Is it safe to Trick-or-Treat this Halloween?

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UPDATE: The CDC is currently in the process of updating its Holiday Guidance. We will update the information below if recommendations change for Halloween 2021.

It’s October, and you know what that means: HALLOWEEN! And since last year was a bit of a dud, it’s no wonder that people have some questions about this year’s trick-or-treating prospects.

This year is different in many ways from Halloween of 2020. Last October, we were still a few months away from any sort of COVID vaccine. This year, our vaccination rates are sitting at just over 72 percent for Skagitonians 12 years and older, and more people are choosing to get vaccinated each day.

Unfortunately, this October, our case and hospitalization rates are also higher than they’ve ever been throughout the pandemic. Though our vaccination rates are promising, we still have approximately 37 percent of our entire population unvaccinated, including kiddos under 11 who are not yet eligible. This means that we still have many Skagitonians who do not have protection against the virus and are at increased risk.

For this reason, it makes sense that people would have some reservations about going out on the 31st. So, is Halloween safe this year? Well … the answer is, like most things these days, not super straight forward.

To Trick-or-Treat, or not?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has given the “okay” for children nationwide to trick-or-treat this Halloween—one year after it advised against the tradition last year due to coronavirus concerns. That said, there are a few caveats to consider.

Experts say it’s still best to take precautionary measures for Halloween given that most trick-or-treating children are younger than 11 years old and thus, still unvaccinated. If children do go trick-or-treating, it is recommended that they do so in small groups. Also, when possible, it is best to avoid scenarios where many people are concentrated in a central location.

The CDC has published a helpful guide for people planning to trick-or-treat this year. Some tips for safe trick-or-treating include:

For people passing out candy:

  • Avoid direct contact with trick-or-treaters.
  • Give out treats outdoors, if possible.
  • Set up a station with individually bagged treats for kids to take.
  • Wash hands before handling treats.
  • And of course, wear a mask!

For kids collecting candy:

  • Wear a mask!
    • PRO TIP: Make the mask a part of the costume! But remember, costume masks are not a substitute for a well-fitting cloth mask.
    • Remember: Kids younger than two years of old should never wear a mask to decrease the risk of suffocation.
  • Wash or sanitize hands frequently. Before settling down to devour treats, wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Maintain distance by staying at least 6 feet away from others who do not live with you.

What about fall festivals and Halloween parties?

In areas with high numbers of COVID-19 cases, like Skagit County, it is recommended that people two years and older wear a mask in crowded outdoor settings and while attending outdoor activities where close contact with others is expected. This would include your fall festivals, pumpkin patches, trunk-or-treating events, and the like.

If planning to go to a large event outdoors, please know that the statewide mask mandate requires that masks are worn at large outdoor events of 500 or more people. This includes all people five years and older, regardless of an individual’s vaccination status.   

In general, folks are asked to avoid large Halloween parties this year, especially parties taking place indoors with people from multiple households. When getting together, gathering outdoors is much safer than gathering indoors.

For those who choose to gather indoors, please:

  • Wear a well-fitted face mask
  • Keep your distance (6 feet or more)
  • Ventilate the space by opening doors and windows

If gathering in an indoor public space this year, know that the statewide mandate requires that masks be worn by all people five and older, regardless of an individual’s vaccination status.

What’s the best thing to do to prepare for fall and winter festivities?

The principles of this pandemic really do continue to hold. Outdoor gatherings are better than indoor gatherings, ventilation is important, and masking remains crucial.

But above all else, the best thing you can do right now is to get vaccinated. This is the easiest thing that you can do to keep yourself, and your loved ones, safe this fall and winter. And while you’re at it, get your flu shot, too!

Getting vaccinated now will help make this Halloween better than last year’s and will ensure many spooky-fun Halloweens to come. Want to be fully vaccinated in time for the 31st? You still have time! Get your single-dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine by October 17th, and you’re covered!

Ready to get your shot? Go to https://vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov/ or stop by the Skagit County Fairgrounds on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, or Friday between 3-7pm.

For more holiday gathering guidance, go to the CDC’s webpage at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/index.html.


Booster? Third Dose? What’s the Difference?

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You’ve probably heard…Pfizer booster doses are now authorized for certain individuals. But what does this mean? And what is the difference between a Booster and a third dose? After all, haven’t third doses been available for a while now?

If you are confused, you’re not alone! Have questions? We’ve got your answers!

What’s the difference between a third dose and a booster?

These terms shouldn’t be used interchangeably! They do—in fact—mean two separate things.

A third dose (also known as an additional dose) is for people who are immunocompromised. Sometimes people who are immunocompromised do not build enough protection when they first get fully vaccinated. When this happens, getting another dose of a vaccine can help them build more protection against the disease. Third doses of Moderna or Pfizer vaccine are currently available for certain immunocompromised individuals.

