Septic Tips for National SepticSmart Week

Reading Time: 3 minutes

September 20-24, 2021 is SepticSmart Week—a week during which Skagit County Public Health joins the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Governor Jay Inslee in reminding homeowners and communities about the importance of caring for, and maintaining, their septic systems.

Governor Jay Inslee’s proclamation, declaring SepticSmart Week, underscores the importance of maintaining the approximately 18,000 septic systems in Skagit County. Properly designed, installed, and maintained septic systems can operate for a long time as a mini wastewater treatment plant on your own property! However, poor maintenance and other issues can lead to septic failures, contamination of surface and groundwater, algal blooms in lakes, shellfish closures in marine waters, and other issues.

SepticSmart Week Tips

During SepticSmart Week, the EPA provides homeowners with easy to remember septic maintenance tips and videos. Some tips include:

  • Protect It and Inspect It: Homeowners should have their system inspected. In Skagit County, gravity systems must be inspected every three years; all other systems inspected annually. Pumping is not the same as an inspection. Tanks should be pumped when necessary, typically when 1/3 full of solid material.
  • Think at the Sink: Avoid pouring fats, grease, and solids down the drain. These substances can clog a system’s pipes and drainfield. Utilize MedProject locally to safely dispose of medications by finding a local drop box or requesting a prepaid envelope directly to your door.
  • Don’t Overload the Commode: Only put things in the drain or toilet that belong there. Items like coffee grounds, dental floss, disposable diapers and wipes, feminine hygiene products, cigarette butts, and cat litter can all clog and potentially damage septic systems.
  • Don’t Strain Your Drain: Be water efficient and spread out water use. Fix plumbing leaks and install faucet aerators and water-efficient products. Spread out laundry and dishwasher loads throughout the day Too much water use at once can overload a system.
  • Shield Your Field: Divert downspouts away from your septic tank and drainfield to avoid extra water. Remind guests not to park or drive on a system’s drainfield, where the vehicle’s weight could damage buried pipes or disrupt underground flow.

Failure to maintain a septic system can lead to backups and overflows, which can result in costly repairs. The last thing anyone needs right now is an added headache or expense from a sewage back up. Spend some time learning how to properly operate and maintain your septic system for the long run, so its smooth flushing from here on out!

Homeowner Septic Education Classes

Skagit County Environmental Health offers Septics 101 and Septics 201 (Do-It-Yourself Septic Inspection) classes for free to all Skagit County residents. Classes are available online and can be accessed at any time. To access these classes, go to: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HealthEnvironmental/septic101.htm.

The Septic 101 class provides homeowners with an overview of the septic system history, function, operation, and maintenance. It is a 40-minute video followed by a 20-question quiz. The Septic 201 class provides homeowners an overview of the What, Why, & How of safely inspecting your septic system and includes instructional videos.

Note: Not all septic systems are eligible for homeowner inspection so please review our homeowner inspection policy first.

Financial Assistance

We know it’s not easy to think about spending extra money right now. Please know that there is financial assistance available for qualifying individuals.

  • If you need a septic system repair or replacement, Skagit County works with nonprofit lender Craft3 to offer affordable financing with the Clean Water Loan. Learn more and apply at www.Craft3.org/CleanWater
  • If you need assistance with the cost of routine inspections:
    • You may qualify for our low-income assistance program. Please contact our department for information at (360) 416-1500.
    • Submit a rebate application to receive up to $200 back on services.

For more information on septic systems and being SepticSmart, visit www.skagitcounty.net/septicwww.epa.gov/septicsmart, or contact Skagit County Environmental Health at (360) 416-1500.


Prepare to Protect – September is National Preparedness Month

Reading Time: 3 minutes

As if the current pandemic wasn’t enough, the wildfires and extreme heat this summer definitely helped to remind us of the importance of preparing for disasters. Now that we’re in September, it is time to celebrate National Preparedness Month (NPM), an awareness campaign which promotes family and community disaster and emergency planning. It’s an opportunity to remind folks that we all must prepare ourselves and our families for when emergencies happen.

