Thanksgiving Planning for Safer Gatherings

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Thanksgiving has always been a holiday full of planning: When should you start thawing the turkey? How many seats will you need at the table? And who—WHO?!—is bringing the pumpkin pie? While this year’s festivities will obviously be different, there will still be some planning involved.

If you have been watching the news, you know that there is a surge in COVID-19 cases right now—not only in Washington State, but throughout the United States. With the colder weather drawing people indoors, and the greater likelihood of transmission in enclosed spaces, it isn’t a surprise that cases have gone up. We also know that COVID-19 cases typically spike in the weeks following holidays when a lot of gatherings of non-household members take place.

With these factors in play, we must ask the uncomfortable question: Should Thanksgiving be canceled or postponed this year? It is a question, at least, to think critically on. After all, the Public Health recommendation continues to be that gatherings should be limited to reduce the risk of transmission.

However, if your family chooses to gather despite these recommendations, there are harm reduction practices that should be put into place. If you decide to gather, there’s always a risk of spreading COVID-19 infection. You can help lessen this risk through pre-planning, conversations, and some trade-offs.

The Washington Department of Health has a great safety checklist for those planning to gather this holiday season. It comes down to three steps: 1) planning before; 2) planning during; and 3) planning after.

Before You Gather

  • Have “the conversation.” Get really clear with friends and family about how you will make safety a priority when spending time together. Set some ground rules that will help everyone know what to expect. View a sample conversation guide
  • Review your guest list. Are there people who may be in a high-risk category or children? Think about special needs and precautions as part of your planning.
  • Check your space and gather outside if possible. Is there room to spread out, at least 6 feet (2m) from people you don’t live with? If no, is there an outdoor space, like a park where you could meet? If outside, will there be restrooms people can use? If inside, be sure your space is well ventilated by opening windows. Remind guests to wear warm clothes!
  • Right-size your guest list. Limit the number of guests based on the number allowed in your county per the Safe Start Plan, and the outdoor or indoor space available that allows you to be 6-feet apart.
  • Do a health check. Ask if anyone has had symptoms such as cough, fever or shortness of breath, in the last 2 weeks. Ask guests to check their temperature before arriving. Anyone with a fever—or who has had other symptoms, or knows they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 within the last two weeks—should stay home.
  • Consider the children. Kids have trouble playing 6 feet apart, so wearing masks and frequent hand-washing may be the safest plan of action. Remember: Kids under 2 should never wear masks! 
  • Make a food plan. Talk through details like how food will be shared. The safest option is to have everyone bring their own food. If sharing, separate food ahead of time into individual servings and forgo communal bowls and utensils. Find more tips about food prep in the FAQs.
  • Clean, clean, clean. If you’re hosting, frequently disinfect surfaces that people may encounter during their visit. 
  • Consider pre-event quarantine. Can all participants (including yourself) self-quarantine for 14 days before the gathering?
  • Get tested. If you have been around many other people or do not regularly wear a mask, get a COVID-19 test to make sure you’re negative. Take into account that it can take a few days to receive test results. If you test negative, you still need to wear a mask and keep your distance from others when you socialize. 

While You Gather

  • Wash early and often. Ask adults and kids to wash hands on arrival, before and after eating, and before they leave with soap for at least 20 seconds. If there is no access to a sink, provide hand sanitizer. 
  • Gather outdoors if at all possible. If indoors, open windows to increase ventilation.
  • Mask up. Wear a face covering at all times when not eating. Consider having extra masks on hand if people forget.
  • Separate servings. Avoid communal food and sharing utensils, even with babies and young children. Don’t share drinks.
  • Avoid close contact. Smiles and air hugs only, and prepare kids ahead of time to do the same.

After You Gather

  • Wash hands (again). Wash for 20 seconds with soap and water.
  • Sanitize. Clean all surfaces that may have been touched by guests such as tabletops, counters, doorknobs and bathroom fixtures, with soap and water first, and then a disinfecting agent. 
  • Watch for symptoms. Alert others at the gathering if there’s a positive test among anyone in attendance. Learn more about what to do if you’ve been exposed.

If you are reading the above steps and feeling absolutely overwhelmed, you aren’t alone! And if the idea of canceling or postponing your Thanksgiving plans feels heartbreaking, that is an entirely normal response. During normal times, the fall and winter months are wonderful times to gather. So, limiting and changing the way in which we gather with family and friends isn’t easy. It may cause feelings of stress, anxiety or depression.

