Seniors Hopeful for a Vaccination

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Post contributed by Jackie Cress, Skagit County staff.

There is a valid question for many people amid this pandemic: When will life return to normal? Perhaps no one in modern times can truly answer this question. We’d have to step into a time machine and go back to one of the number of historic pandemics to really know.

The first recorded pandemic happened in 430 B.C. and here we are today facing this uncharted territory. Most of us could never imagine what has taken place during this Covid-19 time frame. For some, this would merely be a short inconvenience. We hoped that it would pass with warmer weather or as immunities built up. For others, the fear has been almost paralyzing. What we have in common though, is the knowledge that there is hope on the horizon.

Desmond Tutu said “Hope is being able to see that there is a light despite all of the darkness.” As the vaccine supply increases in the weeks and months to come, it is an important step for our senior community. We know that the risk for severe illness with Covid-19 increases with age and older adults are in the highest risk group. Fundamental ordinances have taken place to keep our communities safe such as instructions to stay-at-home, social distance and wear face coverings when in public. Now that the vaccine is becoming more readily available, we can start to imagine life returning to normal. 

There is much credit to our senior community during this time! Instead of accepting a life that can be often isolating, lonely and boring, seniors have adapted, possibly more than any other group and it is inspiring. Seniors have learned to use technology in a time frame that could have left them behind. Seniors have refused to let the institutions that strive to protect them define them into seclusion! They’ve learned to use smart phones, computers and new programs that brought us all together virtually. We’ve played Bingo together, sang along to online concerts and exchanged our every day celebrations and tribulations through technology. It’s nothing short of remarkable.

Our youth seem to learn all technological things in an instant. They’ve grown up not knowing a world without the internet. For them, familiarizing themselves with new electronic components comes naturally. It’s not so easy for us who have seen the birth of the internet which happened around the late 1980’s. Despite these challenges, seniors have adapted in many innovative ways to meet their needs. This alone is a cause to celebrate! These new found life skills will be advantageous even as we start to return to the life we knew pre-pandemic. 

Getting the Covid-19 vaccine is very literally our best shot at rebounding from what has kept us all apart. The vaccine has been rigorously tested world-wide. Side effects are mild and severe side effects are rare. We are all dreaming of when we can share a meal in person, do a crossword puzzle together and hug our friends. This vaccine is Desmond Tutu’s light in this dark time. Vaccine facts can be found on line at CDC.gov website and on Skagit County’s webpage at www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine

Until we meet again, Be safe. Continue to stay at home when possible. Wash your hands frequently. Wear a face covering when in public and most importantly, schedule your Covid-19 vaccination as soon as you are able. 


Eyes of Hope

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Rosemary Alpert, contributing writer. 

Over the past ten months, we have been wearing our masks, washing our hands more than we ever thought we would, strategically getting our groceries, keeping our distance and so much more. A collective community effort to keep ourselves, families and friends healthy.  

Since June, I’ve been looking into thousands of community members’ eyes through car windows while registering them to get tested for COVID-19. First, at Skagit Valley College and now Skagit County Fairgrounds (south entrance, F Barn). Each person has a story for why they are getting tested. Eyes filled with worry, fear, anxiety and deep concern, not only for themselves but for their families too.  

So many eyes. 

Last Thursday, Skagit County Public Health and its community partners worked tirelessly to get our first 1a-eligible COVID-19 vaccine clinic started. The County is working directly with 1a-eligible employers to identify individuals to be vaccinated. Eligible community members were invited and scheduled for a specific time last Thursday and Friday, to receive their first vaccination for the COVID-19 virus.  

From registration to vaccination; a moment in time that I will remember for all of my days. 

I’ve been asked to greet each person immediately after they receive their vaccine: instructing them to sit for 15 minutes post-vaccine, to be observed and make sure that they do not have any reactions. After I shared with a friend and coworker from Skagit Valley Family YMCA about how powerful it is to be a part of this historical time for our County, she said, “You’ve come full circle, starting off being the first person people see when getting tested for the virus, to being the first person they see once they receive the vaccine.” 

