Secure Medicine Return…Now Available Statewide!

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Secure medicine return has been a major area of focus for Skagit County Public Health for several years now. You may have seen return boxes popping up here and there over the past 2-3 years at police departments, pharmacies, and county buildings. You might have also taken part in one of our local take back events, hosted by law enforcement and prevention coalitions, which take place every April and October.

What you may not know though is that Washington State only just recently adopted a statewide Secure Medicine Return Program, which officially launched on November 21! If you have questions about the program, and about how to dispose of your unused or expired medication, please read on…

What is the Secure Medication Program?

Safe Medication Return is a unified, statewide program that gives Washington residents free, convenient, and environmentally responsible options to dispose of unwanted medication. Drug manufacturers fund the program at no cost to taxpayers.

Safe Medication Return is operated by MED-Project, which is the approved program operator. The Washington State Department of Health oversees the establishment of the program, monitors on-going operations, manages enforcement when compliance issues arise, and evaluates program effectiveness.

Why is secure medication disposal important?

Properly disposing unused and expired medication is a great way to protect your family and your community. Research has shown that unused, unwanted, and/or expired medicines in your home pose an increased risk for drug misuse/abuse. Local data has shown that the home medicine cabinet is one of the most common places for people to go when looking for drugs to get high.

Accidental poisoning is also of major concern. Many young children get poisoned by taking medicine not intended for them. If medication is left out or stored improperly, the likelihood of little hands getting hold of these medications is quite high.

Lastly, disposing of medications improperly is bad for the environment. When medicines are flushed down the toilet or thrown in the trash, it pollutes our water and soil.

How does it work?

There are two main ways to return your unused medication. Both options are FREE.

  • Mail in your unused medication
    • Request a free prepaid envelope and one will be sent to you by mail.
    • Place your unused medication in the envelope
    • Mail the package as you would any other parcel.
  • Take it to a drop off site
    • Find your nearest drop off site, and deposit your medication in the kiosk. That’s it!
    • You do not need to provide an ID, talk with anyone, or complete paperwork.

What medicines are accepted by MED-Project? 

Medicines in any form including solids, liquids or patches, inhalers and prefilled products containing a sharp and auto-injectors (such as Epi Pens). This can include:

  • Prescription and over the counter medicines
  • Brand name and generic medicines
  • Controlled substances
  • Pet medications 

What medicines are NOT accepted?

  • Vitamins or supplements
  • Herbal-based remedies and homeopathic drugs, products or remedies
  • Cosmetics, shampoos, sunscreen, toothpaste, lip balm, antiperspirants or other personal care products
  • Pet pesticide products contained in pet collars, powders, shampoos or other forms
  • Medical sharps (needles, syringes) and empty auto injectables (such as used Epi Pens)
  • Medical devices
  • Medicines generated by businesses

For more information, visit the WA Department of Health’s Secure Medication webpage here. You can also contact Skagit County Public Health either by email at eh@co.skagit.wa.us or by phone (360) 416-1500.

Thank you for taking this extra step to ensure the safety of your friends and neighbors!


Pediatric COVID-19 Vaccine Now Available at the Fairgrounds

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November 3, 2021

Skagit County Public Health is ecstatic to announce that pediatric Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is now available at its drive-through Testing and Vaccine Site at the Fairgrounds. This announcement follows the FDA’s endorsement on October 29, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices unanimous vote on November 2, and the subsequent support of the Western States Scientific Review Workgroup and the Washington State Department of Health.  

Children are not immune to this virus and the great challenges it poses to everyday life. The CDC’s latest data show that 172 children ages 5 to 11 have died from COVID-19 and more than 8,300 have been hospitalized. Science also does not yet know the long term impacts children could face from having contracted and recovered from COVID-19.

“In Skagit County, approximately 25 percent of all our COVID-19 cases between September 5 and October 23 were in school age children. Pediatric vaccines will be a game changer in our fight against this virus.”

Howard Leibrand, Skagit County Health Officer

Pediatric Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is available to children 5-11 years old at the Fairgrounds by appointment only. Parents and caregivers can now make an appointment by going to https://prepmod.doh.wa.gov/ and searching for “Skagit County Public Health” under Name of Location. Appointments are limited at this time. If, when you search, there are no appointments available, please check back the following Monday around 12:00pm.

Parents/caregivers may also check with other providers about availability. For a full list of local vaccination providers, go to Vaccine Locator or call the COVID-19 Information Hotline at 1-800-525-0127, then press #.

The Fairgrounds is located at 501 Taylor Street in Mount Vernon and operates on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 3pm to 7pm. Parent/guardian consent to vaccinate is required for all dependent minors and must be provided in-person at the time of the appointment.

COVID-19 vaccines are provided at no-cost, and no insurance required. For more information about the site, go to: www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine or call (360) 416-1500.


Saturday, October 23 is National Prescription Drug Take Back Day

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National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is taking place on Saturday, October 23rd from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at various locations across Skagit County. This is a national event, organized by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in collaboration with community law enforcement and prevention partners.

Since 2010, Take Back Day events have provided easy, anonymous opportunities to remove medicines in the home that are highly susceptible to misuse, abuse, and theft. Through the National Prescription Drug Take Back Initiative, a grand total of 985,392 pounds of expired, unused, and unwanted prescription medications were collected during last year’s October event. In Skagit County alone, 289 community members participated in a Take Back Day event, disposing a total of 512.4 pounds of unwanted medication.

Events will be taking place on Saturday, October 23rd from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. at the following locations:

  • Burlington: Public Safety Building, 311 Cedar St.
  • La Conner: Swinomish Police Dept., 17353 Reservation Rd.
  • Mount Vernon: Skagit Valley Family YMCA, 1901 Hoag Rd.
  • Sedro-Woolley: Sedro-Woolley City Hall, 325 Metcalf St.

