That’s a Wrap for the Skagit County Fairgrounds COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic

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This Saturday, June 26th, marks the final day of operation for the Skagit County Fairgrounds COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic. This clinic, run by Skagit County Public Health, has been in operation consistently since December 2020 when the COVID-19 vaccine first became available in Washington state.

Before the Vaccine Site opened, a robust drive-through test site was already operating at the Fairgrounds by Public Health’s crew. In November of 2020, Skagit County Public Health was in desperate need of a new location for its COVID-19 Drive-through Test Site. Severe weather had literally ripped the tents out of the ground at the Test Site’s original location at Skagit Valley College. The Fairgrounds allowed for a safer—and slightly warmer—work environment, which provided a much-needed morale boost for our wind-worn staff.

Once established in the Fairgrounds F-Barn, Public Health quickly got its Test Site back up and running, administering over 10,690 tests until testing operations closed on March 12th, 2021. For a few months, staff was actually running testing and vaccinations at the Fairgrounds simultaneously, with vehicles being directed to all corners of the site by our traffic crew. 

In the early months of vaccine roll-out, supply was extremely limited. Counties and other vaccine providers were receiving weekly shipments from the state, and at times shipments were much smaller than anticipated, or they were delayed due to bad weather. Healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents were prioritized first in December 2020 and January 2021. Eligibility was then expanded by the WA Department of Health to include other at-risk populations, including seniors 65 and older and those 50 years and older living in multigenerational housing.  Childcare providers and K-12 school teachers and staff followed shortly.

People all around Washington were scrambling to find appointments. On one particular Saturday morning, hundreds of appointment slots at the Fairgrounds were grabbed up in only 14 minutes flat!

By March 2021, certain critical workers became eligible for the vaccine, as well as pregnant individuals and those with disabilities over the age of 16. Then, eligibility expanded to all people 60 and older and people 16 and older with two or more co-morbidities.

Finally, all Washingtonians 16 years of age and older became eligible for the vaccine on April 15, 2021, and on May 13, the Pfizer vaccine became available to minors 12-15 years of age in Washington state. At this point, our focus shifted to those who may be less inclined to get the vaccine, or who may have inadequate access.

Public Health launched a Vaccine Hotline early on to help individuals who needed extra assistance in finding a vaccine appointment, offering service in both English and Spanish, six days a week. Staff also worked directly with community partners to ensure that vaccine services were provided equitably for all eligible individuals in our county. The Fairgrounds moved to provide evening and weekend hours on Thursdays and Saturdays to better accommodate our working folks. The site even stopped requiring appointments when it became evident that this step was creating an unnecessary barrier for some.

Staff sought to make the vaccine experience as easy as possible at the Fairgrounds. The drive-through option became a reality once testing wound down in F-Barn, allowing people to get their shot while sitting in their vehicle. At one point, the Fairgrounds even partnered with the Children’s Museum of Skagit County to offer free child-watching services so that parents and caregivers wouldn’t have that extra hurdle.

During its run over the past 6 months, the staff and volunteers at the Fairgrounds Vaccine Clinic administered just over 31,000 doses of the vaccine to eligible Washingtonians, both from Skagit and our neighboring counties.

From the beginning, this site was intended to be a gap filler; a location where people could go if they couldn’t get access to a vaccine through their doctor or pharmacy. But what the Fairgrounds ended up being was so much more. It was a hub, a safe space, and a second home to the hundreds of staff and volunteers who worked in its barns and outbuildings in 2020 and 2021.

The Fairgrounds and its crew saw many ups, downs…and everything in between. After providing COVID tests to thousands of people throughout 2020, it was a huge blessing—and a huge relief—to begin administering the vaccine at the site. The first day of vaccinations felt almost like Christmas morning for some; it felt like for the first time, we had a fighting chance.

So, as the team wraps up service at the Fairgrounds and puts its sights solely on mobile vaccine outreach, we reflect on the bitter sweetness of this moment. Many of us just assumed that our job at the Fairgrounds wouldn’t be over until COVID was done and gone. Maybe we expected our last day would be like a graduation of sorts, where we would rip off our masks and throw them in the air.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 isn’t quite done with us. We must continue to fight the good fight, to take precaution, and to urge our family and friends to get vaccinated.

