My Experience at the COVID-19 Test Site

Reading Time: 4 minutes

On Saturday morning, I started to feel a little tickle in my throat. By mid-morning, I was in full sick mode: sneezing, runny nose, and a headache. If it was back in January, I would have brushed it off as “just a normal cold” and kept on with my weekend plans. But now? There are some new precautions that I must take. By Monday morning, I still wasn’t feeling great. To be honest, I was feeling down-right horrible. So I jumped in the car first thing and drove myself down to the COVID-19 drive-thru testing site at Skagit Valley College.

I have been working at the testing site for about two months now, and know the process in and out. However, going through the site as a visitor—and a sick one at that—was a much different experience!

Here are some things that I learned on the “other side” of the car window.

1. Get there early
I knew that Monday would not be an ideal day to go since Mondays are always our busiest day. Unfortunately, I had little choice since I cannot go back to work or take my children to daycare until I am symptom-free with a negative test result. I arrived at 8:30 am (a half-hour before we open), and was greeted by a small line of cars. Registration opened slightly before 9 am, and it took me about 45 minutes to get through, all said and done. Wait times can vary dramatically by day, and even during the same day. If you’re worried about wait times, check out Skagit County’s Twitter page, which will be updated daily with wait times.

2. Use the bathroom before you go

I had just downed two cups of morning coffee before I left, and almost instantly regretted it when I pulled into the site. Even though there are porta-potties available for visitors, I knew that it is highly encouraged for all guests to stay within their vehicles. Adding that I had my 3-year-old with me in the car, I really did not want to get out of the car. So I suffered in silence, and thanked my lucky stars that she didn’t need to go as well!

3. Expect it to take some time

Along the same lines, it is important to expect the trip to take some time. For some cars, the trip takes 10 minutes from start to finish, while other cars may take upward of two hours. This wait is dependent on several things: time of day or day of the week, the number of staff/volunteers working that day, technical issues in testing or registration, and even extra time spent helping visitors find their insurance information or processing multiple people in one car.

I knew that I may have to wait a bit, so I made sure to have some things for my toddler to do while we sat. It was early and an overcast day. Thankfully, I didn’t need to worry about sweating it out in the car! It is typically expected that cars in line will need to wait with their windows up (for safety) and the engine off (so that workers can hear visitors’ responses and coordinate with other workers). It can be quite uncomfortable on hot and sunny days.

While many people do not have the option to leave children or even pets at home, if you are able to do so, I recommend it! Site workers will try to be as accommodating as possible on hot days, but it is easiest—and safest—for everyone if only those being tested come through the site.

4. Bring your documents

This is where I was really thankful to have some “insider” knowledge! Even though it is posted on the Skagit County website, there are times when people arrive to the site without the necessary documents. The test is free for uninsured guests. Those with insurance need to have either their insurance cards or the name of their insurance company, along with their group (if applicable) and ID numbers, with them. I already knew that my form of insurance requires that I share my social security number with the person registering me, so I wrote it down on a napkin in advance so that I wouldn’t need to yell it through the glass! This made the registration process move a little quicker, and I didn’t need to yell out my personal information.

Please note that Skagit County doesn’t pay for any lab bills. Northwest Lab bills for their lab processes. While State and Federal officials have required 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 checking their coverage, and if their insurance company will not cover a self-referred test, the individual will also be responsible for the bill. The Skagit County Commissioners sent letters to the Office of the Insurance Commissioner and the Federal Delegation asking that they fix this problem. However, it has not been resolved.

5. Have some patience and show some grace

Though I work at the site and know that it can take some time, even I got a little impatient after 30 minutes in the car with a restless kid! The site is staffed by Public Health, other county staff and a group of fantastic and selfless volunteers who donate their time and energies to support the wellbeing of our community. A crew of new volunteers have joined the team as of late because of how busy we’ve been. Each day, there are people being trained in the process, and this can inevitably slow down your visit. Though it may seem tedious, it is so important that things are done correctly so that people aren’t accidently billed for their test, or worst case, the tests are done incorrectly and can’t be processed at all!

Now, on Wednesday morning, I am feeling a bit better, but I am still waiting on my results. I know that it can take a maximum of 72 hours to hear back with a positive or negative, and I am using this time to stay inside with my family, and drinking plenty of fluids so that I can start feeling better soon!