A booster refers to a dose of a vaccine that is given to someone who built enough protection after vaccination, but that protection decreased over time (waning immunity). This is why you need a tetanus booster every 10 years, because the protection from your childhood tetanus vaccine wanes over time. Only Pfizer boosters are currently available for certain populations.

Am I eligible for a third dose?

Currently, the CDC is recommending that moderately to severely immunocompromised people receive a third dose. This includes people who have:

  • Been receiving active cancer treatment for tumors or cancers of the blood
  • Received an organ transplant and are taking medicine to suppress the immune system
  • Received a stem cell transplant within the last 2 years or are taking medicine to suppress the immune system
  • Moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency (such as DiGeorge syndrome, Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome)
  • Advanced or untreated HIV infection
  • Active treatment with high-dose corticosteroids or other drugs that may suppress your immune response

People should talk to their healthcare provider about their medical condition, and whether getting a third dose is appropriate for them.

A person receiving a third dose should get it at least 28 days after dose two. When possible, the individual should receive the same vaccine (Moderna or Pfizer) as the first two doses but may receive the other mRNA vaccine brand if the original vaccine is not available.

At this time, no third dose is recommended for people who had the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine. People who received J&J should not get a second dose of either J&J or a dose of an mRNA vaccine. Additionally, people with competent immune systems should not receive a third dose.

Am I eligible for a booster?

At this time, only Pfizer Boosters are authorized, and are only for specific groups. First off, only those who received a first and second dose of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine should seek out a booster dose at this time. Those who initially received Moderna or J&J will need to wait (see more about this below).

It is recommended that the following people receive a Pfizer booster dose:

  • People 65 and older
  • People 18 and older living in long-term care settings
  • People 50 – 64 with underlying medical conditions or those at increased risk of social inequities

Additionally, the following people may receive a booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine:

Eligible people will need to wait to receive their Pfizer booster until at least 6 months after their second dose of Pfizer. This means that—at the time of this article—only those who received their second dose in March or earlier should seek out a booster.

Additional populations may be recommended to receive a Pfizer booster shot as more data become available.

Is a third dose or booster really necessary?

A third dose may prevent serious and possibly life-threatening COVID-19 disease in people with compromised immune systems who may not have responded to their initial vaccine series.

Although we still have much to learn, early findings are very encouraging. Research published by the Israeli Health Ministry suggests that a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine significantly improves protection for those 60 and older from infection and serious illness, compared to those who received just two doses.

As for boosters, the COVID-19 vaccines continue to be very effective at reducing the risk of severe disease. Data show that protection against COVID-19 from vaccination begins to decrease over time as it does with other diseases like tetanus or whooping cough.

Paired with the dominance of the delta variant, we are starting to see evidence of reduced protection against mild and moderate disease. As a result, the CDC now recommends booster shots for certain individuals to increase—and extend—protection against the virus.

What if I got Moderna or the J&J single dose vaccine?

At this time, there are not yet booster recommendations for people who received the Moderna or J&J COVID-19 vaccines. The CDC and FDA will evaluate data in the coming weeks and may make additional recommendations for other vaccine types.

How can I make an appointment?

If you’re looking for a third dose of Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, talk with your health care provider first to make sure that a third dose is right for you. If so, there are many vaccine provider locations available to you, including the Skagit County Fairgrounds.  

Looking for a Pfizer booster? Use the Vaccine Locator online tool, check in with your local pharmacy, or give the COVID Hotline a call at 1–800–525–0127, then press #.

Folks can also schedule an appointment for a Pfizer booster at the Skagit County Fairgrounds. To make an appointment, use the PrepMod online appointment finder and search for “Skagit County Public Health” under Name of Location.

Please note that appointments are limited at this time. If no appointments appear when you search, check back the following Monday for newly added appointments. The COVID Hotline is also available if you need further assistance: 1–800–525–0127, then press #.

What should I bring with me?

When seeking out a third dose or booster, please remember to bring your Vaccination Card with you! Can’t find it? Visit MyIR Mobile to pull your vaccination record or call the State COVID-19 Hotline for assistance at 1–800–525–0127, then press #.


Statewide Indoor Mask Mandate in Effect August 23 Following Governor Press Conference; New Educator Vaccination Requirement

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August 18, 2021

State-wide Mask Mandate

Today, Governor Inslee announced that the existing statewide mask mandate will be expanded to once again include vaccinated individuals in indoor settings effective Monday, August 23. The mask mandate will apply to most all indoor public places across the state, including restaurants, grocery stores, malls, and public-facing offices, regardless of an individual’s vaccination status.

This expansion comes after hospitals throughout Washington State are seeing record-breaking numbers of new COVID patients, and as cases continue to surge in every county. At present, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has marked all 35 counties in Washington as areas of High Community Transition. Disease prevalence is approaching levels last seen in the winter 2020 surge. In Skagit County, 436 new COVID cases have been reported since last Wednesday alone.

