Public Health Reminder: Masking Still Critical this Holiday Season

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December 1, 2021

The holidays are upon us. As Skagitonians are out and about preparing for holiday festivities, please remember: masking is still critical—and required—in all indoor public spaces AND certain outdoor settings. This includes all local businesses, chain outlets, and grocery stores.

The statewide mask mandate requires that all people five years of age and older must wear a mask in public indoor settings and at large, outdoor events with 500 or more attendees, including sporting events, fairs, parades, and concerts, regardless of vaccination status.

There are some exceptions to the mask requirement, including children under five years of age, and people with a medical or mental health condition or disability that prevents them from wearing a mask. Children between 2 and 4 years of age can, and are encouraged, to wear a mask under close adult supervision. Children under 2 should not wear masks.

Face masks remain an important tool in preventing transmission of the COVID-19 virus. Though Skagit County is just over 60 percent fully vaccinated, there are still many folks, including young children, who are not protected.

Science has shown that masking works. COVID-19 spreads mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets when infected people—many of whom do not exhibit COVID-19 symptoms—cough, sneeze, or talk. Evidence shows that wearing a mask reduces an infected person’s chance of spreading the infection to others.

Furthermore, it is imperative that people wear their mask properly. To be effective, a mask must cover the nose, mouth, and chin, and must fit snuggly against one’s face. For tips on getting the best fit, visit the CDC’s mask guidance webpage here.

Wearing a mask when out in the community is an easy way to show your neighbors and favorite businesses that you care this holiday season. Please help our local businesses operate smoothly this season by following all state and local rules and guidance.

Another great way to ensure that things run smoothly for the holidays is by taking precautions at home. If unvaccinated, please remember that masking is still recommended when gathering with non-household members, especially when indoors. COVID-19 can easily spread in these types of environments, causing folks to miss out on school, work, and fun, festive holiday events.

Have a wonderful holiday season, Skagit! Be well!


Holiday Operational Changes at the Skagit Fairgrounds Testing & Vaccine Site

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November 3, 2021

The Skagit County Fairgrounds Testing and Vaccine Site at 501 Taylor Street in Mount Vernon operates on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 3pm to 7pm. During the months of November and December, the site will be closed on the following dates:

  • Thursday, November 11th (Veteran’s Day)
  • Thursday, November 25th (Thanksgiving)
  • Friday, November 26th (Thanksgiving)
  • Friday, December 24th (Christmas Eve)
  • Friday, December 31st (New Year’s Day)

In lieu of these dates, the site will be open on the following days from 3pm to 7pm:

  • Wednesday, November 10th
  • Wednesday November 24th
  • Wednesday, December 22nd
  • Wednesday, December 29th

These dates have been added to ensure that vital vaccination and testing services remain available during the busy holiday season. As a reminder, the Fairgrounds Site should not be used as a testing option for those seeking to travel or attend an event that requires proof of a negative COVID-19 test.

For a full list of vaccination and testing providers, go to: www.skagitcounty.net/coronavirus or call the COVID-19 Information Hotline at 1-800-525-0127, then press #.


“Let’s get out of here!” Traveling After Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine

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You did it! You got vaccinated! Thank you for doing so. It helps not only protect you but the community at large. We bet that you’re ready to start returning to some of the activities you gave up in March 2020, including travel. If you are, please keep some things in mind.

The COVID-19 vaccines currently in use are highly effective.

Real world data has shown that their nearly 100 percent effective at preventing hospitalization and death amongst fully vaccinated individuals. In fact, Washington State has only observed a breakthrough rate of 0.01%, which is fantastic. Being fully vaccinated means you can do a lot of things again, such as:

  • Gather indoors with other fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask or social distancing
  • Gather indoors with unvaccinated people of any age from one other household without masks or social distancing unless one of the participants is at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
  • Travel domestically, or return from international travel without getting a negative COVID-19 test or self-quarantining (Note: if you’re traveling internationally, you might still need a negative COVID-19 test to enter the country you’re visiting. Do your research before you go).
  • Unless you live in a group setting (like a correctional facility or group home), you don’t need to quarantine after an exposure to COVID-19 as long as you don’t develop symptoms.

Reminder: After receiving your second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or your Johnson & Johnson shot, you need to wait two weeks for immunity to build in your system. After that two week period, you’re considered fully vaccinated.

That said, COVID-19 vaccines aren’t get out of jail free cards.

There is still a risk that you could contract COVID-19 and spread it to loved ones or close contacts. This means that when traveling you should:

  • Keep wearing masks- and two if you can- especially on airplanes, in public spaces and when gathering with unvaccinated individuals from multiple households. 
  • Avoid large gatherings or events, especially when indoors, where people don’t remain in fixed locations, engage in activities that pose great risk for spread (singing, exercising, shouting, etc…) or wear masks aren’t or can’t be worn.
  •  Monitor for COVID-19 symptoms, and if any develop get tested right away.
  • Avoid visiting unvaccinated individuals who are at increased risk for poor health outcomes after traveling or being in public spaces for prolonged periods.
  • Follow your workplace guidance on quarantine when returning, which may be more strict than what is outlined here.