In the end, it is up to you and your family to decide what your Thanksgiving holiday should look like. But it is also important for us all to think hard about what really matters most to us. So even though the holidays may look a bit different this year, we know that our actions—as well as some planning—can go a long way in keeping all of us safe and healthy this winter.

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


Let’s Talk About It…Domestic Violence During COVID-19

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Guest blog post by staff at Skagit DVSAS

This past month of October, we at Skagit Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services (Skagit DVSAS) participated in Domestic Violence Awareness Month. On Purple Thursday, October 15th, we asked the community to join us in wearing purple in support of survivors. Using social media, we were able to come together to raise awareness for domestic violence in our community. Skagit community members joined us in showing support by sharing pictures of themselves wearing purple to our Facebook page, helping to raise awareness and show survivors that Skagit cares.

October may be over, but we know that domestic violence is not. We also know that the community still cares, now, and every month of the year! At Skagit DVSAS, we believe that we all have the power to end abuse through our individual and collective efforts. Abuse can be a difficult and scary topic for a lot of us, and it is okay not to know where to start.

Let’s Talk

The first thing we can all do to prevent and put an end to abuse in our community is to start talking about it! Talking about domestic violence raises awareness, and increases understanding for those going through it. There are many myths and stigmas that surround interpersonal violence and make survivors feel that they are not believed or valid. We can challenge those stigmas by letting people know that abuse is a very real thing in many people’s lives, and that it is never the survivors’ fault. Talking about domestic violence can also look like sharing community resources with others, such as our Skagit DVSAS 24-hour crisis hotline for survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

Red Flags

Another way to take action against domestic violence in our daily lives is to learn about red flags that may indicate someone is experiencing violence in their life. When we know what signs to look for, we are better able to support our friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers. Red flags can be both physical and behavioral. Someone who is experiencing abuse may have unexplained bruises or other injuries, sudden onset of pain and illness, or chronic pain. They may isolate themselves, or never want to be alone, may experience anxiety, depression, panic, dissociation, anger, hostility, and low self-esteem. They might also be nervous to be around their partner and can be hypervigilant or the opposite.

This is just a short list of some of the signs that someone is experiencing abuse, but the most important red flag to pay attention to is any sudden or unexplained change in behavior. When you have a gut feeling that something is wrong, trust it! Checking in about what is going on lets the person experiencing abuse know that there is someone who cares about them and is concerned for their safety.

If you know someone who has previously experienced abuse or is currently experiencing abuse, the most powerful way you can support them is to believe their story, validate their feelings, and allow them to make their own decisions. Domestic violence is the abuse of power in a relationship that takes control away from the survivor. When we allow them to make their own choices, we can help to give that power back.

Show Support

Finally, you do not have to be an expert in domestic violence to support survivors! You only need to be a caring friend, neighbor, or community member. If the person you are supporting would like to talk to someone who is an expert, we at Skagit DVSAS are always available. DVSAS can provide emotional support, crisis intervention, safety planning, support groups, legal and medical advocacy, and emergency shelter. We have Spanish speaking advocates and interpretive services, as well as community prevention education services available for schools and community groups. DVSAS serves everyone regardless of age, sex, identity, and immigration status, and all of our services are free and confidential. Please do not hesitate to reach out and to share us as a resource. We are still open and serving the community during the COVID-19 pandemic and are providing all of our services over the phone. Our professionals at DVSAS can be reached at (360) 336-9591 for questions, support, and for arranging community education events online.

We believe in the power of knowledge, resources, and community action to put an end to domestic violence in our community.


Moving Indoors: Staying Safe & Healthy this Winter Season

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The summer clothes have been put away and the coats have officially come out. It seems that there have been more rainy days than sunny ones in the last few weeks, and temperatures have been dropping steadily. The leaves are hanging on, but winter is just around the corner. As we plan to snuggle in for the colder months ahead, it is time to begin thinking about safety precautions regarding COVID-19 and being indoors.

Is outdoors really safer?

Up until this point, Washingtonians have been pretty lucky given our temperate climate. Unlike our fellow states to the South, where people have sought shelter indoors during the hot summer months, we have been able to spend a lot of time in the great outdoors.

