Secure Medicine Return…Now Available Statewide!

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Secure medicine return has been a major area of focus for Skagit County Public Health for several years now. You may have seen return boxes popping up here and there over the past 2-3 years at police departments, pharmacies, and county buildings. You might have also taken part in one of our local take back events, hosted by law enforcement and prevention coalitions, which take place every April and October.

What you may not know though is that Washington State only just recently adopted a statewide Secure Medicine Return Program, which officially launched on November 21! If you have questions about the program, and about how to dispose of your unused or expired medication, please read on…

What is the Secure Medication Program?

Safe Medication Return is a unified, statewide program that gives Washington residents free, convenient, and environmentally responsible options to dispose of unwanted medication. Drug manufacturers fund the program at no cost to taxpayers.

Safe Medication Return is operated by MED-Project, which is the approved program operator. The Washington State Department of Health oversees the establishment of the program, monitors on-going operations, manages enforcement when compliance issues arise, and evaluates program effectiveness.

Why is secure medication disposal important?

Properly disposing unused and expired medication is a great way to protect your family and your community. Research has shown that unused, unwanted, and/or expired medicines in your home pose an increased risk for drug misuse/abuse. Local data has shown that the home medicine cabinet is one of the most common places for people to go when looking for drugs to get high.

Accidental poisoning is also of major concern. Many young children get poisoned by taking medicine not intended for them. If medication is left out or stored improperly, the likelihood of little hands getting hold of these medications is quite high.

Lastly, disposing of medications improperly is bad for the environment. When medicines are flushed down the toilet or thrown in the trash, it pollutes our water and soil.

How does it work?

There are two main ways to return your unused medication. Both options are FREE.

  • Mail in your unused medication
    • Request a free prepaid envelope and one will be sent to you by mail.
    • Place your unused medication in the envelope
    • Mail the package as you would any other parcel.
  • Take it to a drop off site
    • Find your nearest drop off site, and deposit your medication in the kiosk. That’s it!
    • You do not need to provide an ID, talk with anyone, or complete paperwork.

What medicines are accepted by MED-Project? 

Medicines in any form including solids, liquids or patches, inhalers and prefilled products containing a sharp and auto-injectors (such as Epi Pens). This can include:

  • Prescription and over the counter medicines
  • Brand name and generic medicines
  • Controlled substances
  • Pet medications 

What medicines are NOT accepted?

  • Vitamins or supplements
  • Herbal-based remedies and homeopathic drugs, products or remedies
  • Cosmetics, shampoos, sunscreen, toothpaste, lip balm, antiperspirants or other personal care products
  • Pet pesticide products contained in pet collars, powders, shampoos or other forms
  • Medical sharps (needles, syringes) and empty auto injectables (such as used Epi Pens)
  • Medical devices
  • Medicines generated by businesses

For more information, visit the WA Department of Health’s Secure Medication webpage here. You can also contact Skagit County Public Health either by email at eh@co.skagit.wa.us or by phone (360) 416-1500.

Thank you for taking this extra step to ensure the safety of your friends and neighbors!


The Flu Vaccine: It’s not too late to get yours!

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Flu activity was kept low last season because of vaccination, social distancing, masking, school closures and limited travel. Now that many pandemic restrictions have been lifted, the flu has a much higher chance of spreading.

The timing of flu is difficult to predict and can vary in different parts of the country and from season to season. So, while we haven’t seen much flu activity yet, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t prepare. Experts have warned that reduced population immunity due to lack of flu virus activity since March 2020 could result in an early, and possibly severe flu season. 

Thankfully, there is something that we can all do to prevent illness and hospitalizations caused by flu. We can get vaccinated!

What is the difference between the flu and COVID-19?

Flu and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 is caused by infection with a coronavirus (called SARS-CoV-2) and seasonal flu (most often just called “flu”) is caused by infection with one of many influenza viruses that spread annually among people.

In general, COVID-19 seems to spread more easily than flu and causes more serious illnesses in some people. Compared with people who have flu infections, people who have COVID-19 can take longer to show symptoms and be contagious for longer. This FAQ page compares COVID-19 and flu, given the best available information to date.

So, do I need to get the flu vaccine this year?