So while I would have brushed my illness off only a few months ago, I now have to go through several new steps. However, I do it to keep my family, friends, and community healthy. I hope that my insights into the testing site are helpful to you, and I encourage you to get tested if you are feeling under the weather. We can all do our part to fight COVID-19 and to keep Skagit healthy.

Take care!


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.


Coping with Pandemic Fatigue

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The COVID-19 pandemic has many of us stressed and worn out. We have all faced changes to our daily routines, reduced contact with friends and family, and a loss of our sense of normalcy. Many Skagitonians have been hit with financial challenges due to job loss or changes to their businesses that could not have been anticipated prior to a few months ago. Adding to the stress is that the pandemic conditions appear to be getting worse and there is not a definite end in sight.

You have probably heard of the “fight-or-flight” response. This response works well if you need to run away from a bear, but not so great for long-term stressors like the COVID pandemic.

WHO Coping with Stress during COVID19

So what can you do if you are feeling stressed and worn out?

1. Limit how often you check news or spend time on social media.

It is important to be well-informed about the pandemic. Although some people take comfort in being informed, it is easy to get worked up and anxious from watching nonstop news coverage. Have you heard of the term “doomscrolling?” It’s a newly coined word for scrolling through a never-ending doom-and-gloom on your Twitter or Facebook feed for hours and hours. Many of us do it, but we can all find better ways to spend our time.

If you want to stay informed, you should seek out COVID-19 information from local and trusted sources, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Washington State Department of Health or Skagit County Public Health. And set reasonable limits for the time you spend on social media.

2. If you feel like you are stuck in a rut, change your routine.

We are now four months into the pandemic, and most people have settled into a familiar routine. Many of us are spending more time than ever at home and are growing tired of looking at the same four walls as our days blur together. If you feel like you are stuck in the same rut day after day, you should mix up your routine.

How? If your employer allows you to work from home and is open to flexible work hours, you can try working a different schedule. Take the time to exercise before you start work, or take a longer lunch hour and go for a long walk and end your workday later.

You can also take advantage of the time cooped up in your home by focusing on a do-it-yourself project that you have been putting off. Clean your garage, touch up some peeling paint, or take on a project in your yard. In addition to keeping you busy, when you are done with the project you will get the added satisfaction from having completed a project.

3. Find healthy ways to let off some stress.

The CDC provides some great tips on coping with stress during COVID. Most are common sense tips like:

  • Take care of your body—stretch or meditate, eat healthy well-balanced meals, and exercise regularly.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol and drug use.
  • Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.

4. Don’t be afraid to seek out professional help.

For some people, general stress and pandemic fatigue can become more serious. You should watch for warning signs that you’re having trouble coping, and should call your healthcare provider if stress gets in the way of your daily activities for several days in a row.

If you do not know where to turn, Skagit County is maintaining a list of behavioral health services and resources. A few key resources that are available 24 hours a day and 365 days a year are:

Don’t be afraid to reach out for help, and know that like all pandemics, this one will eventually end.


Family Beach Day During “COVID Summer”

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I don’t know about you, but the last several weeks my family and I have been feeling more cooped up than usual. It has been difficult to deal with the realities of our current situation as the days are now sunny and warm and perfect for all things SUMMER! I feel like I spend a good chunk of my time dreaming up ideas for the weekend, just to strike everything off the list because they are not COVID-safe activities. Last Friday was definitely a tipping point for me, as I sat deflated, and—let’s be honest—angry about not having anything fun planned for the weekend to come.

To pull myself out of this emotional slump, I picked up the phone. I dialed Deception Pass State Park and, with fingers crossed, asked the woman on the phone if their beach was open for visitors. She said that it was, and I thanked her profusely (and rather dramatically) before hanging up. “Woohoo!! Tomorrow will be beach day,” I shouted to my husband. I went to bed feeling over-the-moon excited about finally having a “normal” summer activity planned.

As we drove into the park, I looked around to gauge if anything looked different from last summer. I was nervous about being so out in the open and felt a little anxious about what I might find as we pulled into the parking lot. When we finally parked, I let out a sign of relief.

Deception Pass State Park – photo of the beach at 1:00 pm right before we left for the day.