Full circle—filled with deep listening, loving-kindness and compassion. 

What profoundly struck me last week, quite unexpectedly, was everyone’s eyes. Each pair of eyes, filled with a sense of relief and gratitude; some glistening with tears, and most of all, eyes filled with HOPE. 

Just as each person has a reason for why they get tested, the relief and appreciation for receiving the vaccine are also deeply meaningful. Some of the responses I heard were: 

“I can’t wait to see my granddaughter.”  

“I have no words. Just so grateful.”  

“Thank you, thank you, thank you.”  

“This gives me so much hope.” 

#OurShotSkagit. Photo taken by Julie de Losada of Rosemary Alpert receiving her first COVID-19 vaccine dose.

Looking into eyes of our community, filled with hope and movement forward. Slow and steady progress.

For a first-hand account, as a frontline worker, I was invited to receive the vaccine. Last Friday afternoon, I received my first shot. After working months, looking into the eyes of our community, I was filled with emotions and gratitude, feeling the light of hope. 

My first thought was my two adult children, who I haven’t been able to see in over a year. My eyes glistened with tears of relief. The only reaction I felt was a sore arm, and the next day, a little tired. I also woke up at 3:38 a.m. the next morning and could feel the vaccine working. It was a wonderful feeling! I visualized the vaccine as golden-healing liquid responding and strengthening my being, heart and eyes full of hope. 

For more information about the COVID-19 vaccine, please check out Skagit County Public Health’s website at www.skagitounty.net/COVIDvaccine. You can also read our press release with WA DOH’s latest guidance here: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/Home/press/010721.htm.


What Is Binge Drinking, Anyway?

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

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

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

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

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

What is binge drinking?

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

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

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

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

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

Recent Findings

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

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

Why can it be dangerous?

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

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

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

Tips for a healthier relationship with alcohol

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

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

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

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

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

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

Need more help?

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

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


WA Department of Health Releases Next Phase of Vaccine Prioritization

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January 8, 2021

On January 6th, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) released guidance for phase 1B, which is the next phase of COVID-19 vaccine prioritization. DOH worked closely with the Governor’s Office to finalize prioritization for phase 1B, while also relying on federal guidance and public input through focus groups, interviews, and surveys over the past few months.

This guidance is for planning purposes only. Washington State and Skagit County will remain in Phase 1A of vaccinations until all Phase 1A individuals who want the vaccines have it. As a reminder, Phase 1A includes:

Tier 1: High risk workers in health care settings; High risk first responders; and residents and staff of nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other community-based, congregate living settings where most individuals over 65 years of age are receiving care, supervision, or assistance.

Tier 2: All workers in healthcare settings.

Skagit County Public Health and its partner providers are ready to vaccinate our community; however, the ability to do so remains reliant on when and how much vaccine is received from the State. Current allocations have been very limited. To date, Skagit County has only received vaccine to meet approximately 25% of our 1A eligible workers and long term care facility residents.  Phase 1A will need to be completed before we will be able to move on to Phase 1B in Skagit County.

People should not expect Skagit County to move into Phase 1B until February at the earliest. If we receive greater dose allocations from the state, this timing will improve. Public Health will announce movement into the next phase of vaccinations via our press release system, web site and social media. Sign up here to get press releases from Skagit County.

“Skagit County Public Health and our partner providers have put a lot of time and effort into preparing for this moment. We are ready! As soon as we receive a consistent supply of vaccine from the State and are clear to begin phase 1B, we will let Skagitonians know how and where to get vaccinated.”

