Gathering safely this Holiday Season

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Although Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and other celebrations are sure to look a little different again this year, things aren’t looking nearly as ominous as they were in 2020! On Friday, October 15th, the CDC updated its guidance for safe Holiday Celebrations. This year’s holiday guidance ensures that with a few precautions, you’ll still be able to gather with family.

So, what is considered safe, and what could be a bit risky this winter? Here’s how to keep yourself and your loved ones safe this holiday season, based on recommendations from the CDC.

Most importantly…Get vaccinated!

Because many generations tend to gather to celebrate holidays, the best way to minimize COVID-19 risk and keep your family and friends safer is to get vaccinated if you’re eligible.

At this time, there is still a percentage of our population that is unvaccinated, including children 11 and younger who aren’t yet eligible. By getting vaccinated, you are doing your part to keep these family members and friends safe.

If you haven’t yet gotten your vaccine, there is still time before Thanksgiving! To be fully vaccinated by Thursday, November 25th, you’ll need to get your first dose of Pfizer by Thursday, October 18th. Want to go the single-dose route? Get your Jonson & Johnson vaccine by November 11th.

To find a vaccine near you, go to https://vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov/.

Outdoors is best. If indoors, wear a mask.

Outdoor gatherings are still safer than indoor gatherings since COVID-19 spreads more easily indoors than outdoors. Studies have also shown that people are more likely to be exposed to COVID-19 when they are closer than 6 feet apart from others for longer periods of time.

If possible, plan to host holiday gatherings outdoors or in well-ventilated spaces (think a garage with the door open, a back patio, or nearby park). If gathering indoors, plan for people 5 and older to wear well-fitting masks, especially if folks are not fully vaccinated. For kiddos 2-4 years old, a mask is also recommended at this time considering our high transmission rates.

Note: In Washington, masks are required to be worn by all people five and older, regardless of vaccination status, in indoor public spaces, and in outdoor settings with 500 or more people. Beginning on November 15th, masks will also be required at certain indoor and outdoor large, ticketed events.

If traveling, plan ahead and take precautions.

If you are considering traveling for the holidays this year, visit the CDC’s Travel page to help you decide what is best for you and your family.

Some things to note:

Plan to test for COVID-19 before you leave. And remember that testing appointments may be in high demand this holiday season, so if you need proof of a negative test, plan accordingly.

To find a testing location near you, go to www.skagitcounty.net/coronavirus.

Postpone if sick, and when in doubt…get tested!

If you are sick or have symptoms of COVID-19, don’t host or attend a gathering until your symptoms have cleared. It is better to postpone than to potential spread the virus to those you love. If, in the days prior to your gathering, you develop symptoms of COVID-19 or have had close contact with someone who has COVID-19, get tested!

So, what if you’ve attended a party or gathering and are now sick with symptoms?

If you are unvaccinated

  • Stay home for 14 days after your last contact with a person who has COVID-19.
  • Watch for fever (100.4°F), cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms of COVID-19.
  • If possible, stay away from others, especially people who are at higher risk for getting very sick from COVID-19.

If you are fully vaccinated

  • Get tested 3-5 days after the exposure, even if you don’t have any symptoms.
  • Wear a mask indoors in public for 14 days following the exposure or until your test result is negative.

The holidays are definitely doable this year, we just need to take a little extra precaution. Get vaccinated, wear a mask, gather outdoors if possible, and stay home if sick. It’s as easy as (pumpkin) pie!


Is it safe to Trick-or-Treat this Halloween?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

UPDATE: The CDC is currently in the process of updating its Holiday Guidance. We will update the information below if recommendations change for Halloween 2021.

It’s October, and you know what that means: HALLOWEEN! And since last year was a bit of a dud, it’s no wonder that people have some questions about this year’s trick-or-treating prospects.

This year is different in many ways from Halloween of 2020. Last October, we were still a few months away from any sort of COVID vaccine. This year, our vaccination rates are sitting at just over 72 percent for Skagitonians 12 years and older, and more people are choosing to get vaccinated each day.

Unfortunately, this October, our case and hospitalization rates are also higher than they’ve ever been throughout the pandemic. Though our vaccination rates are promising, we still have approximately 37 percent of our entire population unvaccinated, including kiddos under 11 who are not yet eligible. This means that we still have many Skagitonians who do not have protection against the virus and are at increased risk.

