Updated Quarantine Requirements for Vaccinated Persons

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On February 10th, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced some recent changes to quarantine requirements for those who are fully vaccinated. This update comes at a perfect time as more people are getting vaccinated and as many are beginning to wonder what life will look like post-vaccine.

If you have been following the news, or if you have been recently vaccinated, you have most likely heard the recommendations: Vaccinated persons should continue to follow current guidance to protect themselves and others, including wearing a mask, staying at least 6 feet away from others, and avoiding crowds.

But why must those who have received both doses of vaccine continue to practice these safety precautions? Shouldn’t we be able to go back to normal once vaccines are more readily available?

Well…the science just isn’t there quite yet to tell us otherwise!

What we know—and don’t know just yet

We know that the currently approved COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19, meaning that those who have received a full vaccine series have protection against developing symptoms and are especially protected against severe illness related to COVID-19. The evidence also shows that symptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission has a greater role in transmission that purely asymptomatic transmission.

While mRNA COVID-19 vaccines (like Pfizer and Moderna) have demonstrated high efficacy at preventing severe and symptomatic COVID-19, there is limited information on how effective the vaccines are at reducing transmission and how long protection lasts. The efficacy of the vaccines against emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants is also not yet known.

As we wait to learn more about how much vaccines are able to reduce transition, it is best to be cautious. Counties across Washington State have shown reductions in COVID-19 cases in the past several weeks, and it is best to keep doing what we know works best against the virus.

If you are like me though, you may be looking for a glimmer of hope for the coming months. The updated CDC quarantine guidelines is a promising example of the benefits that vaccinated individuals will begin to see.

Updated Guidance for Vaccinated Persons

The CDC states that vaccinated persons with an exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 are not required to quarantine if they meet all of the following criteria. Persons who do not meet all three of the below criteria should continue to follow current quarantine guidance after exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19:

1. Are fully vaccinated (i.e. it has been longer than two weeks following receipt of the second dose in a two-dose series, or it has been longer than two weeks following receipt of one dose of a single-dose vaccine).

2. Have remained asymptomatic since the current COVID-19 exposure.

3. Are within three months following receipt of the last dose in the series (meaning that an individual is no more than three months out from their last vaccine dose).

Experts are currently gathering data about the duration of immunity to COVID-19 post-vaccination. At present, we have good data confidence to say that immunity lasts for 90 days (or three months). This may change as more data is gathered and analyzed.

Vaccinated healthcare personnel, patients, and residents in healthcare settings

If you are a healthcare worker, patient, or resident of a healthcare setting, these new updates will not apply to you. This exception is due to the unknown vaccine effectiveness in this population, the higher risk of severe disease and death, and challenges with social distancing in healthcare settings. These individuals must continue to follow current quarantine guidance.

Exposed and feeling sick. Now what?

Fully vaccinated persons who do not quarantine should still watch for symptoms of COVID-19 for 14 days following an exposure. If they experience symptoms, they should be clinically evaluated for COVID-19. In addition, vaccinated persons should continue to follow current guidance to protect themselves and others, including all other SARS-CoV-2 testing recommendations and requirements, and state, territorial, tribal, and local travel recommendations or requirements. For local information, visit: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HealthDiseases/coronavirus.htm.

More to come

The CDC quarantine recommendations for vaccinated persons, including the criteria above, will be updated when more data becomes available and additional COVID-19 vaccines are authorized.

To find out if you are currently eligible for vaccine in Washington State, visit www.findyourphasewa.org. If eligible, people can register for an appointment at one of the many vaccine provider locations: https://www.doh.wa.gov/YouandYourFamily/Immunization/VaccineLocations. Please know that vaccine supply is still quite limited at this time, and it will take several months for all currently eligible individuals to receive vaccine.

For information about Skagit County Public Health’s vaccination clinic at the Skagit County Fairgrounds, visit www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine or call the Vaccine Hotline at (360) 416-1500.


This Sunday, Let’s Play it Safe

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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!


Looking Toward the Finish Line: Precautions Post Vaccine

Reading Time: 3 minutes

We are at the point in this COVID-19 marathon where the muscles in our legs are burning and our feet are begging for a rest. We have been dealing with this “new normal” for so long, and sometimes it has felt like there will never be an end to it all.

With vaccines now becoming more widely available (though still quite limited, due to supply), many people may feel that the finish line is just within their grasp. And what a wonderful feeling this is!

As more and more people receive the vaccine and as Washington State moves through the Governor’s new Roadmap to Recovery re-opening plan, it is important to remember that the race isn’t over. While we are absolutely looking toward the finish line, it isn’t the time to stop just yet.

There are still precautions to take, even once someone receives the vaccine. We are all tired of these safety measures, but they will continue to be necessary (at least for now). So why do we need to keep taking precautions? Here are some things to consider:

The vaccine is highly effective–but not foolproof.

At present, both vaccines available in the U.S. (Moderna and Pfizer) require two doses. These vaccines have proven to be extremely effective; the first dose gives 50 percent protection against COVID-19, while the second dose raises the effectiveness to about 95 percent. Of course, that means that there is a 5% chance that someone may still contract COVID-19 after receiving both doses.

