Steve saved lives.

Recovered from COVID-19

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One man’s struggle through coronavirus


Steve woke up one day and just didn’t feel right (Steve isn’t his actual name in order to protect confidentiality). He had a bit of a fever and felt rundown in general. He recently went through a divorce and had been drinking. He thought it might just be withdrawal symptoms. But, just in case, he made a trip to Skagit Regional Health.

He had a fever of over 100 degrees and a cough. Hospital staff tested him for COVID-19 in a tent set up outside the hospital. His blood pressure and temperature were elevated. He had nausea and a headache. A doctor put a stethoscope to his chest and Steve coughed. The next thing he knew, his test results for coronavirus came back positive.

“I’ve been travelling so much, it’s really a tough call,” Steve said, regarding where he may have picked up the virus. “I stayed in a lot of hotels, so whoever had been there before, depending on how well it was cleaned, or it could have been food I picked up at the grocery story. There’s just a lot we don’t know about the virus.”

In 2015, Steve had a stint placed in his heart, putting him at higher risk of complications from COVID-19. At the same time as his COVID-19 diagnosis, he was diagnosed with MRSA, another potentially life-threatening infection. He spent about a week and a half in the hospital fighting off both diseases. At least five of those days were in total isolation.

“Everyone in the hospital was wearing state-of-the-art protection equipment,” he said. They had sealed facemasks with ventilation so their masks wouldn’t steam. I could hear the motors running. For the most part, I saw spacemen and women. You see that kind of stuff and you think, ‘Wow, this is pretty serious.’ You don’t normally see your nurses and doctors looking like they’re walking on the moon.”

Steve grew up in Washington. These years here included the best of his life. So, after his divorce he returned from out of state back here to a place of good memories with hopes for a brighter future. He hasn’t yet found a permanent place to live, so once he was well enough to be discharged from the hospital, Skagit County Public Health provided him a hotel room. This temporary housing allowing Steve to remain isolated from others until he had fully recovered and could no longer spread the virus to others.

“There’s not much to do in 20 feet of space,” he said. “When I get sad or lonesome, I get online or talk to friends or family on the phone and they’re sad and lonesome too. And I watch TV. What else are you going to do?”

When I spoke with him, Steve was preparing to leave the hotel the next day. He had been cleared by Skagit County Public Health nurses. He spoke highly of the hotel staff and Public Health nurses who have been working with him over the last two weeks. They picked up prescriptions for him and ensured that he had meals delivered daily.

He’ll be heading back into his small community soon, which seemed a ghost town to him before his hospitalization.

“They shut down all the restaurants and bars. They shut down just about every public facility except for grocery stores,” he said. “I just pray and feel for all my friends who are suffering and have lost their jobs.”

Watching the news, he feels some stories are sensationalized for ratings, but he wants people to know that this outbreak should be taken seriously and that it is not a hoax or conspiracy.

“There are death tolls,” he said. “People are dying. People are very sick. There are people on death’s door. I’ve seen them. I’ve seen the hospital. I’ve seen people walking around in space suits. This is not a hoax. That is absolutely ridiculous.”

For now, Steve is just happy to be healthy and out of isolation.

“Today was the first day I got to go outside and felt sunshine on myself,” Steve said. “I feel great. I can breathe. I don’t have a headache. I don’t feel nauseous, I don’t have a fever. It was so nice to just walk outside.”

He hopes that this national crisis will help people forget their politics and come together.

“As much as people can connect with each other, that’s gonna help beat this thing,” he said.


Social Distancing – Independent Skagitonians, Age 60+

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How one Skagit woman stays connected while practicing social distancing

Only weeks ago many Skagit seniors were thriving. 2020 was going to be a good year. They were living comfortably and independently – in their own homes, apartments and retirement communities. Folks were savoring time with grandkids. Pick out any health club and you would find retiree regulars filling the morning workout shifts. They were dominating the treadmills, sweating out spinning classes, counting laps in the pool. Ukulele classes were overflowing at our senior centers. Couples were traveling the world. Seniors formed a huge volunteer force, helping those in need throughout Skagit. For example, almost all local Meals on Wheels drivers met the age requirement for the program’s clients they were serving. 

Things changed abruptly. Everyone 60 years of age or above suddenly found they were in a new club no one wanted to joinhigh risk from COVID-19. Skagitonians long ago learned to be resilient in hard times, and people with a few more years under their belts have more experience dealing with life’s challenges. But over the last week, there was a new tone in people’s voices, a new strain in their words. 

I sensed a similar tone when I spoke with Toni. Toni is a resident of a senior living community in Mount Vernon. She diligently follows social distancing. During our phone interview, Toni mentioned on several occasions  that she has had to postpone or cancel her weekly activities. This break with the things she enjoys and values in her daily life has caused “a rollercoaster” of emotions. 

Meet Toni

Health officials urge people over 60 to stay home and stay healthy.  Whenever possible, seniors are being asked to refrain from routine errands and even keep away from grandchildren. This is no easy task! Seniors who are used to being self-sufficient still rely on their time with family and friends for connection and community. 

Toni has worked out a plan for social distancing. She stays connected to the outside world through social media and by phone. She keeps informed of current events by reading the news. She frequently mentioned how grateful she is to have children (and adult grandchildren) living nearby who bring her groceries and run important errands. She has considering taking advantage of grocery drop-off services. 

But even with the love of family, she struggles finding what she calls the “patience to hang in there.” She laughed about the situation, continuing to find a lighthearted tone.  But like many seniors, the well-being of family weighs on her mind. She can’t help feeling anxious for her children and grandchildren. “What’s this going to do for their livelihoods and their children? What’s their lifestyle going to be like? Will they have to go through a recession?”

