Prepare Them for Fall; Prepare Them for Life

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Are your kids heading back to school? Whether your child is going to school in person or not, one of the most important things that you can do to prepare them for back-to-school is a visit with their doctor. For many people, the COVID-19 pandemic delayed or pushed back routine doctor visits, including well-child visits and routine vaccinations. Now is the time to get back on track!

Since August is National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM), we figured this would be the perfect time to remind Skagit County families to get caught up on all routine medical appointments! NIAM is an annual observance which highlights the importance of getting recommended vaccines throughout your life.

During NIAM, we encourage you to talk to your doctor or healthcare professional to ensure that you and your family are protected against serious diseases by getting caught up on routine check-ups and vaccinations.

So let’s get ready for back-to-school! Here’s a checklist to help them prepare for a healthy year…

Physical & mental health

During a well-child check, doctors will note a child’s growth and development, based on what’s typical or expected for their age, while also taking into account the child’s personal or family history.

And perhaps of equal importance—and especially so this year—a check-up with your child’s doctor provides a fantastic opportunity to check in on your kiddo’s mental and emotional wellbeing. Talk with your child’s doctor about mental health assessments and discuss any concerns that you may have. We all know that this past year and a half has been tough, so be sure to keep both the head and the heart in mind!

Visit here for more tips on well-child visits.

Vaccinations

One important aspect of the annual visit is to ensure a child’s immunizations are up to date. Vaccinations not only reduce the risk of serious illnesses but also save lives. And vaccinations aren’t only for babies or the very young. As children get older, they will continue to need additional immunizations and booster shots even through adulthood.

As your children head back to school this fall, it’s particularly important for you to work with your child’s doctor or nurse to make sure they get caught up on missed well-child visits and recommended vaccines. For childhood vaccine schedules, check out the links below:

Vaccine Schedule: Birth – 6 Years

Vaccine Schedule: 7 Years – 18 Years

One of the new vaccines this year is, of course, for COVID-19. Children ages 12 and older are now eligible for this vaccination, which will help protect them against the virus and reduce its spread in our communities. To learn more about COVID-19 vaccination, check out the following websites:

Adults: Remember to take care of yourself too! Make sure to receive any vaccines you need to stay healthy. Use CDC’s adult vaccine assessment tool to see which vaccines might be right for you.

Additional exams

In addition to having their overall physical and mental health checked, kids should also have the following special exams on a regular basis:

  • Hearing tests.
  • Vision exams.
  • Dental checkups.
  • For young girls who are going or have gone through puberty, chat with your provider about whether or when they should begin seeing a specialist.

More tips for a healthy year

Here are some more helpful tips to ensure your child is off to a good start this fall:

  • Ease into a fall bedtime schedule.  Good sleep is essential!
  • Know the safety tips for backpack use. Note the fit and keep the weight manageable.
  • Plan lunches and snacks.  Aim for well-balanced nourishing meals.
  • Reduce anxiety and manage stress.  Keep the lines of communication open to talk about what’s on your child’s mind.

Schedule your child’s visit

Now is a good time to call your healthcare provider to schedule a visit for yourself and your children. For those who do not have a healthcare provider or who may be struggling to access healthcare, there is help available.

Help Me Grow Skagit provides a wide range of resources designed to support you and your family. Go to their website or call/ text (360) 630-8352 to talk to a specialist or complete their contact form online.


Calling All Skagitonians! We Need Your Input!

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Every few years, the Population Health Trust is tasked with undergoing a Community Health Assessment (or “CHA”). Through this process, the Trust is able to identify our County’s areas of strength and weakness in regards to the health and wellbeing of our residents.

The CHA is based heavily on data. From this data we are able to better understand what is—and what is not—working for Skagitonians. We compile this data from standard data sources like you can find on SkagitTrends, and for more current data, we partner with community agencies who have strong anecdotal experiences that reflect community need. All this data provides weight and rationale for why the Trust chooses to focus on specific priorities.

But data alone does not drive this ship. The Trust relies on the input and feedback from community members throughout Skagit County.

In a typical CHA cycle, the Trust has collected and analyzed the data, then brought preliminary findings to the public for their thoughts. But this year, we’re doing it a bit differently.

To best serve and respond to the great needs of our constituents, the Trust decided to go to the public first. Based on these initial conversations, the Trust was able to determine the needs and desires most pressing to the public. We were able to learn directly from the people what a healthy, thriving—and recovered—Skagit would look like, and what we would need to do to achieve this outcome.