Along with the regular beach things like sand toys, hats, sunscreen, and a packed lunch, I was sure to bring a face mask for my husband and myself. Even though our oldest is only three (and exempt from the State/County mask requirement), I packed a little pink practice mask along in case she wanted to imitate mommy (and yes, she absolutely did, and it was very cute). Thankfully, we had decided to get there early (as recommended online), in order to avoid larger groups that would gather later in the afternoon. This turned out to be a very smart move! By around 1:30pm, the whole beach was becoming packed with people, and we were able to make a mad dash to the car to keep socially distanced.

All in all, our little adventure at the beach went swimmingly (HA!). Except for having to wear a mask and being a bit more protective of our personal space than I typically would, the day seemed like any other beach day that my family and I might have enjoyed in the past. We all left feeling physically spent, but emotionally energized. On the car ride home, my husband suggested that we should go grab a bite to eat at a local restaurant (which we haven’t done since early March). For the first time in a very long time we sat and enjoyed a meal all together on an outdoor patio. Something that would have been so normal last year now felt like the most delicious treat, and I was impressed and grateful as I watched the restaurant staff and patrons abide by safe-distancing protocols.

What I realized in venturing outside of my comfort zone last weekend is that I cannot feasibly hole up forever. I need to make peace with the fact that this is a marathon—not a sprint—and I need to find balance in order to keep my sanity intact. So, while it isn’t safe or responsible to take on a full calendar of summertime events like before, it is absolutely okay to get out and safely find a little normalcy in very abnormal times.

Don’t forget the sunscreen!

Remember: find some balance this summer and take care of your mental and emotional needs. A little sand between the toes does a lot of good once in a while!

So here are a few take-aways for other households who may be looking for a little beachy fun.

  1. Go early. Like I mentioned above, this is essential in order to make sure that you avoid the crowds that will inevitably arrive come mid-afternoon. We got to the beach at 11am, and it was perfect timing! We were able to secure a space for our things that allowed for safe distancing, and we made an effort to steer clear of more congested areas. Just about the time when we were all feeling sunned-out and a little cranky, it was time to go!
  2. Have your face mask on hand. You will be expected to wear it when using public facilities, and it is smart to wear one when passing people in the parking lot or along trails. Children four and younger and those with underlying medical or behavioral health conditions are exempt from the mask requirement. However, parents of children ages two to four are encouraged to have masks available for their kids when in public settings. Lastly, the CDC states that masks are not required to be worn while people are in the water because they can be difficult to breathe through when they get wet. However, this means that it is even more important to maintain social distancing while swimming or wading.
  3. Pack what you will need and avoid unnecessary stops. And with multiple children, this can be a huge undertaking! Be sure to pack your own sand toys, sunscreen, towels, swimwear, hand wipes, and food (when applicable). Before arriving at the beach, talk to your children about keeping track of their toys and explain why—in this particular situation— they shouldn’t share. Talk to your kids about what they should expect when they get to the beach, and talk them through the experience. 
  4. Practice good hygiene and follow posted instructions. This not only will ensure that you keep yourself and your loved ones safe, but also lets the people around you know that you are taking these new requirements seriously. The more people that are seen following these safety precautions, the more likely that others will follow suit.
  5. Don’t go if you are feeling sick. Also, do not go if you have had recent exposure to a confirmed COVID-19 case. Keep in mind that many infected people never show symptoms but can still be contagious. We can all do our part to curb the spread of the virus, and that means staying home when we have symptoms. You can find the list of symptoms here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html

Updates from Skagit’s COVID-19 Test Site

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The COVID-19 drive-through testing site has been in operation since April 2020, and it is time to share some new updates!

Since the site opened at Skagit Valley College, we have performed almost 15,000 COVID-19 tests with the help of 143 volunteers who have put in over 60,000 hours of time. Skagit County is the ONLY county in Washington State who has been able to continuously offer drive-through testing. We are so proud of the work we’ve been able to do so far, and we’re so thankful for our community partners and Skagit Valley College for helping to make this possible.

Skagit County mayors visit the testing site on July 22, 2020 to thank volunteers and learn about the site’s successes.

As we’ve continued to operate the test site, we’ve made some adjustments to help us serve the community better.

Since its inception, we’ve:

  • Expanded our testing criteria to allow anyone who feels they need to be tested to be tested. This has helped us with contact tracing and slowing the spread of COVID-19.
  • Removed the requirement that people have an appointment to get tested, making the test site more accessible.
  • Expanded from two lanes of registration to four.
  • Lowered the testing age for minors from seven to five.

