaching out to your local senior center for ideas.  
  5. Encourage them to keep doing activities that are safe during COVID for their local area, and that they identify as being most helpful for them, such as daily exercise or a walk, stretching, listening to or playing music, reading, enjoying favorite or humorous shows, puzzles, games, social activities, and meditation or prayer. Here are some activity ideas from AARP, and the National Institute on Aging. (Note: While it is still required that we keep a 6-foot distance and wear masks, there are many safe activities that can be done outdoors with loved ones that follow these requirements and minimize chances of transmission.)
  6. Help them seek medical advice or care if they are experiencing symptoms of physical or mental health decline.
  7. Offer to bring them a meal, run an errand, or walk their dog. Call Skagit County Public Health at (360) 416-1500 to get information about senior nutrition assistance.
  8. Express gratitude and appreciation for any support you get from your relationship with them. Let them know what you admire about the way they conduct their life.

All of the above ideas can be accomplished without much direct physical interaction, which is great during a time when we must adhere to social distancing requirements. It is important to remember that there is a big difference between “social distancing” versus “physical distancing.” Just because we are keeping our physical distance does not mean that we cannot still socialize. We just need to be more mindful about the ways we do it!

When connecting with loved ones, make sure to look out for possible signs of social isolation, anxiety, or depression. It is important to reach out early and often, because mental health issues—just like physical health issues—can become very serious if left unchecked.

Signs that a person might be isolated:

  • Deep boredom, general lack of interest and withdrawal
  • Losing interest in personal hygiene
  • Poor eating and nutrition
  • Significant disrepair, clutter and hoarding in the home

Where can you find support if you recognize any of the signs above?

If someone is experiencing excess stress due to COVID-19, call Washington Listens at 833-681-0211 for support and resources.

What to do if someone is experiencing a mental health crisis?

Where can you direct local seniors if they are experiencing hardship due to quarantine or isolation?

At-risk individuals who are in quarantine or isolation and find themselves in need of assistance with getting/picking up supplies or food can call the Skagit County Resource Assistance Line at (360) 416-1892 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. daily.