Jennifer Johnson, Skagit County Public Health Director

Due to limited vaccine availability, Phase 1B has been broken up into four separate tiers. Groups eligible for vaccination in phase 1B will include:

Phase 1B1 – (Tier 1)

  • All people 70 years and older
  • People 50 years and older who live in multigenerational households

Phase 1B2 – (Tier 2)

  • High risk critical workers 50 years and older who work in certain congregate settings: Agriculture; food processing; grocery stores; K-12 (teachers and school staff); childcare; corrections, prisons, jails or detention facilities (staff); public transit; fire; law enforcement

Phase 1B3 – (Tier 3)

  • People 16 years or older with two or more co-morbidities or underlying conditions

Phase 1B4 – (Tier 4)

  • High-risk critical workers in certain congregate settings under 50 years
  • People, staff and volunteers all ages in congregate living settings:
    • Correctional facilities; group homes for people with disabilities; people experiencing homelessness that live in or access services in congregate settings
Skagit County Public Health’s vaccine roll-out timeline, estimated based on WA DOH’s guidance and timeline, as well as adequate vaccine allocation from federal and state government.

WA DOH has also announced the creation of the Phase Finder online tool that allows people to assess their eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine. It is currently being tested for Phase 1A eligible individuals and will launch broadly on January 18th. Phase Finder will be available in multiple languages and will be used to confirm individual eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine.

For COVID-19 vaccine information, visit our webpage at www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine.


Keep It Simple: Self-Care in the New Year

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Article and image contributed by Rosemary Alpert.

The calendar has turned,
a new year’s begun,
here we go 2021!

Stepping into this new year with hope and resilience, slow and steady movement forward, one day at a time. No resolutions, rather, deciding to keep it simple, focusing on daily self-care and compassion.

At least three times a week, I call a dear friend who turned 99 years old last October. She lives in an assisted living facility in Connecticut. Our conversations are brief and meaningful, for both of us. Almost guaranteed, with each call, especially during challenging days of separation and isolation, my friend, Sylvia, shares two pieces of advice: “Put your oxygen mask on first,” and, “You’re dealt a hand, play it out the best you can.” Daily wisdom from an almost centenarian.

The simplicity of this advice resonates within. “Put your oxygen mask on first,” does not mean being selfish, quite the opposite. Rather, it is true self-care. Being full of care for ourselves is vitally important, especially these days. What works for you?

Keep it Simple. Besides making sure to get enough rest, drink plenty of water, wash our hands, and wear our masks, here are a few keep-it-simple self-care thoughts: Let’s notice our breath; be gentle with ourselves; learn our limits; be our best advocate; ask and reach out; express daily gratitude; get outside; however it may be, take super-duper care! Then, we can show up for one another, with more presence and awareness.

Each day, we are gifted 86,400 seconds, a fresh start. Over these many months, when my mind started to turn into a hamster wheel, spinning out of control, I would stop whatever I was doing. Pause, focus, take a few breaths, remember what my friend Sylvia would say, “You’re dealt a hand, play it out the best you can.” One of my daily practices has become starting fresh with each new day. As with any practice, it is an ongoing learning experience. Some days, it’s not so easy. What this advice has offered is a way to appreciate, notice, and celebrate the littlest of moments within the progress of each day. Our accumulation of seconds count!

While working at the COVID-19 testing site, I asked a few coworkers how they keep it simple with self-care. Here are some of their responses…

  • Relax in bed, all propped up with a bunch of pillows, surround myself with snacks and watch Hallmark movies
  • Take a long hot bath
  • Search for painted rocks on hikes with my son
  • Call a friend
  • Long walks by the river
  • Learned how to quilt
  • Walk my dog
  • Quiet meditation
  • Spend time reading and journaling
  • Go for hikes
  • Spend time gardening, getting my hands in the dirt, connecting to the earth
  • Listen to calming music
  • Make dinner with my partner, then watch a funny movie.

Simple pleasures nourish the soul, keep us in the present, and keep us moving forward. Remember my dear friend Sylvia’s advice: Don’t forget to “put your oxygen mask on first,” and each day, do the best you can with your 86,400 seconds.