So now that we’ve taken this information and collected the data necessary to really dive deeply into these topics, the Trust is once again ready for public feedback!

If you are passionate about affecting change in your community; if you feel compelled to weigh in on the health and wellness of Skagit County; if you have creative solutions for difficult challenges: We want you!

Join the Population Health Trust to hear what key sector leaders and other community members have shared with us in a series of interviews and equity panel discussion…and then share your own experiences and perspectives!

Three dates and locations are available for your convenience:

  • Thursday, July 29 – Anacortes Public Library from 5:30-7:00
  • August 3 – Concrete Community Center from 5:30-7:00
  • August 12 – Burlington Senior Center from 12:00-1:30

A light meal will be served. Please wear your mask if unvaccinated.
RSVP is not required but appreciated! To RSVP, email Belen at belenm@co.skagit.wa.us.

Want more info? Email Kristen Ekstran at kekstran@co.skagit.wa.us or call (360) 416-1500.

Hope to see you at one of these events!


Confirmed Cases of Delta Variant in Skagit County: What You Need to Know

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July 15, 2021

Two COVID-19 cases attributed to the delta variant have been identified in Skagit County so far, though it can be assumed that the variant has spread more widely given that sequencing is not done on all tests.

The delta variant has been credited for dramatic increases in COVID-19 cases in other parts of the country and globally due to its increased transmissibility (meaning it spreads more easily). As of June 19, the CDC estimated the delta variant accounted for more than 30% of COVID-19 cases in the US. Two weeks earlier, 10% of cases were attributed to the delta variant.

In Washington, the delta variant accounts for about 28% of sequenced cases – that’s up from about 12% the prior two-week period. Not all cases are sequenced in Washington, so that may not represent the actual statewide proportion of cases due to the delta variant.

“While Skagit County continues to see a downward trend in new COVID-19 cases, it is vital that people continue to use precautions. The detection of these COVID-19 variants in our state proves that this pandemic isn’t over just yet.”

Jennifer Johnson, Skagit County Public Health Director

New variants seem to spread more easily and quickly than other variants, which may lead to more cases of COVID-19. An increase in the number of cases will put more strain on health care resources, lead to more hospitalizations, and potentially more deaths.

The good news is the COVID-19 vaccines are providing protection against the delta variant, particularly against severe illness leading to hospitalization and death. Some precautions to take to decrease the spread of the delta variant—and all currently known COVID-19 variants include:

  • Getting vaccinated as soon as possible if 12 years of age or older! Recent Skagit County data shows that 96% of cases since March 1, 2021 were in unvaccinated individuals. The data tells us that the vaccines work!
    • Note: Vaccination is recommended even for individuals who have already had COVID-19, as experts do not yet know how long people are protected from getting sick again after recovering from COVID-19.
  • If you are not yet vaccinated:
    • Wearing a well-made, well-fitting face mask, even with people you see regularly and in your smallest social circles.
    • Keeping gatherings outside whenever possible.
    • Avoiding any social gatherings indoors, but if participating, wearing a mask and ensuring windows and doors are open to maximize ventilation.
  • For all individuals, staying home if you are sick or if you have been exposed to COVID-19. WA Department of Health data shows that 81% of those vaccinated who experience a breakthrough case are symptomatic. If you feel sick—get tested!
  • Getting tested for COVID-19 if you have symptoms or were exposed to someone who tested positive.

If you are not yet vaccinated, it’s not too late! Visit your nearby pharmacy or medical clinic to get vaccinated against COVID-19; many locations now offer walk-up appointments! You can also call our vaccine hotline at (360) 416-1500 or text your zip code to 438829 (GETVAX) to find locations near you with vaccine available.

You can see the state Department of Health’s variant report, updated every Wednesday, here: https://bit.ly/3ehLzo7


Meet the Population Health Trust, Part two

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Now that Washington State has reopened and our vaccination numbers continue to climb, we will begin to see many changes here in Skagit County. For our businesses, schools, and community organizations, these changes are both exciting and (maybe) a bit overwhelming.

The Skagit Valley Family YMCA experienced the great highs and great lows of the pandemic. Its staff answered the call to action when COVID-19 drive-through testing was in dire need, and again when mass vaccinations began in Skagit County at the Fairgrounds. The YMCA itself closed, then opened partially; ebbing and flowing with the changing tides of the pandemic. Staff had to adapt, modify, and innovate on a dime in order to continue serving local individuals and families. Now that the economy is reopen, staff will once again need to evaluate what this change means for their organization.