Though our doors are closing at the Fairgrounds after this Saturday, Public Health isn’t going anywhere. We will be out in the community all summer long providing better, and more convenient access to the vaccine that will help see us out of this mess.

If you are still needing your vaccine and are able to, come see us during our last week at the Fairgrounds. We’ll be open Thursday from 1-7pm and Friday and Saturday from 10am-4pm. You can also find a list of all providers in our area by going to Vaccinate WA.  

But if we don’t see you then, no worries. Check out our website for a list of our upcoming pop-up clinic dates. We’re excited to see you out and about, friends.


Washington State to Reopen SOON!

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As of June 14th, more than 7,528,340 doses of vaccine have been given across the state and more than 4.1 million people have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Washington is getting closer to its 70% initiation goal set by Governor Inslee. The state currently sits at 67.8% of Washingtonians 16 and older who have initiated vaccination, meaning they have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine.

June 30th or when we hit 70%.

The Governor has stated that Washington will fully reopen on June 30th, though the state could reopen sooner if the 70% initiation goal is met. To reopen before June 30th, at least 70% of people 16 and older need to receive at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

This is an extremely exciting time for many of us, as we begin to see things go back to normal. But with reopening comes great responsibility! It is important to remember as things open back up that we must proceed responsibly and with care and respect for those who are not yet vaccinated and for those who are at increased risk.

Reopening & what to expect:

What happens on June 30th or when we hit 70%?

The state will be open for business and recreation, and people who are vaccinated can go along with their regular lives for the most part. Unvaccinated people will need to continue wearing masks indoors. Most businesses get to operate as they did in January of 2020, with the caveat that they’re following workplace safety requirements (which come from Labor & Industries). Restaurants, bars, bowling alleys, and grocery stores are going to be fully open.

Are there any exceptions to reopening?

The one major public sector that will continue to have some limits is large-scale events that the governor just released guidance for. Events that are indoors with 10k or more people must be limited to 75% occupancy or require vaccination and follow mask requirements.

Higher risk congregant settings like healthcare, long term care facilities, or places where many people are not yet able to be vaccinated like childcare, day camps, K-12 must follow different guidance. In these settings, masking is still required, even among fully vaccinated persons.

Will unvaccinated people still need to wear a mask?

The Secretary of Health’s mask order remains in place, which means that unvaccinated people need to continue to mask in public. This helps protect not only those who are unvaccinated, but also vulnerable children who are not yet able to be vaccinated and others with auto-immune or other conditions that prevent them from being vaccinated.

Can businesses still require people to wear a mask after restrictions are lifted?

Yes, counties and businesses can be more strict and enforce masking, distancing and handwashing, etc. – whatever is appropriate in those spaces.

The situation in Skagit.

In Skagit County, 63.6% of our population 16 years and older have initiated vaccination. From data on the state dashboard, we can see that roughly 81% of our population 65+ have initiated and 64% of people 50-64 have initiated vaccination. The greatest room for growth would be amongst Skagitonians ages 12-49; the smallest percentage being those 12-17 years of age.

“We’re calling all our young adults and families with tweens and teens to get vaccinated now. It wouldn’t take much to get the state over the 70 percent threshold. We could see things reopen in the next few days if all eligible people would access their vaccine now.”

Jennifer Johnson, Skagit County Public Health Director

Getting your vaccine.

There continues to be many opportunities to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in Skagit County. Getting a vaccine is free, easy, and now—more convenient than ever!

The Skagit County Fairgrounds Clinic is still offering vaccines to anyone 12 and older, though the site closes permanently after June 26th to allow Public Health to focus on mobile outreach and pop-up clinics. To access a Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the Fairgrounds, drop by on Thursday from 1-7pm or Friday/Saturday from 10am-4pm.

A list of all upcoming mobile pop-up clinics can be found on Public Health’s website: www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine. All pop-ups are available to anyone 12+, unless indicated on the webpage. No appointments are required for these dates and locations.

If none of the above options suit your needs, other vaccine providers and locations can be found at Vaccinate WA or by calling the DOH help line at 1-800-525-0127.

For more information.