Being outdoors poses fewer health risks, since natural outdoor airflow and sunlight help to dissipate or kill viruses. Now that the weather will force many of us inside this winter, we will need to be more thoughtful about the way we live and socialize indoors.

Why does being indoors pose more risks?

Closed windows and doors decrease fresh airflow which can increase risk, especially when you have more people inside. Drier, less humid air from heating may also increase the risk.  

Although the virus spreads mainly through close contact with an infected person, studies have shown that COVID-19 can at times spread farther than six feet through the air. While these situations have been relatively uncommon, spread can be a problem where COVID-19 can build up in the air, such as in crowded, enclosed settings.

What can we do to decrease risk while indoors?

The risk of COVID-19 transmission increases with indoor gatherings compared to outdoors, but there are ways to reduce the spread and stay healthy. While the recommendation is still to avoid gathering with people who are not in your household, and to socialize outdoors when gatherings are unavoidable, we must realistically expect that there will be times when social events will take place indoors this winter.

Here are some tips for reducing the risks of transmission if you do plan to gather with non-household family members or friends:

1. Mask up: Cloth face masks should be worn at all times in indoor public places, including in your own home when visitors are present. You do not need to wear a mask indoors at home with your household members. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more information about masks and which ones are most effective.

2. Keep your circle small: Try to limit the number of people you and your household are around as much as possible, and also be mindful of the amount of time you spend with these individuals indoors.  When socializing, stay as far apart as possible, even with masks on.  Remember, the guidance is not “mask up OR stay six feet or more of distance.” Rather, the safer thing to do is to wear a mask AND stay six feet or more apart from others.

3. Increase air flow:  Do what you can to improve ventilation in indoor spaces, including opening windows when possible. More fresh air means lower risk. The COVID-19 virus can build up in the air over time, especially in crowded, enclosed settings, where ventilation is limited. The risk of transmission further increases when people are not wearing masks, or when groups are doing activities that involve speaking loudly, singing or exercising (when we exhale more virus-containing particles into the air). 

If possible, adjust the ventilation system to increase the intake of outdoor air; this can be achieved by placing a fan on a window sill and encouraging outdoor air to flow into the room, or opening windows on either side of the home to encourage airflow throughout the house. Do not open windows and doors if doing so poses a safety or health risk to children or other family members (e.g., risk of falling or triggering asthma symptoms).

Check out the EPA’s webpage on home ventilation for more tips: www.epa.gov/coronavirus/indoor-air-homes-and-coronavirus-covid-19.

4. Clean and disinfect: The primary and most important mode of transmission for COVID-19 is through close contact between people. However, it may be possible for a person to contract COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. While experts do not believe that this is the main way the virus spreads, it is good to take precautions.

If an indoor visit is unavoidable, be sure to clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces, including counter tops, door knobs, light switches, and toilet seats. And of course, be sure that people are washing and disinfecting hands frequently. For cleaning tips, visit www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/disinfecting-your-home.html.

5. Take sniffles seriously: If you, or a potential guest, are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19 (no matter how mild), it is best to postpone your get-together for another time. It is much safer to take a rain check than to put yourself and your loved ones at risk of infection.

It is also important to remember that COVID-19 often spreads from people before they develop symptoms or recognize that they are sick. This means that there is a risk of transmission any time a group of non-household members congregate, so all the above precautions are necessary.

We can’t depend on any one preventative measure alone. Instead, we need to use a combination of strategies to most effectively reduce the risk of transmission. These steps include wearing a mask, limiting interactions with others outside the home, staying at least six feet away from others, improving ventilation, practicing good hygiene and cleaning, and staying home when sick.

It may mean some challenges this winter, but we can all do our part to make it work.


Saturday, October 24th is Drug Take Back Day

Reading Time: 4 minutes

While stuck at home this past spring and summer, you might have done a bit of cleaning. If you happened to sort through your purse or rearrange your medicine cabinet, you might have come across some old medication that you no longer need. If so, you’ll be happy to know that National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is coming up on Saturday, October 24th! Now is the time to unload your unused or expired meds.

What is Drug Take Back Day?

