Updates from the COVID-19 Test Site

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November 17, 2020

Beginning on Wednesday, November 18th, the Skagit County COVID-19 drive-through testing site will be moving to the Skagit County Fair Grounds. The Fair Grounds are located at 501 Taylor Street, Mount Vernon, WA 98273. Please enter through the South Gate Entrance.

New Hours of Operation

Monday, Wednesday, Friday: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Tuesday, Thursday: 12 p.m. – 7 p.m.

Testing services will still be available to anyone who lives or works in Skagit County, and who is 5 years of age and older.

New testing site map at the Skagit County Fair Grounds

Please note: The current COVID Testing site located at the Skagit Valley College will be closed Monday, November 16th and Tuesday, November 17th to facilitate the relocation. If you are symptomatic and need testing, please contact your local hospital or Primary Care Provider for information on where to seek testing during this transition time.

This is a very exciting move for Skagit County and its partnering agencies! The facilities at the Fair Grounds will allow for more protection against winter weather for site staff, volunteers, and guests. The relocation will also help with the County’s plans for sustainability, as well as our mission to protect the health and wellbeing of our residents.

Flu Clinic Rescheduled

Due to dangerous winds, the Flu Clinic that had been scheduled for November 14th-15th had to be postponed. The new dates for the Flu Clinic are Saturday, November 21st and Sunday, November 22nd, from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. at the Skagit County Fair Grounds (South Gate Entrance).

This free flu clinic is being provided for uninsured Skagit County adults. Please note that free flu vaccines are available for children at your local pharmacy or through your child’s doctor.  

For more information about the testing site or flu clinic, please visit www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/Home or call Public Health at (360) 416-1500.


New COVID-19 Guidance That Impacts Skagit Residents

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November 11, 2020

On Sunday, Governor Inslee announced changes to current COVID-19 guidance. The new guidance will take effect at midnight on Monday, November 16 (with a few exceptions) and be in place until at least December 14, 2020. There are many changes including:

  • No indoor social gatherings are allowed. Outdoor social gatherings can have five or fewer people from outside an immediate household.
  • Restaurants and bars are open for outdoor dining and takeout only- no indoor dining is allowed (these restrictions will go into effect on Wednesday, November 18).
  • Bowling alleys, movie theaters, museums, zoos and indoor fitness facilities are closed.
  • Personal services (such as hair dressers, nail salons, etc…) and retail occupancy, including grocery stores are limited to 25 percent of capacity.
  • Long term care facilities can only allow outdoor visitation, except in the cases of end of life care and essential support personnel.
  • Religious services are limited to 25 percent indoor occupancy or 200 people, whichever is fewer. No choir, band or ensemble shall perform during these services. Facial coverings must be worn at all times by congregation members, and there cannot be any congregational singing.
  • Wedding receptions are prohibited. Wedding ceremonies will be allowed with no more than 30 people in attendance.
  • Youth (school and non-school) and adult sporting activities are limited to outdoor only for intra-team practices, and all athletes must wear masks.
  • No real estate open houses.

“Cases have been spiking throughout Washington, including in Skagit County. These restrictions are necessary to prevent further spread, deaths and potential hospital overwhelm. I’m glad Governor Inslee is taking these steps, and encourage everyone to follow them; if not for their own health, for their neighbors.”

Skagit Health Officer Dr. Howard Leibrand

Governor Inslee is also requiring that those who are able to work from home do so. If a business is not able to operate remotely, only 25 percent of the buildings capacity can work from there at one time. Further, no public services should be provided wherever possible. No changes have been made to the guidance’s governing schools or childcare facilities.

This is not a complete list. Full text of the new guidance is available here.

Skagit County has reported more than 150 cases this week. According to the Governor’s risk assessment dashboard, Skagit County has 90.6 cases per 100,000 over the last fourteen days. Skagit’s percent positive test rate, which indicates the percentage of total COVID-19 tests that are coming back positive, has increased to 3.4%.