For this reason, it makes sense that people would have some reservations about going out on the 31st. So, is Halloween safe this year? Well … the answer is, like most things these days, not super straight forward.

To Trick-or-Treat, or not?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has given the “okay” for children nationwide to trick-or-treat this Halloween—one year after it advised against the tradition last year due to coronavirus concerns. That said, there are a few caveats to consider.

Experts say it’s still best to take precautionary measures for Halloween given that most trick-or-treating children are younger than 11 years old and thus, still unvaccinated. If children do go trick-or-treating, it is recommended that they do so in small groups. Also, when possible, it is best to avoid scenarios where many people are concentrated in a central location.

The CDC has published a helpful guide for people planning to trick-or-treat this year. Some tips for safe trick-or-treating include:

For people passing out candy:

  • Avoid direct contact with trick-or-treaters.
  • Give out treats outdoors, if possible.
  • Set up a station with individually bagged treats for kids to take.
  • Wash hands before handling treats.
  • And of course, wear a mask!

For kids collecting candy:

  • Wear a mask!
    • PRO TIP: Make the mask a part of the costume! But remember, costume masks are not a substitute for a well-fitting cloth mask.
    • Remember: Kids younger than two years of old should never wear a mask to decrease the risk of suffocation.
  • Wash or sanitize hands frequently. Before settling down to devour treats, wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Maintain distance by staying at least 6 feet away from others who do not live with you.

What about fall festivals and Halloween parties?

In areas with high numbers of COVID-19 cases, like Skagit County, it is recommended that people two years and older wear a mask in crowded outdoor settings and while attending outdoor activities where close contact with others is expected. This would include your fall festivals, pumpkin patches, trunk-or-treating events, and the like.

If planning to go to a large event outdoors, please know that the statewide mask mandate requires that masks are worn at large outdoor events of 500 or more people. This includes all people five years and older, regardless of an individual’s vaccination status.   

In general, folks are asked to avoid large Halloween parties this year, especially parties taking place indoors with people from multiple households. When getting together, gathering outdoors is much safer than gathering indoors.

For those who choose to gather indoors, please:

  • Wear a well-fitted face mask
  • Keep your distance (6 feet or more)
  • Ventilate the space by opening doors and windows

If gathering in an indoor public space this year, know that the statewide mandate requires that masks be worn by all people five and older, regardless of an individual’s vaccination status.

What’s the best thing to do to prepare for fall and winter festivities?

The principles of this pandemic really do continue to hold. Outdoor gatherings are better than indoor gatherings, ventilation is important, and masking remains crucial.

But above all else, the best thing you can do right now is to get vaccinated. This is the easiest thing that you can do to keep yourself, and your loved ones, safe this fall and winter. And while you’re at it, get your flu shot, too!

Getting vaccinated now will help make this Halloween better than last year’s and will ensure many spooky-fun Halloweens to come. Want to be fully vaccinated in time for the 31st? You still have time! Get your single-dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine by October 17th, and you’re covered!

Ready to get your shot? Go to https://vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov/ or stop by the Skagit County Fairgrounds on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, or Friday between 3-7pm.

For more holiday gathering guidance, go to the CDC’s webpage at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/index.html.


Firework Safety this Fourth of July

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Fire Officials Urge Extreme Caution on Firework Use

Recent extreme temperatures and dry weather has caused our state to be more vulnerable to wildfires in advance of this Fourth of July weekend. Following days of record-breaking heat across Washington, the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has asked Washingtonians to do whatever they can to help prevent wildfires.

“Due to our current temperatures and extreme dry conditions, the county is experiencing unprecedented high fire risk at this time. We are encouraging everyone to refrain from discharging consumer grade fireworks this season and attend commercial public displays instead. As a reminder, while it may be legal to discharge certain fireworks, you may still be liable for damage caused as a result. We need to have everyone do their part to avoid potential loss of life or risk property damage.”

Bonnie LaCount, Skagit County Deputy Fire Marshall

In Skagit County, a burn ban is currently in effect due to the recent extreme temperatures and dry weather conditions; however, there are no fireworks restrictions in unincorporated Skagit County between June 28 and July 5th. Even still, and though temperatures have cooled, our grasses, brush, and shrubs continue to have very low moisture content. Such dry conditions pose a serious wildfire risk for Skagit County and the surrounding region.