The goal of NPM is to increase the overall number of individuals, families, and communities that engage in preparedness actions at home, work, school…wherever! This year’s theme is “Prepare to Protect. Preparing for disasters is protecting everyone you love.” Each week in September, a different aspect of preparedness is highlighted. The weekly highlights this year include:

September 1-4: MAKE A PLAN

What this means…

It may help to ask yourself a few questions as you create your emergency plan and discuss them with the other members of your household. They include:

  1. How will I receive emergency alerts and warnings?
  2. What is my shelter plan?
  3. What is my evacuation route?
  4. What is my family/household communication plan?
  5. Check with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and update my emergency plans due to COVID-19.
  6. Talk to your friends and family about how you will communicate before, during, and after a disaster. Make sure to update your plan based on the Centers for Disease Control recommendations due to the coronavirus.

Talk to your friends and family about how you will communicate before, during, and after a disaster. Make sure to update your plan based on the Centers for Disease Control recommendations due to the coronavirus.

Once you’ve made your emergency plan, practice it! Try testing your communications plan and meeting at your agreed-upon shelter if you get separated. For guidance on making an emergency plan, go visit Ready.gov here.

September 5-11: BUILD A KIT

What this means…

Gather supplies that will last for several days after a disaster for everyone living in your home. Don’t forget to consider the unique needs each person or pet may have in case you have to evacuate quickly. To assemble your kit, store items in airtight plastic bags and put your entire disaster supplies kit in one or two easy-to-carry containers such as plastic bins or a duffel bag.

A basic emergency supply kit could include the following recommended items:

  • Water (one gallon per person per day for several days, for drinking and sanitation)
  • Food (at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food)
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
  • Flashlight
  • First aid kit
  • Extra batteries
  • Whistle (to signal for help)
  • Dust mask (to help filter contaminated air)
  • Plastic sheeting and duct tape (to shelter in place)
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties (for personal sanitation)
  • Wrench or pliers (to turn off utilities)
  • Manual can opener (for food)
  • Local maps
  • Cell phone with chargers and a backup battery

Note: Since Spring of 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended people include additional items in their kits to help prevent the spread of coronavirus or other viruses and the flu. Some additional items include face masks, soap, hand sanitizer, and disinfecting wipes to disinfect surfaces.

For more guidance on building an emergency kit, go to Ready.gov here.

September 12-18: LOW-COST, NO-COST PREPAREDNESS

What this means…

Limit the impacts that disasters have on you and your family. Know the risk of disasters in your area. Learn how to make your home stronger in the face of storms and other common hazards.  Check your insurance coverage to make sure it is up-to-date. For information on ensuring your property, go here.

September 19-25: TEACH YOUTH ABOUT PREPAREDNESS

What this means…

Talk to your kids about preparing for emergencies and what to do in case you are separated. Reassure them by providing information about how they can get involved.

Establish a family meeting place that’s familiar and easy to find, and don’t forget to think about specific needs in your family. Your family’s needs change over time, so update your plan regularly. For guidance on emergency plans for families with children, go here.


For more preparedness information, including how to make a disaster or emergency plan and how to make your own emergency kit, go to www.ready.gov.

Skagit County also has local disaster information on our emergency preparedness website. Here, you can register to receive emergency alerts and notifications in your area through the CodeRed Emergency Notification System.  This system is a great way to receive local, timely and critical information when it matters most.


Disposing of Used Sharps in Skagit County

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Millions of people use needles, syringes, and other injection tools to self-administer healthcare treatments each year. People use sharps to manage a wide variety of conditions, including allergies, arthritis, cancer, diabetes, hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, infertility, migraines, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, blood clotting disorders, psoriasis, and more.

If someone doesn’t have immediate access to an FDA-cleared container, it can be unclear how to dispose of used sharps. Disposal rules can vary by situation and location, which may lead to sharps being disposed of loosely—and improperly—in the trash.  Adding to possible confusion, disposal options are different for businesses and household-generated sharps waste.

For HOUSEHOLD-generated Sharps

An example of an FDA-cleared Sharps Container. For information about Sharps Disposal Containers, check out the FDA webpage.

The best way to dispose of sharps is by using a mail-order, FDA-cleared sharps container. When purchasing this type of container, people can mail back their full containers to the mail-order service that the container was purchased from.