This is an event that takes place each spring and fall: once in April, and again in October. It is a national event which is organized by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)—and co-hosted by local law enforcement—and has been taking place for 18 years. In October 2019, more than 880,000 pounds of unused and expired medications were collected nation-wide. In Skagit alone, more than 300 pounds were collected during last year’s fall event!

Why is it important?

The National Prescription Drug Take Back Day addresses a crucial public safety and public health issue. According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 9.9 million Americans misused controlled prescription drugs. The study shows that a majority of misused or abused prescription drugs were obtained from family and friends, often from the home medicine cabinet. Unused and expired medications typically remain in the home unmonitored, making them an easy target. Promptly removing leftover prescriptions from your home and safely disposing of your medication is a simple step to ensure that these medications do not end up being misused.  

Where are Take Back events happening locally?

There will be Drug Take Back events happening at the following locations, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.:

  • Anacortes Police Department: 1218 24th St, Anacortes, WA 98221
  • Burlington Public Safety Building: 311 Cedar St, Burlington, WA 98233 Burlington, WA 98233
  • Swinomish Tribal Police Department: 17557 Front St, La Conner, WA 98257
  • Skagit Valley Family YMCA: 1901 Hoag Rd, Mount Vernon, WA 98273
  • Sedro-Woolley City Hall: 325 Metcalf St, Sedro-Woolley, WA 98284

What should I expect?

Due to COVID-19, all locations will be providing drive-through services this October. Drivers will be expected to wear masks, and they will be instructed to stay within their vehicles and to adhere to all directions and posted signage.

Each location will have a law enforcement officer on site and will be responsible for monitoring the disposal bin and taking all medications into custody at the end of the event. Drivers will be expected to handle their own medications and will be instructed to place items into the bin directly.

Note: Call your local law enforcement department for more information.

What types of medications will be accepted?

Controlled, non-controlled, and over-the-counter substances may be collected. Individuals may dispose of medication in its original container or by removing the medication from its container and disposing of it directly into the disposal bin.

If an original container is submitted, the individual is encouraged to remove any identifying information (like a name or address) from the prescription label by either removing the label or using a permanent marker. Liquid products, such as cough syrup, should remain sealed in their original containers.

Intra-venous solutions, injectables, inhalers, syringes, chemotherapy medications, vaping devices that have batteries that cannot be removed, or medical waste will not be accepted due to potential hazard posed by blood-borne pathogens. These medications require special disposal (see below for more information).

If I can’t make it, what should I do?

Disposal of waste medicines is also available every day in Skagit County through the Secure Medicine Return Program operated by MED-Project LLC. Prescription medicines, legally prescribed controlled substances (e.g. narcotics and stimulants), over-the-counter medicines, and pet medications can all be disposed year round via the following MED-Project options:

  • Drop Boxes: Deposit medicine in drop boxes located at select Skagit County pharmacies and law enforcement agencies. Current Drop Box locations are listed at https://med-project.org/locations/skagit/convenient-locations/. Continue to check the website as the program will expand collection locations.
  • Mailer Sent to Individuals: Order pre-paid, pre-addressed, no-cost medicine return mailers to be sent directly to your home. Please go to https://med-project.org/locations/skagit/mail-back/ or call 1-844-633-7765 to order mailers. You can get standard mailers or special mailers for inhalers and prefilled auto-injectors (like Epi Pens).
  • Mailers Distribution Locations: Pick up a no-cost mailer at participating municipal building like fire stations, city halls and libraries. Continue to check https://med-project.org/locations/skagit/convenient-locations/ for an up-to-date and ever-growing list of mailer distribution location near you.

Can’t I just flush old medication?

Safe disposal not only helps prevent misuse and overdose deaths, it’s also important for the health of our environment. Scientists have found medicines in Pacific Northwest water and soils. Even at low levels, these medicines can harm the health of wildlife and leach into our drinking water. Take back programs, and secure medication drop boxes, are the only environmentally safe ways to dispose of opioid medications.

What do I do with the meds I am currently using?

Most people have some type of medication in their home, from prescription meds to over-the-counter items like ibuprofen or cough syrup. For many people, taking medication may be a part of their daily routine, and it just makes sense to have them out on a nightstand or countertop for ease of use.

While this may be okay for people who live alone or do not have frequent visitors, those who have children in their home should consider securing their medication in a lockable compartment. Locking up medication is one of the easiest things that a parent, grandparent, or caregiver can do to prevent youth misuse—or even accidental poisonings for small children.

