Recovering from Disasters: Common Phases and Experiences

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We’ve been hearing a lot about phases recently as Washington State rolls out its approach for reopening businesses and physical distancing measures. With Skagit County now officially in Phase 2 of the Governor’s Safe Start plan, it is exciting—and relieving—to begin seeing things get back to somewhat “normal.” At this time, it is important to be thinking about some other phases: specifically, the phases of recovery that we may be experiencing in regards to our mental and emotional health.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides a thought-provoking graph titled, “Phases of Disaster,” which tracks a typical community’s response to a disaster. A large-scale disaster can take many forms, such as natural disasters (hurricanes or tornados) or human caused (acts of violence or terrorism). And though it may not seem like it when we are hunkered down in our living rooms, we are currently in the midst of a very different type of crisis.

“Phases of Disaster” Adapted from Zunin & Myers as cited in DeWolfe, D. J., 2000. Training manual for mental health and human service workers in major disasters

According to the graph, it is normal (and even expected) that an individual or community may feel the effects of a disaster for quite some time—a year or more in some cases. There are six phases of recovery written into this model. This is how the phases are defined:

Phase 1: Pre-Disaster
This is the period of time before a disaster takes place and is “characterized by fear and uncertainty.” In the case of COVID-19 and Washington State, this would have been prior to the State’s first confirmed case back in March, when we were reading news about the spread in other countries. 

Phase 2: Impact

This is when the disaster takes place and is “characterized by a range of intense emotional reactions … [and] can range from shock to overt panic.” For many, this phase of the pandemic began when the state reported its first positive case or when schools and businesses began to shut down in late March. We can all recall feeling unnerved during this time as we began to see our daily routines changed suddenly.

Phase 3: Heroic
People come together during disasters. Skagit County witnessed so many amazing acts of heroism, from health care staff and first responders on the front lines, to people volunteering as Meals on Wheels drivers, to  large amounts of donations to non-profits helping those in greatest need. And we continue to hear new stories of compassion. While it comes as no surprise that our County would step up to a challenge, it is also amazing to see how these selfless actions are tracked on this graph.

Phase 4: Honeymoon

The opening of our drive-thru testing site in mid-April is a perfect example of the Honeymoon Phase, when disaster assistance becomes readily available. This time is “characterized by a dramatic shift in emotion,” when “community bonding occurs.” It is also when optimism peaks and people believe everything will return to normal quickly.

Phase 5: Disillusionment

For some, it may feel like we are in this phase now. This is when “optimism turns to discouragement and stress continues to take a toll.” It might also be a time when “negative reactions, such as physical exhaustion or substance use, may begin to surface.” Constant media bombardment, reporting an increase of new cases after a few days of low numbers, and other triggering events in the news can all greatly impact our ability to recover. This phase can last for months, and it is normal to experience periods of emotional highs and lows throughout. If you are feeling disillusioned, please know that this is a very human reaction, and that there is help available.

Phase 6: Reconstruction

Reconstruction is possible when “individuals and communities begin to assume responsibility for rebuilding their lives, and people adjust to a new normal.” Even still, it is typical to grieve over losses during this phase. While our County is well on its way toward Reconstruction, it is important to give ourselves some grace as we continue on our collective road toward recovery.

SAMHSA lists the following suggestions for coping with a disaster:

1. Talk with others who understand and accept how you feel. Reach out to a trusted friend, family member, or faith-based leader to explore what meaning the event may have for you.

2. Body movement helps to get rid of the buildup of extra stress hormones. Exercise once daily or in smaller amounts throughout the day.

3. Take deep breaths. Most people can benefit from taking several deep breaths often throughout the day. Deep breathing can move stress out of your body and help you to calm yourself. It can even help stop a panic attack.

4. Listen to music. Music is a way to help your body relax naturally. Play music timed to the breath or to your heartbeat. Create a relaxing playlist for yourself and listen to it often.

5. Pay attention to your physical self. Make sure to get enough sleep and rest each day. Eat healthy meals and snacks and make sure to drink plenty of water. Avoid caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol – especially in large amounts. Their effects are multiplied under stress and can be harmful, just making things worse.