“I know it’s hard to think about spending this holiday season away from our families, but these restrictions will save lives, and they will the lives of people you personally know,” said Public Health Director Jennifer Johnson. “Following these guidelines will help keep you, your family and our community at large from facing a total health system crisis. Please, do your part.”

More information on Skagit County’s COVID-19 response is available at www.skagitcounty.net/coronavirus.

A link to Skagit County’s press release can be found here.


Thanksgiving Planning for Safer Gatherings

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Thanksgiving has always been a holiday full of planning: When should you start thawing the turkey? How many seats will you need at the table? And who—WHO?!—is bringing the pumpkin pie? While this year’s festivities will obviously be different, there will still be some planning involved.

If you have been watching the news, you know that there is a surge in COVID-19 cases right now—not only in Washington State, but throughout the United States. With the colder weather drawing people indoors, and the greater likelihood of transmission in enclosed spaces, it isn’t a surprise that cases have gone up. We also know that COVID-19 cases typically spike in the weeks following holidays when a lot of gatherings of non-household members take place.

With these factors in play, we must ask the uncomfortable question: Should Thanksgiving be canceled or postponed this year? It is a question, at least, to think critically on. After all, the Public Health recommendation continues to be that gatherings should be limited to reduce the risk of transmission.

However, if your family chooses to gather despite these recommendations, there are harm reduction practices that should be put into place. If you decide to gather, there’s always a risk of spreading COVID-19 infection. You can help lessen this risk through pre-planning, conversations, and some trade-offs.

The Washington Department of Health has a great safety checklist for those planning to gather this holiday season. It comes down to three steps: 1) planning before; 2) planning during; and 3) planning after.

Before You Gather

  • Have “the conversation.” Get really clear with friends and family about how you will make safety a priority when spending time together. Set some ground rules that will help everyone know what to expect. View a sample conversation guide
  • Review your guest list. Are there people who may be in a high-risk category or children? Think about special needs and precautions as part of your planning.
  • Check your space and gather outside if possible. Is there room to spread out, at least 6 feet (2m) from people you don’t live with? If no, is there an outdoor space, like a park where you could meet? If outside, will there be restrooms people can use? If inside, be sure your space is well ventilated by opening windows. Remind guests to wear warm clothes!
  • Right-size your guest list. Limit the number of guests based on the number allowed in your county per the Safe Start Plan, and the outdoor or indoor space available that allows you to be 6-feet apart.
  • Do a health check. Ask if anyone has had symptoms such as cough, fever or shortness of breath, in the last 2 weeks. Ask guests to check their temperature before arriving. Anyone with a fever—or who has had other symptoms, or knows they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 within the last two weeks—should stay home.
  • Consider the children. Kids have trouble playing 6 feet apart, so wearing masks and frequent hand-washing may be the safest plan of action. Remember: Kids under 2 should never wear masks! 
  • Make a food plan. Talk through details like how food will be shared. The safest option is to have everyone bring their own food. If sharing, separate food ahead of time into individual servings and forgo communal bowls and utensils. Find more tips about food prep in the FAQs.
  • Clean, clean, clean. If you’re hosting, frequently disinfect surfaces that people may encounter during their visit. 
  • Consider pre-event quarantine. Can all participants (including yourself) self-quarantine for 14 days before the gathering?
  • Get tested. If you have been around many other people or do not regularly wear a mask, get a COVID-19 test to make sure you’re negative. Take into account that it can take a few days to receive test results. If you test negative, you still need to wear a mask and keep your distance from others when you socialize. 

While You Gather

  • Wash early and often. Ask adults and kids to wash hands on arrival, before and after eating, and before they leave with soap for at least 20 seconds. If there is no access to a sink, provide hand sanitizer. 
  • Gather outdoors if at all possible. If indoors, open windows to increase ventilation.
  • Mask up. Wear a face covering at all times when not eating. Consider having extra masks on hand if people forget.
  • Separate servings. Avoid communal food and sharing utensils, even with babies and young children. Don’t share drinks.
  • Avoid close contact. Smiles and air hugs only, and prepare kids ahead of time to do the same.

