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.


Top 6 Things to Know About VAERS

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) has gotten a lot of attention on social media and in the news this year. This database, which includes hundreds of thousands of reports of health events that occurred minutes, hours, or days after vaccination, is a go to spot for many people looking for information about COVID-19 vaccine safety.

While VAERS is an extremely helpful tool used by experts to track adverse reactions and safety concerns associated with vaccinations (not just COVID-19, but all vaccines!), it is important to know a few things about the system before digging in too deeply.

Scientists and health experts consider VARES to be a starting point in the search for rare but potentially serious vaccine side effects. It is by no means the only system in place to track this data.

So, when reading about VAERS reports in the news or when talking with friends and loved ones about specific reports, be sure to have the following 6 things in mind:

1. VAERS is a national vaccine safety surveillance program that helps to detect unusual or unexpected reporting patterns of adverse events for vaccines.

Established in 1990, VAERS is the nation’s early warning system that monitors the safety of vaccines after they are authorized or licensed for use by the FDA. VAERS is part of the larger vaccine safety system in the United States that helps make sure all vaccines are safe. The system is co-managed by CDC and FDA.

Other pieces of this safety system include the CDC’s Vaccine Safety Datalink (VSD) and the Clinical Immunization Safety Assessment (CISA) project. These reporting systems are much better at assessing overall health risks and possible connections between adverse events and a vaccine.

2. VAERS accepts reports from anyone, including patients, family members, healthcare providers and vaccine manufacturers.

Anyone can submit a report to VAERS — healthcare professionals, vaccine manufacturers, and the general public. VAERS welcomes all reports, regardless of seriousness, and regardless of how likely the vaccine may have been to have caused the adverse event. Reports can be submitted successfully even if they are incomplete or are missing key details.

3. VAERS is not designed to determine if a vaccine caused or contributed to an adverse event. A report to VAERS does not mean the vaccine caused the event.

This fact has caused much confusion, specifically regarding the number of reported deaths associated with COVID-19 vaccines. In the past, there have been instances where people misinterpreted reports of death following vaccination as death caused by the vaccines; that is a mistake.

VAERS accepts all reports of adverse events following vaccination without judging whether the vaccine caused the adverse health event. Some reports to VAERS might represent true vaccine reactions, and others might be coincidental adverse health events not related to vaccination at all. Generally, a causal relationship cannot be established using information from VAERS reports alone.

Reports can also be made days, weeks, and months following a vaccination. That means that if a vaccinated person dies in a car accident, drowns, or dies from any other “natural” or “unnatural” cause, their death must be reported to VAERS as an adverse event. Since we’ve now vaccinated over 334 million people in the United States, it is to be expected that many deaths will occur coincidentally after vaccination.

4. VAERS is a passive surveillance system, meaning it relies on people sending in reports of their experiences after vaccination.

As a passive reporting system, VAERS relies on individuals to send in reports of adverse health events following vaccination.

The information collected by VAERS can quickly provide an early warning of a potential safety problem with a vaccine. Patterns of adverse events, or an unusually high number of adverse events reported after a particular vaccine, are called “signals.” If a signal is identified through VAERS, experts may conduct further studies to find out if the signal represents an actual risk.

5. Healthcare providers and vaccine manufacturers are required by law to report certain events after vaccination.

Healthcare providers are required to report to VAERS the following adverse events after COVID-19 vaccination under Emergency Use Authorization, and other adverse events if later revised by FDA.

Some things that healthcare providers are required to report on include:

  • Vaccine administration errors, whether or not associated with an adverse event.
  • Serious adverse events regardless of death. This could include:
    1.  Death
    2.  A life-threatening adverse event
    3.  Inpatient hospitalization or prolongation of existing hospitalization
    4.  A persistent or significant incapacity or substantial disruption of the ability to conduct normal life functions
    5.  A congenital anomaly/birth defect
    6.  An important medical event that based on appropriate medical judgement may jeopardize the individual and may require medical or surgical intervention to prevent one of the outcomes listed above
  • Cases of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS).
  • Cases of COVID-19 that result in hospitalization or death.

Further, healthcare providers are encouraged to report to VAERS any additional clinically significant adverse effects following vaccination, even if they are not sure if vaccination caused the event.

6. If VAERS detects a pattern of adverse events following vaccination, other vaccine safety monitoring systems conduct follow up studies.