Fireworks are a common cause of large-scale fires, including the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire in Oregon. The fire was started by a teen igniting a firework and ultimately burned 50,000 acres. The teen was ultimately criminally sentenced and order to pay millions of dollars in restitution.

If residents do choose to use backyard fireworks, please keep wildfire safety and prevention at the forefront.

Below are some tips for using fireworks safely in dry weather:

  • Do not use fireworks on or near dry vegetation or combustible materials.
  • Be cautious when lighting fireworks when conditions are windy. The wind could blow a burning spark and set a nearby area on fire.
  • When using fireworks, always have a fire extinguisher, water supply, hose, or bucket of water nearby in case of a fire. Before discarding devices, be sure to douse them thoroughly with water.
  • Store fireworks in a cool, dry area to prevent an accidental ignition.
  • Supervise children closely when using fireworks. Sparklers are a popular firework given to children, and they burn at an extremely high temperature and can cause major injuries. For more tips on fireworks safety and children, visit: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/fireworks.html
  • Never light more than one firework at a time, and never attempt to re-light one that did not ignite completely.
  • If a firework device ignites a fire, contact the local fire department or 911 immediately. Do not attempt to extinguish a large fire.

Fireworks are not the only concern this weekend for local and state fire officials. Under dry conditions, summer activities such as grilling also have the potential to cause large fires. Under Skagit’s current burn ban, it is asked that residents refrain from setting outdoor fires until further notice. Recreational and cooking fires—limited to 3 feet in diameter and two feet high—remain allowed within enclosures and when safety precautions are followed. Officials ask that residents douse recreational fires with water, stir it, and douse the fire again until it’s cool to the touch before leaving.

Please note: Skagit County regulates fireworks within the unincorporated portions of the county, i.e., outside the boundaries of the cities and towns. In unincorporated Skagit County, only fireworks allowed by state law are allowed. Fireworks are illegal on state forestlands and in most parks.

In unincorporated Skagit County, it is illegal to discharge fireworks except during the following dates and times:

HolidayDateSales Legal BetweenDischarge Legal Between
Fourth of JulyJune 2812 p.m. –11 p.m.12 p.m. –11 p.m.
 June 29 – July 39 a.m.–11 p.m.9 a.m.–11 p.m.
 July 49 a.m.– 11 p.m.9 a.m.–Midnight
 July 59 a.m.–9 p.m.9 a.m.–11 p.m.

For a list of public fireworks displays here in Skagit County, go to the County Fire Marshall webpage.

For questions about fireworks and/or open burning in Skagit County, please contact the Skagit County Fire Marshal’s Office at 360-416-1840, or go to the website at www.skagitcounty.net/firemarshal.  


“Let’s get out of here!” Traveling After Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine

Reading Time: 2 minutes

You did it! You got vaccinated! Thank you for doing so. It helps not only protect you but the community at large. We bet that you’re ready to start returning to some of the activities you gave up in March 2020, including travel. If you are, please keep some things in mind.

The COVID-19 vaccines currently in use are highly effective.

Real world data has shown that their nearly 100 percent effective at preventing hospitalization and death amongst fully vaccinated individuals. In fact, Washington State has only observed a breakthrough rate of 0.01%, which is fantastic. Being fully vaccinated means you can do a lot of things again, such as:

  • Gather indoors with other fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask or social distancing
  • Gather indoors with unvaccinated people of any age from one other household without masks or social distancing unless one of the participants is at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
  • Travel domestically, or return from international travel without getting a negative COVID-19 test or self-quarantining (Note: if you’re traveling internationally, you might still need a negative COVID-19 test to enter the country you’re visiting. Do your research before you go).
  • Unless you live in a group setting (like a correctional facility or group home), you don’t need to quarantine after an exposure to COVID-19 as long as you don’t develop symptoms.

Reminder: After receiving your second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or your Johnson & Johnson shot, you need to wait two weeks for immunity to build in your system. After that two week period, you’re considered fully vaccinated.

That said, COVID-19 vaccines aren’t get out of jail free cards.