Yes! Getting a flu vaccine is an essential part of protecting yours, and your family’s health every year. Yearly flu vaccination is recommended for everyone aged six months and older. It is also important to note that certain people are at greater risk, including:

  • Young kids (especially kids under five years).
  • People 65 years and older.
  • People of any age with certain health conditions like asthma and lung diseases, diabetes, heart disease, neurological conditions, kidney or liver disorders, cancer, cystic fibrosis, and sickle cell anemia.
  • Pregnant women.
  • American Indians and Alaskan Natives.
  • Health care professionals.
  • Household contacts and caregivers of kids, especially those in contact with babies under six months of age who are too young to get seasonal flu vaccine.
  • Household contacts and caregivers of people in any of the above groups.

Will a flu vaccine protect me against COVID-19?

Flu vaccines are not designed to protect against COVID-19. Flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness, hospitalization, and death in addition to other important benefits.

Likewise, getting a COVID-19 vaccine is the best protection against COVID-19, but those vaccines are not designed to protect against flu. Visit the CDC’s Frequently Asked Questions page for information about COVID-19 vaccinations.

Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine and flu vaccine at the same time?

Yes, you can get a COVID-19 vaccine and a flu vaccine at the same time!

Even though both vaccines can be given at the same visit, people should follow the recommended schedule for either vaccine: If you haven’t gotten your currently recommended doses of COVID-19 vaccine, get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as you can, and ideally, get a flu vaccine by the end of October. To find a COVID-19 vaccine provider, go here.

While limited data exist on giving COVID-19 vaccines with other vaccines, including flu vaccines, experience with giving other vaccines together has shown the way our bodies develop protection and possible side effects are generally similar whether vaccines are given alone or with other vaccines. If you have concerns about getting both vaccines at the same time, you should speak with a health care provider.

If I get sick with the flu, am I at greater risk of contracting COVID-19?

Because COVID-19 is still a relatively new illness, there is little information about how flu illness might affect a person’s risk of getting COVID-19. We do know that people can be infected with flu viruses and the virus that causes COVID-19 at the same time.

Getting a flu vaccine is the best protection against flu and its potentially serious complications, and getting a COVID-19 vaccine is the best protection against COVID-19.

When is the best time to get your influenza vaccine?

September and October are generally good times to be vaccinated. Ideally, everyone should be vaccinated by the end of October.

Adults, especially those older than 65, should not get vaccinated early (in July or August) because protection in this group may decrease over time. Children can get vaccinated as soon as vaccine becomes available—even if this is in July or August. Talk to your child’s pediatrician if you have questions about the flu shot.

While flu activity may be low right now, it could begin increasing at any time. Remember, after you are vaccinated, your body takes about two weeks to develop antibodies that protect against the flu.

Where can I get the flu vaccine?

If you don’t have a health care professional you regularly see, you can find flu vaccines at many places, including your local pharmacy!

Looking for a vaccine for your child? Talk to their pediatrician or call the Help Me Grow Washington Hotline at 1-800-322-2588.

How much does a flu shot cost?

In Washington, all children under age 19 get flu vaccines and other recommended vaccines at no cost. That said, a provider may charge an administration fee to give the vaccine. You can ask them to waive this fee if you cannot afford it.

Uninsured and over 18 years old? The WA Department of Health is collaborating with Safeway Inc. and Albertsons Companies LLC to offer free flu vaccines across the state. Check here for a list of participating locations.  

Note: Most insurance plans, including Medicare part B, cover the cost of flu vaccine for adults.

I got the flu shot. What else can I do to prevent getting sick?

The flu vaccine keeps many people from getting the flu, however some people who get the flu vaccine may still get sick. If you do get the flu, the vaccine will help reduce the severity of your illness. It will also lower your chance of needing to go to the hospital.

Increase your protection by covering your coughs and sneezes, washing your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water, and staying home when you’re sick. Cloth face coverings or masks can also help prevent the spread of the flu—just like with COVID-19!

If you do feel sick with flu, it’s important to know when to stay home and when to get emergency medical care. When in doubt, check with your doctor.


Resources:

https://www.cdc.gov/flu/season/faq-flu-season-2021-2022.htm#what-virus  
https://www.doh.wa.gov/YouandYourFamily/IllnessandDisease/Flu


Are you Prepared for a Flood?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

On October 4th, the Skagit County Commissioners declared this week (October 11-15, 2021) Flood Awareness Week. Flood Awareness Week offers multiple opportunities for community members to get involved and learn about flood preparedness for themselves and their families.