Local cases are increasing at an alarming rate,” said Jennifer Johnson, Skagit County Public Health Director. “We know that people are worried about what they’re seeing in the news and we are hoping that the community will see this announcement as a positive step in getting things back to a manageable place. Current rates are not sustainable—not for our hospitals or for our families. We ask that people please mask up to keep their loved ones safe.

There will be limited exceptions when face coverings won’t be required, such as office spaces not easily accessible to the public where individuals are vaccinated, and when working alone indoors or in a vehicle with no public face-to-face interaction. Small, private indoor gatherings where all attendees are vaccinated are also exempt. Further, while not required, the Department of Health strongly recommends individuals also wear masks in crowded outdoor settings, such as outdoor concerts, fairs and farmers markets.

Educator vaccine requirement

The Governor also announced today that K -12 educators, school staff, coaches, bus drivers, school volunteers and others working in school facilities will have until October 18 to be fully vaccinated as a condition of employment. The requirement includes public, private and charter schools, and comes as schools across the state prepare to return for the 2021–2022 school year amid rapidly increasing case and hospitalization numbers. This does not impact students, regardless of age.

Vaccines will also be a requirement for employees in Washington’s higher education institutions, as well as for most childcare and early learning providers who serve children from multiple households.

Education staff, faculty and contractors are also required to be fully vaccinated by October 18, consistent with the state worker vaccination requirement timeline.

Inslee stated that, as with state employees and private healthcare workers, there will be no test out option. There are limited exceptions under law which employees may apply for, including legitimate medical reasons and sincerely held religious beliefs. For full details, please read the press release here: https://medium.com/@GovInslee/inslee-announces-educator-vaccination-requirement-and-statewide-indoor-mask-mandate-a2f5a47d8a31


COVID-19 Testing: It’s Still Essential

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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!


Top 6 Things to Know About VAERS

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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


“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.


Before Your Appointment: Recommendations from our Vaccine Nurses

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You finally got your vaccine appointment—awesome! So, now what?

As COVID-19 vaccine supply increases in Washington State, you will begin to see a lot more opportunities for people to schedule an appointment. However, with increased supply also comes more advice about how best to prepare your body before your vaccine appointment.

While some advice may be helpful, you may also begin to find suggestions circulating online, including some with little or no research backing them up. So, what’s credible and what’s not? Below is a helpful list of tips and reminders for the days leading up to your vaccination appointment—all of which come straight from the CDC and our vaccine clinic nurses.

Talk to your doctor about the vaccine

Before you make a vaccine appointment, be sure to talk to your doctor if you have concerns. Also, those with a history of severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) to vaccine or injectable (intramuscular or intravenous) medication should consult with their health provider to assess risk prior to receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

Don’t get a COVID-19 vaccine at the same time as other vaccines

Wait at least 14 days before getting any other vaccine, including a flu or shingles vaccine, after you get your COVID-19 vaccine. If you get any other vaccine first, wait at least 14 days before getting your COVID-19 vaccine. This is because there is currently limited information on the safety and effectiveness of getting other vaccines at the same time as a COVID-19 vaccine.

As more information becomes available, this recommendation may change. Your healthcare provider can help you decide the best vaccination schedule for you and your family.

Consult your doctor if taking medication for underlying medical conditions

For most people, it is not recommended to avoid, discontinue, or delay medications for underlying medical conditions around the time of COVID-19 vaccination. However, your healthcare provider should talk to you about what is currently known and not known about the effectiveness of getting a COVID-19 vaccine when taking medications that suppress the immune system.

If you have questions about medications that you are taking, talk to your doctor or your vaccination provider.

Don’t take a pain killer beforehand to prevent vaccine-related side effects

It is not recommended you take over-the-counter medicine, such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or acetaminophen, before vaccination for the purpose of trying to prevent vaccine-related side effects. It is not known how these medications may affect how well the vaccine works.

However, if you take these medications regularly for other reasons, you should keep taking them before you get vaccinated. It is also not recommended to take antihistamines before getting a COVID-19 vaccine to try to prevent allergic reactions.

If you currently have COVID-19 or if you’ve been exposed recently—WAIT!

If you have tested positive for COVID-19 or been exposed to someone who has the illness, you should not go to the vaccination site to get your shot until your symptoms and isolation period have passed.

However, if you have had COVID-19 in the past and have since recovered, it is recommended that you get the vaccine. If you were treated for COVID-19 with monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma, you should wait 90 days before getting a COVID-19 vaccine. Talk to your doctor if you are unsure what treatments you received or if you have more questions about getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

Talk to your doctor if you have severe reactions after your first dose

If you receive an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine (Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine or Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine), you will need two shots to get the most protection. If you receive the viral vector COVID-19 vaccine, Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen (J&J/Janssen) COVID-19 vaccine, you will only need one shot.