WA DOH: https://www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/COVID19/FrequentlyAskedQuestions

Governor’s Office: http://Governor’s Office: https://www.governor.wa.gov/issues/issues/covid-19-resources/covid-19-reopening-guidance

Percentages come from combining data from the Washington State Immunization Information System (IIS) and aggregate data from the Department of Defense (DoD) and Veterans Affairs (VA). To access state and county level vaccine data, go to the state Dashboard at: https://www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/COVID19/DataDashboard.


Summer Vaccine Pop-Ups

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Rosemary Alpert, contributing author

It’s mid-June, summer is right around the corner. Time for sunshine and enjoying the beauty of our vibrant Skagit County, and the state of Washington. Are you ready? Have you started to make plans? First on the list, if you haven’t already, should be to get vaccinated! There are plenty of opportunities to receive your vaccine…you just have to decide to do it! 

As Skagit County Public Health’s COVID-19 vaccination site at the Skagit County Fairgrounds winds down, “Pop-Up” vaccination clinics have begun and are scheduled across Skagit County. The last day to receive a Pfizer or J&J vaccination at the fairgrounds will be Saturday, June 26, 2021. Anyone 12 or over can still receive a first or second dose Pfizer vaccine at the fairgrounds. If receiving a first dose Pfizer, you will be given information for options where to receive the second dose.  Johnson and Johnson vaccine is one dose and available for anyone 18 years and older. Remember you are considered fully vaccinated fourteen days post second dose Pfizer or one dose J&J. 

“Mount Baker Presbyterian Church, Pop-up Vaccination Clinic” 
©Rosemary DeLucco Alpert 2021 

Over the past few weeks, Skagit County Public Health has held “Pop-Up” vaccination clinics at a variety of locations across the county. To name a few: Skagit Speedway, Mount Baker Presbyterian Church in Concrete, Skagit Transit, Mount Vernon and Sedro Woolley Farmer’s Markets, Terramar Brewstillery in Edison, and the Marblemount Community Center.  There are even more to come as we transition away from our mass vaccination site to fully mobile this summer. Please see our schedule for listing of mobile clinics on our website.

Skagit County Public Health’s vaccination team will be coming to you. In addition to the “Pop-Up” clinics, we’ve started canvassing local businesses, reaching out to homebound community members, and even vaccinating crews’ onboard ships coming into the local ports. All this outreach is to ensure that we are reaching those who may not have had an opportunity to get their vaccination otherwise.

Last week while visiting local businesses, our mobile team was able to vaccinate community members who couldn’t get to the fairgrounds or had been “on the fence” about getting vaccinated. Each individual vaccinated was grateful that we had come to them. Many of these individuals were also also waiting for the one dose J&J vaccine, because of their busy work schedules.  

Here are some of the responses from our “Pop-Ups” and community canvassing: 

  • “With my work schedule, I was never able to get to the Fairgrounds.” 
  • “I was waiting for the J&J vaccine. One dose vaccine is perfect for me.” 
  • “So happy; I’ll be able to see my new granddaughter!” 
  • “Your timing is perfect. I’ve been hesitant about getting the vaccine. Now I’m ready.” 
  • “My mom is going to be so happy!”
  • “Thank you for coming to us.”
  • “This was so easy!”

If you have a business with employees needing to receive the vaccine or know of anyone that is homebound, please reach out to Skagit County Public Health at (360) 416-1500. As we move into summer, Public Health is here for you. We know that the COVID-19 vaccines are the best way to ensure that people are protected from becoming seriously ill. We know that the vaccines will keep people out of the ICU. Working together, we can see the light at the end of this tunnel.

We look forward to seeing you out in the community!


What the Data Tells Us: Vaccines Save Lives

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There has sure been a lot of uncertainty since March of 2020; our routines changed dramatically, schools closed then reopened, and vacations were postponed or cancelled all together. There hasn’t been a ton that we could rely on—until now.

The data shows us that we can, and should, rely on the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine. The data tells us that the vaccines are saving lives in Skagit County, across our country, and throughout the world. As more and more people get vaccinated, we see our case rates drop, our hospitalizations decrease, and the number of COVID-19 deaths decline.