To continue introducing Population Health Trust members, we thought that now would be a perfect time to highlight the CEO of the Skagit Valley YMCA, Dean Snider. Dean has been a member of the Trust since January of 2020, right before the pandemic hit. We asked him some questions about COVID, the Trust, and the joint mission of these two entities: Building a better and healthier community. Here is what Dean had to say.

Which agency or organization do you represent on the Trust?

I represent the Skagit Valley Family YMCA. Our Y has served the people of Skagit since 1911 with ‘Building Community’ as our Cause. We support vulnerable youth populations at Oasis and provide water safety education and swimming proficiency for countless youth. In addition, we support families with subsidized licensed and educational childcare throughout the county, and our Hoag Road and Bakerview facilities support healthy living across many programs.

What health topic are you most committed to improving for Skagitonians? 

I think the most important role of the Y is to protect and preserve health for the most vulnerable of our community’s populations. We engage Skagitonians from the earliest years of life to seniors. One of the greatest observed needs in our community, as we emerge from the pandemic, is for services supporting mental health. 

The Skagit Y is exploring how we might be able to step into this gap and offer these much-needed services. With the Oasis Teen Shelter as our launching pad, we hope to build a Y clinical mental health service that is additive to our current Skagit offerings and will begin by serving vulnerable youth. We are currently reaching out to key stakeholders in the community to seek guidance and more fully understand the need as we move forward with our preparations. We welcome all thoughts and feedback.

What have you/your agency been up to during COVID?

The pandemic hit our Y hard. The forced closureof our Hoag Road and Bakerview facilities resulted in about 75% loss in our membership; an understandable savings for families experiencing uncertain financial times. We are welcoming members back now as the restrictions have been lifted, and we are growing back our staff. We have, however, a long way to go toward recovery.

Dean Snider, CEO, Skagit Valley Family YMCA

During the pandemic and in partnership with Community Action, we used the Hoag facility to provide showers for homeless adults and, together with the Burlington Edison School District, provide school-age childcare for essential and emergency workers early in the pandemic.

Last fall, our school-age programs partnered with MVSD, B-ESD, and ASD to provide all-day classrooms and care and assistance in the virtual learning environment. We were able to add our sports program staff to provide much-needed physical activity for students early in 2021. I am proud of our childcare team, who endured this difficult year with courage and grace as they served families under these difficult circumstances. I am also proud that we were able to partner with Children of the Valley to support two additional classrooms housed at their site in Mount Vernon. Additionally, our Early Learning Centers remained open, focusing on essential workers altering class sizes, safety, and cleaning protocols to keep children and families safe.

At Oasis, we continued to serve vulnerable youth throughout the pandemic, which was only made possible through community and individual contributions to support our emergency shelter, outreach, and drop-in center. We continue to seek financial assisdtance as we protect these young people.

Why is the Population Health Trust important?

The impact of the collective is far greater than any single entity can accomplish on its own. The Trust is this collective in Skagit with entities and organizations committed togerther to build a better and healthier community. 

The Trust is essential, and we at the Y are honored to participate together with our Trust colleagues to impact our community. The mission of the Skagit Y is to create positive community change through relationships by empowering the mind, body, and spirit of ALL. Partnering with the Trust is in perfect alignment with this mission.

For more information about the Skagit Valley Family YMCA, visit their website or call (360) 336-9622.


Shellfish Harvesting & Consumption: What You Know To Know

Reading Time: 2 minutes

With the upcoming warm weather and low tides, you might be venturing out to harvest shellfish from one of Skagit County’s many beaches. With the help of a diligent group of volunteer harvesters, Skagit County Public Health routinely monitors samples of clams, oysters and mussels for the toxins that cause Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP), Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning (ASP), and Diarrhetic Shellfish Poison (DSP). 

Consuming shellfish with elevated levels of these marine biotoxins can cause serious illness or death. What begins as a tingling sensation in the lips and tongue can progress to a life-threatening paralysis of the respiratory system. 

Skagit County Public Health works with the Washington State Department of Health to issue beach closures when toxin levels become elevated. Before harvesting shellfish, always check for current beach closures posted on the Shellfish Safety Map or the Marine Biotoxin Bulletin, or call the Marine Biotoxin Hotline at 1-800-562-5632.

