Let’s Be “Water Safe” This Summer!

Reading Time: 2 minutes

It’s hot this week. Like, hot-hot. And this weekend looks like its going to be a scorcher. With seriously warm weather coming, you and your family might be planning to spend some time in, or near, water this weekend. Whether you’re planning a trip to the beach, to the lake, or just a casual Saturday around the kiddie pool, it is critical to be thinking about water safety at all times.

Why is water safety important?

It only takes a moment. A child or weak swimmer can drown in the time it takes to reply to a text, check a fishing line or apply sunscreen. Death and injury from drownings happen every day in home pools and hot tubs, at the beach or in oceanslakes, rivers and streams, bathtubs, and even buckets. 

How do you ensure water safety?

Being “water safe” means that you’ve taken the necessary steps to ensure the safety of yourself and your loved ones while enjoying time in, and around, the water. These steps include:

  1. Buddying Up: Always swim with other people. Designate a buddy from your household to swim with before you enter the water.
  2. Suiting Up: Always wear life jackets on boats. Make sure everyone has U.S. Coast Guard approved life jackets at all times.
  3. Knowing Your Limits: Only swim as far as you can safely get back. Don’t hold your breath for longer than you can. Stay close to shore and rest if you are cold or tired.
  4. Knowing the Water: Don’t enter cold water or very fast-moving water. Always jump feet first into unknown water.
  5. Keeping an Eye Out: Actively supervise young children and inexperienced swimmers. Stay within arm’s reach and avoid distractions.

How do you make water safety a priority, in every location and situation?

Use “Layers of Protection” In & Around Water

There are things that you can actively do to ensure water safety and prevent drowning. Here are just a few:

  • Even if lifeguards are present, you (or another responsible adult) should stay with your children.
  • Be a “water watcher” – provide close and constant attention to children you are supervising; avoid distractions, including cell phones.
  • Teach children to always ask permission to go near water.
  • Children, inexperienced swimmers, and all boaters should wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets.
  • Take specific precautions for the water environment you are in, such as:
    • Fence pools and spas with adequate barriers, including four-sided fencing that separates the water from the house.
    • At the beach, always swim in a lifeguarded area.

Know the Risks & Take Sensible Precautions – Even If You’re a Strong Swimmer

  • Always swim with a buddy.
  • Don’t use alcohol or drugs (including certain prescription medications) before or while swimming, diving or supervising swimmers.
  • Wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket when boating or fishing, even if you don’t intend to enter the water.

Ensure That the Entire Family Learns How to Swim

Now is a great time to look into swim lessons for everyone in your family! Most fitness centers with a pool offer swim lessons for kiddos 6 months and older. For a list of swimming lessons being offered in Skagit County, go to: https://skagit.kidinsider.com/pools. Note: Some information may have changed due to COVID.

Know how to respond in case of emergency

One of the best, and proactive things that you can do to ensure water safety is to learn how to respond during an emergency. Want to become CPR certified? Find a course nearby!

Some helpful links:

The American Red Cross has fantastic resources available that cover every water safety topic. For more information, visit: https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/water-safety.html.

Links to specific topics:

  1. Drowning Prevention Facts
  2. Home pool & hot tub safety
  3. Swimming Safely at the Beach

Playground Safety: A Mom’s Public Service Announcement

Reading Time: 3 minutes

It has been a real privilege to share information on our Skagit Health Connection Blog over the past year. One of the greatest gifts of my role as Communications Coordinator is being able to share with you both professional and personal information I’ve gleaned over the years as a Public Health employee, wife, mother, and Skagitonian. Creating content for the blog has been—in many ways—a cathartic experience during these difficult months; a place where I can share my thoughts, but also provide content that is essential for the health, safety, and wellbeing of our community.

Today’s post comes from a more personal perspective: it is a PSA provided by me, a 30-something mother of two young children; a bit crazed after a long rainy winter and weather-worn from COVID. It also comes from a place of humility as I share some things I’ve learned from my most recent “mommy fail.”

About a month ago I took a quick trip to a local playground with my two young daughters, ages 4 and 18 months. It was a park that we’d never been to before and my girls were running hog wild! At one point my youngest made her way to the top of the tallest slide, and, instead of grabbing her off and suffering the consequences of a toddler tantrum, I decided to take her down on my lap.

Big mistake. Her leg must have caught or twisted just so, resulting in a spiral fracture to her left tibia. 6 weeks with a full-leg cast. Not cool.