This data tells us that we can count on the vaccine to get us out of the pandemic; that we can count on the vaccine to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe and healthy. It gives us reason to get vaccinated against a virus that has taken the lives of 74 Skagitonians thus far.  

COVID-19 vaccines work.

Over 62% of people 16 or older have had at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine in Skagit County. Since we began administering COVID-19 vaccines in late December 2020, our 14-day case rate reversed course, dropping from a peak of 459.2 per 100,000 around Thanksgiving of last year, to 74.4 in May 2021. Now, after a quick spike in April, we are seeing lower numbers again.

Outbreaks at long-term care facilities have sharply declined. People living and working there were among the first to be vaccinated. Our highest risk senior populations were also eligible for the vaccine first, and case numbers amongst this population has dropped pretty dramatically since the winter.

Total COVID-19 deaths in Skagit County have slowed, as well, and the people we are seeing in our ICU beds are—by and large—not those who have been vaccinated. We know that vaccinations have played a key role in these falling numbers. We also know that continuing to use our safety precautions when unvaccinated (like mask wearing and social distancing) plays a large part.

Breakthrough cases are expected, but statistically rare.

Data has also shown that no vaccine is 100% effective. Breakthrough cases (when a fully vaccinated person tests positive for COVID-19 more than two weeks after the final dose) can happen, but they are rare. It is expected that a small percentage of fully vaccinated people will get sick with COVID-19; in most cases, these individuals will experience mild symptoms, however, hospitalization and/or death can still happen.

Recent Washington Department of Health statistics tell us that out of 3.1 million vaccinated, 1,471 breakthrough cases occurred. Of those cases, 23 people died. That’s about .0007%, or 1 in 134,782. Half of these deaths were in individuals 84 years of age or older.

In addition, both the Washington Department of Health and the CDC report extremely low rates of COVID-19 breakthrough cases, hospitalizations and deaths among vaccinated people. Washington Secretary of Health Dr. Umair A. Shah recently said hospital admission rates in those 45-64 who have not been vaccinated are 21 times higher than those who are fully vaccinated.

From this data we can see: the vast majority of those getting sick, being hospitalized or dying from COVID-19 are people who have not been vaccinated.

Getting vaccinated is easy.

Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 allows us to get back to the things that we enjoy. Vaccinated people are taking off their masks. Families and friends are gathering again. Restaurants and businesses are seeing more customers and a loosening of restrictions. And now, the data is confirming that the vaccines are effective at preventing sickness and death from COVID-19. The vaccines are our best path out of this pandemic.

Finding your free vaccine is easier than ever. To find a provider near you, go to: https://vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov/. You can also still visit the Skagit Fairgrounds for a free Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson vaccine between now and June 26th.

If taking time to go to an appointment or dropping in at a pharmacy or clinic doesn’t work for you, that’s no problem! Skagit Public Health is holding pop-up vaccine clinics around the county all summer long. We’ll be where you are at so getting vaccinated is quick and convenient. For a list of our pop-up dates, go to: www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine.

If you need help finding vaccine, call our Vaccine Hotline at (360) 416-1500. We look forward to serving you!


Vaccine Next Steps & What You Need To Know

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You might have heard that this is the final week for first-dose services at the Skagit County Fairgrounds Vaccine Clinic. But what does that mean? It makes sense that people may have questions about what the County’s plans are for COVID-19 vaccinations as we move away from our mass vaccination model this summer. Do you have questions? Please read below to get in-the-know about our next steps.

Is the Fairgrounds Vaccine Site closing completely after June 5?

No. Public Health will continue to operate at the Fairgrounds through June 26, however, we will be wrapping up our first-dose Pfizer services after Saturday, June 5. What this means is that after June 5, people who receive their first-dose Pfizer vaccine at the Fairgrounds will need to get their second dose from another location. Please know that our staff will work with these individuals to find a second dose—we are here to help! But if you want the convenience of getting your second dose at the same location, then the time is now to get your first at the Fairgrounds.

We will continue to provide second-dose Pfizer vaccinations at the Fairgrounds until we close permanently after June 26.

Will you turn me away if I come to the Fairgrounds for a first-dose after June 5?