It is important to note that FDA-cleared containers can be purchased from local and chain pharmacies; however, these containers may or may not come with instructions on how to mail them back. And unfortunately, FDA-cleared sharps containers cannot be disposed of with regular household garbage. If you have purchased an FDA-cleared sharps container and are unsure of how to dispose of it, ask your pharmacy or doctor’s office if they will accept your sharps container. You can also look for a disposal site by going to https://safeneedledisposal.org/.

If you cannot purchase an FDA-cleared mail-order sharps waste container in store or online, Skagitonians have another option for disposing of household generated sharps.

In Skagit County, people can dispose of household generated sharps—including used syringes, needles, and lancets—in a correctly labeled container in their household garbage. Follow the steps below to ensure that all used sharps are disposed of safely and properly.

Step 1: Store

Used sharps should be placed in an opaque, hard plastic or metal container with a screw-on or secured lid. An empty bleach or detergent bottle works well! Do not use glass or thin plastic.

Step 2: Seal

When ¾ full (don’t overfill!), screw the lid on tightly and seal around the lid with duct tape or plastic tape.

Step 3: Sticker

Label the container with a special Skagit County Public Health label “Warning: Syringes. Do NOT Recycle.” printed on bright orange or red colored paper. Tape the label securely to the container with clear plastic tape. Labels can be downloaded from the Environmental Health webpage here. You can also request labels from our office by calling (360) 416-1500.

Skagit County Public Health’s approved warning label.

Step 4: Dispose

Dispose of the container with your regular household trash. Do NOT recycle.

Gloves, soiled bandages, and other items should be places in securely fastened plastic bags and disposed of with your regular trash.

For BUSINESS-Generated Sharps

Business are not allowed to dispose of biohazardous sharps with regular solid waste. Businesses are required to dispose of their collected biohazardous sharps via a licensed biomedical waste handler. On-site pick up services and mail order services are available. Businesses can contact Stericycle or Waste Management – Health Care to schedule services.

What about disposing of my unwanted medications in my home?

If you have unwanted, unused, or expired medication, Skagit County residents can safely dispose of these items for free by taking them to secure drop boxes, ordering free mail-back envelopes and/or picking up mail-back envelopes from convenient mailer distribution locations throughout Skagit County.

To find updated information on drop box locations, request mailers, and find mailer distribution locations go to MED-Project.

For more information about Skagit County’s Secure Medicine Return program, visit our webpage at https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/Health/medicinereturn.htm.

For questions, please contact Skagit County Public Health by calling (360) 416-1500.


Shellfish Harvesting & Consumption: What You Know To Know

Reading Time: 2 minutes

With the upcoming warm weather and low tides, you might be venturing out to harvest shellfish from one of Skagit County’s many beaches. With the help of a diligent group of volunteer harvesters, Skagit County Public Health routinely monitors samples of clams, oysters and mussels for the toxins that cause Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP), Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning (ASP), and Diarrhetic Shellfish Poison (DSP). 

Consuming shellfish with elevated levels of these marine biotoxins can cause serious illness or death. What begins as a tingling sensation in the lips and tongue can progress to a life-threatening paralysis of the respiratory system. 

Skagit County Public Health works with the Washington State Department of Health to issue beach closures when toxin levels become elevated. Before harvesting shellfish, always check for current beach closures posted on the Shellfish Safety Map or the Marine Biotoxin Bulletin, or call the Marine Biotoxin Hotline at 1-800-562-5632.

Samish Bay Seasonal Vibrio Advisory

The Department of Health has updated the Shellfish Safety map to reflect the seasonal vibrio bacteria advisory for recreational shellfish harvesting in Samish Bay from May 1- September 30, 2021. Vibrio is a bacteria naturally found in marine coastal waters, normally present in low numbers. When the weather warms up, these bacteria multiply rapidly so shellfish are more likely to be contaminated in the summer.

Tips for Safe Shellfish Consumption

There are a variety of other bacterial and viral illnesses caused by consuming contaminated shellfish. Proper cooking of shellfish before eating is always advised. Eat only well-cooked shellfish, especially during summer months. Do not consider shellfish to be fully cooked when the shells first open; shellfish need to cook for longer and must reach 145° F to be safe to eat. Click the link for more information on how to handle, store, and cook shellfish.

