According to the WA Department of Health Data Dashboard, on Saturday, October 9, Skagit County surpassed a cumulative total of 10,000 COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic. The day prior- October 8- Skagit County reported its 100th death due to the virus.
Jennifer Johnson, Skagit County Public Health Director said, “This is an upsetting milestone for the County. These numbers represent people. Our residents—families, friends, and neighbors—have dealt with so much over these past 20 months, with loved ones getting sick and battling this awful virus. We want to encourage people to continue to do their part to curb the spread of COVID-19, to mask up, and get vaccinated as soon as possible.”
Skagit currently has a case rate of 666.2 per 100,000 residents over the last 14 days, and a hospitalization rate of 13.0 COVID-19 patients per 100,000 over the last 7 days. These rates are still extremely high—with Skagit County expecting to see a record case rate high of 670.0 in the next day or so. It appears, based on incomplete data on the Data Dashboard, that the county will start to see a decrease in new cases and hospitalizations over the coming days. However, it is too early to say whether this downward trend will continue, and for how long.
Skagit County is currently sitting at 66.9 percent fully vaccinated amongst residents 12 years and older. Of the entire population, the percentage of fully vaccinated is 57.4 percent. This means that 42.6 percent of Skagit County residents, including children under 12 years old, are still unprotected against COVID-19.
The recommendation continues to be the same: Get vaccinated as soon as possible. Vaccination is a critical tool for containing the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective and greatly reduce the risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19.
As weather gets colder and people begin to move inside, it is important that Skagit County residents continue to use precaution when gathering with people from outside of their households. All the risk mitigation strategies that people have been using since the beginning of the pandemic continue to be the best course of action: mask up when in crowded indoor and outdoor locations, get tested when feeling sick or when notified of recent COVID-19 exposure, and stay at home when ill with COVID-like symptoms.
To find a list of COVID-19 testing and vaccination providers in Skagit County, go to: www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine or call the WA COVID-19 Information Hotline: Dial 1-800-525-0127, then press #.
The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) has gotten a lot of attention on social media and in the news this year. This database, which includes hundreds of thousands of reports of health events that occurred minutes, hours, or days after vaccination, is a go to spot for many people looking for information about COVID-19 vaccine safety.
While VAERS is an extremely helpful tool used by experts to track adverse reactions and safety concerns associated with vaccinations (not just COVID-19, but all vaccines!), it is important to know a few things about the system before digging in too deeply.
Scientists and health experts consider VARES to be a starting point in the search for rare but potentially serious vaccine side effects. It is by no means the only system in place to track this data.
So, when reading about VAERS reports in the news or when talking with friends and loved ones about specific reports, be sure to have the following 6 things in mind:
1. VAERS is a national vaccine safety surveillance program that helps to detect unusual or unexpected reporting patterns of adverse events for vaccines.
Established in 1990, VAERS is the nation’s early warning system that monitors the safety of vaccines after they are authorized or licensed for use by the FDA. VAERS is part of the larger vaccine safety system in the United States that helps make sure all vaccines are safe. The system is co-managed by CDC and FDA.
2. VAERS accepts reports from anyone, including patients, family members, healthcare providers and vaccine manufacturers.
Anyone can submit a report to VAERS — healthcare professionals, vaccine manufacturers, and the general public. VAERS welcomes all reports, regardless of seriousness, and regardless of how likely the vaccine may have been to have caused the adverse event. Reports can be submitted successfully even if they are incomplete or are missing key details.
3. VAERS is not designed to determine if a vaccine caused or contributed to an adverse event. A report to VAERS does not mean the vaccine caused the event.
This fact has caused much confusion, specifically regarding the number of reported deaths associated with COVID-19 vaccines. In the past, there have been instances where people misinterpreted reports of death following vaccination as death caused by the vaccines; that is a mistake.