The information that the VAERS system provides to the FDA and CDC is vitally important. If it looks as though a vaccine might be causing a wide-spread problem, the FDA and the CDC will investigate further and take action if needed.

We saw this system in action just recently when the CDC paused the Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to reports of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST). This pause allowed time for the FDA and CDC to investigate these reports and examine any possible linkages. A similar review process was followed when reports of myocarditis in the United States began to circulate. The J&J pause and investigation into cases of myocarditis are all signs that the VAERS reporting system is working extremely well! If at any point the CDC and FDA saw evidence showing a direct linkage between a vaccine and permanent disability and/or death, proper steps would be taken to ensure safety.

Note: For public awareness and in the interest of transparency, CDC is providing timely updates on the following serious adverse events of interest: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/safety/adverse-events.html


What does the new Housing Stability ‘Bridge’ Emergency Order mean for Skagitonians?

Reading Time: 2 minutes

On June 29, 2021 Gov. Jay Inslee issued a housing stability ‘bridge’ emergency order, Proclamation 21-09, intended to ‘bridge’ the gap between the eviction moratorium and the new protections and programs enacted by the State Legislature. 

What does this means for renters and landlords?

Until there is an operational Eviction Resolution Program in Skagit County, eviction for non-payment of past due rent is not permitted. However, by August 1st, tenants must either begin paying full rent, negotiate a plan with their landlord to catch up on past due rent or apply for funds with a local rental assistance program. Public Health strongly encourages tenants to stay in their homes and housing providers not to proceed with evictions for tenants who owe rent. Tenants who leave will not be eligible for rental assistance and may have difficulty finding a new home. Landlords who evict tenants cannot then collect assistance for the back rent owed by that tenant.

What is the Eviction Resolution Program and when will it be available in Skagit County?

The Eviction Resolution Program engages both landlords, tenants, and their legal counsel to resolve any issues including but not limited to back rent issues that may cause an eviction once the moratorium has expired.

The goal of the program is to ensure landlords and tenants are connected to rent assistance, legal counsel and have an opportunity at mediation or meet and confer to resolve the housing conflicts prior to filing an unlawful detainer which may result in an eviction.

In Skagit County, there is not currently an operational Eviction Resolution Program and we will provide updates as more information becomes available.  In the interim, landlords and tenants are encouraged to reach out to and work with their local dispute resolution center (DRC) 425-789-7500 (intake) and skagitdrc@voaww.org.

Where can Skagitonians go for assistance if behind on rent?

The Skagit County Rental Assistance Program is currently active and accepting applications for assistance. Funding is available for renters or landlords who have lost income due to COVID-19 and are struggling to pay or collect rent. The program can cover rent up to 150% of Fair market value for past due rent incurred after March 13, 2020, as well as future rent. These funds can also assist with past-due utilities and other housing costs directly or indirectly due to COVID-19.

A list of local rental assistance provider is available here: English | Spanish

Renters and landlords who do not qualify for assistance will be referred to the Volunteers of America Landlord-Tenant Program. ltinfo@voaww.org 425-339-1335 ext. 4.

What should landlords do if they have tenants that are behind on rent?

Property owners can reach out to a rental assistance provider on behalf of their tenants.  A list of local rental assistance providers is available here: English | Spanish

Additional Resources:


Saturday, April 24th is National Drug Take Back Day

Reading Time: 2 minutes

National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is taking place this Saturday, April 24th from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at various locations across Skagit County. This is a national event, organized by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in collaboration with community law enforcement and prevention partners.

Since 2010, Take Back Day events have provided easy, anonymous opportunities to remove medicines in the home that are highly susceptible to misuse, abuse, and theft. Through the National Prescription Drug Take Back Initiative, a grand total of 985,392 pounds of expired, unused, and unwanted prescription medications were collected during last year’s October event. In Skagit County alone, 289 community members participated in a Take Back Day event, disposing a total of 512.4 pounds of unwanted medication.

Events will be taking place on Saturday, April 24th from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. at the following locations:

  • Anacortes: Anacortes Police Dept., 1218 24th St.
  • Burlington: Public Safety Building, 311 Cedar St.
  • La Conner: Swinomish Police Dept., 17353 Reservation Rd.
  • Mount Vernon: Skagit Valley Family YMCA, 1901 Hoag Rd.
  • Sedro-Woolley: Sedro-Woolley City Hall, 325 Metcalf St.