There is still a risk that you could contract COVID-19 and spread it to loved ones or close contacts. This means that when traveling you should:

  • Keep wearing masks- and two if you can- especially on airplanes, in public spaces and when gathering with unvaccinated individuals from multiple households. 
  • Avoid large gatherings or events, especially when indoors, where people don’t remain in fixed locations, engage in activities that pose great risk for spread (singing, exercising, shouting, etc…) or wear masks aren’t or can’t be worn.
  •  Monitor for COVID-19 symptoms, and if any develop get tested right away.
  • Avoid visiting unvaccinated individuals who are at increased risk for poor health outcomes after traveling or being in public spaces for prolonged periods.
  • Follow your workplace guidance on quarantine when returning, which may be more strict than what is outlined here.

We’re all looking forward to increased travel and activity–but we’re not quite out of the woods yet. Please, continue to be smart and practice good behaviors. Wear your mask, practice social distancing in public or with unvaccinated individuals, wash your hands frequently (like, all the time and for lots of reasons it’s just a good thing to do).

If you’re planning a trip and are nervous about some of the circumstances, we’ve included a handy flow chart that can help guide you towards the best decision for your situation.

We’re in this together and we’ll get through this by protecting our community together.


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!


This Sunday, Let’s Play it Safe

Reading Time: 2 minutes

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

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

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

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

So what can you do to hold a safer gathering?

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

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


Gratitude: 2020 Reflections from Testing Site Staff & Volunteers

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Guest post by Rosemary Alpert, Skagit Valley Family YMCA

For many, the first step in their COVID-19 experience is driving to the testing site, now located at the Skagit County Fairgrounds. You are greeted by a staff member or volunteer, asked a few questions, then directed to the queue, like waiting for a ferry. Upon entering the barn, with your car window cracked, you are greeting by another staff member or volunteer to register you for the test. After, a nurse greets you with important information and directions for taking the test. The journey has begun, with hopes to receive a text in a few days with the singular word, “Negative.”  

As this unprecedented and challenging year comes to a welcome close, I never would have imagined my job as Volunteer and Community Engagement Coordinator for Skagit Valley Family YMCA would evolve into one of the most important experiences of my life: registering community members to get tested for COVID-19. 

Early on during the pandemic, Skagit County Public Health collaborated with the Y to support two full-time employees from the Y to work at the testing site. Over these past nine months, community collaborations have been created. A team of dedicated staff and volunteers have been working on the frontlines tirelessly through summer heat, high winds, bitter cold, sideways rain and ongoing challenges, day after day. These are the faces you see through your car windows: community members wholeheartedly supporting Skagit County.  

In early June, I started splitting my time between the Y and the COVID-19 testing site, registering community members at Skagit Valley College. Then, mid-September, I became full time at the testing site, putting my job at the Y on hold for the time. So many stories, reasons why people come through to get tested, are heartful and sometimes heartbreaking. Eyes to eyes, deeply listening, with respect and compassion. Dedicated coworkers and impeccable leadership keep our team fluid and flexible each day. They’re a privilege to work alongside.  

Last week, this group photograph was taken of our COVID-19 Testing Site team of staff and volunteers. In addition to registration, I was asked to contribute to the Skagit Health Connection weekly blog. This first blog is dedicated to the incredible group of testing site workers. I asked a few to share their thoughts about working at the testing site, what are they grateful for, an experience, or possibly an unexpected gift because of this time. Here are a few of the responses… 

Skagit testing site
Photograph taken inside the Skagit County COVID-19 Testing Site facility at the Skagit County Fairgrounds.

“I am grateful for getting the opportunity to work at the site and help our community get through this pandemic. And meeting all the amazing people who I work with.” 

“I’m grateful for being part of such an amazing team and being able to give back to our community. It’s honestly a rewarding job. You definitely learn how to communicate with so many different people. And being able to provide service for all, even those with a language barrier.” 

“I am grateful to be working at the site because seeing the relief on the faces of the people that go to get tested once they have been helped honestly lights up my day. Being able to provide the reassurance to the people. And unexpected gift I have got from working at the testing site is the ability to interact more with the people in my community and the opportunity I have been given to help better the community.” 

“Working here reminds me that people are kind. Folks wait an hour or more, often in bad weather, sometimes with kids and dogs in the car. All this stuff is scary and frustrating; but people are unfailingly kind, mostly patient, and always ready to share a (masked) smile. This is my best medicine for these times. (And staff and volunteers are wonderful!)” 