VAERS accepts all reports of adverse events following vaccination without judging whether the vaccine caused the adverse health event. Some reports to VAERS might represent true vaccine reactions, and others might be coincidental adverse health events not related to vaccination at all. Generally, a causal relationship cannot be established using information from VAERS reports alone.
Reports can also be made days, weeks, and months following a vaccination. That means that if a vaccinated person dies in a car accident, drowns, or dies from any other “natural” or “unnatural” cause, their death must be reported to VAERS as an adverse event. Since we’ve now vaccinated over 334 million people in the United States, it is to be expected that many deaths will occur coincidentally after vaccination.
4. VAERS is a passive surveillance system, meaning it relies on people sending in reports of their experiences after vaccination.
As a passive reporting system, VAERS relies on individuals to send in reports of adverse health events following vaccination.
The information collected by VAERS can quickly provide an early warning of a potential safety problem with a vaccine. Patterns of adverse events, or an unusually high number of adverse events reported after a particular vaccine, are called “signals.” If a signal is identified through VAERS, experts may conduct further studies to find out if the signal represents an actual risk.
5. Healthcare providers and vaccine manufacturers are required by law to report certain events after vaccination.
Healthcare providers are required to report to VAERS the following adverse events after COVID-19 vaccination under Emergency Use Authorization, and other adverse events if later revised by FDA.
Some things that healthcare providers are required to report on include:
Vaccine administration errors, whether or not associated with an adverse event.
Serious adverse events regardless of death. This could include:
A life-threatening adverse event
Inpatient hospitalization or prolongation of existing hospitalization
A persistent or significant incapacity or substantial disruption of the ability to conduct normal life functions
A congenital anomaly/birth defect
An important medical event that based on appropriate medical judgement may jeopardize the individual and may require medical or surgical intervention to prevent one of the outcomes listed above
Cases of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS).
Cases of COVID-19 that result in hospitalization or death.
Further, healthcare providers are encouraged to report to VAERS any additional clinically significant adverse effects following vaccination, even if they are not sure if vaccination caused the event.
6. If VAERS detects a pattern of adverse events following vaccination, other vaccine safety monitoring systems conduct follow up studies.
The information that the VAERS system provides to the FDA and CDC is vitally important. If it looks as though a vaccine might be causing a wide-spread problem, the FDA and the CDC will investigate further and take action if needed.
We saw this system in action just recently when the CDC paused the Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to reports of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST). This pause allowed time for the FDA and CDC to investigate these reports and examine any possible linkages. A similar review process was followed when reports of myocarditis in the United States began to circulate. The J&J pause and investigation into cases of myocarditis are all signs that the VAERS reporting system is working extremely well! If at any point the CDC and FDA saw evidence showing a direct linkage between a vaccine and permanent disability and/or death, proper steps would be taken to ensure safety.
There has sure been a lot of uncertainty since March of 2020; our routines changed dramatically, schools closed then reopened, and vacations were postponed or cancelled all together. There hasn’t been a ton that we could rely on—until now.
The data shows us that we can, and should, rely on the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine. The data tells us that the vaccines are saving lives in Skagit County, across our country, and throughout the world. As more and more people get vaccinated, we see our case rates drop, our hospitalizations decrease, and the number of COVID-19 deaths decline.
This data tells us that we can count on the vaccine to get us out of the pandemic; that we can count on the vaccine to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe and healthy. It gives us reason to get vaccinated against a virus that has taken the lives of 74 Skagitonians thus far.
COVID-19 vaccines work.
Over 62% of people 16 or older have had at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine in Skagit County. Since we began administering COVID-19 vaccines in late December 2020, our 14-day case rate reversed course, dropping from a peak of 459.2 per 100,000 around Thanksgiving of last year, to 74.4 in May 2021. Now, after a quick spike in April, we are seeing lower numbers again.
Outbreaks at long-term care facilities have sharply declined. People living and working there were among the first to be vaccinated. Our highest risk senior populations were also eligible for the vaccine first, and case numbers amongst this population has dropped pretty dramatically since the winter.
