Celebrating Safely This Easter

Reading Time: 3 minutes

“Here comes Peter Cottontail, Hoppin’ down the bunny trail, Hippity, hoppity, Easter’s on its way…”

Spring is here, the tulips are blooming, and Easter is just a hop-skip and a jump away. Spring is an exciting time—especially in the Skagit Valley—as we say “see ya later” to winter and begin planning for the warmer days ahead.

After a relatively dreary winter season, I’m eager to begin putting together spring and summer plans for my family. Like most, we’ve been essentially homebound this past year, and now that more and more people have gotten vaccinated, I’m feeling excited for what the next several months may bring.

That said, we still have a little ways to go until things can really open up again. COVID-19 is still spreading in our community, and with the new variants that we’re seeing across the state, it remains vitally important that we continue to use precaution.

So, what does that mean for Easter this coming Sunday?

The CDC continues to recommend staying home and postponing travel at this time. Doing so remains the best way to protect yourself and others this springtime. The recommendations are the same as they’ve been for a while: Limit your gatherings, keep a 6-foot distance, avoid unnecessary travel, wear a facemask, and wash your hands frequently.

Skagit County—and the rest of the state—is currently in Phase 3 of the Roadmap to Recovery, which means that indoor social and at-home gatherings have increased to 10 people from outside your household, and outdoor social and at-home gatherings have increased to a maximum of 50 people. When gathering, remember to wear your mask and practice safe distancing from non-household members.

The CDC’s recommendations are slightly different for those who have completed their series of COVID-19 vaccinations and have waited two weeks after their final dose. That said, everyone must continue to do everything that they can to end the pandemic until more is understood about how the vaccines will affect the spread of COVID-19 and how long protection lasts for those who have been vaccinated.

If you intend to travel for Easter (or at any time this spring or summer), please keep current travel recommendations and restrictions in mind. It is still recommended that Washingtonians avoid unnecessary travel when possible and delay travel if the traveler is experiencing signs of COVID-19 or has been recently exposed to someone with COVID-19. After all, travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19.

If you must travel, the CDC offers the following steps to protect yourself and others:

  • If you are eligible, get fully vaccinated for COVID-19.
  • Before you travel, get tested with a viral test 1-3 days before your trip.
  • Wear a mask over your nose and mouth when in public.
  • Avoid crowds and stay at least 6 feet (about 2 arm lengths) from anyone who did not travel with you.
  • Get tested 3-5 days after your trip and stay home and self-quarantine for a full 7 days after travel, even if your test is negative. If you don’t get tested, stay home and self-quarantine for 10 days after travel.
  • Follow all state and local recommendations or requirements after travel.

This news most likely isn’t what you were hoping for, especially since this is our second COVID Easter. However, compared to 2020 (ugh!), we have a lot more opportunities to celebrate safely this year!

If you’re feeling like me, you may be itching to make this year’s festivities a bit more…festive? The mom guilt is strong and I’m looking for new (and safe) ways to make Easter fun for my family. For those looking to shake up the usual “Easter egg and chocolate” routine, there are some great ideas online! This is the perfect year to try an Easter-themed Nature Scavenger Hunt or an Easter Egg Relay Race.

Looking to do something out of the house and in the community? Check out Skagit Kid Insider’s EASTER EGG HUNTS & ACTIVITIES GUIDE for some local events taking place this Easter weekend. If you decide to take part, please remember to wear your mask and follow all COVID-19 guidelines.

Hoppy Easter!


Thanksgiving Planning for Safer Gatherings

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Thanksgiving has always been a holiday full of planning: When should you start thawing the turkey? How many seats will you need at the table? And who—WHO?!—is bringing the pumpkin pie? While this year’s festivities will obviously be different, there will still be some planning involved.

If you have been watching the news, you know that there is a surge in COVID-19 cases right now—not only in Washington State, but throughout the United States. With the colder weather drawing people indoors, and the greater likelihood of transmission in enclosed spaces, it isn’t a surprise that cases have gone up. We also know that COVID-19 cases typically spike in the weeks following holidays when a lot of gatherings of non-household members take place.

With these factors in play, we must ask the uncomfortable question: Should Thanksgiving be canceled or postponed this year? It is a question, at least, to think critically on. After all, the Public Health recommendation continues to be that gatherings should be limited to reduce the risk of transmission.

However, if your family chooses to gather despite these recommendations, there are harm reduction practices that should be put into place. If you decide to gather, there’s always a risk of spreading COVID-19 infection. You can help lessen this risk through pre-planning, conversations, and some trade-offs.

