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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Phase 3…What Does That Mean?

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On March 22nd, Skagit County—and the rest of the state—moved to Phase 3 of the “Roadmap to Recovery” reopening plan. Counties now move through the phases alone, no longer tied to other counties in their region. What this means is that while Skagit has more freedom to move through the phases, we are also solely responsible for our progress. So how do we keep moving forward and not backwards?

What is Allowed Under Phase 3

Restrictions are looser under Phase 3 than they were under the previous phases. This is exciting news, especially as the weather gets nicer and summer slowly approaches.

That said, it remains more important than ever to continue practicing precautions: mask up, keep your distance, and wash your hands frequently. While restrictions around gathering have relaxed, it is best to continue to limit gatherings as much as possible. This—as well as the precautions above—are our best defenses against the spread of COVID-19.

Below are some of the most notable allowances under Phase 3:

Social and at-home gatherings

  • Indoor social and at-home gatherings have increased to 10 people from outside your household.
  • Outdoor social and at-home gatherings have increased to a maximum of 50 people.

Services (such as dining, retail, worship)

  • Indoor services now allowed at 50% capacity.

Sports and Fitness

  • Indoor sports competitions and tournaments allowed at all risk levels. Fitness/training and indoor sports at a maximum of 50% capacity.
  • Outdoor sports competitions and tournaments allowed at all risk levels. A maximum of 400 spectators allowed with capacity restrictions (depending on the facility).

Entertainment (such as museums, theaters, concert halls)

  • Indoor maximum of 50% capacity or 400 people (whichever is less).
  • Outdoor entertainment allowed by walk-up ticketing, and a maximum of 400 spectators with capacity restrictions (depending on the facility).
For a full list of allowances, you can read WA Department of Health’s report here: https://www.governor.wa.gov/sites/default/files/HealthyWashington.pdf.

What Metrics Need to be Met to Stay in Phase 3

Forward or backward progress will now be evaluated on a county-by-county basis, rather than by regional grouping. Counties will be evaluated by WA Department of Health (WA DOH) every three weeks to determine progress. Skagit County’s ability to move forward will be determined based on both of the metrics below:

  1. Case Rates: Skagit County must maintain at a case rate lower than 200 per 100,000 in the past 14 days to stay in Phase 3.
    (As of March 21, we are at 132.4 new cases per 100,000)
  2. Hospitalizations: Skagit County must maintain a 7-day average of five or fewer new COVID-19 hospitalizations to stay in Phase 3.

Also, if at any point the statewide Intensive Care Unit (ICU) capacity reaches greater than 90%, all counties will move down one phase.

As you can see, it wouldn’t take much for Skagit to move backwards. We need to continue limiting our gatherings and wear our masks, even with the lighter restrictions of Phase 3.

It is also critical to continue vaccinating our high-risk populations, as this will greatly impact our hospitalization numbers. Let’s do everything that we can to keep our high-risk populations safe and protected against COVID-19! If you know of someone who is currently eligible for the vaccine, please reach out! Call the Vaccine Hotline to schedule an appointment: (360) 416-1500.

What Comes Next?

We don’t yet know what the next phase will look like for the Roadmap to Recovery. More guidance will come from WA DOH in the coming weeks. In the meantime, let’s all do our part to ensure continued forward motion! Though the road has been long, we have so much to look forward to. Let’s show the state what we are capable of, Skagit!

To read more about the Roadmap to Recovery Plan and to find out guidance specific to businesses and workers, go to: http://bit.ly/3lH6bbI.


Reflections: A Year Of COVID-19

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Dr. Howard Leibrand, Skagit County Health Officer 

Today is the first of several heavy anniversaries for Skagit County. On March 10, 2020, the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Skagit County. On March 13, Governor Inslee closed schools in order to protect students, staff and the community at large from COVID-19 spread. On March 17, Skagit County first became aware of the Chorale outbreak, which would lead to the loss of 2 Skagitonians- some of the first known casualties from COVID-19 in Washington State. On March 23, the first ‘Stay Home, Stay Healthy order’ began.

Since then, we’ve learned a lot. The science has come a long way- we now know how effective masks are at preventing spread of COVID-19; we know that surface transmission is pretty unlikely (so wiping down groceries isn’t really necessary), and we have three vaccines that are highly effective against the wild coronavirus.  All of this is a testament to human innovation and resiliency. 

We’ve also worked incredibly hard. Skagit Public Health, Department of Emergency Management and Unified Command have put in long, hard hours and accomplished so much. Skagit operated the longest continuously running COVID-19 mass testing site and has opened one of the largest mass vaccination clinics in the region. This clinic has administered over 6,000 doses of vaccine so far and has the capacity to do up to 940 total doses per day.