It was only after a blubbery call to my husband and a lengthy urgent care trip that I was informed by the doctor that sliding with a child on your lap isn’t something that you should do. I had no idea!

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, an estimated 352,698 children under the age of 6 were injured on slides in the United States from 2002 through 2015, and many of those injuries were leg fractures. Of those under 6 years old, toddlers age 12-23 months had the highest percentage of injuries. The most common injury overall was a fracture at 36 percent, usually involving the lower leg.

The biggest issue appears to be the size and weight of adults. When a young child slides down by themselves, they are unlikely to get a severe injury to their leg, even if the foot catches due to the relatively low forces involved. The force generated by the forward momentum of an adult with a child on their lap is much greater and can easily break a bone if a child’s foot gets caught on the slide.

Thankfully, my daughter’s leg is healing quickly enough and the cast is scheduled to come off in the next few weeks. However, the experience has definitely left me a bit unnerved. I am now finding every opportunity to share what I’ve learned with friends and family—and I hope you will share this information, too!

To prepare for the fun days of summer ahead, I am taking time to read up on other playground safety tips. If you’re interested in this type of information, here is a great place to start. Play equipment like swings and monkey bars can be incredibly fun, but they can also pose safety risks for children—especially those a bit more daring than the rest.

I hope you and your family enjoy our local playgrounds and have a wonderful June.

Play safe and have fun!


April is Child Abuse Prevention Month

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Post by the Skagit Valley Family YMCA

Every day, the Skagit Valley Family YMCA focuses on creating healthy activities and environments for kids to learn and grow! As part of this, each April, we join Washington State’s Department of Children Youth & Families (DCYF) in spreading awareness about child abuse and prevention strategies. Here are a few tips to help protect children in your community:

Know the signs.

Unexplained injuries aren’t the only signs of abuse. Depression, watchfulness, fear of a certain adult, difficulty trusting others or making friends, sudden changes in behavior, poor hygiene, secrecy, and hostility are often signs of abuse. Learn more about the signs here.

Evaluate if a report should be made.

Anyone who has reasonable cause to believe a child has suffered from or is at risk of abuse or neglect, should make a report. “Reasonable cause” means a person witnesses or receives a credible report alleging abuse. The report must be made at the first opportunity, no more than 48 hours after witnessing or receiving a credible concern.

Make a report.

If you witness a child being harmed or see evidence of abuse, make a report to your state’s child protective services department or local police. When talking to a child about abuse, listen carefully, assure the child that he or she did the right thing by telling an adult, and affirm that he or she is not responsible for what happened. If the child is in immediate danger, please call 911. For all other reports, call, text, or online chat the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1800- 422-4453).

Not sure about making a report? The Skagit Valley Family YMCA is here to help! All Y Kids staff are trained in child abuse prevention and reporting and our childcare centers are located across the Skagit Valley from Anacortes to Sedro-Woolley. Give us a call or visit one of our Skagit Y childcare centers.

Long-Term Effects

Child abuse has many long-term effects on children including brain trauma, PTSD, alcohol or drug use, and criminal activity. Childhood maltreatment has also been linked to life-long health problems including lung and heart damage, diabetes, high blood pressure, vision problems, and more. Fortunately, however, there is promising evidence that children’s brains and bodies may be able to recover with the help of early and appropriate interventions to decrease the risk of long-term effects.

Abuse Today

While school and childcare staff are trained to recognize the signs of potential abuse and the proper reporting procedures, COVID has limited contact that children have with trusted adults outside of their homes. With the lack of contact that trained adults have to youth due to COVID restrictions, there have been fewer reports made and a rise in hospital visits of kids who have experienced abuse or neglect. That’s why we need your help to identify and report signs of abuse or neglect. 

Get Involved

Join us for Wear Blue Day on April 2 as we kick-off child abuse prevention month! We encourage you to take photos and post them on social media using the hashtag #growingbettertogether and #CAPmonth.

Show your support by purchasing, making your own, or coloring a printable pinwheel! All proceeds from purchased pinwheels go toward Prevent Child Abuse America

Consider joining a parent group within Skagit and encourage other parents to keep an eye out for any signs of abuse or neglect. If you see something strange, you are likely not the only one. Together, you will be able to better determine if making a report is the right next step.