No! Our staff will not turn away any eligible person (anyone 12+) who comes to the site for a vaccine after June 5. If you get your first-dose of Pfizer with us after June 5, we’ll make sure to get you connected with a second dose at a provider near you.

We will also have Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine available at the Fairgrounds after June 5, and this will be available to anyone 18 and older! This is a single-dose vaccine, so no second dose will be necessary! This is an awesome option for anyone looking for a quick and easy one-and-done vaccine! Getting a J&J shot in June will guarantee that you’re protected from COVID-19 all summer long! There’s no better way to start your summer than this!

Will vaccines still be available in Skagit County after the Fairgrounds closes on June 26?

Yes—absolutely! Skagit County has many vaccine providers, including neighborhood pharmacies, clinics, and major chain grocery stores (like Safeway and Haggen). You can find a list of all vaccine providers near you by going to https://vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov/.

Skagit County Public Health will also continue to provide COVID vaccines, but we will be relying on a mobile outreach approach instead of our brick and mortar system at the Fairgrounds. This shift in our approach is a response to the changing needs of our community; we want to be accessible to all people, no matter where they live or work! For a list of our up-coming pop-up vaccine clinics, visit our website at www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine.

Our pop-up clinics are available to anyone 12+ (if providing Pfizer) or 18+ (if providing J&J). No need to register or schedule an appointment; just visit us at our pop-up tent and we’ll get you in and out in about 20 minutes! Check us out at community events all summer long!

How do I get more information about COVID vaccinations in Skagit County?

Skagit County Public Health will continue to operate our Vaccine Hotline on Monday through Friday from 9am to 4pm. Just call (360) 416-1500 to speak with one of our staff!

And as always, go to our website at www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine for more information.

Have an idea for a pop-up vaccine clinic? Contact Julie de Losada at julied@co.skagit.wa.us.


Finally, fully vaccinated! Now what?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Rosemary Alpert, contributing author

Summer is right around the corner. Time to get outside and enjoy opportunities to reconnect with families and friends; especially if you are fully vaccinated. But you may have questions! “What does it mean to be fully vaccinated?” “Do I still need to wear my mask?” “Can I hug my grandchildren?” These are a few of the questions I’ve been asked while welcoming and observing community members after receiving their first and second vaccinations at the Skagit County Fairgrounds. 

With each step of the COVID-19 road to recovery, our collective movement forward has relied on accurate, updated information. This can be challenging to keep up with! Reliable sources are vitally important and ensure that we keep informed, and also help us to make the best decisions for ourselves and families. Resources like www.coronavirus.wa.gov can answer the above questions and much more.

Still wondering? Here are a few common questions I’ve gotten at the site:

“What does it mean to be fully vaccinated?”

You are considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19 two weeks (14 days) after you have received your second vaccination if you had to get two doses (Pfizer or Moderna), or two weeks after receiving a single dose vaccine (Johnson and Johnson).  

“Do I still have to wear my mask?”

If you are fully vaccinated, the answer to that question is yes and no, depending on the circumstance. 

The data shows you can visit with other fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask or physically distancing. To protect others and yourself, it is important to continue to wear your mask in crowded settings like sporting/music events or public indoor settings like grocery stores. If you are traveling, please check with mask requirements for the state you’re traveling to, and continue to wear your mask when using all forms of public transportation. Airlines are still requiring you to wear your mask, even if you are fully vaccinated. The reason to continue wearing a mask is because we do not have enough information yet about whether the vaccine prevents the spread of COVID-19 from one to another. The best answer? Be responsible and respectful; use your best judgement and be safe. 

“Can I hug my grandchildren?”

I know for myself, I have been desperately missing hugs. If you are fully vaccinated, you can now hug other fully vaccinated people! This is a welcome relief and reward after the past year when we endured separation and isolation from family and friends. Please remember though that as we move forward, it is important to remain careful while engaging in group settings. We’re not out of the woods just yet. Enjoy those longed for hugs, and while you’re at it, give yourself one for getting fully vaccinated! 

While making post-fully vaccinated plans, keep up with the most updated accurate information. Be aware that not everyone in public will be vaccinated, and for that reason, it is recommended that people continue to wear their mask in public and when in large gatherings–especially indoors. We are certainly moving forward in a positive direction! But the coming months are critical in our road to recovery, and our day-to-day choices matter.

