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


Take it Outside!

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Rosemary Alpert, contributing author

Spring is in full swing. It is, without a doubt, the best time of the year to get outdoors and enjoy the longer days of sunlight. Now is the time to welcome these special spring-time opportunities; to appreciate the beauty, fresh air and growing abundance that surrounds us here in Skagit County.  

On April 15, the Governor exclaimed excitedly that it is time to “Take it Outside”. He suggested that, over the coming weeks, we should all be thinking about ways to take our plans outdoors. As he stated about the increase in COVID-19 cases, “Extraordinary times, take extraordinary measures…we are not out of the woods yet.” But ya know what? We can go out into the woods and explore! 

Across the state, many counties are on the verge of moving back into Phase 2 of the Roadmap to Recovery reopening plan, as we are in the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. To keep moving forward, we must continue our collective, healthy progression by getting vaccinated and wearing our masks in public.

Whatever you are planning, take it outside. Let’s think “out of the box”! There are so many unique possibilities to explore here in Skagit County. Let’s take advantage of them!

Need some inspiration? Here are a few ideas to give a try!

Note: Please be sure to wear your mask when in public settings and when gathering with other unvaccinated people (including children)!

  • Plan a small gathering with family or friends at a park or in someone’s backyard.
  • Make a picnic lunch or dinner and find a local park to enjoy your meal. 
  • Watch the sunrise or sunset. 
  • Meet a friend for a walk along the river or under the stars. 
  • Celebrate a birthday or special occasion at a playground!
  • If you can, take work outside! Arrange a meeting or call out of the office. 
  • Explore hiking, running and walking trails across our state. 
  • Plant a garden! There’s nothing more relaxing than tending the earth and listening to the birds. 
  • Paint, dance, sing, photograph—all can be taken outside!
  • Learn a new sport. 
  • Find a quiet spot to read, meditate, or enjoy yoga. 
  • Play with your dog…you know he’ll love it.  
  • Experience outdoor dining and support our local establishments. 
  • Listen to or create music. 
  • Connect with your community; volunteer!

Let’s take advantage of our longer days, be creative, replenish and have fun. After all, there are so many more options available to us this year compared to spring-time 2020. As we move forward with vitality, please–mask up, get vaccinated and “take it outside”!

If you haven’t already, start your spring and summer by getting vaccinated, and help your loved ones do the same. This is the very best thing that you can do to protect yourself and your family and friends, as well as ensure that we continue to move forward with reopening. For more information on COVID-19 vaccinations please visit, www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine or call the hotline at 360-416-1500. If you have any questions about the vaccines, talk with your health care provider!

“Rosario Beach” 
©Rosemary DeLucco Alpert, 2021 

This Sunday, Let’s Play it Safe

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I’m not going to lie. I do not care about football. At all. Games are long and boring. In pre-COVID times, I’d go shopping while my husband watched games. When it came to the Super Bowl, I was 100% in for the snacks and hanging out with friends. But this year, like so many other things COVID-19 has taken away, I won’t be hanging out with friends. It will just be me and my husband. And the snacks.

That doesn’t mean we can’t still be social! If there is one thing the pandemic has shown us, it’s that it’s really not that hard to connect with friends and family, no matter where they are. Zoom, Skype, FaceTime—whatever your preferred method of video chat—are available 24-7. Use them! If you’re looking for a social connection this Sunday while you watch the game, set up a group call with friends and/or family, and react to the plays (and commercials and halftime show) in real time from a safe distance.

Share snack recipes or see who can come up with the most unique game day treat. Compete with each other for who can dress in the best football garb. Play Game Day or commercial BINGO. There are free printable versions online, or make up your own if you’re creative! Take bets on the final score. Loser owes the winner cupcakes or beef jerky or whatever you’re into.

But if you absolutely cannot fathom being physically apart from friends and/or extended family for the big game, please take steps to keep your party from becoming a super spreader event. Remember: COVID-19 spreads really easily, even without symptoms.

So what can you do to hold a safer gathering?