Prepare your Kids

Talk to your kids about what appropriate relationships look like with other adults. It may not be the right time for you to share what inappropriate behavior looks like, but by setting expectations for appropriate behavior, you provide a guide for your child to know what to expect and recognize behaviors that fall outside of the norm. It’s important for kids to know that they should trust their instincts and if something doesn’t feel right, to talk to you, a teacher, coach, or other trusted adult.

Even if your child isn’t exposed to abuse, they may know someone who is. Your kids are the best judge of any changes in their peers’ behavior and can help recognize potential signs of abuse or neglect. Consider asking your child questions such as: Did all of your friends seem happy today? Is there anyone in your class who seems left out? 

Many times, children who are abused, may repeat their abuse to other children without early intervention and support. Together, we can help stop the cycle to protect all children from abuse and neglect.


Get Familiar with the Family Resource Center!

Reading Time: 4 minutes

If you live in Skagit County and have young children, you most likely know about—and love—the Children’s Museum of Skagit County. Once snuggled in Cascade Mall, the museum now sits prominently at The Shops (a.k.a. the outlet mall) in Burlington.

It was truly a sad day for all Skagit families last year when the museum’s doors closed temporarily due to COVID-19. I can’t tell you how many times my toddler asked to go to the museum, only to be told that we couldn’t because of the virus.

But even though the doors have been closed to visitors, the staff at the Children’s Museum have been busier than ever! Through a partnership with the Children’s Council of Skagit County, Help Me Grow Washington, and Skagit County Public Health, the museum has been able to continue to serve our community in a new and innovative way.

What is the Help Me Grow – Family Resource Center?

Opened in October 2020, the Help Me Grow – Family Resource Center is the brainchild of the Children’s Council and was made possible through Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES Act) funding from Skagit County. Partners decided to house the center at the Children’s Museum because the museum was already an established, safe, and trusted community center for Skagit County families.

Though Skagit County has many resources for families, all too often community providers hear from people that they didn’t know that support was available at the time when they needed it. It is the goal of the Family Resource Center to make accessing help an easy process, so that families can quickly find what they need, when they need it, in the way that they need it.

Now, more than ever, parents and families need extra help. As our community faces this pandemic, we have witnessed the reality that many families are being left without a safety net, whether due to loss of income, loss of childcare, or the over-night shift to remote learning. Families are feeling stressed, anxious, and scared. Traditional supports (like extended family or neighbors) may also be less accessible because of state-mandated social distancing and concerns around disease transmission. 

Who can get assistance through the Center?

The Center is available to anyone who could benefit from a little extra help or connection. Even if a family isn’t struggling to afford basic needs, there are so many other types of supports and services available—if you are curious, just ask! The Center’s staff would love to hear from you!

When you contact the Center, staff will use a screening form to determine need. From your call, online form, or email, staff can prepare a package to meet your specific needs.

What kinds of assistance are available through the Center?

The Family Resource Center is providing reliable local information, referrals to services, and application assistance for public programs. The Center is also distributing emergency basic needs items to families who demonstrate a COVID-related financial need.

Whether parents are looking for connections with other parents, opportunities for fun and educational activities for their family, information about their child’s development, or help applying for services, Help Me Grow staff will be able to help in many ways. Here are some examples:

  • Basic Needs assistance: help with things like food, shelter, utilities, diapers
  • Pregnancy & Breastfeeding Support: maternity support services, new parent groups, and the support through the Welcome Baby program
  • Childcare/Early Learning: find options for childcare, preschool, play-and-learn groups, library story times, Kindergarten registration, and more
  • Family Fun: activities and events
  • Family Support: parent coaches, support groups, warm lines, and home visiting programs
  • Health and wellness: free/low-cost health care, dental care, family planning, mental health services and supports, and recovery services
  • Special needs: services and supports for families of children with health and developmental concerns

The Center is also providing activity kits and books to families to promote early learning and to help occupy young children in positive ways for short periods if their parents are struggling to care for their children while working from home, or assisting older children with virtual education. Each family receives a care package filled with items like hand sanitizer, cloth face masks, toothbrushes and toothpaste, bubbles, resource lists and information, tissues, Vroom parenting tips and prompts.

How can I connect with the Center?

TheFamily Resource Center is not a drop-in center, however staff will work with you if special arrangements are needed. There are several ways to get in contact with the Center, including by phone, text, email, and by submitting an online form. At present, assistance is available in English, Spanish, and Mixteco. See below for contact options:

Scheduled pickups are COVID-friendly. Plan for curb-side pickup at the Children’s Museum: 432 Fashion Way, Burlington, WA 98233.