“Fully Vaccinated!” 
Photograph courtesy of Rosemary DeLucco Alpert, 2021 

For me, personally, the top of my post-fully vaccinated bucket list was visiting my grown adult children. Last month, I was finally able to reunite with my daughter and her husband! As soon as I received word that they were fully vaccinated, I got on a plane and flew to California. It was wonderful to see the Seattle skyline for the first time in over a year! 

To ease my trepidation about traveling and getting on a plane, I made sure to prepare myself. I made sure to have masks on hand, as well as a face shield and gloves while entering the airport. I felt comfort in knowing that I know how to protect myself after over a year of working the COVID testing and vaccination sites! I kept my distance as best I could, and honestly…I wholeheartedly enjoyed the opportunity to be with people, traveling once again! I am grateful to be fully vaccinated and there was nothing better than finally getting that long-awaited reunion hug with my daughter. 

Enjoy your fully vaccinated life, stay healthy, make plans, get outside, hug your family and friends…Appreciate the moments as we reengage with new awareness and understanding of community!

For more information about post vaccination guidelines, visit: https://coronavirus.wa.gov/information-for/you-and-your-family/life-after-vaccine.


COVID Vaccines: Coming to a Community Near You!

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The message around the COVID vaccine has really changed in the past month or two. Back in February and March, Public Health Departments around the country were saying, “We don’t have the supply! Please be patient!” and “Wait until you’re eligible!But now that we have ample supply in our state and eligibility has opened all the way up to include anyone 12 years of age and older, our message is quite different.

With over 46% of our population now well on their way to being fully vaccinated, we’re looking pretty good! Finding a vaccine appointment is now easier than ever, and many provider locations are offering walk-up, drop-in, and drive-thru options. If it has been a while since you’ve looked into getting your vaccine, please know that we are ready and eager to serve you!

This month we’re hearing from the community that the majority of those individuals who were anxiously clicking the refresh button on our online scheduler have now been vaccinated. The people who remain to be vaccinated are those who need the process to be super quick and convenient. At Public Health, we’ve decided that the Fairgrounds mass vaccination site may no longer meet the needs of our population still waiting to be vaccinated—and that’s okay! It is time to shift gears, to get creative, and to meet people where they’re at. And for this reason, we’re ramping up our mobile outreach efforts this month.

To focus full-time on community outreach, Public Health will begin specifically prioritizing second-dose appointments at the Skagit Fairgrounds beginning June 6th. That said, those still needing a first dose are welcome to come to the site for their shot.

If you, a family member, or friend are looking to get vaccinated, there are so many options available! From your local neighborhood pharmacy, to chain pharmacies, to doctor’s offices, and hospitals; the list goes on and on. Between now and June 5th, you can drop by the Skagit Fairgrounds drive-thru clinic or book your spot online. And for a full list of providers in Skagit County, go to: https://vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov/.

But if you don’t have the time or desire to make an appointment, that’s okay too! We’ve been reaching out to community partners to determine the best places for our staff to set up and we are getting our Mobile Outreach Van polished and gassed up! Public Health will be dropping by some community events this spring and summer and we hope to see you there!

Below is a list of just a few community outreach vaccination clinics we have planned. No appointment required! Come get your vaccine and be on your way!

  • Skagit Speedway, Saturday, May 22nd from 5:30-9pm
  • Mount Baker Presbyterian Church, Saturday, May 29th from 10am-2pm
  • Sedro-Woolley Farmers Market, Wednesday June 2nd from 3-7pm
  • Big Lake 3rd of July Festival, Saturday, July 3rd
  • Concrete Youth Activity Day, July 22nd from 3-5pm *tentative*

Need more information about these events or what to expect when you come? Call our Vaccine Hotline at (360) 416-1500 or go to www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine.

See you on the road, Skagit!


Take it Outside!

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Rosemary Alpert, contributing author

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Rosario Beach” 
©Rosemary DeLucco Alpert, 2021 

The Population Health Trust: Here For You

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Recently, Skagit County’s Board of Health convened to discuss the health and wellness of our community during these unprecedented times. During the two-hour virtual meeting, the Population Health Trust (Trust) provided detailed information about the current state of our collective health and outlined the services already at play that address areas of concern.

