April is Child Abuse Prevention Month

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Post by the Skagit Valley Family YMCA

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

Know the signs.

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

Evaluate if a report should be made.

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

Make a report.

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

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

Long-Term Effects

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

Abuse Today

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

Get Involved

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

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

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

Prepare your Kids

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

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

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


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.


Preventing Poisoning During COVID-19

Reading Time: 5 minutes

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

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

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

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

Major Takeaways

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

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

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

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

Cleaners & Sanitizers

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

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

Nicotine

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

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

Cannabis

WAPC 2020 Data Snapshot

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

Medications

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

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

Adolescent Self-harm

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

WAPC 2020 Data Snapshot

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

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

What to expect when you call

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

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

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

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

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

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

You never know when you might need it!

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


Red Ribbon Week & Youth Substance Use

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Red Ribbon Week is dedicated to spreading awareness about youth substance use prevention and the mission of keeping all kids drug-free. It takes place every year from October 23 through October 31st, and this year is no exception. Your student’s health teacher or prevention specialist may be touching on some prevention messaging right now, so it could be a prime opportunity to continue this conversation with your child (if you aren’t doing so already). So let’s talk prevention!

Why is it important?

Ninety percent of people with addictions started using substances in their teen years. Beginning at age 10 through the mid- to late-20s, massive changes are underway in the brain. This includes the development of capabilities related to impulse control, managing emotions, problem-solving and anticipating consequences. Substance use during this time period can cause the brain to be more susceptible to addiction and other mental health disorders, especially for kids who are vulnerable.

Substance use and COVID-19

Some early research is coming out that shows that youth substance use rates are being negatively impacted by COVID-19 and social distancing measures. An article written in the Journal for Adolescent Health noted that, of those adolescents surveyed, “the percentage of users decreased [since the beginning of COVID-19]; however, the frequency of both alcohol and cannabis use increased.” Perhaps of more concern is that, while the majority of those using substances were engaging in solitary substance use (49.3%), “many were still using substances with peers via technology (31.6%) and, shockingly, even face to face (23.6%).” For parents who are actively working to keep their kids COVID-free, this added information may be worrisome.

Risks of use and COVID-19

We do not know yet if the occurrence of COVID-19 is higher for people who use drugs or have substance use disorder than for those who don’t use drugs, however some underlying medical conditions seem to increase risk of severe illness from COVID-19. For example, vaping may harm lung health, and emerging evidence suggests that exposure to aerosols from e-cigarettes harms the cells of the lung and diminishes the ability to respond to infection. For this reason, it is possible that drug use could make COVID-19 illness more severe, but more evidence is needed.

Can parents really make a difference?

Absolutely! Parents are the biggest influence in a teen’s life. Even though it may not appear to be true at times, deep down they still want you involved. A strong parent/child bond, especially during the teen years, helps reduce the chances of them engaging in unhealthy behavior and helps set the stage for preventing nicotine, alcohol, and drug use.

When and how to talk about substance use?

These conversations should happen frequently, and typically work best when a parent and child are already engaging in some type of activity together. It is important to listen, show empathy, and be understanding. Connecting often, communicating about your expectations and setting boundaries, and even encouraging healthy risk taking are all things that parents can do to set their children up for success.

Parents can begin talking with their children about drug prevention at a surprisingly young age! These early conversations may not sound exactly like “drug prevention;” instead, the focus should be on laying a strong foundation of trust and openness, while also teaching (and demonstrating) healthy habits. For tips on how to talk to your child at any age, visit: https://drugfree.org/article/prevention-tips-for-every-age/.

What should parents be looking out for?

Figuring out if your child is using substances can be challenging; many of the signs and symptoms are typical teen or young adult behavior. However, sometimes they can be attributed to underlying issues.  Mental health concerns like depression and anxiety, as well as traumatic events or periods of transition, can create a greater risk for the development of problematic substance use. Children and teens are dealing with a lot of changes right now, making it all the more important that parents be looking out for concerning behavior.

If you have reason to suspect use, don’t be afraid to err on the side of caution. Prepare to take action and have a conversation during which you can ask direct questions like “Have you been drinking, vaping or using drugs?” No parent wants to hear “yes,” but being prepared for how you would respond can be the starting point for a more positive outcome.

Where do I go for help?