We’re all looking forward to increased travel and activity–but we’re not quite out of the woods yet. Please, continue to be smart and practice good behaviors. Wear your mask, practice social distancing in public or with unvaccinated individuals, wash your hands frequently (like, all the time and for lots of reasons it’s just a good thing to do).

If you’re planning a trip and are nervous about some of the circumstances, we’ve included a handy flow chart that can help guide you towards the best decision for your situation.

We’re in this together and we’ll get through this by protecting our community together.


Safe & Fun Holiday Ideas

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The holidays are all about tradition. Whether they are things that you’ve done since childhood, or new activities that have been developed over the years, these traditions are what we look forward to each holiday season.

No matter what the tradition is though, it is typically centered around what we do with our family, friends, and loved ones during the holidays. It is no surprise then that this year is especially difficult for most of us.

This year, the guidance is very clear. Continue to practice the same safety measures that we’ve been doing all year long: physically distance, stay home, limit gatherings, wear a mask, and wash our hands. We do these things to decrease the spread of COVID-19, and by doing them, we protect not only ourselves, but our community.

So how do we look forward to holiday traditions when there has been nothing traditional about this year? Well, it is all in the way that we frame things!

This year could be the worst ever for holidays—or—it could be the perfect opportunity to create some new customs for yourself and your family! Think of these 2020 traditions as something that you can incorporate into your yearly festivities, instead of just being a one off.

So where do you even start with building new traditions? We asked the staff here at Skagit County Public Health for some safe and fun holiday ideas that their own families are participating in this year.

These are a few of their responses.

  • “Instead of sharing meals with extended family from different households, we will take turns dropping off meals that we have prepared at each other’s houses. We share the love and the food but not the risk, as we won’t be gathering and eating together inside except with people that we live with.”
  • “We have a family tradition of getting coffee/cocoa and driving around as a family looking at Christmas lights around the county.”
  • “I made individually wrapped holiday treats for all of my neighbors and delivered them to their doorsteps.”
  • “We are making cookies every day between December 12th and the 24th. Twelve different cookies! We plan to plate and wrap them for porch delivery to our nearby friends and family on Christmas Eve.”
  • “Ordinarily we would spend Christmas morning at my sister- and brother-in-law’s place then head to Bellevue to have a massive feast with aunt, uncle, cousins, lots of extended family.  After dinner we walk around the neighborhood to see the lights before driving north to home.  However, this year like Thanksgiving, we are spending Christmas and New Years by ourselves. We make ourselves a special dinner with all the side dishes we like rather than those that we are obligated to make.  My sister and mom live in other states so the three of us have a Zoom chat in the morning.” 
  • “This year, we made salt dough ornaments with our kids. We even made a few hand-print ornaments that we painted and mailed to my parents in Canada. Even though we can’t be with them this year, they will have a little piece of us on their tree.”

Still looking for ideas? Washington DOH has a list on its website that includes:

Giving thanks: In a year filled with challenges, it can feel good to pause and consider the things for which we are grateful, whether that be a person, pet, place or thing. Highlight these bright spots by writing them down or sending notes, texts or emails to people in your life to express why you are grateful for them.

On-screen get togethers: Sure, it won’t be quite the same, but scheduling a few virtual holiday gatherings can take the sting out of being separated. Getting together online to cook, open gifts, decorate desserts, do a craft project, listen to a playlist, or read stories can create a bit of the togetherness we crave. Consider time zones when scheduling, and make sure that any people who are not tech-savvy get help beforehand so they can be included.

Secret gift exchange: Assign each family or friend a name, and ask them mail or do a no-contact delivery of a small gift they make or buy to their assigned person. Open gifts on a group video chat and try to guess who gave what to whom.

Play dress-up: If you have a willing crowd, create a theme for your virtual party. Themed masks, silly hats or ugly sweaters can give everyone something to laugh and talk about.

Remote potluck: Rather than getting together, you can assign dishes to friends and family and deliver them to one another’s homes. Or deliver just the ingredients for a dish or meal. Then, log in to your favorite video chat app to cook or dig in.

Learn a recipe together: Pick a favorite family recipe, share an ingredient list ahead of time with friends or family, and then get together virtually to try cooking or baking. Good times are guaranteed, whether you end up with delicious dumplings or poorly decorated cookies.

Game night: If you thrive on competition, make your virtual gatherings about more than just conversation. Trivia, charades, and even board games, can all work great online. Or try out a virtual bake-off, talent show or a scavenger hunt where teams race to find common and not-so-common items around their house. This is also a fun one to set up for kids so they can connect virtually with friends.

Make a list of some healthy things that you can do this season that will bring a smile to your face. Are your yearly traditions centered around family and friends? How can you adjust these traditions so that you still feel the connection you crave while also being safe and practicing physical distancing.