The Washington Department of Health has a great safety checklist for those planning to gather this holiday season. It comes down to three steps: 1) planning before; 2) planning during; and 3) planning after.

Before You Gather

  • Have “the conversation.” Get really clear with friends and family about how you will make safety a priority when spending time together. Set some ground rules that will help everyone know what to expect. View a sample conversation guide
  • Review your guest list. Are there people who may be in a high-risk category or children? Think about special needs and precautions as part of your planning.
  • Check your space and gather outside if possible. Is there room to spread out, at least 6 feet (2m) from people you don’t live with? If no, is there an outdoor space, like a park where you could meet? If outside, will there be restrooms people can use? If inside, be sure your space is well ventilated by opening windows. Remind guests to wear warm clothes!
  • Right-size your guest list. Limit the number of guests based on the number allowed in your county per the Safe Start Plan, and the outdoor or indoor space available that allows you to be 6-feet apart.
  • Do a health check. Ask if anyone has had symptoms such as cough, fever or shortness of breath, in the last 2 weeks. Ask guests to check their temperature before arriving. Anyone with a fever—or who has had other symptoms, or knows they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 within the last two weeks—should stay home.
  • Consider the children. Kids have trouble playing 6 feet apart, so wearing masks and frequent hand-washing may be the safest plan of action. Remember: Kids under 2 should never wear masks! 
  • Make a food plan. Talk through details like how food will be shared. The safest option is to have everyone bring their own food. If sharing, separate food ahead of time into individual servings and forgo communal bowls and utensils. Find more tips about food prep in the FAQs.
  • Clean, clean, clean. If you’re hosting, frequently disinfect surfaces that people may encounter during their visit. 
  • Consider pre-event quarantine. Can all participants (including yourself) self-quarantine for 14 days before the gathering?
  • Get tested. If you have been around many other people or do not regularly wear a mask, get a COVID-19 test to make sure you’re negative. Take into account that it can take a few days to receive test results. If you test negative, you still need to wear a mask and keep your distance from others when you socialize. 

While You Gather

  • Wash early and often. Ask adults and kids to wash hands on arrival, before and after eating, and before they leave with soap for at least 20 seconds. If there is no access to a sink, provide hand sanitizer. 
  • Gather outdoors if at all possible. If indoors, open windows to increase ventilation.
  • Mask up. Wear a face covering at all times when not eating. Consider having extra masks on hand if people forget.
  • Separate servings. Avoid communal food and sharing utensils, even with babies and young children. Don’t share drinks.
  • Avoid close contact. Smiles and air hugs only, and prepare kids ahead of time to do the same.

After You Gather

  • Wash hands (again). Wash for 20 seconds with soap and water.
  • Sanitize. Clean all surfaces that may have been touched by guests such as tabletops, counters, doorknobs and bathroom fixtures, with soap and water first, and then a disinfecting agent. 
  • Watch for symptoms. Alert others at the gathering if there’s a positive test among anyone in attendance. Learn more about what to do if you’ve been exposed.

If you are reading the above steps and feeling absolutely overwhelmed, you aren’t alone! And if the idea of canceling or postponing your Thanksgiving plans feels heartbreaking, that is an entirely normal response. During normal times, the fall and winter months are wonderful times to gather. So, limiting and changing the way in which we gather with family and friends isn’t easy. It may cause feelings of stress, anxiety or depression.

In the end, it is up to you and your family to decide what your Thanksgiving holiday should look like. But it is also important for us all to think hard about what really matters most to us. So even though the holidays may look a bit different this year, we know that our actions—as well as some planning—can go a long way in keeping all of us safe and healthy this winter.

If you are experiencing stress due to COVID-19, call the Washington Listens line at 833-681-0211 for support and resources.


Halloween How To’s: Let’s Get Creative!

Reading Time: 3 minutes

One of the things that has kept me going mentally over the past six months has been my garden. Trust me…this thing is nothing to write home about! But it gives me a sense of pride when I look out from my window and I see the tall stalks of our corn blowing in the wind. While I haven’t been able to control a lot since March, I know that this little space I’ve created will be there every day, ready to be watered and weeded. The champions of my garden, without a doubt, have been my pumpkins. I’ve watched these things grow from tiny green balls, to beautiful orange spheres. I’ve been waiting with so much anticipation for October so I can finally cut them off the vine and bring them into our home. Halloween, here we come!

With our Health Officer’s recent announcement about in-person trick-or-treating, along with recommendations from the CDC, I will be honest: I was disappointed. It is okay to feel this way (something I tell myself frequently), and it is normal to mourn our “normal” holiday traditions. That being said, to dwell on this would do a great disservice to ourselves and our loved ones.