Email prevention@co.skagit.wa.us for information about free lock boxes (please note that supplies are limited).

To find out more about National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, visit its website.


Halloween How To’s: Let’s Get Creative!

Reading Time: 3 minutes

One of the things that has kept me going mentally over the past six months has been my garden. Trust me…this thing is nothing to write home about! But it gives me a sense of pride when I look out from my window and I see the tall stalks of our corn blowing in the wind. While I haven’t been able to control a lot since March, I know that this little space I’ve created will be there every day, ready to be watered and weeded. The champions of my garden, without a doubt, have been my pumpkins. I’ve watched these things grow from tiny green balls, to beautiful orange spheres. I’ve been waiting with so much anticipation for October so I can finally cut them off the vine and bring them into our home. Halloween, here we come!

With our Health Officer’s recent announcement about in-person trick-or-treating, along with recommendations from the CDC, I will be honest: I was disappointed. It is okay to feel this way (something I tell myself frequently), and it is normal to mourn our “normal” holiday traditions. That being said, to dwell on this would do a great disservice to ourselves and our loved ones.

So traditional in-person trick-or-treating isn’t happening this year? Okay. There is so much that we can still do—and still control—despite these challenges.

So let’s explore these creative options!

1. Decorate your house and/or yard. You can even hold a contest with your neighbors and vote on the spookiest house!

2. Carve your pumpkins in the front yard this year and have your neighbors do the same. Enjoy this holiday tradition with other families, while keeping a safe distance. Play some Halloween-themed music (Monster Mash, anyone?), and do your best Thriller moves.

3. Coordinate a Halloween scavenger hunt by giving your kids a list of Halloween-themed decorations to look for while they walk outdoors (think cobwebs, ghosts, and black cats).

Make it a bingo game and use this template, or create your own!

4. Hold a virtual costume party via video chat with family or friends. Hold a contest for most creative, scariest, sparkliest, best overall, etc.

5. Exchange candy with a few families you know. Do a drop-off delivery at their doorstep for a Halloween surprise for the kids. If you are preparing goodie bags, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 second before and after preparing the bags.

6. Trick-or-treat inside your home—or in the yard—by hiding candy for your kids to find. A few jump-scares may be in order for older kids (so long as this is something that they would find enjoyable!).

7. Have a spooky movie night or Halloween craft party with the family. Call your local library and ask to have some Halloween-themed DVDs or books put together, and pick them up using the library’s curbside pick-up.

If none of these strike your fancy, ask around and see what other people might be planning. Get creative and try some new things. Who knows…you may incorporate some of these 2020 Halloween activities into your future holiday traditions! For some more helpful insights into COVID-safe holiday fun, visit the CDC’s holiday page. Take care of yourself, and happy haunting!

Note: Skagit County’s Health Officer has recommended against in-person trick-or-treating this year because it “presents too much of a risk for widespread community transmission.” We realize that there may be families who still participate this year, despite the recommendation. For those who intend to trick-or-treat, it is imperative that the following health precautions be taken.

Handing out candy:

  • Offer no-contact treats by bagging up separate treats and placing them away from your front door or in your yard or near the sidewalk. Allow trick-or-treaters to gather candy while remaining physically distanced.
  • If you are preparing bags of candy, wash your hands well before and after preparing the bags. 

Trick-or-treating:

  • Do not substitute a Halloween mask for a face covering. Wear an approved face mask. Find one that fits in with your costume!
  • Maintain six feet of distance from other trick-or-treaters or residents who are handing out candy.
  • If you are trick-or-treating with others outside your household, keep six feet of distance between yourselves.
  • Stay away from large costume parties or trick-or-treating events.
  • Bring plenty of hand sanitizer with you.

Know Your Family Health Hazards

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Guest post by Skagit County Emergency Management

Emergency Management is mostly about risk management. The theory is that if you know what your risks are, you can plan for a better response when an emergency hits and be able to recover more easily. Risk management works alongside prevention, protection and mitigation, which reduce risks before an emergency; all are vital to emergency management. We have a variety of major hazards in Skagit County — flood, volcano, fire, storms, tsunami, and hazardous materials to name a few. Do you know what your personal and family hazards are? Including any health hazards you know of in your family plan is an important component of risk management.