Toward the end of the meeting, the Trust put forth the following question: “What are our most pressing needs right now?

A list of concerns was provided to the Board of Health; a series of issues that were brought to the Trust’s attention over the past several months by community members just like you. Through interviews, surveys and panel discussions, the Trust was able to put together this list, and now, it is time for action.

But you may be wondering, “What is the Population Health Trust, anyway, and what does it do?” Here is some information about the Trust, who the group is comprised of, and what it has achieved thus far.

What is the Trust?

In 2015, the Skagit County Board of Health appointed their first advisory committee to guide Public Health and our community in working together for health improvement. This committee, known as the Population Health Trust Advisory Committee (Trust), is a group of community leaders with a shared commitment to improve the quality of life for all residents of Skagit County.

Who are its members?

Some of our current and past Trust members. New membership photos coming soon!

The Trust is staffed by Public Health but its membership is made up of a group of folks who represent many different sectors of the community. It is a coalition of community leaders who have the knowledge, expertise, and—in many cases—the authority to affect major change. Afterall, to make a big community-wide impact, policies and systems are a powerful place to start. For a list of some current and past Trust members, visit the webpage here.

What does the Trust do?

The Trust conducts a Community Needs Assessment every five years. This is an opportunity for community partners to get together, analyze data and trends, determine areas of strength and need for improvement, and formulate a plan of action. It is also an opportunity for community leaders to ask the public questions like: “What could we do to improve your quality of life here in Skagit County?

From there, the Trust can put forth a list of priorities: the areas that will be worked on over the next several years.

A perfect example of the Trust’s ability to listen to the needs of the community is the Needs Assessment process that took place back in 2015. When they asked the community what the most pressing concern was, the Trust heard a resounding plea for more action around the opioid crisis. The Opioid Workgroup Leadership Team was created to respond to this plea, resulting in a host of new partnerships and policy changes that directly impacted the lives of Skagitonians.

COVID-19 and the Trust

The Trust is now in the midst of a new assessment cycle, and the timing couldn’t be more opportune. Our community—like so many others—has felt the major effects of COVID-19. Our businesses, families, children, and schools have faced incredible, and life-changing, challenges since last spring, and help is greatly needed. The Trust has heard from the community that there is an urgent need for behavioral health supports, like mental health and substance use services, a more robust workforce to address behavioral health needs, and wrap-around services for youth and young adults. The Trust is listening and is ready, willing, and able to respond.

Where to find more information?

If you would like more information about how the Trust works or what is currently being done to address the pandemic in Skagit County, please visit: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/PHTAC or call Public Health at (360) 416-1500.

Also, keep your eyes open for Community Forums in the fall! Just like with the first assessment, the Trust will be seeking your feedback on the data, goals and strategies designed to help Skagit come out of the pandemic better and stronger than ever.  


Attention Employers: We Need Your Help, Too!

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When people talk about “workplace culture,” they’re talking about what makes a workplace unique, including its values, traditions, behaviors, attitudes, etc. Typically, the employer sets the tone in a workplace, and a positive workplace culture impacts the happiness, and even performance, of its employees. Simply enough, an employer has a major influence over the health and wellbeing of their workforce. And when it comes to COVID-19, employers play a critical role in the prevention of COVID-19.

One of the biggest impacts an employer can have right now in regards to COVID-19 prevention is making sure that their staff have the necessary information about the COVID-19 vaccine. On April 15th, all Washingtonians 16 years and older became eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, meaning that many more people will be able to get the vaccine if they so choose. If you are an employer, read on for three tips to help your employees get their vaccine.

1. Have credible information available

You don’t need to be a doctor to put forth credible information. The idea of starting a conversation with staff about COVID-19 or the vaccine may seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be! When staff has a question or concern, it’s a one-two punch: 1) Offer your personal reasons for practicing COVID safety and getting vaccinated; and 2) Defer to the experts for specifics.

There are many great resources available online for business owners! From FAQs with answers to commonly asked questions, to resource pages with pre-made flyers for the breakroom; sites like WA Department of Health and the CDC have you covered!