So traditional in-person trick-or-treating isn’t happening this year? Okay. There is so much that we can still do—and still control—despite these challenges.

So let’s explore these creative options!

1. Decorate your house and/or yard. You can even hold a contest with your neighbors and vote on the spookiest house!

2. Carve your pumpkins in the front yard this year and have your neighbors do the same. Enjoy this holiday tradition with other families, while keeping a safe distance. Play some Halloween-themed music (Monster Mash, anyone?), and do your best Thriller moves.

3. Coordinate a Halloween scavenger hunt by giving your kids a list of Halloween-themed decorations to look for while they walk outdoors (think cobwebs, ghosts, and black cats).

Make it a bingo game and use this template, or create your own!

4. Hold a virtual costume party via video chat with family or friends. Hold a contest for most creative, scariest, sparkliest, best overall, etc.

5. Exchange candy with a few families you know. Do a drop-off delivery at their doorstep for a Halloween surprise for the kids. If you are preparing goodie bags, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 second before and after preparing the bags.

6. Trick-or-treat inside your home—or in the yard—by hiding candy for your kids to find. A few jump-scares may be in order for older kids (so long as this is something that they would find enjoyable!).

7. Have a spooky movie night or Halloween craft party with the family. Call your local library and ask to have some Halloween-themed DVDs or books put together, and pick them up using the library’s curbside pick-up.

If none of these strike your fancy, ask around and see what other people might be planning. Get creative and try some new things. Who knows…you may incorporate some of these 2020 Halloween activities into your future holiday traditions! For some more helpful insights into COVID-safe holiday fun, visit the CDC’s holiday page. Take care of yourself, and happy haunting!

Note: Skagit County’s Health Officer has recommended against in-person trick-or-treating this year because it “presents too much of a risk for widespread community transmission.” We realize that there may be families who still participate this year, despite the recommendation. For those who intend to trick-or-treat, it is imperative that the following health precautions be taken.

Handing out candy:

  • Offer no-contact treats by bagging up separate treats and placing them away from your front door or in your yard or near the sidewalk. Allow trick-or-treaters to gather candy while remaining physically distanced.
  • If you are preparing bags of candy, wash your hands well before and after preparing the bags. 

Trick-or-treating:

  • Do not substitute a Halloween mask for a face covering. Wear an approved face mask. Find one that fits in with your costume!
  • Maintain six feet of distance from other trick-or-treaters or residents who are handing out candy.
  • If you are trick-or-treating with others outside your household, keep six feet of distance between yourselves.
  • Stay away from large costume parties or trick-or-treating events.
  • Bring plenty of hand sanitizer with you.

Fall Festivities in 2020

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been eyeing our local pumpkin patches over the last week or two. While I’m not a big pumpkin spice consumer, there is little else that gets me excited like fall festivities. So when I read Governor Inslee’s recent updates to agritourism guidance, I was thrilled!

Based on these updates, things like u-pick farms, pumpkin patches, hayrides, and Christmas tree farms are now allowable in all Washington State counties, regardless of their current phase of re-opening. While this is exciting news, it is important to keep in mind that these locations must adhere to specific requirements, including social distancing and sanitation measures. 

What this means is that a lot of time and attention has been put into making these activities safe and fun for you, and your family! So what are some things to keep in mind, you ask?

Call in advance

As part of the new social distancing measures, our local farms and festivals will need to have procedures for spacing out the crowds. Timed entrance or advanced registration may be something we’ll see this year, and activities like hayrides and corn mazes may be ticketed in order to avoid people congregating in lines.

To be prepared for possible changes, call in advance or take a look at the company’s website. I know from experience that there is little worse than having a car full of excited kids, just to find out that you needed to have called in advance for an admission time!

Plan ahead

Along the same lines of calling in advance to find out about entrance, it may be helpful to do a little digging about what will be available when you get there. Will there be public restrooms available? How about food? Pack what you’ll need, including snacks, hand sanitizer, and water.

Do the usual

Mask up, keep your distance, and don’t go if you’re feeling sick. Enough said.

Respect the space

Talk to your children about expectations around keeping their distance, and try to avoid crowding around places like bathrooms, photo op locations, and food counters. Even though you’re outside, it is still really important to keep 6 feet (or more) between yourself and other groups.

Have a happy, healthy, and fantastic fall season!


I’m traveling and I might be sick … what do I do?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

COVID-19 spreads quickly between individuals when in close contact with each other, like when on airplanes, trains or in cars. Sitting in close contact with anyone you don’t live with for a prolonged period of time puts you at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Further, when driving long distances, you increase the likelihood that you’ll come into contact with more people than you normally would (stopping at gas stations or rest areas when driving, getting food, etc…).