We have also found some things that are continually problematic for visitors since we first blogged about the new site in April, so we’re here to offer some advice and clarification. People visiting the testing site should remember:

  • Skagit County doesn’t pay for any lab bills. Northwest Lab handles our 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. (Don’t worry- we also find this annoying. The Skagit County Commissioners sent letters to the Office of the Insurance Commissioner and the Federal Delegation asking that they fix this problem.
  • It is not necessary for people to get repeatedly tested if there is not a new known exposure or symptoms. Recently, we have been seeing people come through weekly, without cause. This is not necessary. If you are following all necessary precautions, and have tested negative previously, there is no reason to get repeatedly tested- it is unnecessary and is a strain on limited resources.
  • The hot weather is proving difficult for many. Unless someone has a known exposure, symptoms or some other time constraint, we highly recommend that an individual wait for cooler days.
  • On wait times- we are consistently seeing our longest wait times on Mondays. Wait times on Mondays’ have been three hours or longer. Unless you have a pressing time constraint, please try to come on another day during the week to spread out the workload.
Wait times on Mondays are consistently higher than the rest of the week. If you can, come on a different day.

As long as there is community need, we will operate a testing site.

We are so thankful for all our community partners, and the great residents of Skagit County for making the testing site such a success!


Drive-Thru Testing

Drive-thru COVID-19 Testing

Reading Time: 3 minutes

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


Important Message COVID-19

Recovered from COVID-19 – Important Message

Reading Time: 5 minutes

A very important message from the first Skagitonian diagnosed with coronavirus.

In life, we generally want to be first. Get that gold medal, be the valedictorian, hold the world record. Like most of us, Susanne had never been first before. Until March 10, 2020.

Susanne, 49, is a recent transplant to Skagit County, having moved here from Enumclaw in January. She decided to live fulltime in her 37-foot-long RV with her rescue dog. On March 10th, Susanne became the first person in Skagit County to be diagnosed with COVID-19.

She began feeling symptoms on Saturday, Feb. 22nd. It’s just allergies, she thought. She’d been through this every year and this time didn’t feel any different. This was weeks before Governor Jay Inslee announced the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order and things started shutting down. Weeks before most people began taking the pandemic seriously. Susanne continued to live her normal life, as we all did. Her story could be any one of ours.

As an avid square dancer, she drove south for a square dancing lesson, followed by a square dance. “I felt crappy enough that when I got halfway down to Lynnwood, I thought that if I have a fever when I get down there, I’m going home. If I don’t, I’ll toughen up,” she says. “I didn’t have a fever.”

“I was really sick the next day. The dog was really concerned about me. I didn’t want to get out of bed, I was getting dehydrated,” she says, crediting the dog with making sure she drank and ate. “But by Monday morning, I felt fine.”

On Tuesday, she went down to her 81-year-old mother’s house in Enumclaw and was cleaning stuff out. Luckily, her mom wasn’t there. On the way back, she ran errands, making stops at several stores, as we all used to do before the outbreak. She had contact with many people along the way.

“I had a long day and my allergies were really flaring,” she says. “At that point, I realized that I’m not going to manage to make dinner, so I stopped at a drive thru and picked something up.”

She was looking forward to a square dance coming up on Sadie Hawkins day, February 29th. As a lifelong allergy sufferer, she knew the feeling of her allergies working their way into her chest, causing pneumonia. She thought, with some rest, in a few days she’d be better.

“At this point, I’m like 99.9% sure that I’m not contagious. It’s just allergies,” she says. “There was no fever, all the drainage was clear. That’s an allergy, not an infection.”

However, she thought she better not go to the dance. Plus, “nobody wants to be around mucus girl!” she joked.

By March 2nd, she could hardly get out of bed. She certainly couldn’t make anything to eat. She didn’t even feel like making herself tea, so she picked up a few iced teas at a drive thru to keep herself hydrated. At 11:15pm, she got back to her RV site and checked her email. Sitting in her car, she read the news. One of her square dancing friends had been hospitalized and died. He had been diagnosed with COVID-19.

She knew she had to get tested. She drove to Overlake Hospital in Bellevue, arriving at 1:08 am, March 3rd, less than two hours after she found out about her friend.

“I drove south because they had people down there who had [COVID-19], so they would be prepared. And they were,” she says. Hospital staff immediately handed her a mask and placed her in a negative pressure room. While she waited to be seen, she turned on the TV.