Due to COVID-19, all locations will be operating a drive-through system for medication drop-off. Event coordinators ask that the public please wear their mask and practice physical distancing.

If you cannot attend a Take Back Day event this Saturday, please know that Skagit County operates a year-round Secure Medicine Return Program. Prescription medicines, legally prescribed controlled substances (e.g. narcotics and stimulants), over-the-counter medicines, and pet medications can all be disposed using a Secure Medicine Return drop box. Current Drop Box locations are listed at: https://med-project.org/.

For those with mobility concerns, pre-paid no-cost medicine return mailers are available, to be sent directly to your home. Please go to https://med-project.org/  or call 1-844-633-7765 to order mailers. You can get standard mailers or special mailers for inhalers and prefilled auto-injectors.

For updates and additional information on DEA’s Take Back events, please visit www.DEATakeBack.com.

Want to know more about Skagit County’s Secure Medicine Return program, substance use prevention, treatment, or local recovery options? Visit www.skagitrising.org or call Public Health at (360) 416-1500.


Get Familiar with the Family Resource Center!

Reading Time: 4 minutes

If you live in Skagit County and have young children, you most likely know about—and love—the Children’s Museum of Skagit County. Once snuggled in Cascade Mall, the museum now sits prominently at The Shops (a.k.a. the outlet mall) in Burlington.

It was truly a sad day for all Skagit families last year when the museum’s doors closed temporarily due to COVID-19. I can’t tell you how many times my toddler asked to go to the museum, only to be told that we couldn’t because of the virus.

But even though the doors have been closed to visitors, the staff at the Children’s Museum have been busier than ever! Through a partnership with the Children’s Council of Skagit County, Help Me Grow Washington, and Skagit County Public Health, the museum has been able to continue to serve our community in a new and innovative way.

What is the Help Me Grow – Family Resource Center?

Opened in October 2020, the Help Me Grow – Family Resource Center is the brainchild of the Children’s Council and was made possible through Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES Act) funding from Skagit County. Partners decided to house the center at the Children’s Museum because the museum was already an established, safe, and trusted community center for Skagit County families.

Though Skagit County has many resources for families, all too often community providers hear from people that they didn’t know that support was available at the time when they needed it. It is the goal of the Family Resource Center to make accessing help an easy process, so that families can quickly find what they need, when they need it, in the way that they need it.

Now, more than ever, parents and families need extra help. As our community faces this pandemic, we have witnessed the reality that many families are being left without a safety net, whether due to loss of income, loss of childcare, or the over-night shift to remote learning. Families are feeling stressed, anxious, and scared. Traditional supports (like extended family or neighbors) may also be less accessible because of state-mandated social distancing and concerns around disease transmission. 

Who can get assistance through the Center?

The Center is available to anyone who could benefit from a little extra help or connection. Even if a family isn’t struggling to afford basic needs, there are so many other types of supports and services available—if you are curious, just ask! The Center’s staff would love to hear from you!

When you contact the Center, staff will use a screening form to determine need. From your call, online form, or email, staff can prepare a package to meet your specific needs.

What kinds of assistance are available through the Center?

The Family Resource Center is providing reliable local information, referrals to services, and application assistance for public programs. The Center is also distributing emergency basic needs items to families who demonstrate a COVID-related financial need.

Whether parents are looking for connections with other parents, opportunities for fun and educational activities for their family, information about their child’s development, or help applying for services, Help Me Grow staff will be able to help in many ways. Here are some examples:

  • Basic Needs assistance: help with things like food, shelter, utilities, diapers
  • Pregnancy & Breastfeeding Support: maternity support services, new parent groups, and the support through the Welcome Baby program
  • Childcare/Early Learning: find options for childcare, preschool, play-and-learn groups, library story times, Kindergarten registration, and more
  • Family Fun: activities and events
  • Family Support: parent coaches, support groups, warm lines, and home visiting programs
  • Health and wellness: free/low-cost health care, dental care, family planning, mental health services and supports, and recovery services
  • Special needs: services and supports for families of children with health and developmental concerns

The Center is also providing activity kits and books to families to promote early learning and to help occupy young children in positive ways for short periods if their parents are struggling to care for their children while working from home, or assisting older children with virtual education. Each family receives a care package filled with items like hand sanitizer, cloth face masks, toothbrushes and toothpaste, bubbles, resource lists and information, tissues, Vroom parenting tips and prompts.