Safe Harvesting

  • Just before you leave, check for closures and advisories due to vibrio, biotoxins, and pollution at on the Shellfish Safety Map, by contacting Skagit County Public Health (360-416-1500), or by calling the Biotoxin Hotline at 1-800-562-5632.
  • Harvest shellfish as soon as possible with the receding tide.
  • Don’t harvest shellfish that have been exposed to the sun for more than one hour.
  • Keep shellfish on ice immediately after harvesting.
  • Thoroughly cook shellfish. The internal temperature must reach 145 °F for at least 15 seconds. Cooking shellfish thoroughly destroys vibrio bacteria; however, cooking does not destroy biotoxins.
  • If you need a refresher, here is a guide on shellfish identification.
  • More shellfish safety tips.

For questions about shellfish at beaches in Skagit County, please email Samantha Russell at srussell@co.skagit.wa.us or call 360-416-1500.


Firework Safety this Fourth of July

Reading Time: 3 minutes

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 Be “Water Safe” This Summer!

Reading Time: 2 minutes

It’s hot this week. Like, hot-hot. And this weekend looks like its going to be a scorcher. With seriously warm weather coming, you and your family might be planning to spend some time in, or near, water this weekend. Whether you’re planning a trip to the beach, to the lake, or just a casual Saturday around the kiddie pool, it is critical to be thinking about water safety at all times.

Why is water safety important?

It only takes a moment. A child or weak swimmer can drown in the time it takes to reply to a text, check a fishing line or apply sunscreen. Death and injury from drownings happen every day in home pools and hot tubs, at the beach or in oceanslakes, rivers and streams, bathtubs, and even buckets. 

How do you ensure water safety?

Being “water safe” means that you’ve taken the necessary steps to ensure the safety of yourself and your loved ones while enjoying time in, and around, the water. These steps include:

  1. Buddying Up: Always swim with other people. Designate a buddy from your household to swim with before you enter the water.
  2. Suiting Up: Always wear life jackets on boats. Make sure everyone has U.S. Coast Guard approved life jackets at all times.
  3. Knowing Your Limits: Only swim as far as you can safely get back. Don’t hold your breath for longer than you can. Stay close to shore and rest if you are cold or tired.
  4. Knowing the Water: Don’t enter cold water or very fast-moving water. Always jump feet first into unknown water.
  5. Keeping an Eye Out: Actively supervise young children and inexperienced swimmers. Stay within arm’s reach and avoid distractions.

How do you make water safety a priority, in every location and situation?

Use “Layers of Protection” In & Around Water

There are things that you can actively do to ensure water safety and prevent drowning. Here are just a few:

  • Even if lifeguards are present, you (or another responsible adult) should stay with your children.
  • Be a “water watcher” – provide close and constant attention to children you are supervising; avoid distractions, including cell phones.
  • Teach children to always ask permission to go near water.
  • Children, inexperienced swimmers, and all boaters should wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets.
  • Take specific precautions for the water environment you are in, such as:
    • Fence pools and spas with adequate barriers, including four-sided fencing that separates the water from the house.
    • At the beach, always swim in a lifeguarded area.

Know the Risks & Take Sensible Precautions – Even If You’re a Strong Swimmer

  • Always swim with a buddy.
  • Don’t use alcohol or drugs (including certain prescription medications) before or while swimming, diving or supervising swimmers.
  • Wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket when boating or fishing, even if you don’t intend to enter the water.

Ensure That the Entire Family Learns How to Swim

Now is a great time to look into swim lessons for everyone in your family! Most fitness centers with a pool offer swim lessons for kiddos 6 months and older. For a list of swimming lessons being offered in Skagit County, go to: https://skagit.kidinsider.com/pools. Note: Some information may have changed due to COVID.

Know how to respond in case of emergency

One of the best, and proactive things that you can do to ensure water safety is to learn how to respond during an emergency. Want to become CPR certified? Find a course nearby!

Some helpful links:

The American Red Cross has fantastic resources available that cover every water safety topic. For more information, visit: https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/water-safety.html.