Yes, this holiday season will be different from previous years. It is normal to feel sad or frustrated about these changes, especially when we have made so many sacrifices since March. It is important to confront these feelings that you may have and work through them instead of burying them away. And remember: this pandemic won’t last forever. Making sacrifices now will mean bigger and better holidays to come.  

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

In a crisis?

Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255

Crisis Connections: 866-4-CRISIS (866-427-4747)

Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741

Crisis Connections helps people in physical, emotional, and financial crisis get services they need through their 24-Hour Crisis Line, Teen Link, WA Recovery Help Line, and WA Warm Line.


Moving Indoors: Staying Safe & Healthy this Winter Season

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The summer clothes have been put away and the coats have officially come out. It seems that there have been more rainy days than sunny ones in the last few weeks, and temperatures have been dropping steadily. The leaves are hanging on, but winter is just around the corner. As we plan to snuggle in for the colder months ahead, it is time to begin thinking about safety precautions regarding COVID-19 and being indoors.

Is outdoors really safer?

Up until this point, Washingtonians have been pretty lucky given our temperate climate. Unlike our fellow states to the South, where people have sought shelter indoors during the hot summer months, we have been able to spend a lot of time in the great outdoors.

Being outdoors poses fewer health risks, since natural outdoor airflow and sunlight help to dissipate or kill viruses. Now that the weather will force many of us inside this winter, we will need to be more thoughtful about the way we live and socialize indoors.

Why does being indoors pose more risks?

Closed windows and doors decrease fresh airflow which can increase risk, especially when you have more people inside. Drier, less humid air from heating may also increase the risk.  

Although the virus spreads mainly through close contact with an infected person, studies have shown that COVID-19 can at times spread farther than six feet through the air. While these situations have been relatively uncommon, spread can be a problem where COVID-19 can build up in the air, such as in crowded, enclosed settings.

What can we do to decrease risk while indoors?

The risk of COVID-19 transmission increases with indoor gatherings compared to outdoors, but there are ways to reduce the spread and stay healthy. While the recommendation is still to avoid gathering with people who are not in your household, and to socialize outdoors when gatherings are unavoidable, we must realistically expect that there will be times when social events will take place indoors this winter.

Here are some tips for reducing the risks of transmission if you do plan to gather with non-household family members or friends:

1. Mask up: Cloth face masks should be worn at all times in indoor public places, including in your own home when visitors are present. You do not need to wear a mask indoors at home with your household members. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more information about masks and which ones are most effective.

2. Keep your circle small: Try to limit the number of people you and your household are around as much as possible, and also be mindful of the amount of time you spend with these individuals indoors.  When socializing, stay as far apart as possible, even with masks on.  Remember, the guidance is not “mask up OR stay six feet or more of distance.” Rather, the safer thing to do is to wear a mask AND stay six feet or more apart from others.

3. Increase air flow:  Do what you can to improve ventilation in indoor spaces, including opening windows when possible. More fresh air means lower risk. The COVID-19 virus can build up in the air over time, especially in crowded, enclosed settings, where ventilation is limited. The risk of transmission further increases when people are not wearing masks, or when groups are doing activities that involve speaking loudly, singing or exercising (when we exhale more virus-containing particles into the air). 

If possible, adjust the ventilation system to increase the intake of outdoor air; this can be achieved by placing a fan on a window sill and encouraging outdoor air to flow into the room, or opening windows on either side of the home to encourage airflow throughout the house. Do not open windows and doors if doing so poses a safety or health risk to children or other family members (e.g., risk of falling or triggering asthma symptoms).

Check out the EPA’s webpage on home ventilation for more tips: www.epa.gov/coronavirus/indoor-air-homes-and-coronavirus-covid-19.

4. Clean and disinfect: The primary and most important mode of transmission for COVID-19 is through close contact between people. However, it may be possible for a person to contract COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. While experts do not believe that this is the main way the virus spreads, it is good to take precautions.

If an indoor visit is unavoidable, be sure to clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces, including counter tops, door knobs, light switches, and toilet seats. And of course, be sure that people are washing and disinfecting hands frequently. For cleaning tips, visit www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/disinfecting-your-home.html.

5. Take sniffles seriously: If you, or a potential guest, are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19 (no matter how mild), it is best to postpone your get-together for another time. It is much safer to take a rain check than to put yourself and your loved ones at risk of infection.

It is also important to remember that COVID-19 often spreads from people before they develop symptoms or recognize that they are sick. This means that there is a risk of transmission any time a group of non-household members congregate, so all the above precautions are necessary.

We can’t depend on any one preventative measure alone. Instead, we need to use a combination of strategies to most effectively reduce the risk of transmission. These steps include wearing a mask, limiting interactions with others outside the home, staying at least six feet away from others, improving ventilation, practicing good hygiene and cleaning, and staying home when sick.

It may mean some challenges this winter, but we can all do our part to make it work.