This is why Public Health strongly discourages people from traveling outside of their immediate geographic area right now. We’ve said it repeatedly: Now is not the time to go see Grandma in Arizona or travel to your cousin’s wedding in Missouri. In fact, we wouldn’t even encourage you to get lunch with a friend in Seattle right now.

However, our case investigation data is showing that people are still traveling, and unfortunately, some are getting sick. Some of this travel is essential, like for work or to care for an ill family member. But all travel puts the traveler, the communities they visit, and their home community and family at risk. So, we feel compelled to explain what one should do if they’re far from home and start to get that cough and fever (or any other COVID-19 symptom) we all dread right now.

First, and most importantly: DO NOT TRY TO GET HOME.

If you’ve got symptoms, you need to hunker down wherever you are and do your best not to expose anyone else to the illness. Do not go to the store, do not let housekeeping clean your hotel room, and do not get back on an airplane. When you’re symptomatic, especially in the first days, it’s likely you’re highly contagious. You have a personal responsibility to not be in close contact with other people and not put them at risk of contracting COVID-19.

Related to this, anyone in your travel party (or any other close contacts you’ve had) shouldn’t travel or continue to be around other people either. The average person is contagious two days before symptoms present, so anyone you’ve been in close contact with (sharing a car, hotel room, sitting next to each other on airplane, etc.) has likely already contracted COVID-19 by the time your symptoms start to present. They also have a responsibility to not put anyone at risk and quarantine themselves so that COVID-19 doesn’t further spread to others

Second: Seek testing and, if you need it, medical care.

Wherever you are at, some kind of medical care should be available. If you have active symptoms, get tested as soon as possible. If you are the travel companion of a person with symptoms, wait 6-8 days after your companion’s symptoms started, and then seek testing.

Third: Cooperate with contact tracers.

It’s likely that if you’ve been traveling, you’ve come into contact with others who may now also be infected. Sharing that information with contact tracers is vital to prevent a cluster from growing. The information you share is confidential.  

Fourth: If your test comes back positive, you will need to isolate.

You will need to isolate for at least 10 days since the onset of symptoms (or test date, if you are asymptomatic). It is absolutely vital that you or anyone you have been traveling in close contact with do not get on an airplane, or any other sort of public transportation, during this time.

As you can see, traveling does not just increase your risk of getting sick, it also increases your risk of being stuck away from home while you are sick. This could mean out-of-network medical bills, prolonged hotel stays, and a need to change travel plans, which could be costly. This is not to mention being far from your support networks and trusted medical care. If you are choosing to travel right now, you need to have a plan in place to ensure you can quarantine or isolate wherever you are headed if the need arises.

If you are stuck somewhere and are unable to safely stay where you are, Public Health recommends renting a car and driving home. It will be important that you stop as little as possible, wear a mask whenever you have to get out of a car and try to sanitize anything you touch as you go. Every time you get out of the car, you risk exposing others to the virus—the customers and workers at the gas station or restaurant, housekeeping at the hotel, etc. Again, it’s important to remember that even if you’re the only one in your travel party exhibiting symptoms, it’s likely that your whole travel party is already infected and also contagious. Everyone needs to take the same level of precautions.

COVID-19 has taken a lot of things away from us, travel being one of them. Please, act responsibly so we can take care of each other and get back to normal as soon as possible.


Your Choices Matter: Gather Safe, Gather Small This Labor Day

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Over the last two weeks, we have seen a reduction in the number of new cases each day in Skagit County and throughout Washington State—and that’s great! But context matters. With Labor Day coming up, Public Health is concerned that we could see another spike in cases related to social and family gatherings. About ten days after every major holiday since the start of the pandemic, we have seen a fairly significant spike in cases, mostly related to gatherings. Unless folks continue to make good choices, we expect Labor Day will be no exception.

So, what can you do over Labor Day weekend to ensure that cases don’t increase in the following weeks?

Just think: Gather safe, gather small.

What is “Gather small”?

Gathering small means gathering with no more than five people you don’t live with in any given week. Skagit County is in Phase 2 of the Safe Start—Reopening Washington plan, under which you are not allowed to gather with more than five people you don’t live with each week. This means that if you have dinner with four people on Friday night (or any weeknight leading up to Labor Day), you can only see one additional person throughout Labor Day weekend.

Gather small

What is “Gather safe?