  1. Limit your gathering to one other household. The more households, the greater the risk of virus transmission.
  2. Stay outside. Use a projector to watch the game. Go inside only when absolutely necessary.
  3. Stay six feet or more from people you don’t live with. This also means no high fives except for air high fives.
  4. Wear a mask. Even if you’re outside and at least six feet apart, you still need to wear a mask. Take it off when you’re actively eating and drinking, but put it back on between bites or sips.
  5. Limit your yelling/cheering. The louder you speak, the more aerosols you emit, and the more likely you are to spread the virus if you have it. Bring a noisemaker, clap, stomp your feet, silently swear to yourself—whatever you need to do to keep your volume down and your aerosols to yourself.
  6. Bring your own food/drinks. Share snacks only with members of your own household. Obviously, this means you need to make the most delicious appetizer so everyone else is jealous. And for once, you don’t need to share!
  7. On that note, bring your own plates, cups, utensils, etc.
  8. Keep hand sanitizer handy. If you touch a common surface, wash your hands or use sanitizer.
  9. Moderate your alcohol intake. We all know alcohol lowers our inhibitions. If you have a few too many, you may be less likely to take proper COVID-19 precautions.
  10. Looking for more tips: Check out these from the CDC.

Public Health definitely doesn’t encourage you to hold or attend a gathering this Sunday. But if you do choose to gather, please be as safe as possible!


Moving Indoors: Staying Safe & Healthy this Winter Season

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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.


Are playgrounds re-opening? What you need to know.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I was scrolling through my social media newsfeed on a recent Saturday morning, when a particular post caught my eye: Mount Vernon playgrounds have re-opened. As a mom of a toddler who has been shut out of all playgrounds and splash-pads this summer, I nearly jumped for joy. My first thought was, “FINALLY! Shoes on! Let’s go!” … But then reality set in. Is it too soon? Is it safe? All the anxieties of the past six months flooded my brain and I spent the rest of the morning debating about our next move.

After quickly scoping out our nearest park, I decided that we would give it a try. My daughter couldn’t put her shoes on fast enough when I told her we could go. Before I knew it, we were walking up to her favorite twisty slide, and she looked back at me with reservation in her eyes. It felt so alien to be at a playground again, and even weirder to encourage her to climb onto the steps.  

All in all, it was a wonderful morning. She had a blast! But I was glad that I’d talked to my daughter about my expectations before we went, and about how we had to continue to be careful about keeping our distance when around others. Here are some things that I took into account before we left the house that may be helpful for you and your family.

Talk to your child about keeping their distance

Even though playgrounds may be reopening, we should be trying our best to keep a six-foot distance from others, and this can be really hard to accomplish between children at a playground! Talk to your child before you leave the house about what your expectations are, and even practice what six feet looks like. Discuss some things that your child can say if another child is getting too close, and reassure them that you will be there to help them.

Note: While you may be able to control what your own child is doing, it may be difficult to make sure other children are keeping their distance. Stay close to your child and discuss any concerns that you may have with the parents/caregivers of the other children at the playground (if it becomes problematic). If it is too difficult to keep distance, be prepared to leave.

Go during “non-peak” hours

Go to the playground when it isn’t busy, and leave (or take a snack break and come back) if it gets crowded. Though the park was empty when we arrived in mid-morning, within several minutes we were greeted by two other families. I think if we went again, I’d make a point to go earlier (since it was a sunny Saturday, after all) or maybe even a bit later in the afternoon. Keeping your distance—as mentioned above—is much easier to achieve if the playground isn’t crowded.

Take the usual health precautions

This is nothing new, but it is important to keep in mind regardless! Adults and children must wear masks when at the playground (exception being children younger than two  years old and those with health exemptions), and sanitize your hands often. Bring some hand sanitizer with you to have in your pocket, and talk to your child about avoiding touching their eyes, nose, and mouth.

Be sure to follow the signs!

Some parks may not have opened their restroom facilities yet, so make alternate plans for going to the restroom. If the facilities are open, be sure to wear your mask and try to avoid congregating in big crowds. When you are using the restroom families, take the opportunity to wash everyone’s hands! Hand sanitizer is great, but nothing beats good, old-fashioned soap and water.

Weigh the pros and cons

I had to wrestle with the pros and cons of going back to the playground and even made a few false starts before we actually made it there that morning. Even though being outdoors lowers the risks of infection, there are absolutely some risks associated with crowding and contaminated surfaces. In the end, I trust the benefits to our mental health outweigh the potential risks. That being said, I made sure to follow instructions on all posted signage, and practiced safe distancing and proper hygiene throughout our trip. I also don’t know if we will continue to go if the parks begin to get crowded. I guess I’ll make that judgment call when and if the time comes.  

Take care of yourself, and take care of others. Oh, and don’t forget the sunscreen!