“I think I’m most amazed by the 200 volunteers who provided an estimated 12,000 hours of their time. In the rain, snow, smoke, wind and blistering heat, they are there!” 

“Each car is an opportunity to connect with our community, offering a little comfort, reassurance and hope. We keep our community moving forward during these challenging times. I’m grateful for the tiny moments of connection, whether it be the little girl who noticed the twinkling lights or the great-grandma wanting to visit her 16th great-grandchild. I didn’t expect to become a part of an elite team of community rock stars! Grateful for the opportunity to share a little light and serve our community.” 

As we wrap up 2020, let’s keep moving forward, find the moments of gratitude. Be vigilant, wear your masks, wash your hands, practice social distancing, keep your connections safe, and know you are not alone.

Please remember: If you or someone you know needs any support with the mental and emotional challenges of these days, PLEASE reach out! It’s OK to ask for help. The Disaster Distress Helpline 24/7 crisis counseling and support is always available. Call 800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66749. Skagit County also has a new website—SkagitHelps—that can assist people in getting connected to local and state resources.


Make Health Your Priority: Tobacco Cessation in 2021

Reading Time: 2 minutes

By now, it is becoming clear that current and former smokers are at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19. A recent study has shown that people who smoked were nearly two times more likely to have negative outcomes from COVID-19. While more studies need to be conducted in order to understand the associated between nicotine users and COVID-19 infection rates, the World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that the available evidence suggests that smoking is associated with increased severity of disease and death in hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

Given the well-established harms associated with tobacco use and second-hand smoke exposure, medical experts are recommending that tobacco users stop using tobacco as soon as possible. By quitting these products (cigarettes, vaping devices, or smokeless products), your lungs and your immune system begin to improve quickly. Healthier lungs and a healthier immune system can help fight against COVID-19 infection and can protect individuals from becoming seriously ill.

There is no better time than the present. And with New Year’s just around the corner, there is no better way to begin 2021!

Thankfully, there are many resources available to Washingtonians when it comes to tobacco cessation. Here are some helpful resources to get you started on your cessation journey:

  • Quitline: Washingtonians age 13+ can also call 1-800-QUIT-NOW to speak confidentially with a Quit Coach in English, Spanish, or receive support in more than 200 other languages.
  • This is Quitting (TIQ), from Truth Initiative: This is an innovative text-to-quit vaping program for young people ages 13-24. TIQ helps motivate, inspire, and support young people throughout the quitting process. When young people join TIQ, they will receive proven tips and strategies to quit and stay off e-cigarettes and vapor products from other young people just like themselves who tried to quit. To enroll, teens and young adults can text VAPEFREEWA to 88709.
  • 2Morrow Health: This is a smartphone app that helps participants learn new ways to deal with unhelpful thoughts, urges, and cravings caused by nicotine. Participants receive notifications and can track their progress along the way in order to move toward their goal of quitting. The app is available in English and Spanish. Depending on your age and the tobacco product you are trying to quit, you can register for either of the smartphone apps below:
    • Smoking & Tobacco – A program for people who want to quit smoking and/or other tobacco use. A special program for pregnant women is included in this version.
    • Vaping (age 13+) – A program for teens and young adults who want to quit vaping. Older adults who want to quit vaping, but who do not smoke, can also use this program.

It may take many tries to quit. The important thing is not to give up. If 2020 has shown us anything, its that Washingtonians are a strong and capable bunch. Find your team, lean on your resources, and make a plan. You can do this!  


Safe & Fun Holiday Ideas

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The holidays are all about tradition. Whether they are things that you’ve done since childhood, or new activities that have been developed over the years, these traditions are what we look forward to each holiday season.

No matter what the tradition is though, it is typically centered around what we do with our family, friends, and loved ones during the holidays. It is no surprise then that this year is especially difficult for most of us.

This year, the guidance is very clear. Continue to practice the same safety measures that we’ve been doing all year long: physically distance, stay home, limit gatherings, wear a mask, and wash our hands. We do these things to decrease the spread of COVID-19, and by doing them, we protect not only ourselves, but our community.

So how do we look forward to holiday traditions when there has been nothing traditional about this year? Well, it is all in the way that we frame things!