How can I connect with the Center?

TheFamily Resource Center is not a drop-in center, however staff will work with you if special arrangements are needed. There are several ways to get in contact with the Center, including by phone, text, email, and by submitting an online form. At present, assistance is available in English, Spanish, and Mixteco. See below for contact options:

Scheduled pickups are COVID-friendly. Plan for curb-side pickup at the Children’s Museum: 432 Fashion Way, Burlington, WA 98233.

Will the Center eventually close when COVID isn’t as prevalent?  

The Help Me Grow – Family Resource Center and partners are busily making plans for the future. Once the museum reopens in the coming weeks, the Family Resource Center will continue to operate out of the museum, and assistance will continue to be provided through curb-side pickup. Onsite programs, such as Kaleidoscope Play & Learn groups, the Parent Café weekly groups, and parenting classes will also resume at the museum.

Are there plans to reopen the museum soon?

Wait—did I just read that the museum will reopen soon?! Yes, you read correctly!

The Children’s Museum of Skagit County is excited to reopen on Wednesday, June 2nd! Museum staff are working tirelessly behind the scenes to prepare the facility and exhibits. The plan is to operate at reduced capacity (according to the WA State guidelines) with time ticketing and following all state mandates. At this time, staff are also planning for Summer Camps to take place this year. For updates about reopening, visit the Children’s Museum website here.

To learn more about the Help Me Grow – Family Resource Center, visit the Help Me Grow Skagit website. If you have questions about the program, or need additional information, call Skagit County Public Health at (360) 416-1500.


Public Health Does What?!

Reading Time: 5 minutes

To say that it has been a weird time to work in public health would be an understatement. COVID-19 has completely shifted the day-to-day realities and priorities of health departments around the globe. And while everything has seemingly changed, the foundation of public health—what makes public health so vitally important—has remained the same despite it all.

Staff attending the Latino Health Forum (Oct 2019), pre-COVID.

As I sit here and reflect on my past three years with Skagit County Public Health, I’ve got to tell you, it has been one heck of a ride! I remember during those first few weeks learning (in astonishment!) all the things that public health is responsible for. After all, I had never worked for a government agency before. I knew that people visited their health department to pick up birth and death records or to get information about community resources, but I couldn’t have imagined the depth and breadth of the work that is done here at 700 S 2nd Street in Mount Vernon.

As I walked around the halls and met my new co-workers, I discovered the many divisions that make up our team: child and family health, communicable diseases and epidemiology, behavioral health and housing services, environmental health and food safety, senior services, and community health and assessment.

Of these, emergency preparedness and response was only one small (though critical) part of the puzzle. During a staff training one day, I learned a bit more about this division and was surprised to learn that all public health staff could be activated during times of public health crisis. At the time, I couldn’t fathom what this would look like. Now, a year into Public Health’s COVID-19 response, I can tell you exactly what this response is like!

When COVID-19 first appeared in Washington State last year, County leadership was the first to respond: Unified Command was established and plans were quickly put into place to mitigate risks associated with disease transmission.

Public Health staff working the COVID-19 Testing Site at Skagit Valley College on a foggy spring morning.

Our Public Health staff was activated—slowly at first, then almost entirely by the summer of 2020. On any given day in June or July at Skagit County’s COVID-19 testing site, you might have seen a hand-full of Public Health staff working to register people or help to administer tests—at times even jumping car batteries—whatever they had to do to get the job done.

Back at the office, a whole team of staff were called to conduct case investigation and contact tracing, conducting investigations seven days a week. Big plans for 2020 that had been on our work calendars were adjusted or put on hold to accommodate the ever-increasing demands of our COVID response.

More recently, with our vaccination initiative in full gear, we are in a much better (and sustainable) place. Our Vaccine Site at the Fairgrounds and Vaccine Hotline have been blessed by hundreds of hard-working and dedicated volunteers who show up every day to help get our community vaccinated. Our staff has also grown and changed, with an influx of new temporary and part-time staff that have been hired to conduct case investigations and to provide vaccine services at our clinic.

Case investigators staying cozy in their PJs on Thanksgiving Day.

As the numbers of vaccinated individuals in the state continues to increase, it begs the question: What will life look like after COVID? And even: What will Public Health look like if/when the demands of COVID begin to subside?