Happy New Year!!!


Make Health Your Priority: Tobacco Cessation in 2021

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By now, it is becoming clear that current and former smokers are at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19. A recent study has shown that people who smoked were nearly two times more likely to have negative outcomes from COVID-19. While more studies need to be conducted in order to understand the associated between nicotine users and COVID-19 infection rates, the World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that the available evidence suggests that smoking is associated with increased severity of disease and death in hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

Given the well-established harms associated with tobacco use and second-hand smoke exposure, medical experts are recommending that tobacco users stop using tobacco as soon as possible. By quitting these products (cigarettes, vaping devices, or smokeless products), your lungs and your immune system begin to improve quickly. Healthier lungs and a healthier immune system can help fight against COVID-19 infection and can protect individuals from becoming seriously ill.

There is no better time than the present. And with New Year’s just around the corner, there is no better way to begin 2021!

Thankfully, there are many resources available to Washingtonians when it comes to tobacco cessation. Here are some helpful resources to get you started on your cessation journey:

  • Quitline: Washingtonians age 13+ can also call 1-800-QUIT-NOW to speak confidentially with a Quit Coach in English, Spanish, or receive support in more than 200 other languages.
  • This is Quitting (TIQ), from Truth Initiative: This is an innovative text-to-quit vaping program for young people ages 13-24. TIQ helps motivate, inspire, and support young people throughout the quitting process. When young people join TIQ, they will receive proven tips and strategies to quit and stay off e-cigarettes and vapor products from other young people just like themselves who tried to quit. To enroll, teens and young adults can text VAPEFREEWA to 88709.
  • 2Morrow Health: This is a smartphone app that helps participants learn new ways to deal with unhelpful thoughts, urges, and cravings caused by nicotine. Participants receive notifications and can track their progress along the way in order to move toward their goal of quitting. The app is available in English and Spanish. Depending on your age and the tobacco product you are trying to quit, you can register for either of the smartphone apps below:
    • Smoking & Tobacco – A program for people who want to quit smoking and/or other tobacco use. A special program for pregnant women is included in this version.
    • Vaping (age 13+) – A program for teens and young adults who want to quit vaping. Older adults who want to quit vaping, but who do not smoke, can also use this program.

It may take many tries to quit. The important thing is not to give up. If 2020 has shown us anything, its that Washingtonians are a strong and capable bunch. Find your team, lean on your resources, and make a plan. You can do this!  


COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Begins in WA State

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December 15, 2020

Skagit County is very excited to announce that safe, effective COVID-19 vaccine has been approved and that initial vaccine distribution has begun in Washington State.

COVID-19 vaccine has been authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Multiple vaccines are under development and several are in large scale clinical trials with tens of thousands of volunteers to ensure they are both safe and effective. Skagit County Public Health is working with the Washington State Department of Health on vaccine distribution.

Washington State is in Phase 1a of vaccination which includes the following groups:

• High risk workers in health care settings

• High risk first responders

• Residents and staff of nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other community-based, congregate living settings where most individuals over 65 years of age are receiving care, supervision, or assistance.

Phase 1a is defined at the federal and state level to preserve our critical health care workers and first responders and to protect those at highest risk of severe outcomes of COVID-19. The number of doses available in each area of the state is determined by federal and state government allocations based on population factors, priority group factors, and disease incidence.

COVID-19 vaccine is not anticipated to be widely available to the general public until later in spring and summer. Eventually vaccine will be available for everyone in all recommended groups.

Vaccine safety is a priority. All COVID-19 vaccines must go through a rigorous and multi-step testing, evaluation and approval process before they can be used. They will only be approved if they pass FDA’s safety and effectiveness standards. Vaccines will also be monitored for safety once they are given.