Total COVID-19 deaths in Skagit County have slowed, as well, and the people we are seeing in our ICU beds are—by and large—not those who have been vaccinated. We know that vaccinations have played a key role in these falling numbers. We also know that continuing to use our safety precautions when unvaccinated (like mask wearing and social distancing) plays a large part.
Breakthrough cases are expected, but statistically rare.
Data has also shown that no vaccine is 100% effective. Breakthrough cases (when a fully vaccinated person tests positive for COVID-19 more than two weeks after the final dose) can happen, but they are rare. It is expected that a small percentage of fully vaccinated people will get sick with COVID-19; in most cases, these individuals will experience mild symptoms, however, hospitalization and/or death can still happen.
Recent Washington Department of Health statistics tell us that out of 3.1 million vaccinated, 1,471 breakthrough cases occurred. Of those cases, 23 people died. That’s about .0007%, or 1 in 134,782. Half of these deaths were in individuals 84 years of age or older.
In addition, both the Washington Department of Health and the CDC report extremely low rates of COVID-19 breakthrough cases, hospitalizations and deaths among vaccinated people. Washington Secretary of Health Dr. Umair A. Shah recently said hospital admission rates in those 45-64 who have not been vaccinated are 21 times higher than those who are fully vaccinated.
From this data we can see: the vast majority of those getting sick, being hospitalized or dying from COVID-19 are people who have not been vaccinated.
Getting vaccinated is easy.
Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 allows us to get back to the things that we enjoy. Vaccinated people are taking off their masks. Families and friends are gathering again. Restaurants and businesses are seeing more customers and a loosening of restrictions. And now, the data is confirming that the vaccines are effective at preventing sickness and death from COVID-19. The vaccines are our best path out of this pandemic.
Finding your free vaccine is easier than ever. To find a provider near you, go to: https://vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov/. You can also still visit the Skagit Fairgrounds for a free Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson vaccine between now and June 26th.
If taking time to go to an appointment or dropping in at a pharmacy or clinic doesn’t work for you, that’s no problem! Skagit Public Health is holding pop-up vaccine clinics around the county all summer long. We’ll be where you are at so getting vaccinated is quick and convenient. For a list of our pop-up dates, go to: www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine.
If you need help finding vaccine, call our Vaccine Hotline at (360) 416-1500. We look forward to serving you!
Bob Lutz, Washington State medical advisor for COVID-19 response, states that “Washingtonians with substance use disorders may have found themselves using more frequently [during the COVID-19 pandemic], and unfortunately, the data suggests they are also overdosing more often.” Alarmingly, Skagit County has also observed an increase in opioid-related overdoses. Keep reading for preliminary, 2020 State- and County-level overdose data.
But first, a quick terminology refresher!
Overdose happens when a toxic amount of a drug, or combination of drugs, overwhelms the body. People can overdose on lots of things including alcohol, Tylenol, opioids or a mixture of drugs. When an opioid overdose occurs, the overdosing individual may experience slow or no breath, choking or snore-like sounds, pinpoint pupils, blue/ashy skin, nails and lips, unconsciousness and/or death. Fortunately, there are harm reduction practices and prevention interventions that can significantly reduce one’s chances of overdose and death. Visit SkagitRising to learn more.
Fentanylis a synthetic or “man-made” opioid that is 80-100 times stronger than other opioids like morphine and heroin. There are pharmaceutical forms of fentanyl that are used for anesthesia and pain. However, most recent cases of fentanyl-related overdose and death have been linked to illegally made fentanyl. Any illicit drug in any form – powder, pill, etc. – could have fentanyl in it. You can’t necessarily tell if fentanyl is present based on taste, smell, or look of the drug. According to the DOH, we should assume that any drug not from a pharmacy could have fentanyl in it.
POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING:
In Washington, fentanyl has been found in counterfeit pills made to look like prescription opioids (often with an imprint of “M30” or “A215”), as well as in powders and black tar heroin.
Opioid Overdose Data
Last month, the Washington State Department of Health published a News Release, which includes preliminary overdose data for the first six months of 2020.
Here is a Brief Snapshot:
Overdose deaths in Washington State increased by 38% in the first half of 2020, compared to the first half of 2019. Most of this increase came from deaths involving fentanyl.
Fentanyl-involved deaths more than doubled from 137 to 309.
Most deaths involved multiple substances, sometimes called polysubstance use.
Skagit County also observed an increase in opioid-related deaths when compared to 2019. While Public Health and many other community partners have been working diligently to reduce the impacts of opioid misuse and overdose in our communities (see list of collaborative efforts here: https://skagitrising.org/what-is-being-done/), we need your help!
How YOU Can Help
We all play an important role in reducing opioid overdoses and saving lives in our communities.
The COVID19 pandemic has affected us all. Stress and social isolation may increase risk of substance misuse and overdose. Offer support to friends and family – send a text, call, video chat, get together in one-on-one or in a small group outside.
Naloxone (also called Narcan®) is a safe medication that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. If you use opioids or know someone who does, make sure to carry naloxone. You could save a life! Under the statewide standing order, anyone can get naloxone at a pharmacy without a prescription.
If you think someone is overdosing don’t hesitate to call 911. The Good Samaritan Law (RCW 69.50.315) protects you and the person overdosing from prosecution of drug consumption and drug possession.
Help those struggling with opioid use disorder find the right care and treatment. Buprenorphine and methadone, two medications used to treat opioid use disorder (MOUD), can cut the risk of a fatal opioid overdose in half, and support long-term recovery. Find local MOUD treatment programs by visiting https://skagitrising.org/
Feeling overwhelmed and/or don’t know where to start? You are not alone. Visit the WA Recovery Helpline (or call 1-866-789-1511) where they provide emotional support and connect callers with local treatment resources and community services. You can also learn about local resources by visiting https://skagitrising.org/resources/
If you have questions, want to learn more about behavioral health services in Skagit County, or would like to pick-up free naloxone or fentanyl test strips, contact McKinzie Gales, Community Health Education Specialist at email@example.com or (360)416-1528.
In late April, Skagit County opened the drive-through COVID-19 testing at Skagit Valley College. By most measures, it has been a huge success. Just this week, the site broke a record and tested 599 people in one day! Widespread testing is critical to being able to slow the spread of COVID-19 and keep the community safe while businesses reopen. We’re so proud of our testing site team for all they have accomplished.
Testing also gives us real-time data on where COVID-19 is spreading and increasing in our communities, but as much as we’d like the data to be crystal clear and perfectly accurate all the time, it’s not. Because of this, there has been some confusion in the community about what our epidemiological data means. We want to clear it up.
Each day, Skagit County reports the following data points:
New cases: These are new, laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19. New positive cases are not recorded based on symptoms only. Positive cases must be confirmed by testing to be counted. Further, no matter how many times an individual is tested, a person can only be one positive case. Duplications are removed by the Washington State Department of Health and Skagit County Public Health.
Recoveries: Our Public Health Department checks in with confirmed COVID-19 cases daily. After 21 days, a person is considered recovered if they also report that they are no longer experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. COVID-19 behaves differently in different people, and there have been some who have experienced symptoms for weeks or months, so it’s important to us that we only report recoveries for people who have actually recovered.
Hospitalizations: This is the total number of positive COVID-19 cases who were hospitalized at any point during their illness. It is a cumulative number, not the number of current people in the hospital.
