Recovery: Paths to Wellness During COVID-19

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In the best of times, recovery from a substance use disorder is a monumental challenge. COVID-19 is adding extra hurdles on the path to recovery. Drug court has been suspended. In-person 12-step meetings have been replaced by Zoom meetings. Also, many treatment centers have closed or are limiting their physical contact. Daily necessities, like internet access from libraries, are no longer available or severely cut back.  Lastly, members of support networks may be in quarantine or isolation.

“Resources were taken away overnight with no time to make a plan to replace them,” said Mike Hudson, Director of the Skagit Valley REACH Center in Mount Vernon. REACH is a support center providing an array of recovery supports and services.

People with substance use disorders benefit from a support network of family, friends, sponsors, counselors, and others who help them on their journey to wellness. In order to continue providing services to those in recovery, the REACH Center has remained open but is now closed on Saturdays to allow for an extra deep cleaning, and the number of people allowed in the building at a time is limited to 10. Staff and peers who use the center must follow social distancing guidelines and wear masks, and they are encouraged to wash their hands and disinfect surfaces frequently.

“We felt the most important thing we could do for our participants is to remain open with our regular menu of support services and some form of face-to-face interaction for as long as we could,” Mike said.

Jon Oickle, Regional Clinical Manager at Catholic Community Services Northwest Recovery Centers, says that his organization has moved all group and individual treatment activities to telehealth-based services, though offices have remained open to serve those individuals without online or phone access.

“The social distancing and stay-at-home orders have become a source of significant stress and social isolation for individuals in recovery,” Jon said. “People in recovery may be particularly susceptible to the potential negative effects of stress and isolation, which may increase the risk of relapse.” That’s why he encourages people in recovery to participate in online and phone-based meetings, to reach out to support networks, and to “avoid long stretches of idle time, as this can also be a trigger to relapse.”

The attendance numbers for treatment groups is comparable to pre-COVID-19 figures, Jon said, adding that no-shows for individual sessions have actually decreased “as clients are eager to engage and talk about their current struggles.”

Alan Muia, Executive Director of New Earth Recovery, which operates four recovery homes in Mount Vernon, says his organization is restricting visitors and limiting nights that residents can spend away from their recovery house in order to reduce the risk of bringing COVID-19 into the houses. New Earth Recovery is encouraging the use of personal protective equipment and has adopted stricter disinfecting protocols, as well as set up a quarantine room should the need arise.

Support from family and friends is absolutely vital to recovery, Alan said, especially during times of social distancing. “People need connections, and we, the broader community, family, and friends, can be a lifeline. While patterns may have had to change, we can help people find meaning and purpose in their lives,” he said, adding that the best thing we can do right now for our loved ones in recovery is to stay in contact with them, hold them accountable, and don’t allow them to isolate themselves.

“Isolation, stress and boredom are the perfect storm for substance use recurrence, so this is a difficult time for many,” Alan said. “I think the biggest challenge for most is the physical distancing, which can lead to relational isolation. A vital component of healthy recovery is engaging in community/relationships.”

New Earth Recovery is offering additional opportunities to participate in house gatherings and activities, and is encouraging safe exercise and other ways that residents can work on their recovery and ward off depression.

“Addiction is a disease of isolation, and the present situation makes it difficult for people in recovery to maintain healthy rhythms of connection with each other,” Alan said. “It will help to keep as many healthy rhythms as possible and to create new ones if the others have become impossible.” He recommends attending online support meetings or counseling sessions, starting an exercise routine, or looking into online classes. While there are challenges with pursuing all these suggestions, he says, “moving forward in some area of life is crucial. … None of us can afford to take a long break from life or recovery at this time.”

Mike from the REACH Center added that “recovery is not an event or a finite destination. It is a life-long process that requires major lifestyle changes that must be acknowledged, monitored and maintained. It must also be understood, encouraged and supported by the individual’s personal network and society at large.”