Samish Bay Seasonal Vibrio Advisory

The Department of Health has updated the Shellfish Safety map to reflect the seasonal vibrio bacteria advisory for recreational shellfish harvesting in Samish Bay from May 1- September 30, 2021. Vibrio is a bacteria naturally found in marine coastal waters, normally present in low numbers. When the weather warms up, these bacteria multiply rapidly so shellfish are more likely to be contaminated in the summer.

Tips for Safe Shellfish Consumption

There are a variety of other bacterial and viral illnesses caused by consuming contaminated shellfish. Proper cooking of shellfish before eating is always advised. Eat only well-cooked shellfish, especially during summer months. Do not consider shellfish to be fully cooked when the shells first open; shellfish need to cook for longer and must reach 145° F to be safe to eat. Click the link for more information on how to handle, store, and cook shellfish.

Safe Harvesting

  • Just before you leave, check for closures and advisories due to vibrio, biotoxins, and pollution at on the Shellfish Safety Map, by contacting Skagit County Public Health (360-416-1500), or by calling the Biotoxin Hotline at 1-800-562-5632.
  • Harvest shellfish as soon as possible with the receding tide.
  • Don’t harvest shellfish that have been exposed to the sun for more than one hour.
  • Keep shellfish on ice immediately after harvesting.
  • Thoroughly cook shellfish. The internal temperature must reach 145 °F for at least 15 seconds. Cooking shellfish thoroughly destroys vibrio bacteria; however, cooking does not destroy biotoxins.
  • If you need a refresher, here is a guide on shellfish identification.
  • More shellfish safety tips.

For questions about shellfish at beaches in Skagit County, please email Samantha Russell at srussell@co.skagit.wa.us or call 360-416-1500.


That’s a Wrap for the Skagit County Fairgrounds COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic

Reading Time: 5 minutes

This Saturday, June 26th, marks the final day of operation for the Skagit County Fairgrounds COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic. This clinic, run by Skagit County Public Health, has been in operation consistently since December 2020 when the COVID-19 vaccine first became available in Washington state.

Before the Vaccine Site opened, a robust drive-through test site was already operating at the Fairgrounds by Public Health’s crew. In November of 2020, Skagit County Public Health was in desperate need of a new location for its COVID-19 Drive-through Test Site. Severe weather had literally ripped the tents out of the ground at the Test Site’s original location at Skagit Valley College. The Fairgrounds allowed for a safer—and slightly warmer—work environment, which provided a much-needed morale boost for our wind-worn staff.

Once established in the Fairgrounds F-Barn, Public Health quickly got its Test Site back up and running, administering over 10,690 tests until testing operations closed on March 12th, 2021. For a few months, staff was actually running testing and vaccinations at the Fairgrounds simultaneously, with vehicles being directed to all corners of the site by our traffic crew. 

In the early months of vaccine roll-out, supply was extremely limited. Counties and other vaccine providers were receiving weekly shipments from the state, and at times shipments were much smaller than anticipated, or they were delayed due to bad weather. Healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents were prioritized first in December 2020 and January 2021. Eligibility was then expanded by the WA Department of Health to include other at-risk populations, including seniors 65 and older and those 50 years and older living in multigenerational housing.  Childcare providers and K-12 school teachers and staff followed shortly.

People all around Washington were scrambling to find appointments. On one particular Saturday morning, hundreds of appointment slots at the Fairgrounds were grabbed up in only 14 minutes flat!

By March 2021, certain critical workers became eligible for the vaccine, as well as pregnant individuals and those with disabilities over the age of 16. Then, eligibility expanded to all people 60 and older and people 16 and older with two or more co-morbidities.

Finally, all Washingtonians 16 years of age and older became eligible for the vaccine on April 15, 2021, and on May 13, the Pfizer vaccine became available to minors 12-15 years of age in Washington state. At this point, our focus shifted to those who may be less inclined to get the vaccine, or who may have inadequate access.

Public Health launched a Vaccine Hotline early on to help individuals who needed extra assistance in finding a vaccine appointment, offering service in both English and Spanish, six days a week. Staff also worked directly with community partners to ensure that vaccine services were provided equitably for all eligible individuals in our county. The Fairgrounds moved to provide evening and weekend hours on Thursdays and Saturdays to better accommodate our working folks. The site even stopped requiring appointments when it became evident that this step was creating an unnecessary barrier for some.