After You Gather

  • Wash hands (again). Wash for 20 seconds with soap and water.
  • Sanitize. Clean all surfaces that may have been touched by guests such as tabletops, counters, doorknobs and bathroom fixtures, with soap and water first, and then a disinfecting agent. 
  • Watch for symptoms. Alert others at the gathering if there’s a positive test among anyone in attendance. Learn more about what to do if you’ve been exposed.

If you are reading the above steps and feeling absolutely overwhelmed, you aren’t alone! And if the idea of canceling or postponing your Thanksgiving plans feels heartbreaking, that is an entirely normal response. During normal times, the fall and winter months are wonderful times to gather. So, limiting and changing the way in which we gather with family and friends isn’t easy. It may cause feelings of stress, anxiety or depression.

In the end, it is up to you and your family to decide what your Thanksgiving holiday should look like. But it is also important for us all to think hard about what really matters most to us. So even though the holidays may look a bit different this year, we know that our actions—as well as some planning—can go a long way in keeping all of us safe and healthy this winter.

If you are experiencing stress due to COVID-19, call the Washington Listens line at 833-681-0211 for support and resources.


Let’s Talk About It…Domestic Violence During COVID-19

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Guest blog post by staff at Skagit DVSAS

This past month of October, we at Skagit Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services (Skagit DVSAS) participated in Domestic Violence Awareness Month. On Purple Thursday, October 15th, we asked the community to join us in wearing purple in support of survivors. Using social media, we were able to come together to raise awareness for domestic violence in our community. Skagit community members joined us in showing support by sharing pictures of themselves wearing purple to our Facebook page, helping to raise awareness and show survivors that Skagit cares.

October may be over, but we know that domestic violence is not. We also know that the community still cares, now, and every month of the year! At Skagit DVSAS, we believe that we all have the power to end abuse through our individual and collective efforts. Abuse can be a difficult and scary topic for a lot of us, and it is okay not to know where to start.

Let’s Talk

The first thing we can all do to prevent and put an end to abuse in our community is to start talking about it! Talking about domestic violence raises awareness, and increases understanding for those going through it. There are many myths and stigmas that surround interpersonal violence and make survivors feel that they are not believed or valid. We can challenge those stigmas by letting people know that abuse is a very real thing in many people’s lives, and that it is never the survivors’ fault. Talking about domestic violence can also look like sharing community resources with others, such as our Skagit DVSAS 24-hour crisis hotline for survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

Red Flags

Another way to take action against domestic violence in our daily lives is to learn about red flags that may indicate someone is experiencing violence in their life. When we know what signs to look for, we are better able to support our friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers. Red flags can be both physical and behavioral. Someone who is experiencing abuse may have unexplained bruises or other injuries, sudden onset of pain and illness, or chronic pain. They may isolate themselves, or never want to be alone, may experience anxiety, depression, panic, dissociation, anger, hostility, and low self-esteem. They might also be nervous to be around their partner and can be hypervigilant or the opposite.

This is just a short list of some of the signs that someone is experiencing abuse, but the most important red flag to pay attention to is any sudden or unexplained change in behavior. When you have a gut feeling that something is wrong, trust it! Checking in about what is going on lets the person experiencing abuse know that there is someone who cares about them and is concerned for their safety.

If you know someone who has previously experienced abuse or is currently experiencing abuse, the most powerful way you can support them is to believe their story, validate their feelings, and allow them to make their own decisions. Domestic violence is the abuse of power in a relationship that takes control away from the survivor. When we allow them to make their own choices, we can help to give that power back.