Links to specific topics:

  1. Drowning Prevention Facts
  2. Home pool & hot tub safety
  3. Swimming Safely at the Beach

Get SMOKE READY this Wildfire Season

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Thankfully, we haven’t seen much smoke in Washington skies yet this year. Unfortunately though, we know that all it takes is one spark. Today—June 14th—marks the beginning of Smoke Ready Week, so let’s use this time to get prepared!

Like last year, there continues to be heightened concerns around the health impacts of breathing in wildfire smoke, and how this can worsen symptoms for those with COVID-19—or who may be at increased risk of contracting the virus. How we protect ourselves from wildfire smoke now is different than during other years when COVID-19 wasn’t a factor. Especially for those who are unvaccinated, it may be more difficult to go to public spaces where the air is cleaner and cooler than private homes may be. N95 respirator supplies continue to be somewhat limited, however not nearly as limited as last year. And we now all know from experience that cloth face coverings don’t provide much protection from wildfire smoke!-

So before we dive in, let’s discuss why getting Smoke Ready is important.

How can wildfire smoke harm your health?

Smoke is made up of gasses and microscopic particles. When inhaled, these particles bypass our bodies’ normal defenses, traveling deep into the lungs and even entering the bloodstream. Breathing in smoke can have immediate health effects, including the following:

  • Coughing     
  • Trouble breathing      
  • Stinging eyes     
  • Scratchy throat
  • Runny nose  
  • Irritated sinuses        
  • Wheezing         
  • Chest pain
  • Headaches   
  • Asthma attack           
  • Tiredness         
  • Fast heartbeat

Who is at most risk from wildfire smoke?

Inhaling wildfire smoke can be harmful to anyone, but it is especially harmful to these vulnerable groups: people with heart and lung disease, people with chronic respiratory conditions, infants and children, pregnant women and adults 65 and over. People in these high-risk groups should reach out to their healthcare provider to discuss specific ways to be prepared against wildfire smoke.

So, are you #SmokeReady? Here are 10 tips to help you prepare:

1. Plan ahead with your doctor.

If you or a family member has asthma, or suffers from heart or lung disease, have a plan to manage your condition. Children, pregnant women, and people over age 65 are especially at risk during smoke events. Learn more.

2. Get HEPA filters, recirculate your AC, and share space if able.

Use a HEPA filter in your home’s central air system or your air conditioner unit or air purifier. Learn how to turn your AC to “recirculate” in both your home and your car.

If purchasing a portable room air cleaner isn’t in your current budget, there are DIY instructions for building a “box fan filter.” These are fairly simple to assemble and cost around $50. View a tutorial to create a box fan filter.

For those who are vaccinated, you can also check with your neighbors—something we couldn’t do last year! If you or your neighbor doesn’t have good air filtration or air conditioning at home, arrange to share spaces with those who do.

3. Employers, plan ahead with your employees
.

Have a plan in place for employees who work outdoors. Consider alternate work assignments or relocation to reduce employee exposure to smoke. For staff that work indoors, ensure your air filtration system is protective for smoke. Prepare for employees to face childcare closures, home emergencies, etc. Check with Washington Labor & Industries for guidance

4. Have a Plan B for outdoor events.

Have a contingency plan prepared in case you need to cancel or reschedule. If you have children in summer camps or childcare, ask the organizers about their smoke plan. If the only viable plan B appears to be moving the event indoors, be sure to check with Skagit County Public Health before proceeding with plans. Visit the website or call (360) 416-1500.

5. Information about respirator masks.

If you have to be outdoors for extended periods of time, consider a N95 or N100 respirator. Thankfully, N95s are now a little easier to find in 2021 than last year, but the Washington Department of Health is still encouraging people to look at other options before getting a respirator.

If you do purchase a respirator mask, keep in mind that it can be difficult to find a mask that fits correctly. Test the fit and comfort of your mask before you need it. Learn more.

6. Stock up.

Stock up safely and responsibly. Have several days of water, groceries, and family needs on hand so you don’t have to go out when it’s smoky. Learn how to prepare.

7. Don’t forget your pets!

If the air quality is forecasted to be poor while you’re away from home, plan ahead to keep your pets inside or with a caregiver. Learn more.