Staff sought to make the vaccine experience as easy as possible at the Fairgrounds. The drive-through option became a reality once testing wound down in F-Barn, allowing people to get their shot while sitting in their vehicle. At one point, the Fairgrounds even partnered with the Children’s Museum of Skagit County to offer free child-watching services so that parents and caregivers wouldn’t have that extra hurdle.

During its run over the past 6 months, the staff and volunteers at the Fairgrounds Vaccine Clinic administered just over 31,000 doses of the vaccine to eligible Washingtonians, both from Skagit and our neighboring counties.

From the beginning, this site was intended to be a gap filler; a location where people could go if they couldn’t get access to a vaccine through their doctor or pharmacy. But what the Fairgrounds ended up being was so much more. It was a hub, a safe space, and a second home to the hundreds of staff and volunteers who worked in its barns and outbuildings in 2020 and 2021.

The Fairgrounds and its crew saw many ups, downs…and everything in between. After providing COVID tests to thousands of people throughout 2020, it was a huge blessing—and a huge relief—to begin administering the vaccine at the site. The first day of vaccinations felt almost like Christmas morning for some; it felt like for the first time, we had a fighting chance.

So, as the team wraps up service at the Fairgrounds and puts its sights solely on mobile vaccine outreach, we reflect on the bitter sweetness of this moment. Many of us just assumed that our job at the Fairgrounds wouldn’t be over until COVID was done and gone. Maybe we expected our last day would be like a graduation of sorts, where we would rip off our masks and throw them in the air.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 isn’t quite done with us. We must continue to fight the good fight, to take precaution, and to urge our family and friends to get vaccinated.

Though our doors are closing at the Fairgrounds after this Saturday, Public Health isn’t going anywhere. We will be out in the community all summer long providing better, and more convenient access to the vaccine that will help see us out of this mess.

If you are still needing your vaccine and are able to, come see us during our last week at the Fairgrounds. We’ll be open Thursday from 1-7pm and Friday and Saturday from 10am-4pm. You can also find a list of all providers in our area by going to Vaccinate WA.  

But if we don’t see you then, no worries. Check out our website for a list of our upcoming pop-up clinic dates. We’re excited to see you out and about, friends.


Washington State to Reopen SOON!

Reading Time: 3 minutes

As of June 14th, more than 7,528,340 doses of vaccine have been given across the state and more than 4.1 million people have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Washington is getting closer to its 70% initiation goal set by Governor Inslee. The state currently sits at 67.8% of Washingtonians 16 and older who have initiated vaccination, meaning they have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine.

June 30th or when we hit 70%.

The Governor has stated that Washington will fully reopen on June 30th, though the state could reopen sooner if the 70% initiation goal is met. To reopen before June 30th, at least 70% of people 16 and older need to receive at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

This is an extremely exciting time for many of us, as we begin to see things go back to normal. But with reopening comes great responsibility! It is important to remember as things open back up that we must proceed responsibly and with care and respect for those who are not yet vaccinated and for those who are at increased risk.

Reopening & what to expect:

What happens on June 30th or when we hit 70%?

The state will be open for business and recreation, and people who are vaccinated can go along with their regular lives for the most part. Unvaccinated people will need to continue wearing masks indoors. Most businesses get to operate as they did in January of 2020, with the caveat that they’re following workplace safety requirements (which come from Labor & Industries). Restaurants, bars, bowling alleys, and grocery stores are going to be fully open.

Are there any exceptions to reopening?

The one major public sector that will continue to have some limits is large-scale events that the governor just released guidance for. Events that are indoors with 10k or more people must be limited to 75% occupancy or require vaccination and follow mask requirements.

Higher risk congregant settings like healthcare, long term care facilities, or places where many people are not yet able to be vaccinated like childcare, day camps, K-12 must follow different guidance. In these settings, masking is still required, even among fully vaccinated persons.

Will unvaccinated people still need to wear a mask?

The Secretary of Health’s mask order remains in place, which means that unvaccinated people need to continue to mask in public. This helps protect not only those who are unvaccinated, but also vulnerable children who are not yet able to be vaccinated and others with auto-immune or other conditions that prevent them from being vaccinated.

Can businesses still require people to wear a mask after restrictions are lifted?