This year could be the worst ever for holidays—or—it could be the perfect opportunity to create some new customs for yourself and your family! Think of these 2020 traditions as something that you can incorporate into your yearly festivities, instead of just being a one off.

So where do you even start with building new traditions? We asked the staff here at Skagit County Public Health for some safe and fun holiday ideas that their own families are participating in this year.

These are a few of their responses.

  • “Instead of sharing meals with extended family from different households, we will take turns dropping off meals that we have prepared at each other’s houses. We share the love and the food but not the risk, as we won’t be gathering and eating together inside except with people that we live with.”
  • “We have a family tradition of getting coffee/cocoa and driving around as a family looking at Christmas lights around the county.”
  • “I made individually wrapped holiday treats for all of my neighbors and delivered them to their doorsteps.”
  • “We are making cookies every day between December 12th and the 24th. Twelve different cookies! We plan to plate and wrap them for porch delivery to our nearby friends and family on Christmas Eve.”
  • “Ordinarily we would spend Christmas morning at my sister- and brother-in-law’s place then head to Bellevue to have a massive feast with aunt, uncle, cousins, lots of extended family.  After dinner we walk around the neighborhood to see the lights before driving north to home.  However, this year like Thanksgiving, we are spending Christmas and New Years by ourselves. We make ourselves a special dinner with all the side dishes we like rather than those that we are obligated to make.  My sister and mom live in other states so the three of us have a Zoom chat in the morning.” 
  • “This year, we made salt dough ornaments with our kids. We even made a few hand-print ornaments that we painted and mailed to my parents in Canada. Even though we can’t be with them this year, they will have a little piece of us on their tree.”

Still looking for ideas? Washington DOH has a list on its website that includes:

Giving thanks: In a year filled with challenges, it can feel good to pause and consider the things for which we are grateful, whether that be a person, pet, place or thing. Highlight these bright spots by writing them down or sending notes, texts or emails to people in your life to express why you are grateful for them.

On-screen get togethers: Sure, it won’t be quite the same, but scheduling a few virtual holiday gatherings can take the sting out of being separated. Getting together online to cook, open gifts, decorate desserts, do a craft project, listen to a playlist, or read stories can create a bit of the togetherness we crave. Consider time zones when scheduling, and make sure that any people who are not tech-savvy get help beforehand so they can be included.

Secret gift exchange: Assign each family or friend a name, and ask them mail or do a no-contact delivery of a small gift they make or buy to their assigned person. Open gifts on a group video chat and try to guess who gave what to whom.

Play dress-up: If you have a willing crowd, create a theme for your virtual party. Themed masks, silly hats or ugly sweaters can give everyone something to laugh and talk about.

Remote potluck: Rather than getting together, you can assign dishes to friends and family and deliver them to one another’s homes. Or deliver just the ingredients for a dish or meal. Then, log in to your favorite video chat app to cook or dig in.

Learn a recipe together: Pick a favorite family recipe, share an ingredient list ahead of time with friends or family, and then get together virtually to try cooking or baking. Good times are guaranteed, whether you end up with delicious dumplings or poorly decorated cookies.

Game night: If you thrive on competition, make your virtual gatherings about more than just conversation. Trivia, charades, and even board games, can all work great online. Or try out a virtual bake-off, talent show or a scavenger hunt where teams race to find common and not-so-common items around their house. This is also a fun one to set up for kids so they can connect virtually with friends.

Make a list of some healthy things that you can do this season that will bring a smile to your face. Are your yearly traditions centered around family and friends? How can you adjust these traditions so that you still feel the connection you crave while also being safe and practicing physical distancing.

Yes, this holiday season will be different from previous years. It is normal to feel sad or frustrated about these changes, especially when we have made so many sacrifices since March. It is important to confront these feelings that you may have and work through them instead of burying them away. And remember: this pandemic won’t last forever. Making sacrifices now will mean bigger and better holidays to come.  

If you are experiencing stress due to COVID-19, call the Washington Listens line at 833-681-0211 for support and resources.

In a crisis?

Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255

Crisis Connections: 866-4-CRISIS (866-427-4747)

Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741

Crisis Connections helps people in physical, emotional, and financial crisis get services they need through their 24-Hour Crisis Line, Teen Link, WA Recovery Help Line, and WA Warm Line.