8. Learn the air quality index numbers and colors.

During periods of poor air quality, watch for air quality alerts, pay attention to numbers and colors of air quality monitors, and know when to limit your time outdoors.

9. Make sure to get alerts.

Sign up to receive air quality email alerts for your zip code. Also, bookmark or subscribe to this blog for statewide air quality and wildfire updates.

Wildfire season doesn’t need to slow you and your family down, but proper planning is a must! Keep up to date by following the Washington Smoke Information blog. Learn more about being Smoke Ready at EPA’s Smoke-Ready Toolbox for Wildfires and Washington Department of Health’s Smoke From Wildfires Toolkit.


April is Child Abuse Prevention Month

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Post by the Skagit Valley Family YMCA

Every day, the Skagit Valley Family YMCA focuses on creating healthy activities and environments for kids to learn and grow! As part of this, each April, we join Washington State’s Department of Children Youth & Families (DCYF) in spreading awareness about child abuse and prevention strategies. Here are a few tips to help protect children in your community:

Know the signs.

Unexplained injuries aren’t the only signs of abuse. Depression, watchfulness, fear of a certain adult, difficulty trusting others or making friends, sudden changes in behavior, poor hygiene, secrecy, and hostility are often signs of abuse. Learn more about the signs here.

Evaluate if a report should be made.

Anyone who has reasonable cause to believe a child has suffered from or is at risk of abuse or neglect, should make a report. “Reasonable cause” means a person witnesses or receives a credible report alleging abuse. The report must be made at the first opportunity, no more than 48 hours after witnessing or receiving a credible concern.

Make a report.

If you witness a child being harmed or see evidence of abuse, make a report to your state’s child protective services department or local police. When talking to a child about abuse, listen carefully, assure the child that he or she did the right thing by telling an adult, and affirm that he or she is not responsible for what happened. If the child is in immediate danger, please call 911. For all other reports, call, text, or online chat the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1800- 422-4453).

Not sure about making a report? The Skagit Valley Family YMCA is here to help! All Y Kids staff are trained in child abuse prevention and reporting and our childcare centers are located across the Skagit Valley from Anacortes to Sedro-Woolley. Give us a call or visit one of our Skagit Y childcare centers.

Long-Term Effects

Child abuse has many long-term effects on children including brain trauma, PTSD, alcohol or drug use, and criminal activity. Childhood maltreatment has also been linked to life-long health problems including lung and heart damage, diabetes, high blood pressure, vision problems, and more. Fortunately, however, there is promising evidence that children’s brains and bodies may be able to recover with the help of early and appropriate interventions to decrease the risk of long-term effects.

Abuse Today

While school and childcare staff are trained to recognize the signs of potential abuse and the proper reporting procedures, COVID has limited contact that children have with trusted adults outside of their homes. With the lack of contact that trained adults have to youth due to COVID restrictions, there have been fewer reports made and a rise in hospital visits of kids who have experienced abuse or neglect. That’s why we need your help to identify and report signs of abuse or neglect. 

Get Involved

Join us for Wear Blue Day on April 2 as we kick-off child abuse prevention month! We encourage you to take photos and post them on social media using the hashtag #growingbettertogether and #CAPmonth.

Show your support by purchasing, making your own, or coloring a printable pinwheel! All proceeds from purchased pinwheels go toward Prevent Child Abuse America

Consider joining a parent group within Skagit and encourage other parents to keep an eye out for any signs of abuse or neglect. If you see something strange, you are likely not the only one. Together, you will be able to better determine if making a report is the right next step.

Prepare your Kids

Talk to your kids about what appropriate relationships look like with other adults. It may not be the right time for you to share what inappropriate behavior looks like, but by setting expectations for appropriate behavior, you provide a guide for your child to know what to expect and recognize behaviors that fall outside of the norm. It’s important for kids to know that they should trust their instincts and if something doesn’t feel right, to talk to you, a teacher, coach, or other trusted adult.

Even if your child isn’t exposed to abuse, they may know someone who is. Your kids are the best judge of any changes in their peers’ behavior and can help recognize potential signs of abuse or neglect. Consider asking your child questions such as: Did all of your friends seem happy today? Is there anyone in your class who seems left out? 