“A safe and effective vaccine against COVID-19 is very exciting news and a major scientific accomplishment,” said Jennifer Johnson, Skagit County Public Health Director. “That said, it is important to keep in mind that a vaccine alone is not enough to end the pandemic. Even once the vaccine is widely available, it will be necessary to continue to follow all current safety guidance to protect ourselves and our loved ones. We understand that this has been a long road, however, we are now beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

As more information is learned about the vaccines ability to limit transmission the CDC will update this guidance.  

For more information and for the most up-to-date information, visit our vaccine webpage at https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HealthDiseases/coronavirusvaccine.htm.


Winter Shelter in Skagit County

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On any given night in Skagit County, dozens of individuals and families experience homelessness. The winter months are always a difficult time for those who are unsheltered but the surge in COVID-19 cases and the economic and mental health impacts of the pandemic make this winter particularly treacherous to those who find themselves in need of shelter.

In past years, the County has supported a congregate-style winter shelter, but COVID-19 has made that option unsafe, as it does not allow for proper social distancing.  In order to temporarily house as many people in our community as possible and prevent the spread of COVID-19, Skagit County Public Health is supporting a number of motel voucher programs throughout the county. These programs provide individuals and families with temporary motel stays until a more permanent housing solution is available.

With the help of Friendship House, Skagit County Community Action, Catholic Community Services of Western Washington and the Anacortes Community Health Council as well as funding from federal, state and local resources, approximately eighty families and individuals will have a warm place to sleep this winter.  Each motel program runs a little differently depending on the funding source. Some programs will focus on helping individuals with behavioral health diagnosis and other significant barriers to housing while other programs will cater specifically to families and offer additional support such as case management for families working to find permanent housing.

While the County regularly budgets funds for winter shelter programs, much of the funding for this winter season came from funds meant to curb the spread of COVID-19. While the additional funds made more beds available this year than in the past, the need is still much greater than the resources available. Currently well over 200 people in Skagit County are seeking housing.

These days, replacing traditional congregate shelters with motel voucher programs is not unique to Skagit County – communities across the country are using this model during the pandemic and there is some preliminary evidence that the benefits of motel voucher sheltering extend beyond curbing the spread of COVID-19. According to Shelterforce.org, organizations that have shifted to individualized care in motel settings are reporting a significant reduction of emotional and behavioral health issues that normally arise in a congregate setting.

These positive outcomes will likely be taken into consideration as the community determines how to best meet the needs of the homeless population in Skagit County beyond this winter and the pandemic. Winter shelter funding will last through mid-March but the County is still without a permanent year round shelter.  Currently the community is looking for ways to support a year-round emergency Shelter in Skagit County.

If you would like to know more about Skagit County’s plans for winter shelters, contact Public Health at (360) 416-1500.


New CDC Guidance for Quarantine Guidelines

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December 4, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Skagit Health Officer Howard Leibrand

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


Steps 1 Through 6 at the New Test Site

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By this point, you’ve probably heard that the Skagit County COVID-19 Testing Site has moved from Skagit Valley College to the Skagit County Fairgrounds. While moves like this one always result in some growing pains, we are happy to report that the transition is going quite smoothly!

As a Public Health staff and a part-time testing site worker, I have really appreciated being a part of the test site’s evolution. Since April, we have served over 33,760 individuals! We have also worked through extremely hot days, frigidly cold days, and everything in between. Our amazing volunteers and staff have shown so much dedication to this work, and have—honestly—become like a second family.

I wanted to share with you a quick insight into what to expect when you come to our new location, because sometimes new things can seem a bit intimidating. So here is what to expect, step-by-step:

Step One: Planning

Sometimes waits can be long (a few hours) and sometimes they can be quite short (only 15-30 minutes). We will try our best to communicate current wait times on our Twitter and Facebook pages, so always give those a check before leaving the house. Typically wait times are the longest first thing in the morning. Vehicles can begin lining up an hour before opening—and there is no street parking/waiting allowed.  

Before you leave, make sure that you have all your documents! Check your wallet or purse before walking out the door. Do you have your ID and insurance card?