Deaths: This is the number of Skagit County residents who unfortunately lost their lives due to COVID-19. As we get further into the pandemic—and are able to look back at the data more closely—it is possible that this number could change. This is because the Washington State Department of Health has been recording deaths of anyone who was a positive COVID-19 case and died. It’s possible that a person who passed away was a positive COVID-19 case, but they did not actually pass away from COVID-19. As we refine the data, you may see some deaths removed from the total because of this. We want to ensure that we report accurate data. Please understand that our reporting may change as time passes and we are better able to analyze and understand that data.
Public Health also talks regularly about the “rate of transmission,” or how many new cases Skagit County seeing per day. It’s important to remember that the rate of transmission both predicts the number of cases that will be coming in the next 14 days or so, and reflects the actions/precautions taken by the public in the last 14 days or so. For example, the rate of transmission from the Fourth of July—when we suspect a large number of people gathered together with people from outside their household—will not be apparent until this week. In many cases, COVID-19 has such a long incubation period that people who contracted COVID-19 two weeks ago may just now be developing symptoms and getting tested.
One final note: Data is not an exact science. For our Public Health team and the Washington State Department of Health to be collecting and releasing this data in real time is almost unprecedented, particularly with death data, which typically goes through a much more rigorous investigative process before they are considered final. We expect to make adjustments to case and death data as we continue battling COVID-19. But we promise that we’ll always give you the best data we have at the time.
It’s been three weeks since Skagit County moved to Phase 2 of the governor’s Safe Start plan. Three weeks is the minimum amount of time a county has to wait before applying for the next phase. During this time, the county has to meet several metrics—the most important of which is positive case numbers—showing that it has the COVID-19 outbreak under control. Friday, the Skagit County Board of Health met with Skagit County Public Health and decided not to apply to move forward to Phase 3, because the County does not meet all the metrics.
“Of course, this is disappointing,” Public Health Director Jennifer Johnson said in a press release. “But unfortunately, we’ve seen an uptick in positive cases over the past several weeks that have prevented us from being able to move forward, per the Safe Start—Reopening Washington plan.”
In this post, we’ll take a look at the metrics the state is using and see how Skagit County measures up.
METRIC: Fewer than 25 positive cases per 100,000 people (32 Skagitonians) in the last 14 days
In order to meet this metric, Skagit County would need to see no more than 32 positive cases over the last 14 days. We’ve had 36 positive cases over the last two weeks. While we recently saw a decrease in cases, which helped get us to Phase 2 of the governor’s Safe Start plan, since then we’ve experienced a disturbing increase in the rate of positive cases.
Right now, most of our current cases are linked to extended family gatherings and celebrations, people traveling to visit family or friends both in and out of state, and we continue to see workplace transmission from worksites within Skagit County and adjoining counties. For many weeks now, most people becoming infected are of working age, born between 1970 and 2000. Positive cases usually show up about two to three weeks after exposure, and you can see the increase in cases three weeks after Memorial Day, indicating that people gathered against state and local health guidance.
“We have primarily seen cases tied to unauthorized gatherings, travel outside of the immediate community and workplaces,” said Dr. Leibrand. “It’s disappointing to see so many cases tied to activities not authorized under Phase 2. We hope the community will view this as a wakeup call and start taking the guidance more seriously.”
Below is a graph showing our County case data based on the numbers you can find on the Skagit County website. These numbers differ slightly from the state data, as Skagit County bases its case data on when the positive test result comes in, and the State bases its data on when the positive test was collected. The state also has a 6-day lag time to ensure it has all positive test results in before it publicizes its data. The state is using its own data when determining whether a county has met the metrics to move forward. While the data may differ slightly, the story told is the same: Our cases continue to rise faster than we’d like. The state shows that we have a positive rate of 27.1 cases per 100,000 Skagit County residents. Public Health expects this number to rise to 29.4 percent by June 29th and 30th, due to the six-day delay in the state data.