This week is National Public Health Week and is the perfect time to highlight the role of Public Health. Although our work has primarily been centered around COVID-19 this year, it is in no way all that we do.

Here is a quick look at some of the other things your local public health department does:

Behavioral Health Services

Public Health works with community organizations and coalitions, school districts, and regional partners to ensure that help is available to those in need, including access to mental health and substance use disorder treatment and recovery services. For more: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HumanServices/mh.htm.

Child & Family Services

The Child & Family Health Division works with individuals, families, and the community to assure that all Skagit County children have the healthiest possible start in life, with particular emphasis on pregnant women, infants, and toddlers. Programs include the Nurse-Family Partnership, ABCD Dental, Parent Cafes, and Skagit Bright Beginnings. For more information: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HealthFamily/main.htm.

Senior Services

Our Senior Services staff at the office are only the tip of the iceberg; this is a huge team! We have five senior centers in Skagit County and a robust Meals on Wheels and Senior Nutrition program. While many senior services have been put on hold due to COVID, the nutrition program has been instrumental to our crisis response. For more information: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HumanServices/SeniorCenters/Home/Main.htm.  

Developmental Disabilities Services

The Developmental Disabilities Program manages a variety of programs related to providing services to individuals with developmental disabilities, while also providing support for individuals and families and hosting community events and trainings to improve community awareness of developmental disabilities and inclusion. https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HumanServices/DD/main.htm

Housing Services

Skagit County Public Health partners with local cities and nonprofits to provide humanitarian response, emergency shelters, rental assistance and supportive services with the goal of improving access to housing and reducing homelessness. Most recently, Public Health has made emergency funding available to those who have been impacted by COVID-19, and this funding can be used toward rental or utility bill assistance. For more: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HumanServices/HousingMain.htm.

Environmental Health Services

Environmental Health is easily the most diverse division that we have here at Public Health. From drinking water and food safety to the on-site sewage program and hazardous waste, our EH team is always super busy ensuring our residents are safe and healthy. For more: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HealthEnvironmental/main.htm.

Communicable Disease & Epidemiology

The shining star of 2020!  The Communicable Disease Program works closely with our healthcare provider partners to investigate notifiable conditions reported by health professionals, identify risk factors for disease, and provide education on how to prevent future infections. And we’re not just talking COVID-19! For more info: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HealthDiseases/main.htm.

Community Health and Assessment

Lastly, it is Public Health’s responsibility to think BIG: to analyze the data, identify the gaps, and propose new and innovative solutions. Public Health brings together a group of community leaders—called the Population Health Trust (PHT) —to solve Skagit County’s health issues that our community identifies. To learn more about the PHT, go to: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/PHTAC.

If you run into a Public Health employee this week, give them a big air-five! And next time you’re wondering what the heck Public Health does, please remember—we’re so much more than COVID!

For information about Skagit County Public Health’s divisions, please visit: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/Health/main.htm.

Springing into Healthy Eating

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Rosemary Alpert, contributing author

Joyfully, spring is returning. Time to welcome back longer days of sunlight, sow seeds and celebrate movement forward. Together, we have made it through an unprecedented year. Twelve months ago, just as spring was arriving, we were all sent home. Now is a perfect time to pause and ask: How are we nourishing ourselves, families and community? 

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has designated March as the month to focus on nutrition. In addition to attention on food, the focus is also on healthful care of ourselves, home and community. Seeking a balance within our busy lives to embrace a healthy lifestyle that encompasses all aspects of nutrition. 

First and most important, we must be kind to ourselves and keep it simple. March is a perfect month to open the windows, spring clean our spaces, including the refrigerators and cupboards, discarding expired or tired items. Making way for healthy choices, stepping into a new season, refreshed and replenished. 

Here are a few healthy, nourishing suggestions: 