Will the Center eventually close when COVID isn’t as prevalent?  

The Help Me Grow – Family Resource Center and partners are busily making plans for the future. Once the museum reopens in the coming weeks, the Family Resource Center will continue to operate out of the museum, and assistance will continue to be provided through curb-side pickup. Onsite programs, such as Kaleidoscope Play & Learn groups, the Parent Café weekly groups, and parenting classes will also resume at the museum.

Are there plans to reopen the museum soon?

Wait—did I just read that the museum will reopen soon?! Yes, you read correctly!

The Children’s Museum of Skagit County is excited to reopen on Wednesday, June 2nd! Museum staff are working tirelessly behind the scenes to prepare the facility and exhibits. The plan is to operate at reduced capacity (according to the WA State guidelines) with time ticketing and following all state mandates. At this time, staff are also planning for Summer Camps to take place this year. For updates about reopening, visit the Children’s Museum website here.

To learn more about the Help Me Grow – Family Resource Center, visit the Help Me Grow Skagit website. If you have questions about the program, or need additional information, call Skagit County Public Health at (360) 416-1500.


COVID-19 Vaccines & Children

Reading Time: 5 minutes

On March 17th, Washington State will move into the next COVID-19 vaccine tier: Phase 1b-Tier 2. That means that even more people will soon be eligible for a vaccine. And—for the first time—some minors will become eligible for the vaccine, as well.

Those eligible beginning later this month will include people 16 and older who are pregnant and people 16 and older with disabilities that put them at high-risk for severe illness. In April, the State estimates that people 16 and older with two or more underlying conditions that put them at higher risk of severe illness will also become eligible.

Parents and those 16 and older may have questions or concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine—and that is okay! Below are some answers to commonly asked questions about the vaccine that may help parents and minors decide whether the vaccine is right for them. And of course, if you don’t find the answers you are looking for here, talk to your child’s pediatrician.

Are children currently eligible for the vaccine?

At this moment, children are not eligible for the vaccine in Washington State. Those 16 and older who are pregnant and people 16 and older with disabilities that put them at high-risk for severe illness will be eligible when the state moves to the next tier (Phase 1b-Tier 2) on March 17th.

When will I know when my child is eligible?

To determine your child’s eligibility (or your own), visit www.findyourphasewa.org. After completing the online survey, you will be notified when you or your child become eligible for the vaccine. You can also find updates about eligibility on our website at www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine.

Is the vaccine safe for children?

The vaccines that have been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) thus far are safe for the ages included in their authorizations. At present, only the Pfizer vaccine is authorized for use in people 16 and older; the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are authorized for use in people 18 and older. Currently, there are no vaccines that have been authorized for use in ages younger than 16.

For more information about vaccine safety, visit: https://www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/COVID19/VaccineInformation/SafetyandEffectiveness#heading62095.

Have the vaccines been tested in children?

To date, only the Pfizer vaccine has been authorized for use in those 16 year and older. This is because the Pfizer vaccine included those 16 and older in clinical trials, and data was collected on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine on this population.

Vaccine developers are now studying their vaccines in younger adolescents between the ages of 12 and 16. Once these studies are complete, the developers will report the results and apply for authorization through the FDA to vaccinate children as young as 12. Developers will begin studying their vaccines in children between age 5 and 11 after results from adolescent trials are made available.

Are the vaccines effective in children?

The Pfizer vaccine (which has been authorized for those 16 years and older) boasts 95% protection against COVID-19 after an individual has received both doses of their vaccine. This is an extremely high level of protection! Please keep in mind that this is a two-dose vaccine, given 21 days apart. Your child will not be considered fully protected until two weeks after they receive their second dose.

Will the vaccine affect my child’s future fertility?

No. There is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine affects future fertility. Experts believe that COVID-19 vaccines are unlikely to pose a risk to a person trying to become pregnant in the short or long term. The COVID-19 vaccines are being studied carefully by scientists around the globe, and their safety will be studied continuously for many years, just like other vaccines.

My child has already had COVID-19. Should they still get the vaccine?

Yes, people should be vaccinated regardless of whether they already had COVID-19. Experts do not yet know how long people are protected from getting sick again after recovering from COVID-19, and information is still being gathered around how long protection lasts. If your child was treated for COVID-19 with monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma, talk to their doctor before making a vaccine appointment.