“I don’t normally watch TV, but in like 5 minutes, I was concerned that I had been out in public and giving this to other people,” she says. “Just five minutes of TV and I was like … ‘Holy crap, no wonder people are freaking out.’ I shut it off.”

They took a chest x-ray and tested for non-COVID-19 respiratory viruses. The results came back quickly – all negative. The x-ray revealed what she already knew – bilateral pneumonia.

But still, she had no fever so she didn’t quite fit the COVID-19 testing criteria at that point in time.

“My symptoms weren’t what we were hearing,” she says. All of her square dancing friends who ended up testing positive had different symptoms, “and none of them were what you had to have to get a COVID-19 test. The one thing we had in common was that there was a time when we all were feeling better so we went out and did things. And then we crashed harder.”

Knowing she had been exposed and a friend had died from COVID-19, hospital staff decided to test her. She was told the results would be available in 24-48 hours. They gave her a box of masks to wear in public and sent her home.

Other friends were also tested on March 3rd and their results were in by March 6th. Of five friends tested, four came back positive, but Susanne was still waiting on her test. On Sunday, March 8th, she got a call from Skagit County Public Health, which had also been waiting to receive her test results. There had been problems processing her test. So Public Health arranged with Skagit Valley Hospital to have her retested early the next morning.

Approximately 24 hours after the retest, she got the call she was dreading. She had COVID-19. She spent the next hour and a half telling Public Health every place she’d been in the last 30 days. Fortunately, she lets her GPS run and it keeps track down to the minute.

Susanne spent the following two weeks in isolation. Once cleared by Public Health, she went out to enjoy some fresh air. From about 30 yards away, she had her first physical conversation with someone in weeks. She asked a man how he was doing, and his response left her astonished:

“Fine, not really doing anything because of this COVID-19. I think it’s a hoax. I don’t know anybody who had it or died from it,” Susanne recalled.

“Well, I’ve had friends die from it,” she responded. “And, hi! I just got out of isolation today!”

Later that day, while doing five-and-a-half weeks of laundry at the laundromat, she had a nearly identical conversation with a woman there.

“How are there still people who don’t think this is a thing?” she wonders. “They’re still denying it. That was kind of horrifying to me.”

She wants everyone to know that they can get this disease, even young people and those who do not have underlying health conditions that make them more susceptible to deadly complications.

“You’re not immune, you’re not special. You can still get it and you can still spread it,” she says.

She has hope for the future and is confident that with accurate, scientific information, the community will come through this.

“Life is never going to be quite the same. We’re going to be aware of things we weren’t aware of before,” she believes. “And that’s a good thing. Knowledge and growth are a good thing. “


15 Tips Safer Shopping

15 Tips for Safer Grocery Shopping

Reading Time: 6 minutes

With the number of COVID-19 infections in Skagit County still on the rise, we should all keep doing our part to stay home and stay healthy. But is it safe to go grocery shopping? There are grocery delivery and pick up options available at some stores. But if somehow these options don’t work for you, it probably means a trip out of the house. Today, we will share 15 tips for safer grocery shopping, including how to handle your food when you are home.


Full disclosure, I rarely do the cooking in my house and so I rarely do the grocery shopping. When I do buy groceries, it is usually because my spouse is out of town or my kiddo has texted saying there is, once again, “nothing to eat in the house”. On these occasions, I usually stop by the grocery store after work, strolling every aisle until something catches my attention, chatting with friends I might see and buying things I didn’t come for. By the time I get home and sort through my hodge-podge of food and sundries, it might be 8 pm before dinner is on the table. Just as we sit down to eat, I’ll probably realize that I forgot the milk! So back to the store the next day, or maybe even the same night.

My way of shopping – my former way of shopping – wasn’t cost effective or a good use of time. But I never thought of shopping as unsafe! Today, it absolutely would be – unsafe for me, unsafe for essential grocery store workers, and unsafe for you! Below are 15 tips for safer grocery shopping we can all follow to make grocery shopping safer everyone.

PLAN AHEAD

1. Stay home if you don’t feel well.

The symptoms for COVID-19 vary, but fever and cough are most common. Some people with the virus have mild symptoms while others don’t feel sick at all. If you have symptoms or if you just don’t feel well – even if you’re just feeling “a little off” – PLEASE STAY HOME. Today is not your day to go out in public or to the grocery store.