Many times, children who are abused, may repeat their abuse to other children without early intervention and support. Together, we can help stop the cycle to protect all children from abuse and neglect.


COVID-19 Vaccine Scams & What You Can Do About Them

Reading Time: 2 minutes

These are very exciting times as we begin to see vaccine administered across the country. It is also the perfect time for scammers to take advantage of individuals who may be feeling particularly vulnerable after months of COVID-19-related anxiety or fatigue.

Right before the holidays, a warning was sent out to the American public about several emerging fraud schemes related to COVID-19 vaccines. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have received complaints of scammers using the public’s interest in COVID-19 vaccines to obtain personally identifiable information and money through various schemes.

So how can you keep yourself and your loved ones safe from scammers? The FBI has provided a helpful list of things to look out for as you are navigating the vaccination process.

What should you look out for?

Any of the following could be an indicator of potential fraud:

  • Advertisements or offers for early access to a vaccine upon payment of a deposit or fee.
  • Requests to pay out of pocket to obtain the vaccine or to put your name on a COVID-19 vaccine waiting list.
  • Offers to undergo additional medical testing or procedures when obtaining a vaccine.
  • Marketers offering to sell and/or ship doses of a vaccine, domestically or internationally, in exchange for payment of a deposit or fee.
  • Unsolicited emails, telephone calls or personal contact from someone claiming to be from a medical office, insurance company or COVID-19 vaccine center and requesting personal and/or medical information to determine eligibility to participate in clinical vaccine trials or obtain the vaccine.
  • Claims of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for a vaccine that cannot be verified.
  • Advertisements for vaccines through social media platforms, emails, telephone calls, online or from unsolicited/unknown sources.
  • Individuals contacting you in person, by phone or by email to tell you that government officials require you to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Where should you go for credible information?

If you have questions or concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine, Skagit County Public Health has two easy ways to get information.

  1. Visit our COVID-19 Vaccine webpage at: www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine
  2. Call our new COVID-19 Vaccine Hotline at (360) 416-1500. The hotline is available in English or Spanish, and operates Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

What else can you do?

  • Check the FDA’s website for current information about vaccine emergency use authorizations.
  • Consult your primary care physician before having any vaccination.
  • Don’t share your personal or health information with anyone other than known, trusted medical professionals.
  • Check your medical bills and insurance explanation of benefits (EOBs) for suspicious claims, and promptly report errors to your health insurance provider.
  • Follow guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other trusted medical professionals.

What should you do if you suspect a scam?

If you believe you have been the victim of a COVID-19 fraud, immediately report it to the FBI (ic3.govtips.fbi.gov, or 1-800-CALL-FBI) or HHS OIG (tips.hhs.gov or 1-800-HHS-TIPS).


Preventing Poisoning During COVID-19

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Earlier this month, the Washington Poison Center (WAPC) released its data “snapshot” for 2020. This is something that WAPC puts out annually in order to educate the public about poisoning trends at the state level. These trends are based on the types of calls that WPAC’s hotline receives throughout the year, compared to years prior.

This year has been one for the books in so many ways, and the new data snapshot tells an interesting story. I had the opportunity to talk with one of WPAC’s staff, and I’d like to share what I learned.

But first: What is the Washington Poison Center (WAPC)?

The Washington Poison Center (WAPC) provides immediate, free, and expert treatment advice and assistance on the telephone in case of exposure to poisonous, hazardous, or toxic substances. Each year, its specialists answer more than 63,000 calls from Washingtonians related to poisoning and toxic exposures. All calls are free, confidential, and help is available 24/7/365.

Major Takeaways

COVID-19 has increased our risks of accidental poisoning. Period. So what is the reason for this increase? WAPC staff believe that it is due to several factors, including:

  • We are home more due to social distancing and other safety guidance
  • We may have new daily routines this year that are out of the ordinary
  • More products in the home (perhaps due to stockpiling) may cause increased access
  • More stress can cause people to be less focused
  • Rumors and misinformation can lead to dangerous choices

Calls to the Center have increased in 2020, and staff have seen spikes in calls regarding substances common to COVID prevention (hand sanitizer and household cleaners). They have also seen spikes in calls for vulnerable demographics like adolescents and adults over 60.

