Statewide Indoor Mask Mandate in Effect August 23 Following Governor Press Conference; New Educator Vaccination Requirement

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August 18, 2021

State-wide Mask Mandate

Today, Governor Inslee announced that the existing statewide mask mandate will be expanded to once again include vaccinated individuals in indoor settings effective Monday, August 23. The mask mandate will apply to most all indoor public places across the state, including restaurants, grocery stores, malls, and public-facing offices, regardless of an individual’s vaccination status.

This expansion comes after hospitals throughout Washington State are seeing record-breaking numbers of new COVID patients, and as cases continue to surge in every county. At present, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has marked all 35 counties in Washington as areas of High Community Transition. Disease prevalence is approaching levels last seen in the winter 2020 surge. In Skagit County, 436 new COVID cases have been reported since last Wednesday alone.

Local cases are increasing at an alarming rate,” said Jennifer Johnson, Skagit County Public Health Director. “We know that people are worried about what they’re seeing in the news and we are hoping that the community will see this announcement as a positive step in getting things back to a manageable place. Current rates are not sustainable—not for our hospitals or for our families. We ask that people please mask up to keep their loved ones safe.

There will be limited exceptions when face coverings won’t be required, such as office spaces not easily accessible to the public where individuals are vaccinated, and when working alone indoors or in a vehicle with no public face-to-face interaction. Small, private indoor gatherings where all attendees are vaccinated are also exempt. Further, while not required, the Department of Health strongly recommends individuals also wear masks in crowded outdoor settings, such as outdoor concerts, fairs and farmers markets.

Educator vaccine requirement

The Governor also announced today that K -12 educators, school staff, coaches, bus drivers, school volunteers and others working in school facilities will have until October 18 to be fully vaccinated as a condition of employment. The requirement includes public, private and charter schools, and comes as schools across the state prepare to return for the 2021–2022 school year amid rapidly increasing case and hospitalization numbers. This does not impact students, regardless of age.

Vaccines will also be a requirement for employees in Washington’s higher education institutions, as well as for most childcare and early learning providers who serve children from multiple households.

Education staff, faculty and contractors are also required to be fully vaccinated by October 18, consistent with the state worker vaccination requirement timeline.

Inslee stated that, as with state employees and private healthcare workers, there will be no test out option. There are limited exceptions under law which employees may apply for, including legitimate medical reasons and sincerely held religious beliefs. For full details, please read the press release here: https://medium.com/@GovInslee/inslee-announces-educator-vaccination-requirement-and-statewide-indoor-mask-mandate-a2f5a47d8a31


Excessive Heat Warning and Air Quality Alert Issued for Skagit County

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August 12, 2021

Today, the National Weather Service issued both an Excessive Heat Warning and an Air Quality Alert for Skagit County and the surrounding region. The Excessive Heat Warning is expected to be in effect through Friday at 8pm, and the Air Quality Alert through Saturday at 7pm.

Dangerously hot conditions with temperatures rising into the 90s to near 100 degrees is expected for Thursday and Friday, with highs remaining near 90 on Saturday. Extreme heat will significantly increase the potential for heat related illnesses, particularly for those working or participating in outdoor activities.

The Washington State Department of Health is advising people to take precautions during this extreme heat event. In Skagit County, there are several Cooling Stations available to people who are seeking relief. A list of locations can be found on our website at www.skagitcounty.net.

Other key recommendations for heat safety include:

  • Stay indoors and in an air-conditioned environment as much as possible. Consider wearing a mask whenever you’re indoors with people who don’t live with you.
  • Keep your home cool by pulling window shades closed throughout the day. Use your stove and oven less to maintain a cooler temperature in your home.
  • Do not rely on a fan as your only cooling source. While electric fans might provide some comfort, they won’t prevent heat-related illness when temperatures are very hot.
  • Check on your friends, family and neighbors before bedtime. The heat isn’t expected to dip at night, so people who need help may not realize it until much later in the day. Assist those who are vulnerable or at higher risk, neighbors who are elderly, ill or may need help.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids but don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink.
  • Keep outdoor pets safe in the heat, make sure they have protection from heat. Walk on grass instead of asphalt, which can burn your pet’s paws. Never leave any person or pet in a parked vehicle.
  • If you notice symptoms of heat illness (dizziness, nausea, headaches, muscle cramps), act immediately. Move to a cooler location to rest for a few minutes and seek medical attention immediately if you do not feel better. 
  • Follow water safety tips if you go swimming or boating. Remember that swimming in open water is very different from swimming in a pool and make sure to wear a life jacket that fits you.

Adding to this weekend’s safety concerns, people must take precaution when spending time outdoors. The Northwest Clean Air Agency is currently reporting “Unhealthy” air quality for Sensitive Groups for parts of Skagit County.

The following are health safety tips for periods of poor, or unhealthy, air quality:

  • Avoid outdoor physical activity.
  • Stay indoors and take steps to keep your indoor air as clean as possible.
    • Keep windows and doors closed.
    • Set air conditioners to re-circulate.
    • Don’t add to indoor pollution (avoid burning candles or incense, smoking, diffusing essential oils, broiling or frying foods, and vacuuming)
  • Consider leaving the area if the air quality remains poor and it is not possible to keep the air in your home clean.
  • It’s often hot when it’s smoky outside. Pay attention to heat and signs of overheating.
    • Use portable fans and close curtains or window shades during the day.
    • If you can’t keep cool and do have a way to filter the air in your home (see below), open windows when it’s coolest and run a portable HEPA or box fan filter to help clean the air.
    • If it’s still too hot, and you don’t have options to filter air, open windows to avoid heat exhaustion and other heat illnesses.

Read CDC’s list of frequently asked questions regarding extreme heat here.
For more smoke safety tips, go to: https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/features/wildfires/index.html


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.