Should my child get the COVID-19 vaccine if they are currently sick with COVID-19?

No, it is recommended that those who are currently sick with COVID-19 should wait until they have fully recovered before receiving the vaccine. If you have questions, please consult your child’s pediatrician before scheduling a vaccine appointment.

Are there side effects after getting the vaccine?

Minor side effects are possible after receiving the vaccine. Common side effects may include:

  • Pain at the site of the injection
  • Painful, swollen lymph nodes in the arm where the vaccine was injected
  • Tiredness
  • Headache
  • Muscle or joint aches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever or chills

When side effects occur, they typically last just a few days. A side effect or reaction isn’t necessarily a bad thing! It may indicate that the body is building protection against the virus. Talk to your child’s pediatrician about taking over-the-counter medicine, such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or antihistamines, for any pain and discomfort they may experience after getting vaccinated.

Note: If your child has experienced severe complications (such as anaphylaxis) in the past after receiving a vaccine, please consult their pediatrician before scheduling a COVID vaccine appointment.

Where can my child get the vaccine?

When your child becomes eligible for the vaccine, they will be able to schedule an appointment with any provider that is administering the Pfizer vaccine (which is authorized for use in those 16 years and older). To find a provider near you, visit: https://www.doh.wa.gov/YouandYourFamily/Immunization/VaccineLocations. You can also call Skagit County’s Vaccine Hotline at (360) 416-1500 for assistance.

Who should come to my child’s vaccine appointment and what should they bring with them?

Check with the vaccine provider for specific instructions regarding minors with vaccine appointments. For some providers, a parent or legal guardian may be required on-site at the time of the appointment in order to provide consent for vaccination of a minor.

If making an appointment at the Skagit County Fairgrounds Vaccine Site: Consent to vaccinate will be required for dependent minors. Dependent minors should either bring a parent/legal guardian with them to their appointment, or be prepared to have their parent/guardian provide verbal consent by phone at the time of their appointment. If a parent/guardian is planning to accompany a minor, please limit to one accompanying adult per patient. For more information about our clinic, visit: www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine.

How much will the vaccine cost?

The federal government will pay for the full cost of the vaccine. You should not be charged out of pocket costs or receive a bill from your provider for the COVID-19 vaccine administration fee.

As my child’s caregiver, am I also eligible to be vaccinated?

Most people will become eligible for vaccine based on their age, occupation type, or medical status. To find out if you are eligible, visit: www.findyourphasewa.org. You can also access the state’s full prioritization plan here: https://www.doh.wa.gov/Portals/1/Documents/1600/coronavirus/SummaryInterimVaccineAllocationPriortization.pdf.

If you are a caregiver of a child with disability who is eligible under Phase 1b-Tier 2, you may be eligible under Phase 1a. Caregivers who meet the definition below are eligible for vaccine in Phase 1a as workers in health care settings:

  • Eligible caregivers (licensed, unlicensed, paid, unpaid, formal, or informal) who support the daily, functional and health needs of another individual who is at high risk for COVID-19 illness due to advanced age, long-term physical condition, co-morbidities, or developmental or intellectual disability. For the caregiver to be eligible, the care recipient:
    • Must be someone who needs caregiving support for their daily, functioning, and health needs.
    • Can be an adult or minor child. For dependent minor children, the caregiver is eligible if that child has an underlying health condition or disability that puts them at high risk for severe COVID-19 illness. For example: a caregiver of a minor child with Down syndrome.

To determine your eligibility, visit findyourphasewa.org and respond “Yes” when asked if you work in a health care setting.

My child is over 16 and pregnant. Should they receive the vaccine?

There is currently no evidence that antibodies formed from COVID-19 vaccination cause any problems with pregnancy, including the development of the placenta. In addition, there is no evidence suggesting that fertility problems are a side effect of any vaccine. If you or your child has specific concerns, please consult your child’s physician.


Preventing Poisoning During COVID-19

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Earlier this month, the Washington Poison Center (WAPC) released its data “snapshot” for 2020. This is something that WAPC puts out annually in order to educate the public about poisoning trends at the state level. These trends are based on the types of calls that WPAC’s hotline receives throughout the year, compared to years prior.

This year has been one for the books in so many ways, and the new data snapshot tells an interesting story. I had the opportunity to talk with one of WPAC’s staff, and I’d like to share what I learned.

But first: What is the Washington Poison Center (WAPC)?