Show Support

Finally, you do not have to be an expert in domestic violence to support survivors! You only need to be a caring friend, neighbor, or community member. If the person you are supporting would like to talk to someone who is an expert, we at Skagit DVSAS are always available. DVSAS can provide emotional support, crisis intervention, safety planning, support groups, legal and medical advocacy, and emergency shelter. We have Spanish speaking advocates and interpretive services, as well as community prevention education services available for schools and community groups. DVSAS serves everyone regardless of age, sex, identity, and immigration status, and all of our services are free and confidential. Please do not hesitate to reach out and to share us as a resource. We are still open and serving the community during the COVID-19 pandemic and are providing all of our services over the phone. Our professionals at DVSAS can be reached at (360) 336-9591 for questions, support, and for arranging community education events online.

We believe in the power of knowledge, resources, and community action to put an end to domestic violence in our community.


Knock out Flu: Think of it as Essential

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Blog post by the WA Department of Health

Think of It as Essential

This year, it’s more important than ever to get vaccinated against the flu. The flu vaccine can keep you from getting and spreading the flu to others during the COVID-19 pandemic and help keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed. We may not have a vaccine for COVID-19 yet, but we do have one for flu.

When should I get the flu vaccine?

You should get your flu vaccine before the end of October for the best protection through the winter months when the flu is most likely to spread. However, flu vaccines will still be available for several months after October and will still offer protection through the end of the flu season in the spring.

How can I safely get a flu vaccine during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Just like running errands, you should take the same precautions while getting your flu vaccine to keep you and your family safe from COVID-19 and other illnesses. Be sure to wear a face covering, wash your hands often, and stay six feet away from others while you are out.

Clinics and pharmacies are also following special safety guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, there may be options like drive-through vaccination clinics, or you may be asked to wait outside or in your car until your appointment time to limit the number of people in the building. Call your clinic or pharmacy and ask what kind of safety procedures they follow.

Some grocery stores have also created special hours for adults over 65 and people with compromised immune systems, and those hours may be a safer time for you to visit the pharmacy for a vaccination.

Where can I get a flu vaccine?

You can visit your local doctor’s office, pharmacy or clinic event in your area. Visit www.vaccinefinder.org to find a flu vaccine location near you.

Does my insurance cover the flu vaccine?

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

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

For more information, visit www.KnockOutFlu.org.
To reach Skagit County Public Health, dial (360) 416-1500.


SkagitRising: A New Opioid & Substance Use Resource

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Watch out, there is a new resource website in town!

Last week, Skagit County officially announced the launching of a new website pertaining to local opioid and substance use resources. This website is called SkagitRising and was created in partnership between Skagit County Public Health, the Population Health Trust and the Opioid Workgroup Leadership Team, to connect community members to pertinent behavioral health information and services. SkagitRising aims to provide community members—a.k.a you and me—with educational information, harm reduction/prevention techniques, local resources, tips for supporting others, and more.

Don’t know if SkagitRising houses the information you are looking for? Keep reading!

The Motivation Behind SkagitRising

In 2015, Public Health conducted a Community Health Assessment, and the community clearly identified the opioid crisis as a main public health concern. Over the last five years, Public Health, the Population Health Trust and the Opioid Workgroup Leadership Team have advocated for and acted on a variety of programs, services and policies to improve the lives of individuals impacted by substance use. One of the goals that these groups advocated for was the creation of an interactive, virtual “hub” that would make it easier to gain information and access to support services. SkagitRising is the result of this goal.

Navigating the behavioral health* system can be challenging. If you’ve done it, or know someone who has, then you know what I mean. SkagitRising breaks down barriers to accessing information and presents local resources and support services in an attempt to reduce stigma and the impact of substance use in our community.

*Behavioral health is a common Public Health term that encompasses both mental health and substance use disorders.