Current events have shown how important it is to be prepared for health hazards. Along with the facemasks and hand sanitizer, what can you do to protect your family’s health during an emergency?

First, know what your family’s health hazards are are. They could include allergies, diabetes, respiratory illness or necessary medications. Any medical condition that requires specific medication or medical equipment or that gets worse from stress can be a health hazard.

Second, include your family’s health hazards in your emergency planning. Know what can trigger the condition or make it worse, what the reactions look like, and what’s needed to make it better. If possible, have back-up medicine or equipment in your evacuation kit. I know it’s not always possible, especially for equipment. At a minimum, include the following in your kit:

  • A list of all medications with dosage requirements and prescription information
  • A list of equipment, including where it came from and any required settings
  • Non-medical emergency provisions
  • A copy of your medical insurance information and doctor contact information with your important documents
  • Some medical conditions can decrease your immune response, so you may want to increase your supplies of facemasks and hand sanitizer

What does that look like in practice? If you have allergies that have an anaphylactic response, keep an epinephrine injection (commonly called an EpiPen) in your kit and be extra cautious of triggers. If it’s a reaction that can be triggered by skin absorption, have gloves in your kit. If you have diabetes, have a list of medications, what kind of insulin and needles you use, the location of your glucose meter, and some appropriate emergency food for when your blood sugar gets low. Let your family know what it feels like when your sugar is low and what they can watch out for.

Preparing for health hazards doesn’t end once the emergency is over — it includes being aware of potential triggers afterwards. Medical equipment may need to be replaced; having a list of where the equipment came from and any special settings needed can speed up replacing it. Cleaning products, mold, and other contaminants can trigger medical conditions, so be alert for medical reactions. Long-term stress can also aggravate some conditions.

Health hazards come in all shapes and sizes. Planning for an emergency should include health hazards to help you respond and recover from the emergency. Knowing what the triggers are, what reactions to look out for, and what’s needed to combat that reaction can help save a family member. It’s always a good idea to take First Aid and CPR training, too!


Be Prepared If You Have To Go

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Guest post by Skagit County Emergency Management

Right now, we’re all reminded of the power of nature. The West Coast is experiencing historic wildfires, and the Gulf Coast is reeling from an unusually active hurricane season. Even though the thought of needing to evacuate your home might be stressful, it’s important to prepare for that possibility now. Planning ahead can reduce anxiety. Being prepared and knowing what to do will help you when a major disaster strikes.

In recent months, we’ve been reminded of how important it is to have items stocked and ready, from food and water to face masks. It’s good to have supplies if you can’t leave your house, but what happens if you can’t stay there? There are steps you can take now to prepare, such as having a Go Bag ready in case you need to leave your home, and establishing a game plan for when it’s time to go. What do you take if you have 5, 10 or 30 minutes to evacuate? Have some bare necessities ready to go, and know what you’ll grab if you have time.

What can you do now?

Know when it’s time to go—sign up for alerts and warnings. Skagit County uses CodeRED for local emergencies and alerts. NOAA weather alerts are available, and many weather apps can be set to notify you of new alerts. If you travel to an area outside the county on a regular basis, check with the emergency management for the local area and sign up for alerts there as well.

Document your property with pictures or create a video with details about special items. Send the files to your email or an internet cloud location like Dropbox so you can access it from anywhere, and consider sending it to your emergency contact person to store.

Build a Go Bag for each person. Use a backpack or plastic tote that is small enough to be easily handled by one person. Everyone has a different set of priorities for items to include, so cover your high priorities first. If you have kids, let them help build their Go Bag, and let them choose some of the things that go in it so they have ownership of it. First things first, though—ALWAYS know where your wallet and cell phone are!

Priority items to have in Go Bags:

  • Face masks and hand sanitizer for everyone
  • Nonperishable food and manual can opener—replace food every 6 months
  • 1 gallon of water per person per day and/or a way to sanitize water to be drinkable
  • Essential medications
  • First aid kit
  • Flashlight and batteries
  • Personal hygiene items, including toilet paper
  • Important documents stored in a waterproof container: think identification, medical and financial essentials, such as an emergency contact list, insurance papers, birth certificates, driver’s license, marriage license, list of important numbers like social security, credit cards, bank accounts, vehicle and property paperwork
  • Consider special needs in your household, such as elderly, infant, access and functional needs, pets—each may have special medical needs, specific food needs, supplies, and records
  • Radio and extra batteries
  • Small comfort item, like a copy of your favorite family photo or a small stuffed animal
  • Other items to consider:
    • Money, checks, credit card
    • Sturdy shoes
    • Change of clothes
    • Sleeping bag/blanket
    • Cell phone charger
    • Whistle
    • Garbage and zip-top bags
    • Bleach
    • Matches
    • Picnic items or camp mess kits to eat from

What do you do when it’s time to go?