Yes, counties and businesses can be more strict and enforce masking, distancing and handwashing, etc. – whatever is appropriate in those spaces.

The situation in Skagit.

In Skagit County, 63.6% of our population 16 years and older have initiated vaccination. From data on the state dashboard, we can see that roughly 81% of our population 65+ have initiated and 64% of people 50-64 have initiated vaccination. The greatest room for growth would be amongst Skagitonians ages 12-49; the smallest percentage being those 12-17 years of age.

“We’re calling all our young adults and families with tweens and teens to get vaccinated now. It wouldn’t take much to get the state over the 70 percent threshold. We could see things reopen in the next few days if all eligible people would access their vaccine now.”

Jennifer Johnson, Skagit County Public Health Director

Getting your vaccine.

There continues to be many opportunities to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in Skagit County. Getting a vaccine is free, easy, and now—more convenient than ever!

The Skagit County Fairgrounds Clinic is still offering vaccines to anyone 12 and older, though the site closes permanently after June 26th to allow Public Health to focus on mobile outreach and pop-up clinics. To access a Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the Fairgrounds, drop by on Thursday from 1-7pm or Friday/Saturday from 10am-4pm.

A list of all upcoming mobile pop-up clinics can be found on Public Health’s website: www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine. All pop-ups are available to anyone 12+, unless indicated on the webpage. No appointments are required for these dates and locations.

If none of the above options suit your needs, other vaccine providers and locations can be found at Vaccinate WA or by calling the DOH help line at 1-800-525-0127.

For more information.

WA DOH: https://www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/COVID19/FrequentlyAskedQuestions

Governor’s Office: http://Governor’s Office: https://www.governor.wa.gov/issues/issues/covid-19-resources/covid-19-reopening-guidance

Percentages come from combining data from the Washington State Immunization Information System (IIS) and aggregate data from the Department of Defense (DoD) and Veterans Affairs (VA). To access state and county level vaccine data, go to the state Dashboard at: https://www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/COVID19/DataDashboard.


Eat & Be Well: Food Safety Tips from Public Health

Reading Time: 3 minutes

This past Monday, June 7th, was World Food Safety Day. The United Nations has declared this day to draw global attention to the health consequences of contaminated food and water. Food safety and illness prevention and investigation are some of Public Health’s primary functions here in Skagit County, so we’d like to take this time to share some food safety tips with you!

But first…What is Foodborne Illness?

Foodborne illness often presents itself as flu-like symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or fever, so many people may not recognize the illness is caused by bacteria or other pathogens in food. Thousands of types of bacteria are naturally present in our environment.

Not all bacteria cause disease in humans. For example, some bacteria are used beneficially in making cheese and yogurt. Bacteria that cause disease are called pathogens. When certain pathogens enter the food supply, they can cause foodborne illness. Millions of cases of foodborne illness occur each year. Most cases of foodborne illness can be prevented. Proper cooking or processing of food destroys bacteria.

How Bacteria Get in Food?

Bacteria may be present on products when you purchase them. Plastic-wrapped boneless chicken breasts and ground meat, for example, were once part of live chickens or cattle. Raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs are not sterile. Neither is fresh produce such as lettuce, tomatoes, sprouts, and melons. Foods, including safely cooked, ready-to-eat foods, can become cross-contaminated with bacteria transferred from raw products, meat juices or other contaminated products, or from food handlers with poor personal hygiene.

So how do you keep your food safe and pathogen free?

There are Four Steps to Food Safety: Clean, Separate, Cook, Chill.

1. Clean

  • Germs that cause food poisoning can survive in many places and spread around your kitchen.
  • Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water before, during, and after preparing food and before eating.
  • Wash your utensils, cutting boards, and countertops with hot, soapy water.
  • Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running water.

2. Separate

Raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs can spread germs to ready-to-eat foods—unless you keep them separate. Here are some tips for avoiding cross-contamination:

  • Use separate cutting boards and plates for raw meat, poultry, and seafood.
  • When grocery shopping, keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and their juices away from other foods.
  • Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from all other foods in the fridge.

3. Cook

Food is safely cooked when the internal temperature gets high enough to kill germs that can make you sick. The only way to tell if food is safely cooked is to use a food thermometer. You can’t tell if food is safely cooked by checking its color and texture.

Use a food thermometer to ensure foods are cooked to a safe internal temperature. Check this chart for a detailed list of foods and temperatures.