There is help available if you are concerned that your child may be using substances—or even if you’re struggling with how to begin a conversation! Drugfree.org has one-on-one help available for parents: visit https://drugfree.org/article/get-one-on-one-help/ for ways to connect.

Want to get involved in your community?

Between now and December 15th, our three prevention community coalitions are collecting information from Skagit County adults (18+) about their perceptions regarding local youth substance use. Do you live or work in one of these communities? Consider filing out the survey! Your feedback has direct influence on prevention programming available for youth and families.

Mount Vernon
English- https://www.research.net/r/SKMTVEEN2020
Spanish- https://es.research.net/r/SKMTVESP2020

Sedro-Woolley
English- https://www.research.net/r/SKSEWOEN2020
Spanish- https://es.research.net/r/SKSEWOSP2020

Concrete
English- https://www.research.net/r/SKCOEN2020

For more information about prevention in Skagit County, visit: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/Health/preventionmain.htm


Take Time to Invest in You

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Guest post by Kari Pendray at Brigid Collins Family Support Center

As we find ourselves well into our sixth month of living with Covid-19, many parents have one thing in common – we are all juggling multiple demands in a time that leaves us feeling more uncertain. The idea of being at home for some is isolating and for others it feels more like a safe haven. No matter which side of the aisle you are on, the role of a parent has suddenly become more demanding. That’s because stressful events, like being in the midst of a global pandemic, adds a layer of unpredictability in our lives.

Whether you are feeling stressed out, burned out, or just plain tired, you are not alone. Stress is sometimes defined as when the need to respond exceeds our capacity to respond. How can you recognize stress and burnout? Stress comes in three forms. Acute stress is healthy stress, like when you have a deadline for work or school. Episodic stress is short episodes of high stress, such as taking on too much work, then, being unable to get the stress out of your system. Finally, chronic stress is one that has been linked to chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Chronic stress is very serious and needs to be managed with care and helping professionals. Burnout is a complete feeling of exhaustion and can make you withdraw from other people. Burnout can lead to cynicism and can cause you to delay tasks.

During our Coping with Stress virtual seminars at the Parenting Academy, we talk to parents and caregivers about managing stress and building our capacity, as parents, for emotional well-being, which centers around three main strategies:

  • Awareness of unhealthy thinking
  • Shifting negative self-talk and automatic thoughts
  • Challenging unhelpful thoughts
Focus on the things that you can control, and let the other things go.

First, ask yourself, “What evidence do I have for this thought or idea?” Then, ask, “What could be another explanation?” Finally, ask yourself, “What can I do to change or shift my thinking that would lead to a positive outcome?

To prevent stress and burnout, it’s important to plan daily activities that alleviate stress, just like you would plan to get a cup of coffee at Starbucks or watch your favorite show on Netflix. It’s important to invest in yourself in ways that add years to your life.

Here are a few examples:

  1. Invest in your heart – Eating heart healthy foods such as leafy green vegetables, lean fish and meat, and minimizing sugar, can contribute to having a good nutritional balance. (See My Plate.gov or Harvard Healthy Eating Plate). You can use cooking as a way to learn math, science, experiment with food and enjoy eating new foods.
  2. Invest in your body – Pumping oxygen into your blood is not only good for your heart it is also good for your mind. Studies show that exercising can release positive “happy” hormones into your body and relieve stress. Children love to exercise with their parents. Families are taking more walks, riding bikes, playing soccer and making the most of their own backyards.
  3. Invest in your brain – Has anyone ever given you a prescription to laugh? Well, if not, consider this your first one. Laughing soothes tension, stimulates organs, re-wires new neural pathways in your brain and alleviates stress. When parents take time to play with their children, this can involve 5-10 minutes of mutual enjoyment, laughter and a break from your day. Children learn from play and play can be a great way to co-regulate.

When you invest in yourself, you will not only improve your own health, you will also be modeling health and wellness for your children; you will be more present for your child, and you will be having fun in the process. That’s a gift that will last a lifetime.

If you would like more information on the Parenting Academy or wish to register for parenting coaching or virtual seminars, please go to www.parenting-academy.org.

Resources:
www.choosemyplate.gov
www.hsph.harvard.edu
www.hhs.gov/fitness/beactive/physical-activity-guidelines-for-americans/index.html
www.parenting-academy.org


Halloween How To’s: Let’s Get Creative!