How to Access SkagitRising

To access SkagitRising, either type or copy and paste www.skagitrising.org into your browser’s address bar (also known as the URL bar). You can also search “skagitrising.org” or “skagitrising” using Google or a similar platform, and the website should auto populate as one of the first search results. SkagitRising is both browser and mobile friendly. If you have an internet connection, you should be able to access the website without any problem.

How to Know if SkagitRising Has Information for You

Are you interested in learning more about opioids, opioid use disorder or substance use disorders? Do you currently use either prescription or recreational drugs? Do you have a family member, friend, co-worker or neighbor who uses prescription or recreational drugs? If you answered “yes” to any of these three questions, then this website is for you. AND even if you didn’t answer “yes,” this website is still worth checking out.

When visiting skagitrising.org, you will find an abundance of information. You can:

  • Review data
  • Learn how opioids impact the brain
  • Find out common symptoms of addiction
  • Read tips for talking to your doctor, kids and/or elders
  • Learn how to help in an opioid overdose and how to reduce stigma
  • Read about treatment terms and types
  • Discover resources and support services
  • Find out what is being done in Skagit County
  • Find ways that you can get involved

P.S. There are more topics than those just listed … but I can’t give is all away! You’ll have check out SkagitRising for yourself.

Resources

While SkagitRising is an opioid and substance use resource website, we understand there are many factors that influence an individual’s ability to live a healthy life. This is why you will find resources not only pertaining to treatment and recovery, but also housing, urgent care, legal, veterans, and senior services. SkagitRising also offers resources for employers, community members and property owners, and medical providers and prescribers.  

Additionally, throughout SkagitRising, you will see several sections of text or images that are linked to external reputable websites such as stopoverdose.org, the WA Recovery Helpline, the WA State Department of Health, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Help spread the word! Please consider sharing SkagitRising by word-of-mouth, by posting about this website on social media or by displaying SkagitRising Rack Cards (available in English and Spanish) in your place of business.

If you would like to request Rack Cards, add to or edit the listed resources, or have questions, please contact us here: https://skagitrising.org/contact/


Skagit County COVID-19 Mortgage Relief Grant Program

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Have you missed your mortgage payment because your income has been negatively impacted by COVID-19? You may be eligible for assistance.

Funding is available to help homeowners who have fallen behind on their mortgage payments because their income has fallen due to COVID-19. This one-time grant is for eligible Skagit County residents to pay up $6,000 of past-due or currently due mortgage payments per household as a result of a temporary job loss, reduction in work hours or other income hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Applications are available online and will be accepted until November 23, or until all funds have been spent. Completed applications can be mailed or hand-delivered from 9am-4pm to Skagit County Public Health, 700 S 2nd Street, Mount Vernon, WA 98273.

Eligible Uses of Funds

Direct payments will be made to the mortgage company on the applicant’s behalf. No payments will be made directly to the applicant. Payments may be used for mortgage principal, interest and Private Mortgage Insurance, but not for escrowed items like property taxes or hazard insurance.

How do I know if my income qualifies?

To qualify, your household’s current adjusted gross income (AGI) has to be at or below 50 percent of the Area Median Income.  See the table below.

What if my household income is currently over the limit?

Unfortunately, you are ineligible for this assistance if your household income is above the maximum amount. If you can’t pay your mortgage, or can only pay a portion, you should contact your mortgage company immediately.  You should also know that if you have a federally insured or backed mortgage, there is currently a foreclosure moratorium that runs through December 31, 2020. Homeownership counseling and assistance is available to all Washington residents, and you can call the Washington Department of Financial Institutions toll-free number 1-877-RING-DFI (746-4334) for assistance. 

Contact for Skagit Mortgage Assistance Program Questions:

Skagit County Public Health
(360) 416-1500
housing@co.skagit.wa.us


Changes to Operating Hours at the COVID-19 Test Site

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October 9, 2020

If you’ve driven past the Skagit County COVID-19 Testing Site recently at Skagit Valley College on a Tuesday or Thursday, you may have noticed something different. That is because, beginning on September 21st, the hours of operation were adjusted. The adjustment was made in order to better accommodate working people.