The Washington Poison Center (WAPC) provides immediate, free, and expert treatment advice and assistance on the telephone in case of exposure to poisonous, hazardous, or toxic substances. Each year, its specialists answer more than 63,000 calls from Washingtonians related to poisoning and toxic exposures. All calls are free, confidential, and help is available 24/7/365.

Major Takeaways

COVID-19 has increased our risks of accidental poisoning. Period. So what is the reason for this increase? WAPC staff believe that it is due to several factors, including:

  • We are home more due to social distancing and other safety guidance
  • We may have new daily routines this year that are out of the ordinary
  • More products in the home (perhaps due to stockpiling) may cause increased access
  • More stress can cause people to be less focused
  • Rumors and misinformation can lead to dangerous choices

Calls to the Center have increased in 2020, and staff have seen spikes in calls regarding substances common to COVID prevention (hand sanitizer and household cleaners). They have also seen spikes in calls for vulnerable demographics like adolescents and adults over 60.

This data is concerning, and parallels poison trends across the U.S.

Cleaners & Sanitizers

It isn’t unusual for WAPC to receive calls about household cleaners; however, this year has definitely seen a serious uptick. Most calls have been in regards to accidental poisonings, or poisonings due to misuse (mixing products, using in low ventilated areas, etc).

The vast majority of hand sanitizer exposures have been in children ages 0-12, most likely due to increased access to the products in the home. The high alcohol content in these products can be very dangerous for young children, so it is extremely important to supervise kids when using hand sanitizer and to make sure that bottles are always out of reach.

Nicotine

An interesting find this year has been the decrease in nicotine exposure calls. In 2020, nicotine exposure in children ages 0-5 actually decreased—a trend that even WAPC staff were a bit surprised about. Perhaps the decrease is due to parents being home more? Or perhaps the new Tobacco 21 law has decreased access to these products? While it is difficult to pinpoint direct correlations, it is certainly nice to see this type of data!

That said, it is still very important to keep nicotine products stored safely and away from children. The vast majority of calls for 0-5 year old’s were for raw tobacco, with vape products in second. WAPC staff explained that raw tobacco can be dangerous, but vape liquid—if ingested—can be fatal. Always, always, keep these products away from children, as flavored liquids can be especially enticing to little kids.

Cannabis

WAPC 2020 Data Snapshot

Trends for THC exposure are less rosy. All age groups saw an increase in THC exposures this year, with a sizeable increase among children 0-5. Among this group, exposures were almost 100% due to unintentional use (getting a hold of an edible, plant-based product, or concentrate). Safe and secure storage of these products is crucial to keeping kids safe.

Medications

This is another area that has historically been a concern for WAPC, however COVID has exacerbated the problem. Stress, distractions, and new routines can lead to user error and poor judgement. WAPC staff encourage people to use medication lists, trackers, and reminders in order to decrease risk of double-dosing or mixing meds.

It is also encouraged that people secure medications in the home. This simple step can decrease the likelihood of accidental poisonings in young children, or misuse among adolescents.

Adolescent Self-harm

By far, this data tells the most worrisome story. Historically, data has shown an increase in youth self-harm/suicidal intent since 2014, and this trend continues. COVID-19 related isolation and stress may increase these risks—something that mental health experts have been concerned about for months.

WAPC 2020 Data Snapshot

It is encouraging, however, to see this data and to realize just how amazing our kids are. Despite all the ups and downs of 2020, our youth are showing resilience in magnitudes. We must not forget that we can all make a positive difference everyday in the lives of our young people.

Two steps that each of us can take today are: 1) locking up medications (even over-the-counter meds like Tylenol and Advil); and 2) talking to our children about substance use. Don’t know where to start with this? Visit Start Talking Now for some ideas.

What to expect when you call

It doesn’t need to be an emergency to call the Washington Poison Center—you can call to get advice or directions if you are concerned or confused about poison-related issues.

You will speak with an expert (nurse, pharmacist, or poison information provider), and there are always Board Certified Medical Toxicologists on-call if necessary. You are not required to give your name, however providing your age and gender can be extremely helpful in order to gauge risk. What was taken, when, and how much are other vital details to provide to the staff.

These calls are always confidential. You do not need to be worried about law enforcement or CPS getting involved. WAPC is concerned about your safety and about providing care.

Staff are trained to provide direction on what to do, what to watch for, and most of the time this can all happen with the caller at home. If/when it is decided that the caller needs medical intervention, staff can advise the caller to go to the emergency room, or WAPC can actually contact EMS on the caller’s behalf.