2. Limit trips to buy groceries — a shopping list helps!

Limiting your trips to the store is important! Every time you visit the grocery store, you increase your exposure to others and your risk for COVID-19. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommend that you plan to buy 1- to 2 weeks-worth of groceries at a time.

Good Housekeeping and nutrition.gov have some great suggestions for budget friendly and nutritious foods to help you shop. We also suggest these tips:

  • Scan your refrigerator and cupboards for what you need or want and start making a list!
  • Stock up on non-perishables such as frozen vegetables, meats you can freeze, beans, and grains.
  • Make sure you add any toiletries, household cleaners (bleach is very effective), and medicines you might need.
  • Check in with others in your home to see if they need to add anything to the list.
  • Remember the pets! Make sure Fido and Fifi are covered.
  • Organize your list in a way that will help you get through the store the fastest. You don’t want to linger in the store or walk up and down every aisle. Be strategic!

3. Leave the family at home.

For the same reasons you should limit your trips to the store, you should limit who goes with you. If you are a couple, only one of you at a time needs to shop. If you have children and someone who lives with you can watch the kids, please don’t take them with you.

4. Choose a time when the grocery store is less crowded.

Many stores now have special hours for people over age 60 or those of any age with underlying health conditions. Check out our resource page for a list of local stores with special hours.

You can also use Google Search to see when the busiest shopping times are your favorite grocery store.  Saturdays and Sundays are generally when stores are most packed with customers, however there are times of day that tend to be slower than others. Try it out!

5. Consider not bringing your own shopping bags.

I know – this is exactly the opposite of what you usually hear. However, more and more stores are asking people to leave their reusable shopping bags at home. The primary concern is reusable bags may further spread the coronavirus in the store to employees, and to other shoppers. If you do bring your own bags, the FDA reminds us to please wash them between use. Also, be prepared to bag your own groceries – some stores will not allow baggers to handle reusable shopping bags.

6. Do consider bringing your own disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer.

The CDC recommends disinfecting your shopping cart before use and washing your hands frequently. Bringing your own supplies will guarantee that they are available when you need them.

7. Plan for how you will pay.

How you pay at the check makes a difference. Some methods are better at reducing your exposure to the virus. If possible, use a touchless system such as phone app that lets you tap your phone to pay. If you must touch the PIN pad or handle cash, be sure to use hand sanitizer after!

8. Bring your face mask or cloth covering.

It is recommended by federal, state, and local health officials that everyone wear a mask when in indoor public places or anytime it is difficult to maintain proper social distancing. When you buckle your seatbelt, or start your walk to the store, ask yourself “Do I have my face mask?”

Don’t have a mask? Then check our April 5th blog post, Should I wear a face mask? for easy instructions on how to make and wear one.

AT THE STORE

9. Put on your mask!

10. Think twice about wearing gloves.

You may have seen people at the grocery store wearing disposable gloves and wondered if gloves could help protect you from contracting COVID-19. Well, that depends. In many cases, wearing gloves may simply provide a false sense of security, and the person would be better off not wearing them and just using hand sanitizer. If you’d like more information, our Skagit County Public Health Facebook page had a great post on this last week – Can wearing disposable gloves help keep you safe?

11. Disinfect your shopping cart.

Stores often have disinfecting wipes ready by the entry door. However, if they are out, you will be glad you have your own. The FDA provides easy instructions on how to wipe down your cart.

12. Whenever possible, maintain 6 feet distance from others.

Wearing a face mask does not eliminate the need to maintain proper social distancing while shopping. Keep at least 6 feet between you, other shoppers, and store employees. Always keep your hands away from your face.

AFTER SHOPPING

13. Wash hands or use hand sanitizer.

Use hand sanitizer after you finish loading groceries into your car or truck. When you arrive home, wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap, and again after you have put your groceries away.

14. Putting food safely away at home.

According to the FDA and CDC, there is no evidence of food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19. However, if you wish, you can wipe down product packaging and allow it to air dry as an extra precaution. COVID-19 or not, we all have a role to play in food safety. For general tips on how to shop safely, store food, and prevent foodborne illnesses, see the FDA’s Tip for Grocery Shopping and Storage sheet.

15. Consider alternatives to going to the grocery store.

If you can, avoid stores all together!