Residents and friends of Skagit County have also made huge efforts. Beyond everyone taking precautions to keep the community safe, individuals have donated thousands of masks, volunteered over 14,000 hours at the test site, vaccine clinic and staffing the hotline, and given $700,000 dollars to the Skagit Community Foundation’s COVID-19 fund which helped families in need through this difficult year. I am continuously in awe of my colleagues and the community that I serve. 

Unfortunately, the work is not yet over. While I look forward to further reopening of Skagit businesses and activities, now is not the time to let up on our basic precautionary measures. The B117 variant was confirmed in Skagit County two weeks ago, and it is likely that this more contagious version of the virus is circulating at large in the Community. Because it spreads more quickly and easily, if we don’t continue to observe precautions we risk a large fourth wave of illness. We also risk the B117 or the wild virus potentially mutating further and lessening vaccine efficacy; something that we have seen early evidence of in places like Brazil (P1) and South Africa (B1351). I encourage the community to double down their precautionary efforts. Wear masks- two if you can- at all times in public or during private social gatherings. Stay six feet apart from anyone you don’t live with, continue to practice good hand hygiene and please, stay home if you feel ill. 

I promise you, spring is coming. We will further reopen, and learn to live with COVID-19. You will see loved ones in unmasked social gatherings again. Vaccines will protect us. But we cannot get there without everyone’s help. Over the last year, I’ve said this many times but it bears repeating: wear a mask, wash your hands, and stay safe, stay healthy. 


B.1.1.7 COVID-19 Virus Variant Found in Skagit County

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March 3, 2021

Skagit County Public Health released today that evidence of the COVID-19 virus variant has been found in Skagit County. Variant B.1.1.7, also referred to as the U.K. variant, is more contagious than the original COVID-19 strain.

The individual first tested positive for COVID-19 two weeks ago and has been working with contact tracers. The individual had not traveled and is associated with another known COVID-19 case that is likely another B.1.1.7 variant case. Genome sequencing takes time, so the variant was only discovered last night- more information will likely become available in the coming days. Public Health is thankful to all involved for their cooperation.

We knew this was coming,” said Skagit Public Health Director Jennifer Johnson. “The B.1.1.7 variant has already been found in Whatcom, Snohomish and Island Counties, and given the way COVID-19 spreads it’s likely it’s been here for a while. We should assume that this variant is circulating widely in Skagit at this time.

The B.1.1.7 variant is more contagious than the original strain of COVID-19, it responds to the same safety measures the community has been practicing since the first case of COVID-19 was found in Skagit County. These measures include:

  • Wearing a mask
  • Using good hand hygiene and washing hands frequently
  • Avoiding unnecessary gatherings; particularly informal, indoor social gatherings
  • Staying six feet apart from anyone you do not live with

Additionally, currently in use vaccines are effective against the B.1.1.7 variant, so Public Health encourages all to be vaccinated as soon as you are eligible. For more information about vaccinations in Skagit County visit www.skagitcounty.net/covidvaccine

If you have questions or need additional information, please contact Skagit Public Health at 360-416-1500. For more information about Skagit’s COVID-19 response, visit www.skagitcounty.net/coronavirus.


Updated Quarantine Requirements for Vaccinated Persons

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On February 10th, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced some recent changes to quarantine requirements for those who are fully vaccinated. This update comes at a perfect time as more people are getting vaccinated and as many are beginning to wonder what life will look like post-vaccine.

If you have been following the news, or if you have been recently vaccinated, you have most likely heard the recommendations: Vaccinated persons should continue to follow current guidance to protect themselves and others, including wearing a mask, staying at least 6 feet away from others, and avoiding crowds.

But why must those who have received both doses of vaccine continue to practice these safety precautions? Shouldn’t we be able to go back to normal once vaccines are more readily available?

Well…the science just isn’t there quite yet to tell us otherwise!

What we know—and don’t know just yet

We know that the currently approved COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19, meaning that those who have received a full vaccine series have protection against developing symptoms and are especially protected against severe illness related to COVID-19. The evidence also shows that symptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission has a greater role in transmission that purely asymptomatic transmission.

While mRNA COVID-19 vaccines (like Pfizer and Moderna) have demonstrated high efficacy at preventing severe and symptomatic COVID-19, there is limited information on how effective the vaccines are at reducing transmission and how long protection lasts. The efficacy of the vaccines against emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants is also not yet known.