You should get your second shot even if you have minor side effects after the first shot unless a vaccination provider or your doctor tells you not to get it. If you experience severe reactions to your first dose (such as anaphylaxis), your doctor may advise you against receiving your second dose.

Give your body what it needs!

And lastly—take care of yourself before the big day! Before your appointment, make sure to stay hydrated and eat some nutritious foods. Try to limit alcohol intake prior to your vaccination and get some good sleep the night before. You’ll want to continue practicing these habits for a day or two after your appointment, as well.


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.


New Mask Guidance from the CDC

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released new research that found wearing a cloth mask over a surgical mask offers more protection against COVID-19. Findings also showed that tying knots on the ear loops of surgical masks can improve fit and create better protection. This information has prompted new mask guidance at a time when many are experiencing heightened concern over fast-spreading variants of the virus.

Wearing a mask correctly—and consistently—is one of the most effective tools we have against preventing the spread of COVID-19. It is important to choose a mask that fits well and also provides the necessary protection against viruses and aerosols.  

According to the CDC, these are the two most important things to consider when it comes to masks:

1) Make sure your mask fits snugly against your face. Gaps can let air with respiratory droplets leak in and out around the edges of the mask; and

2) Pick a mask with layers to keep your respiratory droplets in and others’ out. A mask with layers will stop more respiratory droplets getting inside your mask or escaping from your mask if you are sick.

Here is a list of “Do’s” and “Don’ts”:

DO

Choose a mask with a Nose Wire:

  • A nose wire is a metal strip along the top of the mask. Nose wires prevent air from leaking out of the top of the mask.

Use a Mask Fitter or Brace:

  • Use a mask fitter or brace over a disposable mask or a cloth mask to prevent air from leaking around the edges of the mask.

Check that it Fits Snugly over your nose, mouth, and chin:

  • Check for gaps by cupping your hands around the outside edges of the mask.
  • Make sure no air is flowing from the area near your eyes or from the sides of the mask.
  • If the mask has a good fit, you will feel warm air come through the front of the mask and may be able to see the mask material move in and out with each breath.

Add Layers of material. Here are three different ways to achieve this:

  • Use a cloth mask that has multiple layers of fabric.
  • Wear one disposable mask underneath a cloth mask.
  • Use a two-layer mask that has a pocket for a filter.

Knot and Tuck ear loops of a 3-ply mask:

  • Knot the ear loops of a 3-ply face mask where they join the edge of the mask
  • Fold and tuck the unneeded material under the edges
  • For video instructions, see: https://youtu.be/UANi8Cc71A0external icon.
  • Don’t like this style? You can also try using a mask extender or hair clip to hold the ear loops tightly at the back of your head.

DON’T

Combine two disposable masks: Disposable masks are not designed to fit tightly and wearing more than one will not improve fit.

Combine a KN95 mask with any other mask: Only use one KN95 mask at a time.

For more ways to improve the fit and filtration of your mask, visit: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/mask-fit-and-filtration.html.


New CDC Guidance for Quarantine Guidelines

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December 4, 2020

Skagit Public Health adopts guidance to align with CDC’s new quarantine guidelines.

Today, Skagit Public Health announced that they will adopt the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) and the Washington State Department of Health’s new guidance on quarantine timeframes. You can see the CDC’s full guidance here, and the Washington State Department of Health’s press release here.

The CDC, Washington State Department of Health and Skagit Public Health continue to encourage those who have been known close contacts of COVID-19 cases to quarantine for 14 days. However, there are certain circumstances that could allow for a shortened quarantine. These include:

  • If a person who is in quarantine has no symptoms, quarantine can end after Day 10. The person still needs to monitor for symptoms through day 14. If they develop symptoms, they need to isolate immediately.
  • If a person who is in quarantine receives a negative COVID-19 test and has no symptoms, quarantine can end after Day 7 if they are able to get tested within 48 hours before ending quarantine. The person still needs to monitor for symptoms through day 14. If they later develop symptoms, they need to isolate.
  • Ideally, an individual still quarantines for 14 days from the last day they were exposed. If they live with or care for someone who has COVID, that person has to finish their isolation before calculating quarantine end dates. 

“I want to be clear- there is still risk associated with ending quarantine earlier than 14 days. But, research has shown that it is a very small portion of the population that becomes contagious between 10-14 days after exposure, and we know that 14 days is an incredibly burdensome amount of time for people to properly quarantine. We want to lessen the burden of the pandemic wherever possible.”

Skagit Health Officer Howard Leibrand

More information on Skagit County’s COVID-19 response is available at www.skagitcounty.net/coronavirus. If you have questions or need additional information, call Public Health at 360-416-1500.