Gathering safely this Holiday Season

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Although Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and other celebrations are sure to look a little different again this year, things aren’t looking nearly as ominous as they were in 2020! On Friday, October 15th, the CDC updated its guidance for safe Holiday Celebrations. This year’s holiday guidance ensures that with a few precautions, you’ll still be able to gather with family.

So, what is considered safe, and what could be a bit risky this winter? Here’s how to keep yourself and your loved ones safe this holiday season, based on recommendations from the CDC.

Most importantly…Get vaccinated!

Because many generations tend to gather to celebrate holidays, the best way to minimize COVID-19 risk and keep your family and friends safer is to get vaccinated if you’re eligible.

At this time, there is still a percentage of our population that is unvaccinated, including children 11 and younger who aren’t yet eligible. By getting vaccinated, you are doing your part to keep these family members and friends safe.

If you haven’t yet gotten your vaccine, there is still time before Thanksgiving! To be fully vaccinated by Thursday, November 25th, you’ll need to get your first dose of Pfizer by Thursday, October 18th. Want to go the single-dose route? Get your Jonson & Johnson vaccine by November 11th.

To find a vaccine near you, go to https://vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov/.

Outdoors is best. If indoors, wear a mask.

Outdoor gatherings are still safer than indoor gatherings since COVID-19 spreads more easily indoors than outdoors. Studies have also shown that people are more likely to be exposed to COVID-19 when they are closer than 6 feet apart from others for longer periods of time.

If possible, plan to host holiday gatherings outdoors or in well-ventilated spaces (think a garage with the door open, a back patio, or nearby park). If gathering indoors, plan for people 5 and older to wear well-fitting masks, especially if folks are not fully vaccinated. For kiddos 2-4 years old, a mask is also recommended at this time considering our high transmission rates.

Note: In Washington, masks are required to be worn by all people five and older, regardless of vaccination status, in indoor public spaces, and in outdoor settings with 500 or more people. Beginning on November 15th, masks will also be required at certain indoor and outdoor large, ticketed events.

If traveling, plan ahead and take precautions.

If you are considering traveling for the holidays this year, visit the CDC’s Travel page to help you decide what is best for you and your family.

Some things to note:

Plan to test for COVID-19 before you leave. And remember that testing appointments may be in high demand this holiday season, so if you need proof of a negative test, plan accordingly.

To find a testing location near you, go to www.skagitcounty.net/coronavirus.

Postpone if sick, and when in doubt…get tested!

If you are sick or have symptoms of COVID-19, don’t host or attend a gathering until your symptoms have cleared. It is better to postpone than to potential spread the virus to those you love. If, in the days prior to your gathering, you develop symptoms of COVID-19 or have had close contact with someone who has COVID-19, get tested!

So, what if you’ve attended a party or gathering and are now sick with symptoms?

If you are unvaccinated

  • Stay home for 14 days after your last contact with a person who has COVID-19.
  • Watch for fever (100.4°F), cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms of COVID-19.
  • If possible, stay away from others, especially people who are at higher risk for getting very sick from COVID-19.

If you are fully vaccinated

  • Get tested 3-5 days after the exposure, even if you don’t have any symptoms.
  • Wear a mask indoors in public for 14 days following the exposure or until your test result is negative.

The holidays are definitely doable this year, we just need to take a little extra precaution. Get vaccinated, wear a mask, gather outdoors if possible, and stay home if sick. It’s as easy as (pumpkin) pie!


Is it safe to Trick-or-Treat this Halloween?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

UPDATE: The CDC is currently in the process of updating its Holiday Guidance. We will update the information below if recommendations change for Halloween 2021.

It’s October, and you know what that means: HALLOWEEN! And since last year was a bit of a dud, it’s no wonder that people have some questions about this year’s trick-or-treating prospects.

This year is different in many ways from Halloween of 2020. Last October, we were still a few months away from any sort of COVID vaccine. This year, our vaccination rates are sitting at just over 72 percent for Skagitonians 12 years and older, and more people are choosing to get vaccinated each day.

Unfortunately, this October, our case and hospitalization rates are also higher than they’ve ever been throughout the pandemic. Though our vaccination rates are promising, we still have approximately 37 percent of our entire population unvaccinated, including kiddos under 11 who are not yet eligible. This means that we still have many Skagitonians who do not have protection against the virus and are at increased risk.

For this reason, it makes sense that people would have some reservations about going out on the 31st. So, is Halloween safe this year? Well … the answer is, like most things these days, not super straight forward.

To Trick-or-Treat, or not?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has given the “okay” for children nationwide to trick-or-treat this Halloween—one year after it advised against the tradition last year due to coronavirus concerns. That said, there are a few caveats to consider.

Experts say it’s still best to take precautionary measures for Halloween given that most trick-or-treating children are younger than 11 years old and thus, still unvaccinated. If children do go trick-or-treating, it is recommended that they do so in small groups. Also, when possible, it is best to avoid scenarios where many people are concentrated in a central location.

The CDC has published a helpful guide for people planning to trick-or-treat this year. Some tips for safe trick-or-treating include:

For people passing out candy:

  • Avoid direct contact with trick-or-treaters.
  • Give out treats outdoors, if possible.
  • Set up a station with individually bagged treats for kids to take.
  • Wash hands before handling treats.
  • And of course, wear a mask!

For kids collecting candy:

  • Wear a mask!
    • PRO TIP: Make the mask a part of the costume! But remember, costume masks are not a substitute for a well-fitting cloth mask.
    • Remember: Kids younger than two years of old should never wear a mask to decrease the risk of suffocation.
  • Wash or sanitize hands frequently. Before settling down to devour treats, wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Maintain distance by staying at least 6 feet away from others who do not live with you.

What about fall festivals and Halloween parties?

In areas with high numbers of COVID-19 cases, like Skagit County, it is recommended that people two years and older wear a mask in crowded outdoor settings and while attending outdoor activities where close contact with others is expected. This would include your fall festivals, pumpkin patches, trunk-or-treating events, and the like.

If planning to go to a large event outdoors, please know that the statewide mask mandate requires that masks are worn at large outdoor events of 500 or more people. This includes all people five years and older, regardless of an individual’s vaccination status.   

In general, folks are asked to avoid large Halloween parties this year, especially parties taking place indoors with people from multiple households. When getting together, gathering outdoors is much safer than gathering indoors.

For those who choose to gather indoors, please:

  • Wear a well-fitted face mask
  • Keep your distance (6 feet or more)
  • Ventilate the space by opening doors and windows

If gathering in an indoor public space this year, know that the statewide mandate requires that masks be worn by all people five and older, regardless of an individual’s vaccination status.

What’s the best thing to do to prepare for fall and winter festivities?

The principles of this pandemic really do continue to hold. Outdoor gatherings are better than indoor gatherings, ventilation is important, and masking remains crucial.

But above all else, the best thing you can do right now is to get vaccinated. This is the easiest thing that you can do to keep yourself, and your loved ones, safe this fall and winter. And while you’re at it, get your flu shot, too!

Getting vaccinated now will help make this Halloween better than last year’s and will ensure many spooky-fun Halloweens to come. Want to be fully vaccinated in time for the 31st? You still have time! Get your single-dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine by October 17th, and you’re covered!

Ready to get your shot? Go to https://vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov/ or stop by the Skagit County Fairgrounds on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, or Friday between 3-7pm.

For more holiday gathering guidance, go to the CDC’s webpage at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/index.html.


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.