  • Revisit Meal planning. Some of us may remember, “Wednesday as Prince Spaghetti Day,” an advertisement that made everyone think about eating pasta in the middle of each week. Weekly meal planning can offer structure to our busy lives. Create themes for specific days of the week, like “Taco Tuesday” or “Leftover Thursday.” For inspiration, revisit favorite recipes and fun cookbooks, make meal planning a family activity and experiment with new recipes and foods.  
  • Grocery list. Best to stick with a shopping list and don’t go shopping hungry. 
  • Plant a garden. March is a perfect time to get seedlings started. Create a simple kitchen garden. Plant containers on a deck are a wonderful way to get started. The taste of homegrown nutritious food is the best. Encourage young ones to get involved in planting and tending a garden. Exploring the wonders of growing food and enjoyment of creating meals can influence them for a lifetime.  
  • Get outside. Pack a picnic and go explore beautiful Skagit Valley and surrounding sites. Grab healthy snacks, like fruit, nuts or low-sugar granola bars and hike the local trails. Eat lunch outside, especially on the sunny days. Get exercise and keep hydrated.
  • Support local. If you are not able to grow your own food, buy locally grown, supporting community farmers and food suppliers. In addition, when ordering out or dining at local restaurants, remember to make healthy choices. Local honey is also beneficial, especially during allergy season.  
  • Share meals. Over these many months, every Friday night, a friend prepares a fresh homemade meal for me, all packaged and ready to be picked up. Besides being healthy, the thoughtfulness of these home-prepared meals is appreciated and nourishing for the soul. Find ways to share meals with family and friends. Maybe you have a special recipe you could prepare and share with a friend. 
  • Be creative. The best way to nurture ourselves is to do the best we can each day. Make good choices. Find a healthy balance. Be present for one another. Supporting and nurturing our communities, cultivating healthful possibilities for now and reaching into the future. 

While preparing this post, I connected with our local Skagit Valley Co-op for a few springtime garden and recipe suggestions. Here are some fun gardening tips and recipes: 

Access to healthy, nutritious food is important. Skagit Gleaners is a local organization, serving our community since 1984, offering access to local food. “Skagit Gleaner provides fresh and nutritious food to help working families achieve personal financial and health goals. We do this by rescuing and redistributing surplus fresh food to our members.” For more information about Skagit Gleaners, call (360) 848-1045, info@skagitgleaners.org

Let’s welcome spring, stay healthy, wear our masks and creatively nurture ourselves!  

“Stepping into Spring”  
©Rosemary DeLucco Alpert, 2018 


Overdose Prevention & You

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Bob Lutz, Washington State medical advisor for COVID-19 response, states that “Washingtonians with substance use disorders may have found themselves using more frequently [during the COVID-19 pandemic], and unfortunately, the data suggests they are also overdosing more often.Alarmingly, Skagit County has also observed an increase in opioid-related overdoses. Keep reading for preliminary, 2020 State- and County-level overdose data.

But first, a quick terminology refresher!

Overdose happens when a toxic amount of a drug, or combination of drugs, overwhelms the body. People can overdose on lots of things including alcohol, Tylenol, opioids or a mixture of drugs. When an opioid overdose occurs, the overdosing individual may experience slow or no breath, choking or snore-like sounds, pinpoint pupils, blue/ashy skin, nails and lips, unconsciousness and/or death. Fortunately, there are harm reduction practices and prevention interventions that can significantly reduce one’s chances of overdose and death. Visit SkagitRising to learn more.

Fentanyl is a synthetic or “man-made” opioid that is 80-100 times stronger than other opioids like morphine and heroin. There are pharmaceutical forms of fentanyl that are used for anesthesia and pain. However, most recent cases of fentanyl-related overdose and death have been linked to illegally made fentanyl. Any illicit drug in any form – powder, pill, etc. – could have fentanyl in it. You can’t necessarily tell if fentanyl is present based on taste, smell, or look of the drug. According to the DOH, we should assume that any drug not from a pharmacy could have fentanyl in it.

POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING:

In Washington, fentanyl has been found in counterfeit pills made to look like prescription opioids (often with an imprint of “M30” or “A215”), as well as in powders and black tar heroin.

Opioid Overdose Data

Last month, the Washington State Department of Health published a News Release, which includes preliminary overdose data for the first six months of 2020.

Here is a Brief Snapshot:

  • Overdose deaths in Washington State increased by 38% in the first half of 2020, compared to the first half of 2019. Most of this increase came from deaths involving fentanyl.
  • Fentanyl-involved deaths more than doubled from 137 to 309.
  • Most deaths involved multiple substances, sometimes called polysubstance use.

Skagit County also observed an increase in opioid-related deaths when compared to 2019. While Public Health and many other community partners have been working diligently to reduce the impacts of opioid misuse and overdose in our communities (see list of collaborative efforts here: https://skagitrising.org/what-is-being-done/), we need your help!

How YOU Can Help

We all play an important role in reducing opioid overdoses and saving lives in our communities.