This data is concerning, and parallels poison trends across the U.S.

Cleaners & Sanitizers

It isn’t unusual for WAPC to receive calls about household cleaners; however, this year has definitely seen a serious uptick. Most calls have been in regards to accidental poisonings, or poisonings due to misuse (mixing products, using in low ventilated areas, etc).

The vast majority of hand sanitizer exposures have been in children ages 0-12, most likely due to increased access to the products in the home. The high alcohol content in these products can be very dangerous for young children, so it is extremely important to supervise kids when using hand sanitizer and to make sure that bottles are always out of reach.

Nicotine

An interesting find this year has been the decrease in nicotine exposure calls. In 2020, nicotine exposure in children ages 0-5 actually decreased—a trend that even WAPC staff were a bit surprised about. Perhaps the decrease is due to parents being home more? Or perhaps the new Tobacco 21 law has decreased access to these products? While it is difficult to pinpoint direct correlations, it is certainly nice to see this type of data!

That said, it is still very important to keep nicotine products stored safely and away from children. The vast majority of calls for 0-5 year old’s were for raw tobacco, with vape products in second. WAPC staff explained that raw tobacco can be dangerous, but vape liquid—if ingested—can be fatal. Always, always, keep these products away from children, as flavored liquids can be especially enticing to little kids.

Cannabis

WAPC 2020 Data Snapshot

Trends for THC exposure are less rosy. All age groups saw an increase in THC exposures this year, with a sizeable increase among children 0-5. Among this group, exposures were almost 100% due to unintentional use (getting a hold of an edible, plant-based product, or concentrate). Safe and secure storage of these products is crucial to keeping kids safe.

Medications

This is another area that has historically been a concern for WAPC, however COVID has exacerbated the problem. Stress, distractions, and new routines can lead to user error and poor judgement. WAPC staff encourage people to use medication lists, trackers, and reminders in order to decrease risk of double-dosing or mixing meds.

It is also encouraged that people secure medications in the home. This simple step can decrease the likelihood of accidental poisonings in young children, or misuse among adolescents.

Adolescent Self-harm

By far, this data tells the most worrisome story. Historically, data has shown an increase in youth self-harm/suicidal intent since 2014, and this trend continues. COVID-19 related isolation and stress may increase these risks—something that mental health experts have been concerned about for months.

WAPC 2020 Data Snapshot

It is encouraging, however, to see this data and to realize just how amazing our kids are. Despite all the ups and downs of 2020, our youth are showing resilience in magnitudes. We must not forget that we can all make a positive difference everyday in the lives of our young people.

Two steps that each of us can take today are: 1) locking up medications (even over-the-counter meds like Tylenol and Advil); and 2) talking to our children about substance use. Don’t know where to start with this? Visit Start Talking Now for some ideas.

What to expect when you call

It doesn’t need to be an emergency to call the Washington Poison Center—you can call to get advice or directions if you are concerned or confused about poison-related issues.

You will speak with an expert (nurse, pharmacist, or poison information provider), and there are always Board Certified Medical Toxicologists on-call if necessary. You are not required to give your name, however providing your age and gender can be extremely helpful in order to gauge risk. What was taken, when, and how much are other vital details to provide to the staff.

These calls are always confidential. You do not need to be worried about law enforcement or CPS getting involved. WAPC is concerned about your safety and about providing care.

Staff are trained to provide direction on what to do, what to watch for, and most of the time this can all happen with the caller at home. If/when it is decided that the caller needs medical intervention, staff can advise the caller to go to the emergency room, or WAPC can actually contact EMS on the caller’s behalf.

Finally, WAPC staff will follow-up with you—just to make sure that everything is alright!

It is important to be vigilant when it comes to poisoning prevention—now more than ever. With that said, I feel comforted in knowing that there are trained professionals available to answer my questions. If you don’t have the Washington Poison Center’s phone number somewhere in your home, I encourage you to jot it down! 1-800-222-1222

You never know when you might need it!

To view the Washington Poison Center’s full data report, visit: www.wapc.org/programs/covid-19-resources-information/covid-19-data/.