Each year, more deaths occur due to flooding than any other hazard related to thunderstorms. Fortunately, you can take steps to protect yourself, your family, and your home! A great way to learn about floor preparedness is participating in two free webinars being held this week:

Flood Awareness with the Department of Emergency Management
Wednesday, October 13 from 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Join via zoom here: https://bit.ly/3uqlmdE

NOAA Weather Spotter Training
Thursday, October 14 from 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Join via Zoom here: https://bit.ly/3uE569d

Not able to attend a training this week? That’s okay! Keep reading for some important steps to reduce the harm caused by flooding.

Stay informed about flooding risks in your area

Photo from the Roger Fox Collection, taken from Burlington Hill looking down into town during the flood of 1921.

Information about flooding in Skagit County, and some helpful flood preparation resources, can be found at www.skagitcounty.net/flood. Skagit also prepares a Flood Awareness Week booklet each year, which you can find that booklet online here.

Skagit County offers a variety of alert tools for residents, as well. You can sign up for CodeRed Alerts, follow @SkagitGov on Twitter, or sign up for news releases to receive key emergency information before, during, and after an event.

For more information on Skagit County flood response, call 360-416-1400 or visit www.skagitcounty.net/flood.

Prepare for Flooding

Sometimes floods develop slowly, and forecasters can anticipate where a flood will happen days or weeks before it occurs. Oftentimes flash floods can occur within minutes and sometimes without any sign of rain. Being prepared can save your life and give you peace of mind.

Create a Communications Plan

It is important to be able to communicate with your family and friends in the event of a disaster. Whether it’s having a specific person identified to contact for status updates or a safe location to meet up with family members, having a plan in place will give you peace of mind if disaster does strike.

Assemble an Emergency Kit

It is good practice to have enough food, water, and medicine on hand to last you at least 3 days in the case of an emergency. Water service may be interrupted or unsafe to drink and food requiring little cooking and no refrigeration may be needed if electric power is interrupted.

You should also have batteries, blankets, flashlights, first aid kit, rubber boots, rubber gloves, and a NOAA Weather Radio or other battery-operated radio easily available.

Prepare Your Home

Burlington Northern Sante Fe Bridge over the Skagit that failed in 1995, stopping rail traffic for a couple of weeks.

1. If you have access to sandbags or other materials, use them to protect your home from flood waters if you have sufficient time to do so. Filling sandbags can take more time than you may think.

2. Have a professional install check-valves in plumbing to prevent flood waters from backing up into the drains of your home. Make sure your sump pump is working and consider having a backup. Make sure your electric circuit breakers, or fuses, are clearly marked for each area of your home.

3. Since standard homeowners’ insurance doesn’t cover flooding, ensure coverage by contacting your insurance company or agent to purchase flood insurance. This must be done before there is even a threat of flooding as insurance companies stop issuing policies if there is a threat of flooding. (i.e. an approaching hurricane).

Many flood insurance policies take at least 30 days to go into effect so even if you can buy it as a storm is approaching, it may not protect your home. For more flood insurance facts: https://www.fema.gov/flood-insurance

During a Flood Watch or Warning

  • Listen to your local radio or television station for updates.
  • Evacuate immediately, if told to evacuate. Never drive around barricades. Local responders use them to safely direct traffic out of flooded areas.
  • Prepare your family and pets. You may be evacuated, so pack in advance. Don’t wait until the last moment to gather the essentials, including emergency supplies.
  • Have immunization records handy. Store immunization records in a waterproof container.
  • Fill bathtubs, sinks, gallon jars, and plastic soda bottles so that you will have a supply of clean water. Sanitize sinks/tubs first by cleaning them using a solution of one cup of bleach to five gallons of water. Then rinse and fill with clean water.
  • Bring in outdoor possessions (lawn furniture, grills, trash cans) or tie them down securely.
  • Charge your essential electronics. Make sure your cell phone and portable radios are all charged in case you lose power or need to evacuate. Also make sure you have back-up batteries on hand.
  • If evacuation appears necessary: turn off all utilities at the main power switch and close the main gas valve.
  • Leave areas subject to flooding, like low spots, canyons, washes, etc. (Rememberavoid driving through flooded areas and standing water.)