“It has been difficult to balance resources, staff time and community needs at the testing site,” said Public Health Director Jennifer Johnson. “We’re glad to be in a place where these adjusted hours are possible. It will help fill an important community need.”

The new operating hours are:
Monday, Wednesday and Friday: 8:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Tuesday and Thursday: 11:00 a.m. –
7:00 p.m.

The drive through testing site is located at Skagit Valley College in Mount Vernon, and has been in continuous operation since April 21, 2020. The testing site is open to those who live, work, or study in Skagit County, or out-of-state visitors of Skagit residents. There is no appointment necessary! The testing site is the longest continuously running drive-through testing site operated by a county in Washington State and has the capacity to test up to 600 people per day.

“Working people have a high need for testing,” said County Commissioner Ron Wesen, Chair of the County Board of Commissioners. “Our front line workers and employers want a testing option that will be accessible after the typical workday. We’re grateful that our Public Health team can offer this service.”

The adjustment to the testing site hours will be permanent, as long as the testing site is in operation. For up-to-date information on Skagit County’s COVID-19 response, including additional information on the testing site, visit www.skagitcounty.net/coronavirus. For daily wait time information, follow Skagit County on Twitter at @SkagitGov.

If you need additional questions or need further information, call Skagit County Public Health at 360-416-1500.

Note: We have had some recent issues with individuals receiving bills in the mail for their tests. Please know that Skagit County doesn’t pay for any lab bills; Northwest Lab handles billing. While State and Federal officials have required that COVID-19 testing and treatment be free for all “medically necessary” treatment, it is possible that your insurance company will not cover a self-referred test. The individual is responsible for the bill, and for checking their coverage with their insurance company.


When September Ends: Keeping Up the Conversation

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Over the last decade or so, there has been a lot of effort put into decreasing the stigma around mental health disorders, depression, and anxiety. Celebrities and community leaders have shared their stories, and national and state campaigns have been developed to spread awareness about these causes. You may have been noticing a lot of messaging this past month about mental health and suicide prevention, and that is because September is National Suicide Prevention Month. From posts on social media and radio ads, to webinars and virtual trainings; there have been a lot of great opportunities to discuss the importance of our mental health.

Now, as Suicide Prevention month has officially come to a close, I am wondering about ways that my community can continue to support our collective mental health, especially now when some individuals may need it more than ever. I am thinking about the little things that each of us can do on a daily basis to help out our friends and loved ones—and stay connected—even when far apart.

I experienced a really wonderful example of this type of “small-scale” support the other day when I was visiting my doctor. Though I was there for something unrelated, the nurse began the visit by not only checking my physical vital signs, but my mental and emotional vital signs, as well. Now, this may be nothing new to anyone; clinics have been collecting these sorts of measures for some time. But the nurse extended a beautiful gesture after she completed the list of depression-screening questions: She said, “Thank you for sharing these answers with me.” And she meant it.

Once again, this is no big gesture and could have easily gone unnoticed. Yet, I so appreciated that the nurse took the extra second to recognize the importance of these questions and showed respect for my courage to respond. After all, answering these types of questions with honesty can be hard, especially when you’re not used to being asked about depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation in such a matter-of-fact manner. Sometimes you may even surprise yourself with the answers that come from your mouth because, for so many of us, we were trained from a young age to “pull ourselves up by the boot straps” and power forward.

Personally, I am really lucky to have people in my life who reach out on a pretty regular basis and check in with me about my mental health. I find that talking things out with a friend or family member can help diffuse the stress that can build up when I get too lost in my own head.

I try to return the favor and reach out to people in my life, and at times it can feel a bit awkward. I absolutely understand how it can be challenging to broach this subject with a family member, friend—or even an acquaintance. However, it is necessary that we connect with those around us and engage in these potentially challenging conversations, because many times a hurting person will not reach out for help themselves.