2. Provide information about where they can access the vaccine

Please let your employees know that it is easier now than it has ever been to access a COVID-19 vaccine. For those who live locally, there are many vaccine providers in Skagit that consistently have appointments available, including Public Health, hospitals, clinics, and neighborhood pharmacies.

The easiest way to provide information about access is to promote WA DOH’s vaccine locator page. Here, folks can easily find a nearby provider and schedule an appointment online. If staff needs a bit more assistance, they can call the Information Hotline at 1-800-525-0127. Language assistance is available.

To schedule an appointment at the Skagit County Fairgrounds Clinic, people can go to www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine or call the Vaccine Hotline for assistance, (360) 416-1500. Evening and weekend appointments are available, as well as a free child-watching service provided by the Children’s Museum of Skagit County!

3. Allow employees time to get the vaccine

Some people may be less likely to schedule a vaccine appointment because they are worried about taking the time off. Though appointments are now available in Skagit County on evenings and weekends in order to better serve our workforce, people still may be hesitant because of fear of side effects and needing time off work 24-48 hours post-vaccine. Employers can make a big impact here!

Health and safety are big business! Providing the time and opportunity for employees to get vaccinated is an investment in the safety, productivity and health of your workforce. Even still, the idea of providing this time may seem impossible as you may feel strapped as it is. Thankfully, some help is coming.

On April 21, President Biden called on every employer in America to offer full pay to their employees for any time off needed to get vaccinated and for any time it takes to recover from the after-effects of vaccination. A paid leave tax credit will assist in offsetting the cost for employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide full pay for any time their employees need to get a COVID-19 vaccination or recover from that vaccination. For more information about the new tax credit, go to https://bit.ly/2QvtGcN.

For more information

Most likely you will get some questions that you may not know the answer to—or you may have questions yourself! This is to be expected! The Washington Department of Health has created a list of Frequently Asked Questions just for employers on its website.

Below are just a few answers from that FAQ that may be helpful:

How do I get a vaccine provider to come to my business?

Contact Skagit County Public Health (360-416-1500) to see if there are mobile clinics, pharmacies, or community vaccinators available in your area to partner with for hosting at the worksite.

You may need to consider the number of eligible employees you have who have not been vaccinated yet. With limited supply of COVID-19 vaccines, there may be more demand than supply available. Some vaccine providers may require a certain number of people to justify holding a workplace clinic.

Do fully vaccinated staff still need to wear a mask and avoid close contact with others?

The COVID-19 vaccines work well, but they are not 100 percent effective. Some people may get COVID-19 even if they’ve been vaccinated. Vaccine studies focused mainly on whether the vaccine keeps you from getting COVID-19. We don’t yet know whether getting a COVID-19 vaccine will prevent someone from spreading the virus that causes COVID-19 to other people. Until we know more, all employees should continue to:

  • Wear masks
  • Stay at least 6 feet (or 2 meters) away from others
  • Avoid crowded and poorly ventilated spaces
  • Wash hands often
  • Keep WA Notify enabled

If able to, should I have employees stagger their vaccinations to avoid work shortages due to vaccine side effects?

It’s a good idea if you can. Most side effects are mild (tiredness, headache, and muscle pain) and last one to two days. However, some people may get a fever and need to miss work. For vaccines that need two doses, side effects are often worse after the second dose. You may want to distribute this visual guide to employees so they can understand what symptoms are a reaction to the vaccine, or actual COVID-19 illness.

Tips and considerations:

  • Schedule the vaccine clinic on a Friday if your company is on a Monday to Friday schedule
  • Encourage employees to get the vaccine before their scheduled days off
  • Stagger vaccination for employees in the same job category or area of a facility
  • Encourage employees who have a fever to stay home from work

Can I require my employees to get vaccinated or to show proof of vaccination?

Washington state does not have any mandates for getting vaccinated against COVID-19, but employers may choose to require it. If you require employees to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination from a pharmacy or healthcare provider, you should know that you cannot mandate that the employee provide any further medical information as part of their proof.

You, as an employer, have such a unique opportunity to engage with employees around the issue of COVID-19 safety and vaccination. Please let Public Health know if you need any support in this endeavor, and we will do everything that we can to make this an easy process! THANK YOU!