After Flooding Has Occurred

  • Turn Around, Don’t Drown! Do not walk, swim or drive through flood waters or standing water. Just six inches of moving water can knock you down, and one foot of moving water can sweep your vehicle away.
  • If you have been evacuated, return to your home only after local authorities have said it is safe to do so.
  • Do not drink flood water, or use it to wash dishes, brush teeth, or wash/prepare food. Drink clean, safe water. Listen to water advisory from local authorities to find out if your water is safe for drinking and bathing. During a water advisory, use only bottled, boiled, or treated water for drinking, cooking, etc.
  • When in doubt, throw it out! Throw away any food and bottled water that comes/may have come into contact with flood water.
  • Prevent carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Use generators at least 20 feet from any doors, windows, or vents. If you use a pressure washer, be sure to keep the engine outdoors and 20 feet from windows, doors, or vents as well.
Aerial photo of the town of Hamilton in 2003.

The initial damage caused by a flood is not the only risk. Standing flood waters can also spread infectious diseases, bring chemical hazards, and cause injuries. After you return home, if you find that your home was flooded, practice safe cleaning.

For ways to stay safe after flooding, visit: https://www.ready.gov/floods#prepare.

For more information:

https://www.ready.gov/floods
https://www.weather.gov/safety/flood


Knock Out Flu: Think of It as Your Best Defense

Reading Time: 2 minutes

From the WA Department of Health

Think of It as Your Best Defense

This year, it’s more important than ever to get vaccinated against the flu. The flu vaccine can keep you from getting and spreading the flu to others during the COVID-19 pandemic and help keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed.

Why is it so important to get the flu vaccine this year?

Flu activity was unusually low last year. People in Washington did a great job getting their flu vaccine, and the COVID-19 safety measures like masking, staying home, and limiting gatherings also helped limit the spread of the flu. But this year, many of these safety measures are lifted.

Some people are returning to work in-person, and most children are going back to in-person school. That means we have a much higher risk of exposure to the flu virus. And with last year’s low activity, most people weren’t as exposed to flu viruses, so they don’t have much natural immunity to the flu anymore. Getting the flu vaccine is your best defense.

Should I still get the flu vaccine if I’m usually healthy?

Yes, we recommend the flu vaccine for everyone six months and older. The flu vaccine protects not only you, but also the people you’re around. Flu can be serious even in healthy people, but some people are at higher risk including:

  • People 65 years and older
  • Young children, especially those under 5 years of age
  • Pregnant people
  • People with medical conditions like asthma, diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, or neurologic conditions

While flu illness can be mild in most people, it’s important to remember how serious flu really is. Sadly, over 900 people in Washington died from flu-related illness in the last five years, including many children. The flu vaccine saves lives.

When should I get the flu vaccine?

You should get your flu vaccine before the end of October for the best protection through the fall and winter months when flu is most likely to spread. You can even get your COVID19 and flu vaccines at the same time. You can still get a flu vaccine for several months after October and get protection through the end of the flu season in the spring.

Where can I get a flu vaccine?

You can visit your local doctor’s office, pharmacy or clinic event in your area. Visit www.vaccinefinder.org or call the Help Me Grow Washington hotline at 1-800-322-2588 (language assistance available) to find a flu vaccine location near you. If you’re working,
you can also check with your employer to see if they are hosting an on-site clinic for their staff.

Does my insurance cover the flu vaccine?

Most insurance plans, including Medicaid and Medicare part B, cover the cost of flu vaccine for adults. If you do not have insurance, you may still be able to get the flu vaccine at no cost.

Children aged 18 and under in Washington can get a flu vaccine and other recommended vaccines at no cost. The provider may charge an administration fee to give the vaccine. You can ask them to waive this fee if you cannot afford it.

For more information, visit www.KnockOutFlu.org.


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.


Immediate closure of Pass Lake: Danger for toxic blue green algae exposure at Pass Lake, Deception Pass State Park

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August 17, 2021

Users of Deception Pass State Park should be aware that Pass Lake in the Skagit County portion of the park is closed until further notice due to high Anatoxin-a levels. Water samples tested this week detected concentrations of Anatoxin-a in exceedance of the state recreational guidelines.

The preliminary result from the King County Environmental Lab is 2,576 micrograms per liter of anatoxin-a present in the water sample taken from Pass Lake. According to the Washington State Department of Health, the level of public health concern for anatoxin-a is 1 microgram per liter. 