Reading Time: 3 minutes

One of the things that has kept me going mentally over the past six months has been my garden. Trust me…this thing is nothing to write home about! But it gives me a sense of pride when I look out from my window and I see the tall stalks of our corn blowing in the wind. While I haven’t been able to control a lot since March, I know that this little space I’ve created will be there every day, ready to be watered and weeded. The champions of my garden, without a doubt, have been my pumpkins. I’ve watched these things grow from tiny green balls, to beautiful orange spheres. I’ve been waiting with so much anticipation for October so I can finally cut them off the vine and bring them into our home. Halloween, here we come!

With our Health Officer’s recent announcement about in-person trick-or-treating, along with recommendations from the CDC, I will be honest: I was disappointed. It is okay to feel this way (something I tell myself frequently), and it is normal to mourn our “normal” holiday traditions. That being said, to dwell on this would do a great disservice to ourselves and our loved ones.

So traditional in-person trick-or-treating isn’t happening this year? Okay. There is so much that we can still do—and still control—despite these challenges.

So let’s explore these creative options!

1. Decorate your house and/or yard. You can even hold a contest with your neighbors and vote on the spookiest house!

2. Carve your pumpkins in the front yard this year and have your neighbors do the same. Enjoy this holiday tradition with other families, while keeping a safe distance. Play some Halloween-themed music (Monster Mash, anyone?), and do your best Thriller moves.

3. Coordinate a Halloween scavenger hunt by giving your kids a list of Halloween-themed decorations to look for while they walk outdoors (think cobwebs, ghosts, and black cats).

Make it a bingo game and use this template, or create your own!

4. Hold a virtual costume party via video chat with family or friends. Hold a contest for most creative, scariest, sparkliest, best overall, etc.

5. Exchange candy with a few families you know. Do a drop-off delivery at their doorstep for a Halloween surprise for the kids. If you are preparing goodie bags, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 second before and after preparing the bags.

6. Trick-or-treat inside your home—or in the yard—by hiding candy for your kids to find. A few jump-scares may be in order for older kids (so long as this is something that they would find enjoyable!).

7. Have a spooky movie night or Halloween craft party with the family. Call your local library and ask to have some Halloween-themed DVDs or books put together, and pick them up using the library’s curbside pick-up.

If none of these strike your fancy, ask around and see what other people might be planning. Get creative and try some new things. Who knows…you may incorporate some of these 2020 Halloween activities into your future holiday traditions! For some more helpful insights into COVID-safe holiday fun, visit the CDC’s holiday page. Take care of yourself, and happy haunting!

Note: Skagit County’s Health Officer has recommended against in-person trick-or-treating this year because it “presents too much of a risk for widespread community transmission.” We realize that there may be families who still participate this year, despite the recommendation. For those who intend to trick-or-treat, it is imperative that the following health precautions be taken.

Handing out candy:

  • Offer no-contact treats by bagging up separate treats and placing them away from your front door or in your yard or near the sidewalk. Allow trick-or-treaters to gather candy while remaining physically distanced.
  • If you are preparing bags of candy, wash your hands well before and after preparing the bags. 

Trick-or-treating:

  • Do not substitute a Halloween mask for a face covering. Wear an approved face mask. Find one that fits in with your costume!
  • Maintain six feet of distance from other trick-or-treaters or residents who are handing out candy.
  • If you are trick-or-treating with others outside your household, keep six feet of distance between yourselves.
  • Stay away from large costume parties or trick-or-treating events.
  • Bring plenty of hand sanitizer with you.

Are playgrounds re-opening? What you need to know.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I was scrolling through my social media newsfeed on a recent Saturday morning, when a particular post caught my eye: Mount Vernon playgrounds have re-opened. As a mom of a toddler who has been shut out of all playgrounds and splash-pads this summer, I nearly jumped for joy. My first thought was, “FINALLY! Shoes on! Let’s go!” … But then reality set in. Is it too soon? Is it safe? All the anxieties of the past six months flooded my brain and I spent the rest of the morning debating about our next move.