We’d all like there to be a silver bullet, but gathering safe means following Public Health and Washington State Department of Health guidelines for mask wearing, social distancing and hand hygiene. As a reminder:

  • Masks should be worn any time you’re in the company of someone you don’t live with. This includes outdoor activities, private social gatherings, and indoor interactions. Masks reduce the likelihood of transmission by up to 70 percent. If you’re going to gather at all, wear a mask.
  • Host gatherings outside and keep six feet apart from anyone you don’t live with. COVID-19 travels when a person coughs, talks, sneezes, sings, etc. Staying six feet apart reduces the likelihood that someone’s infected particles will get into your system and vice versa.
  • Wash or sanitize your hands frequently. Have a hand sanitizer setup that people can easily access.
  • Ideally, plan your gathering without food at all. Consumption of food requires removing your mask, and once the masks come off, it’s hard to get people to put it back on. If you want to have food, don’t share. At all. Labor Day and other upcoming holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas are times where we would typically share a meal with our loved ones and friends, but it is safest to not share communal food or drinks right now. Have folks bring their own food and drink or prepare separate plates for everyone—no shared potlucks during the pandemic.
  • Make a plan ahead of time and talk about boundaries. Set out chairs and/or tables with proper distance prior to arrival. Talk about keeping masks on and maintaining six feet of distance before you commit to the gathering. Let guests know they should not come inside to help with any food prep and what will happen if they need to use the restroom.
  • Assess your personal risk and comfort and show compassion for others who may need to set firmer boundaries.
  • Also, don’t attend if you feel any ill at all. It’s not worth the risk.
Gather safe

We all want cases to continue trending downward. Looking toward the fall flu season, some school districts going back to in-person session, and everyone spending more time indoors and in enclosed spaces, it’s vital that we get the virus under control—now. Please, make good choices this holiday weekend and gather safe, gather small. Every one of us has a chance to make a difference.


4th of July

This year’s July 4th – Tips for a fun and safe holiday

Reading Time: 2 minutes

While pets and wild animals everywhere rejoice, many Skagitonians are disappointed that July 4th community fireworks displays have been canceled due to COVID-19. This is just one more thing that the pandemic has taken away from us!

But all is not lost! It won’t feel exactly the same, but there are still fun ways to celebrate our nation’s independence. Here’s a short list of alternative ways to commemorate the United States’ 244th birthday, while maintaining social distancing and following Phase 2 guidelines so we can all get through the holiday safe and healthy.

What NOT to doWhat you CAN do instead
Invite a large group of friends, extended family or neighbors over for a backyard barbeque.Keep your gatherings limited to no more than 5 non-household members, stay outside, wear a mask when you’re near others, and skip the potluck or buffet-style meals; it’s not ideal, but everyone should bring their own food and drinks. And it can’t hurt to keep hand sanitizer in close reach and use it often!Family challenge: Who can make the most delicious and creative red, white and blue treat? Click here for some inspiration.WATER BALLOON FIGHT! Water balloon dodgeball?First Annual Lawn Games Olympics. Bocce, long jump, DIY obstacle course, whatever you want! THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE CHAMPION!Gather around a fire pit and roast marshmallows. Maybe try some of these gourmet s’mores recipes!
Go to a fireworks display where non-household members have gathered.Set off your own (legal!) fireworks or light sparklers with your family. Keep a bucket or water or a hose nearby, just in case. Involve your kids in making a holiday craft. Maybe paint a flowerpot red, white and blue, or create a festive wreath (out of fabric, pompoms, pinwheels, or whatever!) for the front door.Watch a patriotic or America-themed movie. Disney+ will be streaming a filmed version of the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton” starting July 3rd. And of course, there’s always “Independence Day.”Go somewhere dark and watch for shooting stars. It still gets cold at night, so dress warmly and bring along hot chocolate and blankets.
Attend a July 4th parade.Take a scenic drive east on the North Cascades Highway, where you’re bound to see some bald eagles.Visit a nearby state or national park (check if they’re open first). Just be sure to maintain social distancing and bring a mask, hand sanitizer, snacks and water with you. Keep in mind that bathroom facilities may not be open, so … be prepared.Gather your family and put on your own parade for the neighborhood. Pinterest has lots of ideas for DIY noisemakers, and here are a few more.Go on a virtual tour of all 50 states in our beautiful country. You can even visit the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia or Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. This list is a good place to start.

It’s going to look a little different this year, but you can still find fun ways to celebrate Independence Day. It’s normal to feel disappointed, especially if you really look forward to the community events. Hopefully, you can turn this forced change into an opportunity to start a new family tradition.  

Whatever you do, please be sure to keep your pets safely indoors. While community fireworks displays have been canceled, individuals will still be setting off their own, and this can be very terrifying for animals. The ASPCA, Petfinder and Banfield Pet Hospital have some tips to keep your furry family members safe while you celebrate.