There has been confusion in the past about the cost of testing. We will test all insured and un-insured individuals who live or work in Skagit County, but that doesn’t mean that the test is free and that you don’t need your information!

For those who are un-insured, there is a federal grant that covers the cost of your test. This grant is limited, and meant only for those who do not have insurance.

For those with insurance, please expect to provide this information! Check with your insurance provider before you get tested to make sure that they will cover the cost of your test. Skagit County Public Health does not do the billing—this is done by the lab. In order to test you, we will require your insurance information. If you do not have your card, please come with either a picture of it, or the insurance ID number and group number. We may also need your social security number, if you have specific coverage.

Parent or legal guardian consent is required for all minors, ages 4 to17. We do not test children under age 4; in this case please consult with your pediatrician.

Step Two: Enter

The entrance to the site is through the South Gate, located at 501 Taylor Street, Mount Vernon 98273. There, you will be greeted by one of our amazing volunteers who will ask you some questions (Do you live or work in Skagit County?), and will direct you to a lane. They can also tell you about how long your expected wait may be. Once you enter the fairgrounds and are assigned a holding lane, there is no exit until just prior to entering the testing zone.

For the safety of our volunteers and staff, please be sure to wear your mask, and only lower your window about 2 inches when answering questions.

Step Three: Waiting

We are using a ferry system at the location, which helps to avoid vehicles from congregating on the nearby street. Up to 84 vehicles can be held in our 12 lanes, and another 63 in the entrance lane and building. Vehicles will be moved forward with their lane, and each lane will move one at a time. About every 15 minutes, we can empty a lane. If you are the last car in lane 12, expect a three hour wait. The only exit from this point forward, is just prior to entering the testing zone.

When you get to your lane please turn off your vehicle and put on the parking break (this is to avoid any bumper-car type blunders!). Bring a coat! It can get chilly and just like the Washington State ferry system, the holding lanes are a no idling zone!

Also, make sure not to drain your vehicle’s battery while you sit in line. While we have staff who can help with a jump-start, it can certainly slow down the process and cause you unnecessary stress. I have personally done this, and it isn’t fun!

If you are waiting and you need to use the restroom, please note that there is a port-a-potty for public use in the waiting area.

Use this time to get your documents ready!

Step Four: Registration

A site worker will indicate when it is time for your lane to move forward. Please drive slowly! Especially when it is raining and visibility is bad, we want to make sure that everyone is safe. Just like before, when you enter the building, turn off your vehicle and put on your parking break. Please lower your window (when instructed) just a few inches, and wear your mask.

Vehicles will enter the testing building one at a time, and drivers will be directed to one of two lanes. Within each lane, there are multiple workers doing registration. Please be patient as they work to collect your information—it is imperative that they put down the correct information in order for you to receive your results, and to have your test billed correctly.

Step Five: Testing

Testing is done in the same building as registration. Once you pull up to a testing bay, you will be greeted by a nurse who will provide you with instruction. You will be expected to administer your own test—a nasal swab that will go in both nostrils (four large circles), and then you will place the swab in a tube through the vehicle window. Parents, we will instruct you on how to swab the noses of your small children.

Our nurses are amazing; so patient, and kind. It isn’t unusual for someone to say that they are a bit nervous—don’t worry! Our nurses will walk you through the process.

Step Six: Results

Typically, results can be expected within 72 hours (or three days). If it is a positive result, you will receive a phone call from a Public Health staff. In the past, we have experienced some delays from the lab. Check our website for any updates.

Attention: Wait times for results can sometimes take longer than 72 hours. Please check our website for updates. You can also check with site workers at the front gate for current result times.

If it is a negative, you will receive a test message that says, “Negative.” If you will need proof of your results, please let your registering site worker know, or you can call Public Health (360-416-1500) once you receive your results.

We are so happy to be in our new location, and excited to continue serving Skagit County! Thank you for your patience and understanding during this time, as we settle in.