As we wait to learn more about how much vaccines are able to reduce transition, it is best to be cautious. Counties across Washington State have shown reductions in COVID-19 cases in the past several weeks, and it is best to keep doing what we know works best against the virus.

If you are like me though, you may be looking for a glimmer of hope for the coming months. The updated CDC quarantine guidelines is a promising example of the benefits that vaccinated individuals will begin to see.

Updated Guidance for Vaccinated Persons

The CDC states that vaccinated persons with an exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 are not required to quarantine if they meet all of the following criteria. Persons who do not meet all three of the below criteria should continue to follow current quarantine guidance after exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19:

1. Are fully vaccinated (i.e. it has been longer than two weeks following receipt of the second dose in a two-dose series, or it has been longer than two weeks following receipt of one dose of a single-dose vaccine).

2. Have remained asymptomatic since the current COVID-19 exposure.

3. Are within three months following receipt of the last dose in the series (meaning that an individual is no more than three months out from their last vaccine dose).

Experts are currently gathering data about the duration of immunity to COVID-19 post-vaccination. At present, we have good data confidence to say that immunity lasts for 90 days (or three months). This may change as more data is gathered and analyzed.

Vaccinated healthcare personnel, patients, and residents in healthcare settings

If you are a healthcare worker, patient, or resident of a healthcare setting, these new updates will not apply to you. This exception is due to the unknown vaccine effectiveness in this population, the higher risk of severe disease and death, and challenges with social distancing in healthcare settings. These individuals must continue to follow current quarantine guidance.

Exposed and feeling sick. Now what?

Fully vaccinated persons who do not quarantine should still watch for symptoms of COVID-19 for 14 days following an exposure. If they experience symptoms, they should be clinically evaluated for COVID-19. In addition, vaccinated persons should continue to follow current guidance to protect themselves and others, including all other SARS-CoV-2 testing recommendations and requirements, and state, territorial, tribal, and local travel recommendations or requirements. For local information, visit: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HealthDiseases/coronavirus.htm.

More to come

The CDC quarantine recommendations for vaccinated persons, including the criteria above, will be updated when more data becomes available and additional COVID-19 vaccines are authorized.

To find out if you are currently eligible for vaccine in Washington State, visit www.findyourphasewa.org. If eligible, people can register for an appointment at one of the many vaccine provider locations: https://www.doh.wa.gov/YouandYourFamily/Immunization/VaccineLocations. Please know that vaccine supply is still quite limited at this time, and it will take several months for all currently eligible individuals to receive vaccine.

For information about Skagit County Public Health’s vaccination clinic at the Skagit County Fairgrounds, visit www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine or call the Vaccine Hotline at (360) 416-1500.


Try the New Isolation & Quarantine Calculator

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When it comes to the health and safety of your family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers, there isn’t a lot of room for guess work. Figuring out exactly what it means to be quarantined or isolated can be confusing, especially when there are so many factors at play.

For this reason, the Washington State Department of Health has created an Isolation and Quarantine Calculator Tool to simplify these steps. You can check out this new tool at: https://www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/COVID19/CaseInvestigationsandContactTracing/IsolationandQuarantineforCOVID19/Calculator.

What does Isolation and Quarantine mean?

Snapshot of the new online calculator tool. Find it here.

Isolation and quarantine are key strategies to reduce the spread of COVID-19. If you test positive for COVID-19, have symptoms, or are identified as a close contact of someone who has COVID-19, Public Health will ask you to isolate or quarantine as appropriate.

Isolation describes when someone who has COVID-19 symptoms, or has tested positive, stays home and away from others (including household members) to avoid spreading their illness. This would mean that a person eat and sleep separately from other household members, as well as use a separate restroom (when able).  

Quarantine describes when someone who has been exposed to COVID-19 stays home and away from others for the recommended period of time in case they were infected and are contagious. Those in quarantine are still able to interact with those in their immediate household. Quarantine becomes isolation if the person later tests positive for COVID-19 or develops symptoms.

The period of time that someone must isolate or quarantine is reliant on the type of contact the individual has had, whether or not the individual tests positive for COVID-19, and whether this person develops symptoms or not.

The online Calculator will help to determine the dates of your isolation or quarantine if you:

  • Tested positive for COVID-19 and have symptoms;
  • Tested positive for COVID-19 but do not have symptoms;
  • Were exposed to COVID-19 (identified as a close contact); or
  • Previously tested positive for COVID-19 and want to know when you could be re-infected.