  • Delivery or Curbside Pick-up – Many grocery stores are offering delivery service or curbside pick-up. Check out our resource page for details on Skagit grocery stores small and large offering these special services. 
  • Farmers Markets are considered essential according to State Department of Health Guidance. Skagit County Public Health is working with local Farmers Markets to ensure social distancing practices will be followed as well as proper cleaning and sanitizing of commonly touched surfaces.  Check your local farmers market online for opening day announcements.
  • Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) ­–Support our local farmers and small business by subscribing to a CSA farm box. Local, seasonal, produce and dairy, straight from the Skagit Valley to your porch! Our Resource page has a list of local CSAs for you to explore.

So there you have it, 15 tips for safer grocery shopping. Practice these tips and share with others – together we can stop COVID-19!


Steve saved lives.

Recovered from COVID-19

Reading Time: 3 minutes

One man’s struggle through coronavirus


Steve woke up one day and just didn’t feel right (Steve isn’t his actual name in order to protect confidentiality). He had a bit of a fever and felt rundown in general. He recently went through a divorce and had been drinking. He thought it might just be withdrawal symptoms. But, just in case, he made a trip to Skagit Regional Health.

He had a fever of over 100 degrees and a cough. Hospital staff tested him for COVID-19 in a tent set up outside the hospital. His blood pressure and temperature were elevated. He had nausea and a headache. A doctor put a stethoscope to his chest and Steve coughed. The next thing he knew, his test results for coronavirus came back positive.

“I’ve been travelling so much, it’s really a tough call,” Steve said, regarding where he may have picked up the virus. “I stayed in a lot of hotels, so whoever had been there before, depending on how well it was cleaned, or it could have been food I picked up at the grocery story. There’s just a lot we don’t know about the virus.”

In 2015, Steve had a stint placed in his heart, putting him at higher risk of complications from COVID-19. At the same time as his COVID-19 diagnosis, he was diagnosed with MRSA, another potentially life-threatening infection. He spent about a week and a half in the hospital fighting off both diseases. At least five of those days were in total isolation.

“Everyone in the hospital was wearing state-of-the-art protection equipment,” he said. They had sealed facemasks with ventilation so their masks wouldn’t steam. I could hear the motors running. For the most part, I saw spacemen and women. You see that kind of stuff and you think, ‘Wow, this is pretty serious.’ You don’t normally see your nurses and doctors looking like they’re walking on the moon.”

Steve grew up in Washington. These years here included the best of his life. So, after his divorce he returned from out of state back here to a place of good memories with hopes for a brighter future. He hasn’t yet found a permanent place to live, so once he was well enough to be discharged from the hospital, Skagit County Public Health provided him a hotel room. This temporary housing allowing Steve to remain isolated from others until he had fully recovered and could no longer spread the virus to others.

“There’s not much to do in 20 feet of space,” he said. “When I get sad or lonesome, I get online or talk to friends or family on the phone and they’re sad and lonesome too. And I watch TV. What else are you going to do?”

When I spoke with him, Steve was preparing to leave the hotel the next day. He had been cleared by Skagit County Public Health nurses. He spoke highly of the hotel staff and Public Health nurses who have been working with him over the last two weeks. They picked up prescriptions for him and ensured that he had meals delivered daily.

He’ll be heading back into his small community soon, which seemed a ghost town to him before his hospitalization.

“They shut down all the restaurants and bars. They shut down just about every public facility except for grocery stores,” he said. “I just pray and feel for all my friends who are suffering and have lost their jobs.”

Watching the news, he feels some stories are sensationalized for ratings, but he wants people to know that this outbreak should be taken seriously and that it is not a hoax or conspiracy.

“There are death tolls,” he said. “People are dying. People are very sick. There are people on death’s door. I’ve seen them. I’ve seen the hospital. I’ve seen people walking around in space suits. This is not a hoax. That is absolutely ridiculous.”

For now, Steve is just happy to be healthy and out of isolation.

“Today was the first day I got to go outside and felt sunshine on myself,” Steve said. “I feel great. I can breathe. I don’t have a headache. I don’t feel nauseous, I don’t have a fever. It was so nice to just walk outside.”

He hopes that this national crisis will help people forget their politics and come together.

“As much as people can connect with each other, that’s gonna help beat this thing,” he said.


Food on the Table

Food on the Table – Resources and How to Help

Reading Time: 3 minutes

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.