  • 145°F for whole cuts of beef, pork, veal, and lamb (then allow the meat to rest for 3 minutes before carving or eating)
  • 160°F for ground meats, such as beef and pork
  • 165°F for all poultry, including ground chicken and turkey
  • 165°F for leftovers and casseroles
  • 145°F for fresh ham (raw)
  • 145°F for fin fish or cook until flesh is opaque

4. Chill

  • Keep your refrigerator at 40°F or below and know when to throw food out.  
  • Refrigerate perishable food within 2 hours. (If outdoor temperature is above 90°F, refrigerate within 1 hour.)
  • Thaw frozen food safely in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave. Never thaw foods on the counter, because bacteria multiply quickly in the parts of the food that reach room temperature.
  • Bacteria can multiply rapidly if left at room temperature or in the “Danger Zone” between 40°F and 140°F. Never leave perishable food out for more than 2 hours (or 1 hour if it’s hotter than 90°F outside).

For more information, visit our webpage here! To submit a question, report a health hazard or concern to Environmental Health, go to our online feedback page.

You can also find other helpful information here:


Women’s Health Week

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Rosemary Alpert, contributing author

The month of May welcomes blossoming lilacs, budding apple trees and more sunshine. Along with the second Sunday of May, set aside in in recognition of the mothers, and women who have been like mothers, in our lives. The week that follows has been designated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as, “National Women’s Health Week,” May 9-15, 2021. A time to acknowledge and celebrate the strength, resilience and health of women. Check in with ourselves and ask, “How are we doing?” especially these days. 

One of my oldest friends, who will be turning 100 years old this coming October, has lived by this simple wisdom, she reminds me, “Put your oxygen mask on first, otherwise, you’re not going to able to care for anyone else.” How true are these words. As women, we often put ourselves last while taking care of others. Whether that be the care of children, elderly parents, community, even our pets. Sometimes we forget the importance of our personal care. In no way is selfcare being selfish; rather, it is self-preservation.  

This past year, while enduring the pandemic, we have altered, adjusted and reinvented ways of engaging.  At times, this has been exhaustingly stressful, wearing on us in various ways. Maybe we haven’t kept up with our routine healthcare checkups, or the isolation from family, friends and community has taken its toll on our mental health. We have all been affected in one way or another.  

Let’s pause, acknowledge the challenges we have experienced, and reevaluate our present state of health. Are we finding a balance in our days? Are we getting outside and moving our bodies in the sunshine? Are we getting enough sleep? If we are feeling out of balance, it is never too late to regroup and start fresh. Selfcare is an ongoing daily practice.  

During this week (and every week!), let’s make our health a priority. The Office on Women’s Health has listed a few important points and suggestions for our ongoing selfcare and preservation during this critical time in our lives. 

Here are some important considerations for our wellbeing, taking care of our physical and mental health: 

  • Continue to protect yourself from COVID-19 by wearing a mask that covers your nose and mouth, watching your distance, washing your hands often, and getting a COVID-19 vaccination when available. 
  • Schedule your COVID-19 vaccination or any vaccinations you or your family might have missed during the pandemic. If you have questions about vaccines, talk with your healthcare provider. Making sure to get information from reliable sources. In addition to Skagit County Public Health, you can find locations to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at: https://vaccinefinder.org/search.  
  • Keep up with your preventive care, PAP smears, mammograms, stress tests, cholesterol and blood pressure screenings.  
  • Stay active! Spend time outside, especially in the sunshine (don’t forget the sunblock!) and be active for 30 minutes a day. This is great for our well-being. Move your body, incorporating exercise that builds and strengthens your muscles. Find what works for you based on your abilities, age and stage of life. Explore and have fun. 
  • Eat well-balanced meals and snacks. Heart-healthy eating involves choosing certain foods, such as fruits and vegetables, while limiting others, such as saturated and trans fats and added sugars. It’s important to ensure you are getting enough vitamins in your diet, like vitamin D. Good dietary sources of vitamin D include fortified foods such as milk, yogurt, orange juice, and cereals; oily fish such as salmon, rainbow trout, canned tuna, and sardines; and eggs. Calcium is an important nutrient for your bone health across the lifespan. 
  • Practice good sleep habits to improve your mental and physical health and boost your immune system. Follow a routine for going to sleep, and be consistent going to bed and getting up, even on weekends. Try to get at least seven hours sleep. 
  • If you are experiencing stress, anxiety or depression, please reach out to a health professional, especially if this is getting in the way of your daily activities. Pay attention to your mood changes. If you or anyone you know is experiencing changes in thinking, mood, behavior, and/or having thoughts of self-harm, reach out for help: SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357). SAMHSA’s (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders. 
  • Monitor alcohol intake and avoid illicit drugs, including drugs that are not prescribed to you. 
  • Look out for your lungs: quit smoking or vaping. Smoking weakens your lungs and puts you at a much higher risk of having serious health complications, especially if you have COVID-19. 
  • Seek help if you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is a 24/7 confidential service that supports victims and survivors of domestic violence. The hotline can be reached by phone at: 1-800-799-7233(SAFE), by text by texting LOVEIS to 22522, or via online chat at https://www.thehotline.org, select “Chat Now.” Highly trained, experienced advocates offer support, crisis intervention information, educational services and referral services in more than 200 languages. The website provides information about domestic violence, online instructional materials, safety planning, and local resources. 