Anatoxin-a is an acute neurotoxin that can be harmful to humans and animals. Even short-term exposure is a concern. Signs of Neurotoxin Poisoning appear within 15-20 minutes of ingestion, and may include:

  • In people: numbness of the lips, tingling in fingers and toes, and dizziness.
  • In animals: weakness, staggering, difficulty breathing, convulsions, and death.

Until further testing confirms the toxin levels are back within state recreational guidelines, red “Danger” signs will be posted at the lake advising individuals to keep out of the lake, do not swim, drink lake water, fish, recreate, or allow pets or animals to access the lake.

The toxicity of each bloom can vary and is difficult to predict. Toxicity can change from one day to the next. It isn’t possible to determine how dangerous a bloom is to people and animals by looking at it. Only testing can tell if it is dangerous. Pass Lake will be continuously monitored until the levels drop below recommended guidelines.

The public is encouraged to take the following precautions when choosing a body of water for recreation:

  • Look for signs of toxic algae blooms and pay attention to signage. When in doubt, stay out!
  • Do not swim in, and limit exposure to water that is under a health advisory or is listed as having a toxic algae bloom on the Washington State Department of Ecology toxic algae tracking site.
  • Contact a healthcare provider immediately if you become ill or have symptoms after a suspected exposure to algae bloom.

For questions concerning cyanobacteria blooms within Skagit County lakes, please e-mail Samantha Russell at eh@co.skagit.wa.us or visit the Washington State Department of Health website for Blue-Green Algae. Testing results for Washington Lakes are posted at Washington State Toxic Algae.


Excessive Heat Warning and Air Quality Alert Issued for Skagit County

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August 12, 2021

Today, the National Weather Service issued both an Excessive Heat Warning and an Air Quality Alert for Skagit County and the surrounding region. The Excessive Heat Warning is expected to be in effect through Friday at 8pm, and the Air Quality Alert through Saturday at 7pm.

Dangerously hot conditions with temperatures rising into the 90s to near 100 degrees is expected for Thursday and Friday, with highs remaining near 90 on Saturday. Extreme heat will significantly increase the potential for heat related illnesses, particularly for those working or participating in outdoor activities.

The Washington State Department of Health is advising people to take precautions during this extreme heat event. In Skagit County, there are several Cooling Stations available to people who are seeking relief. A list of locations can be found on our website at www.skagitcounty.net.

Other key recommendations for heat safety include:

  • Stay indoors and in an air-conditioned environment as much as possible. Consider wearing a mask whenever you’re indoors with people who don’t live with you.
  • Keep your home cool by pulling window shades closed throughout the day. Use your stove and oven less to maintain a cooler temperature in your home.
  • Do not rely on a fan as your only cooling source. While electric fans might provide some comfort, they won’t prevent heat-related illness when temperatures are very hot.
  • Check on your friends, family and neighbors before bedtime. The heat isn’t expected to dip at night, so people who need help may not realize it until much later in the day. Assist those who are vulnerable or at higher risk, neighbors who are elderly, ill or may need help.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids but don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink.
  • Keep outdoor pets safe in the heat, make sure they have protection from heat. Walk on grass instead of asphalt, which can burn your pet’s paws. Never leave any person or pet in a parked vehicle.
  • If you notice symptoms of heat illness (dizziness, nausea, headaches, muscle cramps), act immediately. Move to a cooler location to rest for a few minutes and seek medical attention immediately if you do not feel better. 
  • Follow water safety tips if you go swimming or boating. Remember that swimming in open water is very different from swimming in a pool and make sure to wear a life jacket that fits you.

Adding to this weekend’s safety concerns, people must take precaution when spending time outdoors. The Northwest Clean Air Agency is currently reporting “Unhealthy” air quality for Sensitive Groups for parts of Skagit County.

The following are health safety tips for periods of poor, or unhealthy, air quality:

  • Avoid outdoor physical activity.
  • Stay indoors and take steps to keep your indoor air as clean as possible.
    • Keep windows and doors closed.
    • Set air conditioners to re-circulate.
    • Don’t add to indoor pollution (avoid burning candles or incense, smoking, diffusing essential oils, broiling or frying foods, and vacuuming)
  • Consider leaving the area if the air quality remains poor and it is not possible to keep the air in your home clean.
  • It’s often hot when it’s smoky outside. Pay attention to heat and signs of overheating.
    • Use portable fans and close curtains or window shades during the day.
    • If you can’t keep cool and do have a way to filter the air in your home (see below), open windows when it’s coolest and run a portable HEPA or box fan filter to help clean the air.
    • If it’s still too hot, and you don’t have options to filter air, open windows to avoid heat exhaustion and other heat illnesses.