And while the hope is that most—if not all—people receive the vaccine over the next several months, we know that there are some limitations. Both Moderna and Pfizer have not yet been approved for children (though Pfizer has been approved for people 16 and older). It may be some time until either a new brand of vaccine is approved that is recommended for children, or until Moderna and Pfizer finish clinical trials for minors and are granted approval for this population. So, until this time, children are still at risk of contracting the virus.

We do not yet know how long immunity lasts.

At this stage, experts do not yet know how long people are immune to COVID-19 after receiving the vaccine. Long-term effectiveness will depend on two factors: the duration of one’s immune response and changes in the virus over time. There is a chance that people will need to receive the COVID vaccine yearly, just like the flu, in order to account for any changes. Experts just do not know yet because the vaccine is so new.

That said, some research has indicated that the current vaccines are effective for at least 6 to 12 months. We will become informed in the coming months as more people receive the vaccine and as scientists track long-term effectiveness.

Experts do not yet know whether people can still spread COVID-19 after getting vaccinated.

The COVID-19 vaccines that are currently available are designed to keep people from getting sick. Clinical trials did not test whether those vaccinated could still spread SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

This means that someone who has received the vaccine is approximately 95 percent protected against getting sick but could still contract the virus and infect a friend or loved one who has not been fully vaccinated.

Everyone should still wear masks and social distance—even after getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

For all the above reasons, it remains crucial that people continue to take pre-cautions—even after receiving the vaccine. Continue to wear your mask when in public, continue to keep gatherings small and keep your distance, and stay home when you are sick. Yes, these precautions aren’t fun. And yes, we are tired and we want so desperately to stop.

The finish line is in sight and we are getting closer. In the meantime, continue to take precautions and make sure to get vaccinated when you are eligible. If you don’t know your phase of eligibility for the vaccine, visit: www.findyourphasewa.org. You can also call Skagit County Public Health’s Vaccine Hotline at (360) 416-1500, Mondays-Saturdays from 7:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

We will continue to update our webpage when new vaccine developments are available. Go to www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine for updates.

Keep Going! You’ve Got This!


Fresh Air Exercise

Fresh air: Is it safe to exercise outside?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

By now, everyone knows Governor Inslee has extended Stay Home, Stay Healthy through May 4.  Non-essential workplaces and schools have closed. We are staying home and using social distancing when we need to venture out for staples like groceries.  But the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order does not ban all outdoor activities. We know getting exercise and fresh air is healthy—strengthening our bodies and brightening our moods. But how do you safely exercise outside in Skagit County?

Physical Distancing

First, it is important to maintain social distancing, also called “physical distancing.” This means keeping space between yourself and other people outside of your household. As you have surely heard, you should stay at least 6 feet away from other people, avoid gathering in groups, and do your best to stay out of crowded places.

Source: https://www.nrpa.org/about-national-recreation-and-park-association/press-room/NRPA-statement-on-using-parks-and-open-space-while-maintaining-social-distancing/

We are lucky to live in Skagit. Our county is filled with true gems – open space, walking trails, and great parks.  But before you go out, you should be aware that some parks are closed or partially closed.  At this time, Skagit County parks are open for hiking. Again a reminder – when hiking, make sure that there is space for social distancing. Picnic shelters, sports courts, play structures, and other facilities at all Skagit County parks are closed.

Brian Adams, the Skagit County Parks and Recreation Director has the following advice for Skagit County residents looking to get outside:

  • A good option for a walk or a hike is a park or a trail within walking distance from your home.
  • If you don’t have a park nearby, you should consider walking on your neighborhood streets and sidewalks.
  • If that is not an option, Adams recommends you visit some of our large open spaces where you can see people approaching in advance and be prepared to maintain social distancing
  • If  people do drive to trails or parks, they should avoid stops or using restrooms in order to minimize physical contact during your trip.

Adams said that Skagit County residents seem to be doing a good job so far:  “Most people, more than 90% are complying with the closures.  From what I’m seeing people are doing a good job.”

Adams said they haven’t seen large crowds yet at any county parks, but that traffic at some popular trails is more in line with July than the usual April traffic. “The kind of things you see in on the news with crowds and problems in more urban areas like Seattle’s Green Lake — Skagit County hasn’t experienced anything like that,” Adams said.

Here are some outside dos and don’ts to stay safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19

DO

  • Prepare before you visit: confirm park is open, including bathroom facilities, bring anything you need with you
  • Visit parks and trails that are close to your home
  • Stay at least 6 feet away from others (“social distancing”) 

DON’T

  • Don’t visit parks if you are sick or were recently exposed to COVID-19
  • Don’t visit crowded parks
  • Don’t use playgrounds
  • Don’t participate in organized activities or sports

Source: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/visitors.html

One other important piece of staying safe is avoiding injuries while you are outside.  Our hospitals and first responders are under increased pressure. It is up to us to preserve these limited resources for those most in need. And now is not the time that you want to go to the Emergency Department! That means don’t try out your child’s hover board or tear down the mountain on a bicycle that you have not ridden for years.  Be sure to follow common sense safety procedures — bring extra water on a hike, wear your bike helmet, obey rules of the road, and tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to be back.

In short, outdoor exercise, when following these dos and don’ts, keeps you safe and healthy. Fresh air can ward off cabin fever and brighten your day. Just be safe out there!