Now is the time to take care of ourselves, so we can be supportive and present for our families and friends, and so we can contribute to our community with healthy, loving kindness. Stepping outside to smell the lilacs, soak up the sunshine and celebrate each day for the gift it truly is.  

“Lilacs” 
©Rosemary DeLucco Alpert, 2021 

The Population Health Trust: Here For You

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Recently, Skagit County’s Board of Health convened to discuss the health and wellness of our community during these unprecedented times. During the two-hour virtual meeting, the Population Health Trust (Trust) provided detailed information about the current state of our collective health and outlined the services already at play that address areas of concern.

Toward the end of the meeting, the Trust put forth the following question: “What are our most pressing needs right now?

A list of concerns was provided to the Board of Health; a series of issues that were brought to the Trust’s attention over the past several months by community members just like you. Through interviews, surveys and panel discussions, the Trust was able to put together this list, and now, it is time for action.

But you may be wondering, “What is the Population Health Trust, anyway, and what does it do?” Here is some information about the Trust, who the group is comprised of, and what it has achieved thus far.

What is the Trust?

In 2015, the Skagit County Board of Health appointed their first advisory committee to guide Public Health and our community in working together for health improvement. This committee, known as the Population Health Trust Advisory Committee (Trust), is a group of community leaders with a shared commitment to improve the quality of life for all residents of Skagit County.

Who are its members?

Some of our current and past Trust members. New membership photos coming soon!

The Trust is staffed by Public Health but its membership is made up of a group of folks who represent many different sectors of the community. It is a coalition of community leaders who have the knowledge, expertise, and—in many cases—the authority to affect major change. Afterall, to make a big community-wide impact, policies and systems are a powerful place to start. For a list of some current and past Trust members, visit the webpage here.

What does the Trust do?

The Trust conducts a Community Needs Assessment every five years. This is an opportunity for community partners to get together, analyze data and trends, determine areas of strength and need for improvement, and formulate a plan of action. It is also an opportunity for community leaders to ask the public questions like: “What could we do to improve your quality of life here in Skagit County?

From there, the Trust can put forth a list of priorities: the areas that will be worked on over the next several years.

A perfect example of the Trust’s ability to listen to the needs of the community is the Needs Assessment process that took place back in 2015. When they asked the community what the most pressing concern was, the Trust heard a resounding plea for more action around the opioid crisis. The Opioid Workgroup Leadership Team was created to respond to this plea, resulting in a host of new partnerships and policy changes that directly impacted the lives of Skagitonians.

COVID-19 and the Trust

The Trust is now in the midst of a new assessment cycle, and the timing couldn’t be more opportune. Our community—like so many others—has felt the major effects of COVID-19. Our businesses, families, children, and schools have faced incredible, and life-changing, challenges since last spring, and help is greatly needed. The Trust has heard from the community that there is an urgent need for behavioral health supports, like mental health and substance use services, a more robust workforce to address behavioral health needs, and wrap-around services for youth and young adults. The Trust is listening and is ready, willing, and able to respond.

Where to find more information?

If you would like more information about how the Trust works or what is currently being done to address the pandemic in Skagit County, please visit: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/PHTAC or call Public Health at (360) 416-1500.

Also, keep your eyes open for Community Forums in the fall! Just like with the first assessment, the Trust will be seeking your feedback on the data, goals and strategies designed to help Skagit come out of the pandemic better and stronger than ever.