6. Use known coping skills. How did you handle past traumatic events like a car crash or the death of a loved one? What helped then (such as more time with family, going to a support group meeting)? Try using those coping skills now.

The impact on our collective, and individual, mental and emotional health cannot be understated or ignored at this time. For some people, recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic will be quick and relatively painless. For others, recovery may need to take place on several levels: emotional, social, economic, and even physical. And while we all must deal with the impacts of the pandemic on our own terms, we must also carry the impact as a community, and learn to rebuild, readjust, and move forward with patience and understanding.

If you are feeling stressed or anxious, depressed or lonely, please know that these are all common reactions to a crisis. The Disaster Distress Helpline is dedicated to providing immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster. This service is toll-free, multilingual and confidential. Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor. For more resources click here.

So remember, wherever you may be at on your road to recovery, please know that your feelings are valid—and even backed by science!


Drive-Thru Testing

Drive-thru COVID-19 Testing

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Skagit Comes Together  

We know COVID-19 testing is critical in determining how widespread the virus is in the Skagit community. Test results provide the data and information necessary for the wider contact tracing that will strengthen our control of COVID-19 spread. Additionally, this data will help guide us on how to keep ourselves safe when Governor Inslee modifies the Stay Home Stay Heathy order. Thankfully, several Skagit agencies, professionals and an amazing host of volunteers are coming together to provide drive-through testing directly to many Skagitonians.


Can I get tested?

  • Testing is prioritized and currently available only for individuals with:
    • mild symptoms, or
    • a doctor’s recommendation, or
    • with or without symptoms, first responders or healthcare workers.

What if I have more than mild symptoms?

Adults with serious symptoms such as fever higher than 100 degrees, cough, and/or shortness of breath should consult with their health care provider or seek care through one of the respiratory clinics in Skagit County.

When is the testing open and where is it?

Drive-through COVID-19 testing is now open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, at the east parking lot of Skagit Valley College.

Is there anything I need to do before I go to the testing site?

Review the website before arriving at the testing site. Prior to arriving at the testing site, we encourage you to review the detailed instructions at the Skagit County Website. Please check out the photos and Frequently Asked Questions. Note that you will administer the test yourself.   You will be given a swab to swirl in your nose while you remain in your car.  Nurses will provide instruction. The test should be quick and you shouldn’t experience any discomfort. 

Make sure you meet the requirements – The drive-through site currently serves only: People who have mild COVID-19 symptoms such as such a cough and/or fever, or people whose doctor has recommended them for testing, or any healthcare workers or first responders regardless of symptoms.

Register before coming to the test site. Register by completing a simple registration form online.

Make sure you bring your ID and insurance card to the Testing Site. Bring an ID and a health insurance card for everyone being tested in your vehicle.  If you do not have insurance, the Washington State Public Health Lab will cover the testing cost for uninsured individuals who meet one of the CDC criteria.

Please arrive on time for your appointment.

What do I do when I get there?

Follow Instructions When You Arrive. Staff and volunteers will give you instructions at each tent — Keep your car windows up until directed otherwise.

Will I be tested for antibodies?

No. We are not currently testing for antibodies.

When will I get my results?

Results should be available within 24 to 72 hours.


How is this all made possible?

Drive-through testing is just the latest in a series of local efforts developed to combat COVID-19. Our community is once again rallying in an effort to protect the well-being of all Skagitonians! Testing has been made possible through the leadership, coordination, on-site staffing and support of Skagit County Unified Command, Skagit County Public Health, Skagit Valley College and dozens of volunteers.

Volunteers are a crucial component of drive-through testing.

They have been incredibly generous with their time and effort.  This team includes retired surgeons, physician assistants, EMTs, school nurses and other medical professionals.  The Snohomish County Medical Reserve Corps is a regional program which is actively recruiting volunteers to help in the Skagit COVID-19 response. They particularly need people who can communicate in more than one language.  If you are interested in volunteering, click here: https://snohd.org/221/Medical-Reserve-Corps


Food on the Table

Food on the Table – Resources and How to Help

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Worried about how to pay for three meals a day?

Here are some resources and answers. If you are in a position to help others, there are ways you can be part of the solution.