  • The COVID19 pandemic has affected us all. Stress and social isolation may increase risk of substance misuse and overdose. Offer support to friends and family – send a text, call, video chat, get together in one-on-one or in a small group outside.
  • Know the signs of an opioid overdose and how to help.
  • Naloxone (also called Narcan®) is a safe medication that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. If you use opioids or know someone who does, make sure to carry naloxone. You could save a life! Under the statewide standing order, anyone can get naloxone at a pharmacy without a prescription.
  • If you think someone is overdosing don’t hesitate to call 911. The Good Samaritan Law (RCW 69.50.315) protects you and the person overdosing from prosecution of drug consumption and drug possession.
  • Help those struggling with opioid use disorder find the right care and treatment. Buprenorphine and methadone, two medications used to treat opioid use disorder (MOUD), can cut the risk of a fatal opioid overdose in half, and support long-term recovery. Find local MOUD treatment programs by visiting https://skagitrising.org/  
  • If you use drugs, please practice harm reduction techniques. If you must use alone, call 800-484-3731 (Never Use Alone Hotline).

Additional Info

Feeling overwhelmed and/or don’t know where to start? You are not alone. Visit the WA Recovery Helpline (or call 1-866-789-1511) where they provide emotional support and connect callers with local treatment resources and community services. You can also learn about local resources by visiting https://skagitrising.org/resources/

If you have questions, want to learn more about behavioral health services in Skagit County, or would like to pick-up free naloxone or fentanyl test strips, contact McKinzie Gales, Community Health Education Specialist at mgales@co.skagit.wa.us or (360)416-1528.


Getting There: Traveling to your Vaccine Appointment

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Vaccine roll-out has been slow over the past two months due to limited supply. Now that we will begin to see more supply arrive in Skagit County, more appointments will be available to those who are eligible. At present, only those who qualify under Phases 1a and 1b-Tier 1 are eligible; however, in the coming days, Public Health expects the State to move to the next phase.

Skagit County Public Health and our partner providers in the County have been working with local transportation providers to work through issues around accessibility. As eligibility widens and more people are able to make an appointment, providers must be able to respond to the needs of our diverse population.

Fairgrounds Clinic Layout

The Vaccine Clinic at the Skagit County Fairgrounds uses a walk-in clinic for first doses. This means that individuals will park their vehicle and enter the clinic on foot. For those with mobility issues, disabled parking is available next to the clinic entrance.

Those who arrive for a second dose at the Fairgrounds will be ushered through our drive-through clinic. Here, people will be able to receive their vaccine without leaving their vehicle. To date, this is the only drive-through vaccine clinic available in Skagit County.

For both first-dose and second-dose appointments, visitors will be required to wait 15 minutes post-vaccination for observation. It is important to keep this in mind when planning for transportation. Appointments can vary in length; it can take between 30-60 minutes from start to finish.

Foot Traffic versus Walk-ups

While there are no walk-ups permitted at the Fairgrounds Vaccine Clinic (meaning only those with an appointment will be permitted), the site does allow for individuals who arrive on foot. Because of this, people can absolutely use public transportation to get to and from the Fairgrounds Clinic. This applies to those arriving for both first-dose and second-dose appointments.

For information about how to schedule an appointment at the Skagit Fairgrounds Vaccine Clinic, visit: www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine.

Transportation Assistance Options

For those who need transportation assistance to the Fairgrounds Clinic (or other vaccine provider locations in Skagit County), you have some options:

1. Fixed Route Services through Skagit Transit

Those using the Fixed Route service may access any route—at no cost—by showing proof of a vaccine appointment. Since there are numerous vaccination sites in Skagit County, the driver will ask which location the person is trying to get to.

If traveling to the Fairgrounds Clinic, take Route 202 from Skagit Station and exit at South 2nd Street and Hazel Road. A short walk will get you to the site entrance at 1410 Virginia Street in Mount Vernon. Here, people will check in with staff at the front entrance and will be directed to Registration.

Any person who is unfamiliar with the Fixed Route service and/or bus stop locations should contact Skagit Transit’s Dispatch Center at (360) 757-4433 for assistance on where to catch the bus and/or which routes to take to their destinations. You can also use Skagit Transit’s online trip planner here: https://www.skagittransit.org/trip-planner/.

