Joint Statement on Local Healthcare Capacity & COVID-19 Transmission Rates

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January 13, 2022

Skagit County hospitals have seen a dramatic increase in the number of individuals admitted for inpatient care due to COVID-19 over the past week. This recent spike has only further exacerbated our already overburdened healthcare system both locally and across the state.

Today, our local hospitals together with County Health Officer Dr. Howard Leibrand are coming together to ask Skagitonians to help in easing the current strain on our healthcare system. Each person can take action to help alleviate this strain on our providers. Please, take necessary precautions to decrease COVID-19 transmission rates and be conscientious of seeking emergency medical services.

Vaccination continues to be the best tool in preventing serious illness due to COVID-19. While we know that breakthrough infections are expected with the Omicron variant, current data has shown that the vast majority of breakthrough infections have resulted in mild to moderate symptoms that do not require medical attention.

Transmission rates are also of grave concern. The Omicron variant is extremely transmissible and has resulted in more than a doubling of COVID-19 cases this week compared to last. Skagitonians can help to control the spread by taking precautions and not gathering when sick or if recently exposed. For this reason, it is our recommendation at this time that people postpone all large indoor gatherings, regardless of the vaccination status of those gathering.

Masking is also still an extremely important tool that people must use when congregating in indoor public settings and certain outdoor public settings. Ensure the quality and fit of your mask by going to the CDC’s masking guidance webpage here.

We understand that testing options are limited at this time, both in Skagit County and throughout Washington. If you are symptomatic or have been recently exposed to COVID-19 and cannot get access to a test, please follow the CDC’s updated isolation and quarantine guidance. Essentially:

IF YOU HAVE SYMPTOMS but do not need medical care and can’t get a test, assume you have COVID-19.  You should isolate for at least 5 days to keep from spreading the virus to others. Monitor your symptoms.

IF YOU WERE EXPOSED to someone with COVID-19 and need to quarantine and are unable to get a test 5 days after your last close contact, you can leave your home after day 5 if you have not had symptoms; wear a mask for 10 days after last contact.

Our hospitals and urgent care facilities have the capacity to care for those who are acutely ill. These are not the locations to go for COVID-19 testing if you are asymptomatic or are experiencing mild COVID-like symptoms. Please look to community testing sites and local pharmacies for testing options.

Severe COVID-19-related symptoms that would require emergency medical attention include:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Pale, gray or blue-colored skin, lips or nail beds, depending on skin tone.

“From looking at previous waves, we know that this current surge will level out in time,” said Dr. Leibrand. “Now is not the time to get together or socialize. That time will come, but it isn’t right now. It is essential that we work together to see ourselves out of this current wave.”

To find a vaccine provider near you, please use the Vaccine Locator or call 1-800-525-0127 (press #). For a list of local testing providers, please go to the Testing Locations page here.


Seasonal Allergies or COVID-19?

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There’s nothing better after a long winter than the first few glimpses of spring. The cherry blossoms are in full bloom, and some days it takes everything in me to remain seated inside at my desk. But for those with allergies, springtime isn’t always that welcome, and blooming flowers don’t call to them like they do for me.

This is our second spring during COVID-19, and while we’ve learned a lot, there are still questions. Is my sinus headache a sign of seasonal allergies or could it possibly be COVID? Is my toddler’s runny nose cause for concern or just your run-of-the-mill springtime sniffles?

If you’re feeling a bit under the weather and are asking yourself these questions, here are a few more to contemplate:

What are your symptoms?

The CDC has a helpful diagram (to the right) that shows the differences and similarities between COVID-19 and allergy symptoms. While there are many symptoms that the two share, there are some symptoms that are very obviously one or the other.

Sneezing, by itself, is uncommon with COVID-19. If someone does have COVID-19, and they are experiencing sneezing, there are typically other symptoms involved. There are also some COVID-19 symptoms that would never be caused by allergies. These include fever, severe fatigue, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps.

Have you had allergies in the past?

If you regularly deal with springtime allergies, and you’re starting to feel the typical symptoms (sneezing, runny nose, and itchy eyes), allergies may be the issue. These aren’t the most common symptoms associated with COVID-19, although sneezing, runny nose and itchy eyes can sometimes occur.

When in doubt, get tested. Especially if your allergies feel different than usual, if your symptoms progress or you begin to get sicker, or if you’ve had a potential exposure to COVID-19.

How severe are your symptoms?

In general, seasonal allergy symptoms remain relatively consistent but may get worse when pollen counts are high. If you notice that your symptoms are getting progressively worse, or if you develop different symptoms, you’re probably not dealing with allergies.

Do allergy medications help? 