So, in honor of the end of September and Suicide Prevention Month, I encourage each of our readers to begin a conversation with someone about mental health and wellbeing. It can be as simple as asking a person about what they are doing to cope with social distancing, or even what brings them joy each day. It can be as simple as thanking someone for their time and honesty, just like the nurse did for me.

Whatever it is that you do, it makes a difference in the lives of others. And it may make a difference for you too!

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has resources available for Spanish speakers, as well as resources specific to veterans, and options for deaf and hard of hearing individuals.

Some things to keep in mind…

Some warning signs may help you determine if a loved one is at risk for suicide, especially if the behavior is new, has increased, or seems related to a painful event, loss, or change. If you or someone you know exhibits any of these, seek help by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves
  • Looking for a way to kill themselves, like searching online or buying a gun
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or isolating themselves
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Extreme mood swings

Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or chat with a professional. For more information, visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-someone-else/.


Include Preparations for Diseases in Your Emergency Planning

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Guest post by Skagit County Emergency Management

Emergencies come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes they become stacked on top of each other — like dealing with flood or wildfire season during a pandemic. Skagit County Department of Emergency Management recommends that you take the time to revise your family emergency plans to consider how you will keep your family safe in the event of an emergency during a disease outbreak. These plans will be critical not only during COVID-19, but in the case of possible future outbreaks of other diseases.

The most important thing you can do in preparation for emergencies during a pandemic or disease outbreak is to learn about and practice effective infection control. Illnesses are usually spread through the air (when someone coughs or sneezes) or through contact (you touch something contaminated, then touch your face). The easiest and most effective way to limit disease spread is to frequently wash your hands, use good cough and sneeze hygiene, and avoid close contact with ill people.

So how can you work those preventions into your family emergency plans? (You do have a plan, don’t you?) Focus on being able to keep your hands and face clean, to clean surfaces if needed, and to maintain space.

Some examples of things you should consider:

  • Keep a supply of face masks, hand sanitizer, and tissues in your go bag for every person in your house. Wear a face mask whenever you are around other people.
  • Practice good cough and sneeze hygiene:
    • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
    • Throw away used tissues in a lined trash can.
    • Immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
    • For answers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to frequently asked questions about handwashing, just click here.
  • Stock supplies to disinfect surfaces, whether in your home or at an evacuation location.
  • Consider how social distancing will work if you have to evacuate — maintain enough space from others with only a small amount of time spent close to people outside of your household. Plan on having enough supplies so you don’t have to borrow from anyone you don’t live with, and maintain enough space between you and other households to limit contact. Be aware that you may need to travel farther away from home to find shelter; in order to maintain social distancing, local evacuation centers may not be able to serve as many people as normal.
  • Be sure water sources are safe and surfaces are effectively cleaned during and after an event. Standing water and open sewage are places of contamination and disease spread.
  • Know where to get verified information, not only for evacuations and weather, but also regarding disease information. The Washington State Department of Health and Skagit County Public Health are good sources of current, local information.
  • Know the signs of any major illnesses in the area. For example, the CDC recently updated the range of COVID-19 symptoms, including:
    • Fever or chills
    • Cough
    • Shortness of breath or difficult breathing
    • Fatigue
    • Muscle or body aches
    • Headache
    • New loss of taste or smell
    • Sore throat
    • Congestion or runny nose
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Diarrhea
  • Think through how you can keep others safe if you were to fall ill during an emergency. Plan ahead for a safe location where you can maintain appropriate distance from other people if you need to leave your home. Consider ways to limit other’s exposure to you, such as wearing a face mask and isolation.

Planning for emergencies is a never-ending process. If you don’t have a plan, talk with your household and come up with one. If you do, you can find ways to make your plan better. Adding a few things to your plan to keep you healthy during a disease outbreak — even if it’s not a pandemic — makes you and your family better prepared for anything that happens.