Read CDC’s list of frequently asked questions regarding extreme heat here.
For more smoke safety tips, go to: https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/features/wildfires/index.html


COVID-19 Testing: It’s Still Essential

Reading Time: 5 minutes

We are now at slightly over 65% of all eligible residents in Skagit County having received at least one vaccine dose. It is exciting to think of how far we’ve come in our vaccination journey since December of 2020. Even still, we have a long way to go before COVID-19 is no longer of concern. With the rapid spread of the Delta variant throughout Washington State and rising case counts and hospitalization rates this past month, we know that we are not yet in the clear.

In the latter half of July, Skagit County Public Health was seeing daily new case counts repeatedly in the tens and twenties; a high not seen since our last wave in April of 2021.This increase is likely due to multiple factors, including increased spread of the more contagious Delta variant, increased social gatherings and summer-time travel, and businesses reopening—all happening with fewer people wearing masks.

Skagit County COVID-19 case trends from the WA DOH dashboard. https://www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/COVID19/DataDashboard

While the conversation has been primarily focused on vaccination of late, it is important to remember that getting tested for COVID-19 is a tool that we can, and should, use if/when exposed to COVID-19 or when traveling. So, let’s revisit the matter of testing…

Testing is essential.

Anyone with signs or symptoms of COVID-19 should get tested as early as possible regardless of vaccination status. With allergy season waning and flu season ramping up, it is no doubt that you’ll feel a tickle or two, or develop a cough at some point this fall. When you know you’ve been exposed; when you feel a little under the weather: Take precaution. GET TESTED!

Not sure if your sniffles warrant a COVID test or not? Use the Coronavirus Self-Checker here.

If you have been exposed to COVID-19.

Whether you have been vaccinated or not, if you’ve been around someone who has a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19, you should get tested 3-5 days after your exposure, even if you don’t have symptoms.

You should continue to monitor for symptoms for 14 days following an exposure, and if you develop symptoms, isolate immediately and consider re-testing. If your test is positive, you should isolate for 10 days.

For unvaccinated folks, it is important to note that quarantine guidelines have not changed. If you are unvaccinated and are exposed, along with getting tested, you will need to quarantine for 14 days—even if you do not have symptoms.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms below, get tested for COVID-19 at a testing location. For a full list of locations, go to: https://www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/COVID19/TestingforCOVID19/TestingLocations.

Symptoms may include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea

Note: If you are in quarantine or isolation and you find yourself in need of assistance with getting supplies or food, call Skagit County Public Health at (360) 416-1500 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Testing and Travel

Some restrictions around travel have lifted recently, but it is important to remember that precautions must still be taken. After all, travel increases the chance of contracting and spreading COVID-19. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) continues to recommend that folks limit travel if unvaccinated, and that all people, regardless of vaccination status, use extra precaution if they do travel.

Here are some important things to keep in mind when making travel plans within the United States:

  • Refrain from travel if not fully vaccinated. The CDC recommends that those who are not fully vaccinated delay their travel. If you must travel, follow safer travel options including a viral test 1-3 days before your trip. If you are traveling with children who cannot get vaccinated at this time, follow recommendations for unvaccinated people and choose safer travel options. 
  • Testing before travel. People who are fully vaccinated with an FDA-authorized vaccine can travel safely within the United States. Unvaccinated individuals must plan to get tested with a viral test 1-3 days before their trip.
  • Check travel guidance before you go. While most states no longer require a test, travel restrictions vary by state based on vaccination status and are subject to change at any time. Check state and local guidance before you make concrete plans.
  • Wear a mask during travel. Masks are required indoors in travel hubs and on public transportation regardless of vaccination status. Follow all state and local recommendations and requirements for mask wearing and social distancing.
  • After-travel requirements for fully vaccinated. It is not required to get tested before or after you travel if you are fully vaccinated, but you should still follow all other travel recommendations, self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms, and get tested if you develop symptoms. During travel, if you’ve been around someone who has COVID-19, you should get tested 3-5 days after your exposure, even if you don’t have symptoms, and wear a mask in indoor public settings until your test result is negative.
  • After-travel requirement for unvaccinated. Those who are unvaccinated must get a viral test 3-5 days after travel AND stay home and self-quarantine for a full 7 days after travel. They should also isolate and monitor for symptoms for a full 14 days and seek repeat testing if symptoms develop. See CDC guidance for unvaccinated travelers.