Finally, WAPC staff will follow-up with you—just to make sure that everything is alright!

It is important to be vigilant when it comes to poisoning prevention—now more than ever. With that said, I feel comforted in knowing that there are trained professionals available to answer my questions. If you don’t have the Washington Poison Center’s phone number somewhere in your home, I encourage you to jot it down! 1-800-222-1222

You never know when you might need it!

To view the Washington Poison Center’s full data report, visit: www.wapc.org/programs/covid-19-resources-information/covid-19-data/.


Staying Healthy, Staying Active: Physical Education During Distance Learning

Reading Time: 3 minutes

It is National Health Education Week—a week in which we seek to increase national awareness on major public health issues and promote a better understanding of the role of health education. And who better to highlight than our fabulous health educators in schools?!

In celebration of National Health Education Week, I wanted to share what local Physical Education (PE) teachers have been doing to keep students healthy and active during this not-so-normal school year. This particular interview is with Michele Kloke, a PE teacher with the Sedro-Woolley School District.

What grades and subjects do you teach?

I teach Kindergarten through 6th grade currently. I’ve been a Specialist most of my years in Sedro-Woolley—a Librarian/Tech teacher, PE Specialist, and I’ve even taught Kindergarten and 1st grade. What I LOVE about being a Specialist at Lyman Elementary is that I normally get to see each child every day!  It is also what’s made teaching remotely so difficult. I’ve missed the personal contact with our students. We all have.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I have other teaching responsibilities besides PE so part of my day is devoted to those. While some of our PE teachers are teaching online, others—like myself—are teaching remotely because it works best for our situations. Time is spent researching sites and activities that reinforce the curriculum we are teaching within our district as elementary PE teachers. Other activities include: emails, Zoom Meetings, videotaping to make lessons more personal, Loom, work on Google Classroom, Google Slide lessons, creating Docs, PD Trainings, working on site and more.

What types of things do you do to keep students engaged?

I keep things perky and provide lots of options and choices for them to engage in as they work on lesson TARGETS and Success Criteria. Making sure the sites and activities are not only engaging but that they provide differentiation and awesome Challenges is important. The Challenges are usually ones we’ve done in class or are from experts in a sport or activity. It’s inspiring!  I also give students the choice to do their own activities and let me know what they did on their Exit Slips.

I use Google Slides and link them to PE Google Classrooms. What’s great about using Google Slides is that I can personalize them and it gives students and their families more flexibility. They can do a slide or two a day (lessons are meant to be done over several days) and they can do them when it works best for them. Having Exit Slips at the end of each lesson is a way to engage students and provide feedback. I also like to email, encourage, and congratulate students on their effort.

Those teaching lessons via Zoom mentioned they try to keep things light, lively, and keep students moving.

What are some things that students can be doing at home on their own time to stay active and stay healthy?

Take brain breaks often! Even 2 minutes of movement is helpful in boosting their ability to stay focused. Longer is better, of course! Getting outside, riding bikes, or just playing and moving will do wonders! Students are building and growing their bodies right now so movement is really important, and eating foods that are healthy. This time of year provides a lot of fresh and delicious food choices.

What has been the biggest struggle so far this school year?

One of my cohorts said it well: “…It seems ironic that PE teachers are using screen time to encourage physical activity, but that’s our means of communication with students at this time.”

Another challenge with PE in our elementary schools is consistent participation in the lessons. While each school is unique in its approach, the lessons are following a district-generated set of instruction which, unfortunately, not all students are receiving.

Troubleshooting technology issues and learning new technology has also been challenging.

What have been some really great moments for you this year?

For all of us, hearing from our students and families personally via emails, posts, or other means is THE BEST! We miss them SO much and love any and all contact we receive.

For example, one of my students mentioned that she hadn’t completed the PE Lesson yet because she and her family went on a long hike. Then she proceeded to explain all the crazy, exciting things that happened on their hike including getting snowed on. I loved hearing that story and it helped make me feel more connected. 

Also, recently beginning to teach PE in-person with our K-2 students has been WONDERFUL!

If you could tell parents one thing, what would you tell them?

Stay healthy and stay active! This isn’t forever, but being active is. Please, take screen time breaks as often as possible by doing something fun that involves movement. You’ll be glad you did…and so will your child. We miss you and your children!