Is Skagit County meeting the metric? NO
What can you do to help the County meet this metric? Minimize your risk of infection so you (and your close contacts!) don’t add to the case count. It’s not fun, but the best thing you can do is continue to stay home as much as possible. If you do go out, there are ways you can protect yourself:
Wear a mask (now required whenever you’re in indoors in public or if you’re outdoors in public and can’t maintain six feet of physical distancing)
Stay as far away from non-household members as possible (six feet minimum)
Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer often
Don’t touch your face
Limit the number of non-household members you come into close contact with to five or fewer per week. Any single gathering of more than five people (who don’t all live together) are prohibited during Phase 2.
Stay home if you’re feeling unwell, even just a little unwell, except to get tested. The drive-thru testing site in the Skagit Valley College parking lot is open Monday-Friday, 9am-4pm. Please bring your insurance card or the information from your card (plan name, group number, and individual identification number). With this information, insurance covers the cost of the test with no co-pay from you. If you don’t have insurance, the state will cover the cost.
METRIC: COVID-19 hospitalizations is flat or decreasing
Skagit County has been seeing a relatively flat hospitalization rate, between zero and three people hospitalized at any given time over the last few weeks.
Is Skagit County meeting the metric? YES
METRIC: Health care system readiness
The state defines health care system readiness as having less than 80% of the licensed beds full, and less than 10% of licensed beds occupied by suspected and confirmed COVID-19 cases. According to the state’s Risk Assessment Dashboard, 75.7% of Skagit County’s hospital beds are occupied, and only 0.6% of them are occupied by COVID-19 patients.
Is Skagit County meeting the metric? YES
METRIC: Average number of tests performed per day during the past week is 50 times the number of positive cases (maximum of 2% positive test rate)
According to the state’s Risk Assessment Dashboard, Skagit County is testing 56.8 people per positive case reported, a positive rate of 1.8%. It’s important that the county continues to test a lot of people to keep the ratio of positive test results low. Also, testing is the only way to find asymptomatic or presymptomatic people and have them isolate in order to stop them from spreading the virus to others in the community.
Is Skagit County meeting the metric? YES
METRIC: 90% of cases reached by phone or in person within 24 hours of a positive lab report
Skagit County Public Health contact tracers attempt to contact 100% of all positive cases within 24 hours of their notification of the case. Last week, they were able to successfully reach every single positive case within this time frame.
Is Skagit County meeting the metric? YES
METRIC: 80% of contacts reached by phone or in person within 48 hours of receipt of a positive test report on a case
Skagit County Public Health contact tracers attempt to contact 100% of close contacts of positive cases within 48 hours of notification of the case. Last week, they were able to successfully reach 92% of close contacts within this time frame.
Is Skagit County meeting the metric? YES
METRIC: 80% of cases are contacted daily during their isolation period
Is Skagit County meeting the metric? YES
METRIC: 80% of contacts are contacted daily during their quarantine period
Is Skagit County meeting the metric? YES
METRIC: Maximum of one outbreak (defined as two or more non-household cases epidemiologically linked within 14 days in a workplace, congregate living or institutional setting) per week
In June, Skagit County Public Health has investigated about one outbreak per week among employees at workplaces.
Is Skagit County meeting the metric? YES
Determining whether it’s safe to reopen is not something Skagit County leadership takes lightly. We’re all eager to open back up fully and return to some sense of normalcy. Skagit County is meeting most metrics—our healthcare system is prepared, our contact tracing team is absolutely incredible—but our case counts are too high for us to proceed.
“We want to reopen, but as the metrics show us, it’s just not safe right now,” said Board of Health Chair Commissioner Ron Wesen. “My colleagues and I will continue to watch the metrics closely, and consult with Public Health. As soon as we are able to do so safely, we will apply to move forward.”
It’s up to all Skagit County residents to do their part to help the county reach Phase 3. We need everyone to practice social distancing and good hand washing; we need everyone who is medically able to wear a mask, even if you find them uncomfortable (we all do!); we need everyone to limit their contact with people they don’t live with. This isn’t easy for anyone. But the more consistent we all are, the sooner we’ll be able to move on. Help us get there.