If you or someone you love is in recovery and is struggling right now, you don’t have to go it alone. There are organizations and people who can support you. You can find a list of available resources here and at the site linked below:

https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HumanServices/mh.htm


Internet and Cell Phone Access

Staying Connected During COVID-19

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Increased access to internet and cell phone services.

Guest Author: Eric Chambers, Northwest Council for Computer Education

I love working from home: My commute is less than a minute from bed to office. I have great co-workers (albeit with feathers and fur). And I get to wear pajamas to work every day. To work from home, though, was a choice that my employer and I made when I started my job nearly five years ago.

Faster Internet Speed

To make work-from-home possible, I have access to certain things—a computer, appropriate software, and a printer all which were provided by my employer, and a few things I had to provide for myself like a space to work, a desk and perhaps most importantly, a stable and sufficient Internet connection. My internet connection clocks in between 150Mbps and 200Mbps on the download. In a practical sense this means I could download a full-length feature film in high definition in about 15 minutes or, perhaps more realistically, it means everyone in my household can be streaming movies, playing games, or surfing the ‘net at the same time with no noticeable lag. But remember, I chose to work from home knowing what I needed to make this work – and, more importantly, I have the resources to make it happen. Not everyone is in the same boat.

Across the county, COVID-19 has changed the way we work, learn, and play. Sadly, way too many people are out of work.  If you are working, and unless you have been deemed “essential” or in an “essential” industry, it’s likely that you are working at least partially at home. In school or have school-aged kid? Welcome to on-line learning. Even our play has been impacted as more people than ever are playing online games with their friends and engaging in more social media use than ever before. All these things (especially when they are happening all at once) can severely tax your internet connection, especially if you have less than 25Mbps.  If this happens, then you might have to change your family’s practices. This may involve:

  • Limiting streaming services and online gaming for everyone during work/school hours. 
  • Modifying cloud back up services like Microsoft One Drive to back up only at night, turn off auto updates for software and applications and update manually after work and schooling is done for the day.
  • Adjusting your router setting to prioritize traffic from specific devices – like Mom’s work computer.

But again, not everyone is in the same boat.

According to a US Census report published in 2018, over 4,000 households in Skagit County do not have Internet access of any kind in their homes. This includes no dialup, broadband, satellite, and even cellular data plans. Another 6,500 Skagitonians have access only through a dialup connection or cellular phone—neither of which are adequate for a full time work at home or online learning situation. This means that 10% of the county does not have adequate internet connectivity.

Low-Cost Connectivity

Lack of connectivity makes it impossible for many to work at home and impossible for students to participate in online learning. Fortunately, through funding from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), many of the big internet service providers offer free or low-cost connectivity to families that meet certain low income guidelines.  For example, both Comcast and Charter/Spectrum offer two months of free Internet for families that qualify. They will even send a router and simple set-up directions right to your home.  In addition, Comcast has made all Xfinity hotspots free and open to the public during the crisis. To access this, simple search for available networks and connect to any open Xfinity networks.

Cellular Access

AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, and T-Mobile have also stepped up their game by removing restrictions on their services including removing data caps and allowing existing customer to open hotspots using their cellular data.  Note that some of these providers also offer basic phone service (and sometimes Internet access) to families with low income through the Federal Lifeline Program. You can receive similar benefits through in Washington State if you are an Apple Health member. Community Health Plan of Washington (CHPW) has developed a guide to help their members stay connected. You can access these services through either Assurance Wireless or SafeLink Wireless.

If you have school aged children, talk to your children’s school to see if they have mobile hot spots available for loan as well as, in some cases, laptop computers or Chromebooks.

As a last resort, and only insofar as you can maintain proper physical distancing, consider parking outside buildings that have free and open wireless to upload/download the days work, send emails, and so forth. For example, Skagit County has a free and open wireless network that may work for some as do many other organizations around the county.