After quickly scoping out our nearest park, I decided that we would give it a try. My daughter couldn’t put her shoes on fast enough when I told her we could go. Before I knew it, we were walking up to her favorite twisty slide, and she looked back at me with reservation in her eyes. It felt so alien to be at a playground again, and even weirder to encourage her to climb onto the steps.  

All in all, it was a wonderful morning. She had a blast! But I was glad that I’d talked to my daughter about my expectations before we went, and about how we had to continue to be careful about keeping our distance when around others. Here are some things that I took into account before we left the house that may be helpful for you and your family.

Talk to your child about keeping their distance

Even though playgrounds may be reopening, we should be trying our best to keep a six-foot distance from others, and this can be really hard to accomplish between children at a playground! Talk to your child before you leave the house about what your expectations are, and even practice what six feet looks like. Discuss some things that your child can say if another child is getting too close, and reassure them that you will be there to help them.

Note: While you may be able to control what your own child is doing, it may be difficult to make sure other children are keeping their distance. Stay close to your child and discuss any concerns that you may have with the parents/caregivers of the other children at the playground (if it becomes problematic). If it is too difficult to keep distance, be prepared to leave.

Go during “non-peak” hours

Go to the playground when it isn’t busy, and leave (or take a snack break and come back) if it gets crowded. Though the park was empty when we arrived in mid-morning, within several minutes we were greeted by two other families. I think if we went again, I’d make a point to go earlier (since it was a sunny Saturday, after all) or maybe even a bit later in the afternoon. Keeping your distance—as mentioned above—is much easier to achieve if the playground isn’t crowded.

Take the usual health precautions

This is nothing new, but it is important to keep in mind regardless! Adults and children must wear masks when at the playground (exception being children younger than two  years old and those with health exemptions), and sanitize your hands often. Bring some hand sanitizer with you to have in your pocket, and talk to your child about avoiding touching their eyes, nose, and mouth.

Be sure to follow the signs!

Some parks may not have opened their restroom facilities yet, so make alternate plans for going to the restroom. If the facilities are open, be sure to wear your mask and try to avoid congregating in big crowds. When you are using the restroom families, take the opportunity to wash everyone’s hands! Hand sanitizer is great, but nothing beats good, old-fashioned soap and water.

Weigh the pros and cons

I had to wrestle with the pros and cons of going back to the playground and even made a few false starts before we actually made it there that morning. Even though being outdoors lowers the risks of infection, there are absolutely some risks associated with crowding and contaminated surfaces. In the end, I trust the benefits to our mental health outweigh the potential risks. That being said, I made sure to follow instructions on all posted signage, and practiced safe distancing and proper hygiene throughout our trip. I also don’t know if we will continue to go if the parks begin to get crowded. I guess I’ll make that judgment call when and if the time comes.  

Take care of yourself, and take care of others. Oh, and don’t forget the sunscreen!


What’s worse than a pandemic?! A pandemic during flu season!

Reading Time: 2 minutes

It’s the end of August-the weather is cooling down, the kids are headed back to (virtual) school and pumpkin spice is available once again. Flu season is also just around the corner and this year it’s more important than ever that everyone get a flu vaccine as soon as possible—ideally by the end of October.

Why is it important to get a flu vaccine?

There are lots of great reasons to get a flu vaccine: namely, that it prevents you from getting the seasonal flu, an uncomfortable and potentially deadly illness. Some facts:

  • During the 2016-2017 flu season, vaccinations prevented an estimated 5.3 million illnesses, 2.6 million medical visits and 85,000 flu-associated hospitalizations.
  • Vaccination for people with chronic health conditions can help lessen the severity of the illness and prevent hospitalization or other negative health outcomes.
  • Vaccinating pregnant persons has been shown to not only protect the individual from the flu, but to protect the baby from flu infection for several months after birth before the baby can be vaccinated themselves at age 6 months.  

Additionally, COVID-19 (a respiratory illness with some symptoms in common with the flu) is still very present in our communities. Vaccination can prevent confusion on illnesses and reduce strain on already overburdened healthcare systems. Getting vaccinated for the flu will help keep testing, hospital beds and medical care available for COVID-19 patients who will need it the most.

I got one last year, do I need to get one again?

Yes. The seasonal flu virus mutates quickly. The virus is constantly changing, so flu vaccines are specially manufactured each year to best match/protect you from the current common viral strains of flu. Further, protection from a flu vaccine declines over time so yearly vaccination is needed for protection.