COVID-19 is changing the way that many of us shop and eat. Restaurants are closed for dining in. Kids aren’t eating breakfast or lunch at school. Much of the way we shop for our food has changed. Job losses, reduced hours and furloughs have many Skagit County residents worried about putting food on the table. But community organizations are stepping up to meet their needs.

For Families with Children

Before COVID-19, Skagit County, 55% of children qualified for free and reduced school lunches. With schools closed, districts quickly mobilized to feed children in new ways. Schools are providing breakfast and lunch for children, by either pick up or delivery. You can visit your school district’s website for more info. Each district program is different and some require parents to request meals in advance. A full list is available at the Northwest Educational Service District 189 website.

For Seniors

Now more than ever, many older adults struggle to shop and prepare meals on their own. Skagit County Meals on Wheels provides hot, nutritious meals for people over the age of 60 and who are homebound and unable to prepare meals for themselves. If you are looking for Meals on Wheels services for yourself or a loved one, contact the program by calling Skagit County Public Health at (360) 416-1500.

Senior Centers also provide frozen meals for weekday pick up. You can call your local Senior Center for details:

  • Mount Vernon Senior Center, 360-416-1585, Kristl Hobbs or Nickie McNulty
  • Sedro-Woolley Senior Center, 360-855-1531, Ellen Schweigert or Merrilee Komboukos
  • Burlington Senior Center, 360-755-0942 or 360-755-0102, Jackie Cress or Cheryl Kaufman
  • Anacortes Senior Activity Center, 360-293-7473, Amanda Miller or Annette Saling

State and Federal Benefits

The Federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) helps low-income individuals and families buy food. The Basic Food Program is Washington’s name for SNAP. SNAP used to be called the Food Stamp Program. These days, food benefits are provided on an EBT card, which works like a debit card.

If your financial situation changed due to COVID-19, you may now qualify for assistance you didn’t before. Some benefits like Basic Food have increased. As of March 30, some Washington residents who receive Basic Food benefits will have additional funds through April 2020.

To see if you qualify for SNAP, you can call the Help Me Grow Washington Hotline at 1-800-322-2588 to learn more about food benefits and how to apply for them. The hotline is available Monday-Thursday 8:00-5:30 and Friday 8:00-5:00.

If you are worried about crowded grocery stores, know you can grocery shop online using a SNAP EBT card. Online SNAP EBT shopping includes home delivery through Amazon and store pick-up at Walmart. See more info about online options below:

Amazon SNAP EBT

Walmart SNAP

Food Banks and Pantries

Food banks are following social distancing to keep their customers, volunteers and staff safe. Most food banks have switched to pre-boxed food that is handed out at the door. Others have set up drive-thru and walk-up services. Services and hours are likely to continue to change. Check out the Community Action website to find food bank updates.

Another option for people seeking fresh food is the Skagit Gleaners. Families interested in receiving more information can visit http://www.skagitgleaners.org.

Want to Help?

If you are in a position to help others you can:

Consider Donating to Your Local Food Program

Donations of money are best at this time. Not all food programs are accepting food donations. For a list of food banks you can donate to, see the food bank list on the Skagit Community Resource Directory at https://skagitcrc.org/food-banks.php

Consider Volunteering

Most food banks are small nonprofits relying on volunteers. During COVID-19, many volunteers are not able to safely volunteer at this time. Consider helping to fill this shortfall by devoting some of your hours to these critical community programs. The best way to learn about volunteer opportunities is to visit your local food bank’s website or social media page or to visit the Skagit County Volunteer Center.


Welcom

Welcome

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If Skagit has ever faced a challenge, this is it.

There is much unknown, and often the unknown leads to reasonable fear and anxiety. However, we are a strong community. You can see it in our people who come from all walks of life. People who are supporting neighbors, taking care of their families and changing their lives in order to protect us all. This mix of connection and diversity might be rooted in our geography. Skagit stretches from idyllic islands to unending miles of shoreline to incredibly rich farmland to the foothills of the majestic Cascade range. Yet all this varied land and diverse people are linked together in ways that are obvious, even during social distancing.

In this trying time, we strive to bring you useful information, health guidance, COVID-19 updates, stories of people persevering and some lightness to ease our uncertainty. These days, connection often seems a rare commodity, yet it somehow remains the foundation of the Skagit community. We look forward to the possibility of a continued connection with you.