2. Paratransit Services through Skagit Transit

Those who cannot use the Fixed Route service can use paratransit services. If you respond “NO” to any of the following questions, you may qualify for the Paratransit service.

  • Are you able to get on or off a bus?
  • Are you able to get to or from the nearest bus stop?
  • Are you able to wait (standing) at a bus stop for 5 to 10 minutes?
  • Are you able to ride or to understand instructions on how to ride the bus?

To access this service, riders must call the Dispatch Center at (360) 757-4433 and speak to a Scheduler, who will work with them to find the best possible pickup location and arrange the pickup times. Since Paratransit is a reservation-based service, a minimum of 24-hour advanced notice is required. Riders must be prepared to show the driver proof of a vaccine appointment in lieu of bus fare.

If using the Paratransit service, please keep in mind that the Paratransit driver will most likely not be able to wait the full length of your vaccine appointment. As noted above, it can take 30-60 minutes for an appointment depending on wait-times. When scheduling your ride, be sure to let the scheduler know that you are going to a vaccine appointment and that there will be a wait.

Those arriving by paratransit (or any other service like a cab or Uber) will be dropped off at Registration and will be processed similar to someone who has arrived on foot. Please plan to schedule a pick up at the site following the 15-minute post-vaccine observation period. For those with mobility issues, staff will assist getting individuals to and from the Site entrance.

For more information about Paratransit Services, visit https://www.skagittransit.org/additional-services/dial-a-ride/.

3. Medicaid Transportation

Those who are eligible for Medicaid and have a Medicaid Provider One Identification Card (medical coupon) may be eligible for transportation assistance to a Skagit County vaccine provider location. People must call two days in advance to schedule a trip; call (360) 738-4554 to reserve a ride.

When reserving a Medicaid transport, be sure to let the scheduler know that you are going to a COVID-19 vaccine appointment, and that it may take 30-60 minutes. Your driver may be able to wait on site, or a pick-up will be scheduled. In this case, please let the Vaccine Clinic staff know about your arrangement, and staff can work to accommodate your specific needs. 

Carpooling to the Fairgrounds Site

We realize that it might make sense to carpool with a friend or co-worker if you both have an appointment on the same day. However, for safety reasons, it is still recommended that only those within the same household ride together in a vehicle.

If you do plan to come to the site with someone else, please try to limit to two people per vehicle. This allows for staff to process vehicles more efficiently than if there are multiple people getting a vaccine in a vehicle. Remember: Only those with an appointment will be permitted into the clinic unless assistance is required.

If you have any questions about the information above, contact the Vaccine Hotline at (360) 416-1500 or visit our webpage at www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine.


COVID-19 Testing Site at the Skagit County Fairgrounds to close permanently after Saturday, March 13

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February 10, 2021

Today, Skagit County Public Health announced that the final day of testing at the Fairgrounds drive-through testing site will be Saturday, March 13, 2021. Further, on February 23rd, testing will be operating on reduced hours from 1:00-4:00 p.m.

Skagit County Public Health will continue to utilize the Fairgrounds location for COVID-19 vaccinations only. Other testing providers are available in Skagit County.

Many doctor’s offices are now offering COVID-19 testing to their patients. Contact your healthcare provider first to see if they offer COVID-19 testing. Those seeking other testing options can also find a list of providers here: www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HealthDiseases/coronavirusTESTsites.htm.

Public Health has tested over 43,000 individuals since the Testing Site first opened at Skagit Valley College in April 2020. In November of 2020, the Testing Site moved to the Skagit County Fairgrounds.

“It is time for Public Health to shift focus and resources to vaccine roll-out,” said Jennifer Johnson, Skagit County Public Health Director. There are many more testing options available to those in Skagit County compared to when we first opened, and this has allowed Public Health to move in this new direction. It is our goal at Public Health to be responsive to the current needs of our community and we are excited to be able to focus on our mass vaccination location at the Fairgrounds.”

When vaccine supply allows, the COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic at the Fairgrounds location operates by appointment only. Eligible individuals can make appointments online at https://prepmod.doh.wa.gov/ when supply is available. Skagit County is currently vaccinating Phase 1a and Phase 1b, Tier 1 individuals. Visit www.findyourphasewa.org to determine if you’re eligible.

For more information, visit Public Health’s website: www.skagitcounty.net. For COVID-19 vaccine questions, please visit www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine or call the Vaccine Hotline at (360) 416-1500.