If you take allergy medication and it seems to relieve your symptoms, you probably don’t have COVID-19. Even still, it is important to continue to monitor your symptoms.

Could you have been exposed to COVID-19?

If there is a chance that you may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 recently and you begin to experience symptoms, it is important to get tested right away. While uncommon, someone can develop mild allergy-like symptoms first before the illness progresses. COVID-19 symptoms generally appear two to 14 days after exposure to SARS-CoV-2.

You are concerned that you may have COVID-19. Where can you get tested?

If you think you may have COVID-19, or if you decide to be extra cautious, visit here for a list of testing locations near you. If you have a health care provider, you may also be able to call them for an appointment. 

Your symptoms are getting worse. When should you seek help?

Look for emergency warning signs for COVID-19. If you or a loved one are showing any of the signs below, seek emergency medical care immediately:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds, depending on skin tone

How can you prevent allergies?

The easiest way to prevent seasonal allergies is to avoid your known “triggers.” For example, if you are allergic to pollen, stay inside with your windows and doors closed during particularly pollen-heavy days.

Interestingly enough, wearing your trusted face mask (you know…the one that slows the spread of COVID-19) might also provide a bit of protection against seasonal allergies. And be sure to wash your mask in between wears since a used mask might carry pollen particles!


Phase 3…What Does That Mean?

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On March 22nd, Skagit County—and the rest of the state—moved to Phase 3 of the “Roadmap to Recovery” reopening plan. Counties now move through the phases alone, no longer tied to other counties in their region. What this means is that while Skagit has more freedom to move through the phases, we are also solely responsible for our progress. So how do we keep moving forward and not backwards?

What is Allowed Under Phase 3

Restrictions are looser under Phase 3 than they were under the previous phases. This is exciting news, especially as the weather gets nicer and summer slowly approaches.

That said, it remains more important than ever to continue practicing precautions: mask up, keep your distance, and wash your hands frequently. While restrictions around gathering have relaxed, it is best to continue to limit gatherings as much as possible. This—as well as the precautions above—are our best defenses against the spread of COVID-19.

Below are some of the most notable allowances under Phase 3:

Social and at-home gatherings

  • Indoor social and at-home gatherings have increased to 10 people from outside your household.
  • Outdoor social and at-home gatherings have increased to a maximum of 50 people.

Services (such as dining, retail, worship)

  • Indoor services now allowed at 50% capacity.

Sports and Fitness

  • Indoor sports competitions and tournaments allowed at all risk levels. Fitness/training and indoor sports at a maximum of 50% capacity.
  • Outdoor sports competitions and tournaments allowed at all risk levels. A maximum of 400 spectators allowed with capacity restrictions (depending on the facility).

Entertainment (such as museums, theaters, concert halls)

  • Indoor maximum of 50% capacity or 400 people (whichever is less).
  • Outdoor entertainment allowed by walk-up ticketing, and a maximum of 400 spectators with capacity restrictions (depending on the facility).
For a full list of allowances, you can read WA Department of Health’s report here: https://www.governor.wa.gov/sites/default/files/HealthyWashington.pdf.

What Metrics Need to be Met to Stay in Phase 3

Forward or backward progress will now be evaluated on a county-by-county basis, rather than by regional grouping. Counties will be evaluated by WA Department of Health (WA DOH) every three weeks to determine progress. Skagit County’s ability to move forward will be determined based on both of the metrics below:

  1. Case Rates: Skagit County must maintain at a case rate lower than 200 per 100,000 in the past 14 days to stay in Phase 3.
    (As of March 21, we are at 132.4 new cases per 100,000)
  2. Hospitalizations: Skagit County must maintain a 7-day average of five or fewer new COVID-19 hospitalizations to stay in Phase 3.

Also, if at any point the statewide Intensive Care Unit (ICU) capacity reaches greater than 90%, all counties will move down one phase.

As you can see, it wouldn’t take much for Skagit to move backwards. We need to continue limiting our gatherings and wear our masks, even with the lighter restrictions of Phase 3.

It is also critical to continue vaccinating our high-risk populations, as this will greatly impact our hospitalization numbers. Let’s do everything that we can to keep our high-risk populations safe and protected against COVID-19! If you know of someone who is currently eligible for the vaccine, please reach out! Call the Vaccine Hotline to schedule an appointment: (360) 416-1500.

What Comes Next?

We don’t yet know what the next phase will look like for the Roadmap to Recovery. More guidance will come from WA DOH in the coming weeks. In the meantime, let’s all do our part to ensure continued forward motion! Though the road has been long, we have so much to look forward to. Let’s show the state what we are capable of, Skagit!

To read more about the Roadmap to Recovery Plan and to find out guidance specific to businesses and workers, go to: http://bit.ly/3lH6bbI.