If you have been issued an isolation or quarantine letter from Skagit County Public Health, please follow the instructions provided. If you are an at-risk individual who is on quarantine or isolation, and you find yourself in need of assistance with getting supplies or food, call 360-416-1500 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. daily.

For more information, visit https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HealthDiseases/coronavirus.htm#O.


This Sunday, Let’s Play it Safe

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

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

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

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

So what can you do to hold a safer gathering?

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

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


Looking Toward the Finish Line: Precautions Post Vaccine

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We are at the point in this COVID-19 marathon where the muscles in our legs are burning and our feet are begging for a rest. We have been dealing with this “new normal” for so long, and sometimes it has felt like there will never be an end to it all.

With vaccines now becoming more widely available (though still quite limited, due to supply), many people may feel that the finish line is just within their grasp. And what a wonderful feeling this is!

As more and more people receive the vaccine and as Washington State moves through the Governor’s new Roadmap to Recovery re-opening plan, it is important to remember that the race isn’t over. While we are absolutely looking toward the finish line, it isn’t the time to stop just yet.

There are still precautions to take, even once someone receives the vaccine. We are all tired of these safety measures, but they will continue to be necessary (at least for now). So why do we need to keep taking precautions? Here are some things to consider:

The vaccine is highly effective–but not foolproof.

At present, both vaccines available in the U.S. (Moderna and Pfizer) require two doses. These vaccines have proven to be extremely effective; the first dose gives 50 percent protection against COVID-19, while the second dose raises the effectiveness to about 95 percent. Of course, that means that there is a 5% chance that someone may still contract COVID-19 after receiving both doses.

And while the hope is that most—if not all—people receive the vaccine over the next several months, we know that there are some limitations. Both Moderna and Pfizer have not yet been approved for children (though Pfizer has been approved for people 16 and older). It may be some time until either a new brand of vaccine is approved that is recommended for children, or until Moderna and Pfizer finish clinical trials for minors and are granted approval for this population. So, until this time, children are still at risk of contracting the virus.

We do not yet know how long immunity lasts.

At this stage, experts do not yet know how long people are immune to COVID-19 after receiving the vaccine. Long-term effectiveness will depend on two factors: the duration of one’s immune response and changes in the virus over time. There is a chance that people will need to receive the COVID vaccine yearly, just like the flu, in order to account for any changes. Experts just do not know yet because the vaccine is so new.

That said, some research has indicated that the current vaccines are effective for at least 6 to 12 months. We will become informed in the coming months as more people receive the vaccine and as scientists track long-term effectiveness.

Experts do not yet know whether people can still spread COVID-19 after getting vaccinated.

The COVID-19 vaccines that are currently available are designed to keep people from getting sick. Clinical trials did not test whether those vaccinated could still spread SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

This means that someone who has received the vaccine is approximately 95 percent protected against getting sick but could still contract the virus and infect a friend or loved one who has not been fully vaccinated.

Everyone should still wear masks and social distance—even after getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

For all the above reasons, it remains crucial that people continue to take pre-cautions—even after receiving the vaccine. Continue to wear your mask when in public, continue to keep gatherings small and keep your distance, and stay home when you are sick. Yes, these precautions aren’t fun. And yes, we are tired and we want so desperately to stop.

The finish line is in sight and we are getting closer. In the meantime, continue to take precautions and make sure to get vaccinated when you are eligible. If you don’t know your phase of eligibility for the vaccine, visit: www.findyourphasewa.org. You can also call Skagit County Public Health’s Vaccine Hotline at (360) 416-1500, Mondays-Saturdays from 7:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

We will continue to update our webpage when new vaccine developments are available. Go to www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine for updates.

Keep Going! You’ve Got This!


What Is Binge Drinking, Anyway?

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New year’s resolutions aren’t for everyone. Making big plans and setting high expectations for the months to come can seem too burdensome for some—and that’s totally fine! The beginning of a new year does present a good opportunity to reflect on the prior year, though. An opportunity to think about the things that we’d like to work on or change.

This past year was definitely a doozy, and it wouldn’t be surprising if some of our routines were uprooted or thrown out the window entirely. While, before last March, it might not have been acceptable to take a meeting in sweats, or to shower in the middle of the workday, we’ve adapted and made concessions out of pure necessity.

Perhaps, for some, one of these concessions has been around drinking habits. While it was once acceptable to have an occasional glass of wine over dinner or a few cocktails on the weekend, now a quaran-tini (or two) each night has become the standard.

While it’s perfectly fine to have a drink here and there, it is important to monitor one’s drinking habits. When does drinking become “too much,” and when do rates of consumption go from healthy to possibly dangerous?