If there is no time, remember People, Pets, and Packs. Grab your people, your pets and your Go Bag and GO! In some emergencies, there is no time to get more. You need to get to a safe area as quickly as possible. Your life can not be replaced.

If you have 5 minutes: Add essential medical equipment, non-vital medications, glasses, laptop and charger, and any items from the list above that aren’t already in your Go Bag.

If you have 30 minutes and room in your vehicle: Add treasured family items, individual emotional comfort items, changes of clothes, and computer backups. Prepare your home as much as you can in the time you have: turn off utilities, move furniture depending on the reason for evacuation (fire: away from walls, flood: off the floor), move things that can catch fire or explode under heat away from your house, such as vehicles, grills, and firewood.

Every step you take today helps to mitigate the effects of large scale events on our families and communities. Make a game of drilling your family on what to take during an emergency—have them run around and put a sticker on what they consider the most important items while you time them. Make a list of those items and put the list in a zip-top bag attached to the front of your Go Bag. Knowing when to leave and what you will take during an emergency can give you one less thing to worry about in today’s world.

Resources:

Redcross.org

Ready.gov


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.


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!


Hand Sanitizer Recall

Reading Time: 2 minutes

While washing your hands for at least 20 seconds is preferred, using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be an effective way to clean your hands when soap and water are not easily available. However, federal regulators are warning consumers to avoid nearly 150 different hand sanitizers because they contain dangerous chemicals or their alcohol levels are too low to be effective. Some of the hand sanitizer brands have been sold at national retailers like Walmart and Costco, which have recalled the products.

What is wrong with the recalled sanitizers?

Some hand sanitizers are being recalled because they contain methanol, also known as wood alcohol, which can be toxic when ingested or absorbed through the skin, according to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warning. Hand sanitizers should never contain methanol, which is used industrially as a solvent and pesticide. Exposure to methanol can cause nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, blindness, seizures, coma, permanent damage to the nervous system or death.  

Can I just check product labels for methanol?

No, unfortunately looking at labels is not enough. According to the FDA, some of the products were mislabeled, so consumers would not be able to tell which hand sanitizers actually contain methanol. The FDA has compiled a list of the recalled products on its website. The best way to find out if your hand sanitizer was recalled is to check the FDA list.

Note: Scroll to the bottom of the FDA website to search the list of recalled products.

The FDA is urging consumers not to use any hand sanitizer products from the manufacturers on their list even if the product or particular lot number are not listed. If any of the identifiers match a product on the list, the FDA urges consumers to stop using the hand sanitizer. Do not flush or pour these products down the drain or mix with other liquids. You should dispose of the sanitizer bottle in a hazardous waste container, or at a hazardous waste collection facility.

General Safety Tips

It is important to understand that any hand sanitizer can be harmful when used improperly. The Washington Poison Center has issued a list of safety tips for hand sanitizer use:

  • Do not swallow any hand sanitizers.
  • Only use hand sanitizers for their intended purpose: to clean hands.
  • Supervise children when using hand sanitizer. Apply a small amount to the child’s hands, and have them rub their hands together until dry.
  • Keep hand sanitizers out of sight and out of reach of children when not in use.
  • Contact the Washington Poison Center immediately (1-800-222-1222) if someone has swallowed hand sanitizer. Do not wait for symptoms to occur.
Visit the Washington Poison Center website for more information about staying safe during COVID-19.

How do I use hand sanitizer effectively to kill viruses like COVID-19?

When using hand sanitizer, the CDC recommends that you apply the product to the palm of one hand and rub the product all over the surfaces of your hands until your hands are dry, which should take about 30 seconds. Studies have shown that hand sanitizers may not be as effective when your hands are visibly dirty or greasy, so thoroughly washing your hands with soap and water is a better option in those cases.