For international travel:

Those who are traveling internationally should check requirements of their destination country as they may require a test prior to arrival even for vaccinated people. See CDC guidance and testing requirements for international travel.

Where to get tested.

Many doctor’s offices are offering COVID-19 testing to their patients. Contact your healthcare provider first to see if they offer COVID-19 testing. If you are experiencing severe symptoms such as shortness of breath or chest tightness, consider going to an emergency department nearby.

For a list of testing locations in your area, go to: https://www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/COVID19/TestingforCOVID19/TestingLocations.  

At-home tests are also now available for purchase. Check out the following links for at-home testing options:

What to bring with you when getting tested.

  • A photo ID with your date of birth. Testing is available regardless of your citizenship/immigration status.
  • Your insurance card if you have insurance. If you have private insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid you must provide this information and the lab will bill them. You will not be charged for the test. You do not need to have insurance or a doctor’s note to schedule a test.
  • A well-fitted mask. As healthcare facilities, masks are required at all indoor and outdoor testing locations regardless of vaccination status.

How and when to get results.

  • Most results typically come by email, text, or through the provider’s chosen online portal. Check with your testing provider about how results will be sent.
  • Results are usually available within 48 hours, though it may take up to 72 hours.

If you test positive.

If you test positive, expect a call from Public Health. Our staff is still actively following up on all confirmed cases and will need to ask you some questions. If you receive the call, it is imperative that you pick up and help us with our contract tracing. Thank you!


Overdose Prevention: Preparedness Saves Lives

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Overdose deaths accelerated in Washington State in 2020, increasing by 38% in the first half of 2020 compared to the first half of 2019. Preliminary data show 835 overdose deaths in Washington State in the first six months of 2020 compared to 607 deaths in the first half of 2019. Fentanyl-involved deaths more than doubled from 137 to 309 during that time. Most deaths involved multiple substances and many involved fentanyl. In Skagit County, a total of 143 nonfatal and 28 fatal overdoses were reported in 2020. Of those, 18 nonfatal and 10 fatal were related to fentanyl.

Substance use disorder is a disease that impacts many in our community. Overdose deaths are preventable with preparedness, education, and community care.

Illicit fentanyl is a synthetic or “man-made” opioid that is 80-100 times stronger than other opioids like morphine and heroin. In Washington state, fentanyl has been found in counterfeit pills made to look like prescription opioid pills, as well as in powders and black tar heroin. People may not be able to tell if fentanyl is present based on taste, smell, or the look of the drug. According to the WA Department of Health, people should assume that any drug not from a pharmacy could have fentanyl in it.

Everyone can play a role in saving lives in our community. If someone in your life is struggling with substance use disorder, learn the the signs of opioid overdose including; the inability to wake up; slow or no breathing; and blue, gray or ashy skin, lips or fingernails.

If you are struggling with substance use, do your best not to use alone and start slow using a tester amount to determine strength. If you must use alone, call 800-484-3731 (Never Use Alone) to ensure someone can help in the event of an overdose.

Skagit County also encourages those dealing with substance use disorders to carry at least two doses of Naloxone. Naloxone (also called Narcan®) is a safe and simple medication that reverses the effects of opioid overdose. If someone may be overdosing, call 9-1-1, give naloxone, and perform rescue breathing.

Naloxone can be administered nasally or intramuscularly. There are currently four types of naloxone available. For more information, visit SkagitRising.

Naloxone is easy to access in Washington State:

Under the statewide standing order, anyone can get naloxone at a pharmacy without seeing a doctor first.

Remember, the Good Samaritan Overdose law (RCW 69.50.315) says neither the victim nor people assisting with an overdose will be prosecuted for drug possession.

Help people struggling with opioid use disorder to find the right care and treatment. If you or a loved one want treatment or just want to learn more, see the Washington Recovery Helpline, or call 1-866-789-1511.

For information about what Skagit County is doing about the opioid and fentanyl crisis, for list of local treatment providers, or to learn how to use naloxone, go to www.skagitrising.org or call (360) 416-1500.