Isolation, the disruption of routine, and an inability to use pre-COVID coping mechanisms can cause one to feel especially vulnerable during times of crisis. Partnered with other stressors like economic uncertainty or unemployment, an individual may be at increased risk of developing a reliance on alcohol or other substances in order to cope.

What is binge drinking?

Not everyone who drinks—even regularly—engages in binge drinking. Even still, the definition of “binge drinking” may surprise you.

Moderate drinking, for men, is drinking no more than 15 drinks per week and no binge drinking. For women, the limit is seven drinks per week, with no binge drinking.

Binge drinking, however, is defined as drinking five or more drinks in a two-hour period for men, and four or more drinks in that same two-hour period for women.

Note: Women metabolize alcohol less efficiently than men, meaning they have higher concentrations of it in their blood when they drink the same amount.

The CDC states that one in six US adults binge drinks about four times a month, consuming about seven drinks per binge, with the highest percentage of binge drinking happening amongst 25-34 year olds. A person who binge drinks may or may not have an alcohol use disorder.

Recent Findings

A recent study published in the American Journal of Alcohol & Drugs Abuse reported that “thirty-four percent [of those studied] reported binge drinking during the COVID-19 pandemic.” It was also found that more binge drinkers increased alcohol consumption during the pandemic (60%) than non-binge drinkers (28%). And for every one-week increase in time spent at home during the pandemic, there were greater odds of binge drinking.

Also of note was that binge drinkers with a previous diagnosis of depression and current depression symptoms had greater odds of increased alcohol consumption compared to those reporting no depression.

Why can it be dangerous?

Binge drinking is associated with many short- and long-term health problems. Short-term side effects include:

  • Poor balance and coordination
  • Nausea
  • Dehydration
  • Vomiting
  • Hangover
  • Shakiness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Poor decision-making
  • Memory loss

From the American Addiction Centers, some long-term effects of repeated binge drinking include: alcoholism, brain damage, liver damage, cardiovascular disease, and even sexual dysfunction.

Tips for a healthier relationship with alcohol

Keep track. Whether you can keep track in your mind, or you need something in writing to help you monitor throughout the week, it may be a good idea to have a system in place. Did you have a few drinks over the weekend? Maybe take a break for a few days this week. Even taking a couple days off from alcohol can help your physical (and even mental) wellbeing!

Count and measure. Being your own bartender at home can surely be cost efficient, but it can also pose a challenge for proper measuring! According to NIAAA, a standard alcoholic drink is 12 ounces of regular beer (usually about 5% alcohol), 5 ounces of wine (typically about 12% alcohol), and 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (about 40% alcohol). Keep these measurements in mind when pouring (and counting) drinks.

Set goals. Along these same lines, try setting some goals for yourself over the coming weeks. Maybe it isn’t realistic right now to cut out alcohol together. How about cutting out a drink here and there to start, and work your way into a healthier routine? Don’t get discouraged if you lapse or if you have to start over. Changing behaviors can be extremely difficult—but also entirely doable! Maybe set a goal with a friend or loved one so that you can work toward a common goal together, while also keeping one another accountable.

Find alternatives. If having a drink at 5 o’clock has become the norm recently, try replacing this habit with something else. Try taking a walk during this time, or taking a hot bath. If having a drink makes you feel calm, find something that provides a similar sensation. If you feel like a drink is a nice way to treat yourself after a long day, find something else that feels like a little reward. Just be sure not to replace one unhealthy habit with another!

Avoid “triggers.” A trigger can be anything that causes you to want to drink. This could be something stressful like watching the nightly news or scrolling social media. However, it can be something pleasurable like cooking a meal or video-chatting with a friend. It is important to recognize what your triggers are in order to plan for and work through it.

Remember non-alcoholic drinks. For some people, just having alcohol in the house can pose a difficulty in regulating consumption. If this is the case, move the alcohol out of the refrigerator, or avoid having it in the home altogether. Try having something in the fridge that you can go to instead when you’re craving a drink. Carbonated water (which comes in a variety of flavors) can be a nice go-to, or even diet soda.

Need more help?

Need a little extra help? That’s okay! The Washington Recovery Helpline is a great resource available to all Washingtonians who may be struggling with substance use. Call 1-866-789-1511 to speak with a specialist (available 24/7/365). You can also text this same number during Monday-Friday between 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. for treatment options, resources, and referrals.

You can also access www.skagithelps.org for a list of helpful resources.


Gratitude: 2020 Reflections from Testing Site Staff & Volunteers

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Guest post by Rosemary Alpert, Skagit Valley Family YMCA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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