Toni has found ways to minimize feelings of loneliness and anxiety. She takes daily walks. She checks in with family and friends regularly. For example, on the day we spoke she had just gotten off a call with her granddaughter and felt uplifted.

“I was excited about the FaceTime. So I got up, showered, got dressed, put my makeup on and acted like I was going to leave the house and go downtown shopping, or something. I wasn’t going anywhere, but I felt better. And I had something I was looking forward to.” 

There are days when Toni doesn’t have something to break up the monotony. During these low moments, Toni relies on her faith and the support of her church, where she works as a deacon

“Some days I don’t have something I look forward to, so I just as soon stay in bed. So I stay in pajamas most of the day…or all day. It depends. Some days are better than others in regards to feeling on top of things. There are days when I just don’t want to do anything, so I just don’t. I’ll read or watch TV.”

We all struggle with COVID-19 and social distancing. Toni has identified ways of keeping engaged with family, friends and other community groups through video chat and social media. While taking walks around her neighborhood, she enjoys conversation from a distance with friends. However, many seniors lack the opportunity to do the same. 

Skagit County has been working hard to provide services to our seniors in need during this time, especially to maintain access to nutritious meals!

  • Meals on Wheels: The Skagit County Meals on Wheels program is busier than ever! People 60 years or older who have barriers to preparing meals can contact (360) 416-1500 for more information.  
  • Frozen meal pick-up: Even though senior centers are temporarily closed, frozen meals are available for pick up.  Call your local senior center below for details. 
    • Mount Vernon Senior Center, 360-416-1585, Kristl Hobbs or Nickie McNulty
    • Sedro-Woolley Senior Center, 360-855-1531, Ellen Schweigert or Merrilee Komboukos
    • Burlington Senior Center, 360-755-0942 or 360-755-0102, Jackie Cress or Cheryl Kaufman
    • Anacortes Senior Activity Center, 360-293-7473, Amanda Miller or Annette Saling

Feeling overwhelmed?

This is the time to reach out, whether you are a senior or a loved one of a senior. People are often saddened and depressed by the narrowing of their lifestyle and anxious about the impact COVID-19 is having on our world. Talking and laughing can be one of the best ways to cope with the pandemic. 

There are also creative ways to deal with loneliness and anxiety that you can find online! Websites like AARP have great guides for seniors and their family members, like “7 Ways to Boost Your Loved One’s Morale During the Coronavirus Epidemic,” which lists things like virtual dinners, and book clubs as helpful boredom-busters.

Want more information about resources Skagit County has seniors? Watch the Senior episode of Conversations COVID-19 with Public Health Director, Jennifer Johnson and Senior Services Manager, Renee Corcoran. 


Social Distancing: People with Developmental Disabilities

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Answers for people with developmental disabilities – as well as a call for us to be there for our neighbors

We are staying home and staying safe to protect our loved ones and our neighbors throughout Skagit. We know our seniors are at high risk for COVID-19. We worry about elders when they are isolated at home, and worry about them when they live in group settings. But often our neighbors with developmental disabilities are overlooked.

Many people with developmental disabilities have medical conditions that put them at higher risk from COVID-19. Much like seniors, they may now live somewhat isolated at home or in group housing which can increase physical contact with others. Children and adults with developmental disabilities rely heavily on caregivers and service agencies in their day-to-day lives. Key in-person support has been disrupted during this time of social distancing.

People with developmental disabilities have jobs and enjoy social activities. But employers are closing, group homes can no longer accept visitors, and community events have been cancelled. The resulting isolation can create creates loneliness, depression, and anxiety.  Many adult children have long and proudly lived on their own. Now COVID-19 forces them to move back into their parents’ homes to stay safe.

So, what can be done? Know a family in your neighborhood who has a child with a developmental disability? Reach out by phone, text, email or more than 6 feet away. See if they need anything. Check out local group homes and give the agency a call to see if there are ways you can support their residents. There’s been a burst of creativity in Skagit over the past weeks as we all learn to socialize in different ways. Let’s see if we can spark that creativity to keep this group of people connected!

One example of a creative idea is #PandemicPals, created by Rex Huppke of the Chicago Tribune. #PandemicPals is a way for people to reach out  through social media. Rex created an example you can just copy and paste into their social media page to start these conversations:

“I’m worried about seniors and people with disabilities feeling isolated because of coronavirus restrictions. If you know someone feeling that way, I’m happy to call or write that person. Message or email me at (YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS) and let’s set something up! #PandemicPals.”

The idea of #PandemicPals is to break down the isolation caused by COVID-19. We can all think of someone in our lives who is lonely.  It’s an easy way to connect with those people in need.

If you have family members with developmental disabilities at home, there are a lot of creative, engaging ways to maintain connection. Below is a list of a few:

  • The Mighty, a website for individuals with disabilities, is hosting daily interactive online activities plus a blog to share how people are dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak. Check out: https://themighty.com/ 
  • The Arc of King County has:
    • Two online art group meetings, one for young adults and one for adults
    • Coffee Hour for Parents to give some support to parents struggling with COVID impacts
    •  A phone buddy system if you’re experiencing loneliness and want to talk with someone. Just call (206) 829-7053 or email at ask@arcofkingcounty.org  

In Skagit, Heather Milliren serves as the county’s Parent to Parent Coordinator. Heather has her finger on the pulse of families in our community. Overall, families are adapting to these strange times. But their most common concern is how to access the resources needed to provide care to their loved ones. Heather wants to emphasize, “The good news is that most parents of individuals with developmental disabilities and/or complex healthcare needs are amazingly RESILIENT. We have to be since our loved ones are counting on us to be advocates for their needs every single day.”

Let’s see what the rest of us can do to support families of people with developmental disabilities. Let’s show them Skagit will do what we can to help them during this trying time.