Can I get the flu from a vaccine?

No. Flu shots are made using either a dead version of the flu virus (called inactivated vaccines) or without virus at all (recombinant vaccines). Some minor side effects are relatively common like soreness, redness and/or swelling at the injection site, low grade fever and some muscle aches. You can talk to your medical provider or pharmacist about side effects and what to expect or watch out for in yourself and any kids you’re taking to get vaccinated.

Are flu vaccines safe?

Yes. Flu vaccines have an excellent safety record. Hundreds of millions of Americans have safely received flu vaccines over the past 50 years and extensive research supports the safety of seasonal flu vaccines. More information on the safety of flu vaccines is available at: www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/vaccine/vaccinesafety.htm.

Where can I get vaccinated?

Vaccination will be available through your primary care provider, health clinics and many pharmacies. You can also search for vaccines through Vaccinefinder.org.   

When will COVID-19 vaccines be available?

We honestly don’t know. Testing is still being conducted to ensure the effectiveness and safety of a variety of potential COVID-19 vaccines. Public Health is working now in planning efforts with our vaccine partners so we will be ready when COVID-19 vaccines become available in Washington State.  Be aware that the initial vaccine supplies will be limited and so will be targeted for the people at highest risk.  As soon as we have more information, we’ll let you know.


Children and COVID-19: What do we know?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

COVID-19 is called a “novel” coronavirus because it is a new viral strain that has not previously been seen in humans. Because it is new, scientists continue to learn about the disease and how it impacts us. One topic we are gaining a growing understanding about is how COVID-19 affects children. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released updated guidance last week to reflect new information about COVID-19 and children.

Do children get COVID-19?

Yes. The fact that children can catch COVID-19 is not new, but it has not been clear how susceptible children are for infection. We know that children have made up a smaller percentage of COVID-19 cases. The CDC’s latest guidance notes that while children make up 22% of the population, only 7% of all diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in the United States were for children (as of 8/3/20). In Skagit County, the percentage of cases in children is somewhat higher at 14%, but children still make up a lower proportion of cases than in the adult population.

One explanation for the lower COVID-19 rate among children is that because kids frequently get colds, which are often caused by other coronaviruses, their antibodies provide some protection from COVID-19. Another theory is that community measures like school closures were effective in keeping children safe. As communities have opened up, cases in children have increased. Nationwide, there was a 90% increase in child cases over the four weeks from 7/9/20 to 8/6/20.  

During these times, it can be expected that our children are experiencing heightened anxiety. The CDC has some wonderful recommendations to help adults have conversations with children about COVID-19 and how to cope with stress.

What are COVID-19 symptoms for children?

Generally, COVID-19 symptoms in children are similar to but milder than in adults. The most common symptoms in children are cough and/or fever, but children may also show no symptoms at all.

According to a recent American Academy of Pediatrics report, severe illness due to COVID-19 is rare among children. Although infrequent, children younger than age 2 appear to be at higher risk of severe illness with COVID-19 than older children. This is likely due to their immature immune systems and smaller airways, which make them more susceptible to developing breathing issues.

There have also been some reports of children developing a rare complication called multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). MIS-C is a serious condition in which different body parts can become inflamed, which causes heart or other organ complications. The CDC is still learning about MIS-C and how it affects children, so we do not know why some children have gotten sick with MIS-C and others have not. MIS-C can be serious, even deadly, but most children who were diagnosed with this condition have gotten better with medical care.

What symptoms should I be worried about in children?

Parents or caretakers should immediately contact urgent or emergency medical care if they notice these warning signs in a child:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Pain or pressure in the chest that does not go away
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Bluish lips or face
  • Severe abdominal pain

If you have children in your home, the CDC recommends some other general precautions for your whole household to help stay safe:

  • If others in your home have an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19, consider extra precautions to separate your child from those people.
  • If you are unable to stay home with your child while school is out or conducted remotely, carefully consider who can best provide childcare. If someone at higher risk for COVID-19 will be providing care (e.g. a grandparent or someone with a chronic medical condition), limit your children’s contact with other people so they are less likely to come into contact with the virus and expose their caretakers.
  • Consider postponing visits or trips to see older family members and grandparents. Connect virtually or by writing letters and sending via mail.