Red Ribbon Week & Youth Substance Use

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Red Ribbon Week is dedicated to spreading awareness about youth substance use prevention and the mission of keeping all kids drug-free. It takes place every year from October 23 through October 31st, and this year is no exception. Your student’s health teacher or prevention specialist may be touching on some prevention messaging right now, so it could be a prime opportunity to continue this conversation with your child (if you aren’t doing so already). So let’s talk prevention!

Why is it important?

Ninety percent of people with addictions started using substances in their teen years. Beginning at age 10 through the mid- to late-20s, massive changes are underway in the brain. This includes the development of capabilities related to impulse control, managing emotions, problem-solving and anticipating consequences. Substance use during this time period can cause the brain to be more susceptible to addiction and other mental health disorders, especially for kids who are vulnerable.

Substance use and COVID-19

Some early research is coming out that shows that youth substance use rates are being negatively impacted by COVID-19 and social distancing measures. An article written in the Journal for Adolescent Health noted that, of those adolescents surveyed, “the percentage of users decreased [since the beginning of COVID-19]; however, the frequency of both alcohol and cannabis use increased.” Perhaps of more concern is that, while the majority of those using substances were engaging in solitary substance use (49.3%), “many were still using substances with peers via technology (31.6%) and, shockingly, even face to face (23.6%).” For parents who are actively working to keep their kids COVID-free, this added information may be worrisome.

Risks of use and COVID-19

We do not know yet if the occurrence of COVID-19 is higher for people who use drugs or have substance use disorder than for those who don’t use drugs, however some underlying medical conditions seem to increase risk of severe illness from COVID-19. For example, vaping may harm lung health, and emerging evidence suggests that exposure to aerosols from e-cigarettes harms the cells of the lung and diminishes the ability to respond to infection. For this reason, it is possible that drug use could make COVID-19 illness more severe, but more evidence is needed.

Can parents really make a difference?

Absolutely! Parents are the biggest influence in a teen’s life. Even though it may not appear to be true at times, deep down they still want you involved. A strong parent/child bond, especially during the teen years, helps reduce the chances of them engaging in unhealthy behavior and helps set the stage for preventing nicotine, alcohol, and drug use.

When and how to talk about substance use?

These conversations should happen frequently, and typically work best when a parent and child are already engaging in some type of activity together. It is important to listen, show empathy, and be understanding. Connecting often, communicating about your expectations and setting boundaries, and even encouraging healthy risk taking are all things that parents can do to set their children up for success.

Parents can begin talking with their children about drug prevention at a surprisingly young age! These early conversations may not sound exactly like “drug prevention;” instead, the focus should be on laying a strong foundation of trust and openness, while also teaching (and demonstrating) healthy habits. For tips on how to talk to your child at any age, visit: https://drugfree.org/article/prevention-tips-for-every-age/.

What should parents be looking out for?

Figuring out if your child is using substances can be challenging; many of the signs and symptoms are typical teen or young adult behavior. However, sometimes they can be attributed to underlying issues.  Mental health concerns like depression and anxiety, as well as traumatic events or periods of transition, can create a greater risk for the development of problematic substance use. Children and teens are dealing with a lot of changes right now, making it all the more important that parents be looking out for concerning behavior.

If you have reason to suspect use, don’t be afraid to err on the side of caution. Prepare to take action and have a conversation during which you can ask direct questions like “Have you been drinking, vaping or using drugs?” No parent wants to hear “yes,” but being prepared for how you would respond can be the starting point for a more positive outcome.

Where do I go for help?

There is help available if you are concerned that your child may be using substances—or even if you’re struggling with how to begin a conversation! Drugfree.org has one-on-one help available for parents: visit https://drugfree.org/article/get-one-on-one-help/ for ways to connect.

Want to get involved in your community?

Between now and December 15th, our three prevention community coalitions are collecting information from Skagit County adults (18+) about their perceptions regarding local youth substance use. Do you live or work in one of these communities? Consider filing out the survey! Your feedback has direct influence on prevention programming available for youth and families.

Mount Vernon
English- https://www.research.net/r/SKMTVEEN2020
Spanish- https://es.research.net/r/SKMTVESP2020

Sedro-Woolley
English- https://www.research.net/r/SKSEWOEN2020
Spanish- https://es.research.net/r/SKSEWOSP2020

Concrete
English- https://www.research.net/r/SKCOEN2020

For more information about prevention in Skagit County, visit: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/Health/preventionmain.htm


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!