Eric Chambers is the Director of E-rate and Special Services at the Northwest Council for Computer Education (NCCE) where he helps schools design and implement technology solutions to enhance student achievement.


Food on the Table

Food on the Table – Resources and How to Help

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Worried about how to pay for three meals a day?

Here are some resources and answers. If you are in a position to help others, there are ways you can be part of the solution.

COVID-19 is changing the way that many of us shop and eat. Restaurants are closed for dining in. Kids aren’t eating breakfast or lunch at school. Much of the way we shop for our food has changed. Job losses, reduced hours and furloughs have many Skagit County residents worried about putting food on the table. But community organizations are stepping up to meet their needs.

For Families with Children

Before COVID-19, Skagit County, 55% of children qualified for free and reduced school lunches. With schools closed, districts quickly mobilized to feed children in new ways. Schools are providing breakfast and lunch for children, by either pick up or delivery. You can visit your school district’s website for more info. Each district program is different and some require parents to request meals in advance. A full list is available at the Northwest Educational Service District 189 website.

For Seniors

Now more than ever, many older adults struggle to shop and prepare meals on their own. Skagit County Meals on Wheels provides hot, nutritious meals for people over the age of 60 and who are homebound and unable to prepare meals for themselves. If you are looking for Meals on Wheels services for yourself or a loved one, contact the program by calling Skagit County Public Health at (360) 416-1500.

Senior Centers also provide frozen meals for weekday pick up. You can call your local Senior Center for details:

  • Mount Vernon Senior Center, 360-416-1585, Kristl Hobbs or Nickie McNulty
  • Sedro-Woolley Senior Center, 360-855-1531, Ellen Schweigert or Merrilee Komboukos
  • Burlington Senior Center, 360-755-0942 or 360-755-0102, Jackie Cress or Cheryl Kaufman
  • Anacortes Senior Activity Center, 360-293-7473, Amanda Miller or Annette Saling

State and Federal Benefits

The Federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) helps low-income individuals and families buy food. The Basic Food Program is Washington’s name for SNAP. SNAP used to be called the Food Stamp Program. These days, food benefits are provided on an EBT card, which works like a debit card.

If your financial situation changed due to COVID-19, you may now qualify for assistance you didn’t before. Some benefits like Basic Food have increased. As of March 30, some Washington residents who receive Basic Food benefits will have additional funds through April 2020.

To see if you qualify for SNAP, you can call the Help Me Grow Washington Hotline at 1-800-322-2588 to learn more about food benefits and how to apply for them. The hotline is available Monday-Thursday 8:00-5:30 and Friday 8:00-5:00.

If you are worried about crowded grocery stores, know you can grocery shop online using a SNAP EBT card. Online SNAP EBT shopping includes home delivery through Amazon and store pick-up at Walmart. See more info about online options below:

Amazon SNAP EBT

Walmart SNAP

Food Banks and Pantries

Food banks are following social distancing to keep their customers, volunteers and staff safe. Most food banks have switched to pre-boxed food that is handed out at the door. Others have set up drive-thru and walk-up services. Services and hours are likely to continue to change. Check out the Community Action website to find food bank updates.

Another option for people seeking fresh food is the Skagit Gleaners. Families interested in receiving more information can visit http://www.skagitgleaners.org.

Want to Help?

If you are in a position to help others you can:

Consider Donating to Your Local Food Program

Donations of money are best at this time. Not all food programs are accepting food donations. For a list of food banks you can donate to, see the food bank list on the Skagit Community Resource Directory at https://skagitcrc.org/food-banks.php

Consider Volunteering

Most food banks are small nonprofits relying on volunteers. During COVID-19, many volunteers are not able to safely volunteer at this time. Consider helping to fill this shortfall by devoting some of your hours to these critical community programs. The best way to learn about volunteer opportunities is to visit your local food bank’s website or social media page or to visit the Skagit County Volunteer Center.