If you do have a child that is showing mild COVID-19 symptoms or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, the Skagit County Drive-Thru site will test anyone five years of age or older with parent or guardian approval. Families with children younger than five should reach out to their pediatric provider’s office to ask about testing.

Sources:

CDC Information for Pediatric Healthcare Providers:
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/pediatric-hcp.html

Washington Skagit COVID dashboard:
https://coronavirus.wa.gov/what-you-need-know/covid-19-risk-assessment-dashboard

Children & COVID-19-State Level Data Report, American Academy of Pediatrics: https://services.aap.org/en/pages/2019-novel-coronavirus-covid-19-infections/children-and-covid-19-state-level-data-report/


Family, Though Far Apart

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Back in late March, there was a lot of talk between my family members and me about the possibility of the Canadian border closing due to COVID-19. With my mom, step-dad, elderly grandmother, brother, and his young family all located in Alberta, my sisters and I worried that a closure might mean we wouldn’t see our immediate family for a while. My mom sent me an article about the possibility of the border locking down, but I disregarded it. I was unable to conceive at the time that this could even be a possibility.

Now in August, I am going on five months without seeing half of my family. It feels downright heart wrenching at times knowing that they are so close, yet so very far away. On top of the day-to-day feelings of being isolated, we have also seen holidays, anniversaries, and several birthdays come and go without visits from grandparents and cousins.

Since I am a dual citizen, I could technically visit my family. However, the 14-day quarantine requirement in order to enter Canada makes a quick trip impossible, and it would mean leaving my husband and young children behind for weeks. Though I know this forced separation is a very common reality for many, this is the first time in my lifetime where I lack any control over being able to see my loved ones. The thought of being separated from my children sends chills down my spine, and I am thankful that this is not something that I have to endure.

To read more about the current entry restrictions at the Canadian border, visit: https://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/services/covid/non-canadians-canadiens-eng.html

To take away some of the sting, we connect on video chat frequently and make a point of checking in throughout the week. My mom and I definitely shed tears on a routine bases via FaceTime, while my stepdad provides emotional stability and support. Beyond checking in by phone, the distance has forced us to get creative with the ways that we connect.

Here are just a few things that we have done to make the distance seem smaller:

1. Send snail mail
This is something that I do with my three year old on the weekends. She loves creating little masterpieces, placing stamps on the envelopes, and kissing the letters before dropping them in the mailbox. When the letters arrive, she loves seeing pictures of her artwork placed lovingly on fireplace mantels and refrigerators.

Finding fun stamps can be an added bonus! I recently purchased Sesame Street stamps from the post office and these have been a huge hit with my daughter.

2. Gift loved ones with a digital picture frame
For my mom’s 60th birthday, we gifted her with a digital picture frame. By downloading the app, my siblings and I can upload our photos, and they pop up on her picture frame in real time. My mom jokes sometimes she sits in front of her frame for an hour, just watching the pictures change.

3. Share a meal or special occasion
Even though we can’t get together physically, we can enjoy a meal together on video chat. Every Saturday morning I call my mom and we chat over coffee and eggs, and talk about what household chores we need to get done before Sunday night. When someone has a birthday, we make sure to have everyone present virtually so that the whole family can sing “Happy Birthday” together.

4. Talk about each other, even when they aren’t on the phone
With young children who may not have the greatest long-term memory, I’ve found that it is crucial to talk about their extended family members throughout the week. I will ask my daughter about her aunts and uncle, will make reference to times that we spent together, and encourage her to talk about her cousins. While it makes me miss my family by talking about them, I’ve found that my daughter really enjoys recalling these memories. And for my baby daughter, I try to show her pictures and have her engage during video chatting sessions in order to keep her familiar with their faces.

5. Plan a trip for the near future
Even though it sometimes doesn’t seem like it, eventually we will be able to get together again. So we talk about what we will do in the near future, and it helps us feel a sense of control and direction. Though these plans may take a while to come to fruition, it can be really helpful to have something to look forward to.

When all the above still doesn’t seem to help, I try really hard to keep myself in the moment and avoid drifting into the “what-ifs.” This distance is really hard and emotionally exhausting, but there are also so many blessings to count. And when we finally do see each other again, the hugs will be even sweeter than they were before.