Due to COVID-19, all locations will be operating a drive-through system for medication drop-off. Event coordinators ask that the public please wear their mask and practice physical distancing.

If you cannot attend a Take Back Day event this Saturday, please know that Skagit County operates a year-round Secure Medicine Return Program. Prescription medicines, legally prescribed controlled substances (e.g., narcotics and stimulants), over-the-counter medicines, and pet medications can all be disposed using a Secure Medicine Return drop box. Current Drop Box locations are listed at: https://med-project.org/.

For those with mobility concerns, pre-paid no-cost medicine return mailers are available, to be sent directly to your home. Please go to https://med-project.org/  or call 1-844-633-7765 to order mailers. You can get standard mailers or special mailers for inhalers and prefilled auto-injectors.

For updates and additional information on DEA’s Take Back events, please visit www.DEATakeBack.com or visit United General District 304’s webpage for more information.  

Want to know more about Skagit County’s Secure Medicine Return program, substance use prevention, treatment, or local recovery options? Visit www.skagitrising.org or call Public Health at (360) 416-1500.


Let’s Be “Water Safe” This Summer!

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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

Saturday, April 24th is National Drug Take Back Day

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National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is taking place this Saturday, April 24th from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at various locations across Skagit County. This is a national event, organized by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in collaboration with community law enforcement and prevention partners.

Since 2010, Take Back Day events have provided easy, anonymous opportunities to remove medicines in the home that are highly susceptible to misuse, abuse, and theft. Through the National Prescription Drug Take Back Initiative, a grand total of 985,392 pounds of expired, unused, and unwanted prescription medications were collected during last year’s October event. In Skagit County alone, 289 community members participated in a Take Back Day event, disposing a total of 512.4 pounds of unwanted medication.

Events will be taking place on Saturday, April 24th from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. at the following locations:

  • Anacortes: Anacortes Police Dept., 1218 24th St.
  • Burlington: Public Safety Building, 311 Cedar St.
  • La Conner: Swinomish Police Dept., 17353 Reservation Rd.
  • Mount Vernon: Skagit Valley Family YMCA, 1901 Hoag Rd.
  • Sedro-Woolley: Sedro-Woolley City Hall, 325 Metcalf St.

Due to COVID-19, all locations will be operating a drive-through system for medication drop-off. Event coordinators ask that the public please wear their mask and practice physical distancing.

If you cannot attend a Take Back Day event this Saturday, please know that Skagit County operates a year-round Secure Medicine Return Program. Prescription medicines, legally prescribed controlled substances (e.g. narcotics and stimulants), over-the-counter medicines, and pet medications can all be disposed using a Secure Medicine Return drop box. Current Drop Box locations are listed at: https://med-project.org/.

For those with mobility concerns, pre-paid no-cost medicine return mailers are available, to be sent directly to your home. Please go to https://med-project.org/  or call 1-844-633-7765 to order mailers. You can get standard mailers or special mailers for inhalers and prefilled auto-injectors.

For updates and additional information on DEA’s Take Back events, please visit www.DEATakeBack.com.

Want to know more about Skagit County’s Secure Medicine Return program, substance use prevention, treatment, or local recovery options? Visit www.skagitrising.org or call Public Health 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!


Thanksgiving Planning for Safer Gatherings

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Thanksgiving has always been a holiday full of planning: When should you start thawing the turkey? How many seats will you need at the table? And who—WHO?!—is bringing the pumpkin pie? While this year’s festivities will obviously be different, there will still be some planning involved.

If you have been watching the news, you know that there is a surge in COVID-19 cases right now—not only in Washington State, but throughout the United States. With the colder weather drawing people indoors, and the greater likelihood of transmission in enclosed spaces, it isn’t a surprise that cases have gone up. We also know that COVID-19 cases typically spike in the weeks following holidays when a lot of gatherings of non-household members take place.

With these factors in play, we must ask the uncomfortable question: Should Thanksgiving be canceled or postponed this year? It is a question, at least, to think critically on. After all, the Public Health recommendation continues to be that gatherings should be limited to reduce the risk of transmission.

However, if your family chooses to gather despite these recommendations, there are harm reduction practices that should be put into place. If you decide to gather, there’s always a risk of spreading COVID-19 infection. You can help lessen this risk through pre-planning, conversations, and some trade-offs.

The Washington Department of Health has a great safety checklist for those planning to gather this holiday season. It comes down to three steps: 1) planning before; 2) planning during; and 3) planning after.

Before You Gather

  • Have “the conversation.” Get really clear with friends and family about how you will make safety a priority when spending time together. Set some ground rules that will help everyone know what to expect. View a sample conversation guide
  • Review your guest list. Are there people who may be in a high-risk category or children? Think about special needs and precautions as part of your planning.
  • Check your space and gather outside if possible. Is there room to spread out, at least 6 feet (2m) from people you don’t live with? If no, is there an outdoor space, like a park where you could meet? If outside, will there be restrooms people can use? If inside, be sure your space is well ventilated by opening windows. Remind guests to wear warm clothes!
  • Right-size your guest list. Limit the number of guests based on the number allowed in your county per the Safe Start Plan, and the outdoor or indoor space available that allows you to be 6-feet apart.
  • Do a health check. Ask if anyone has had symptoms such as cough, fever or shortness of breath, in the last 2 weeks. Ask guests to check their temperature before arriving. Anyone with a fever—or who has had other symptoms, or knows they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 within the last two weeks—should stay home.
  • Consider the children. Kids have trouble playing 6 feet apart, so wearing masks and frequent hand-washing may be the safest plan of action. Remember: Kids under 2 should never wear masks! 
  • Make a food plan. Talk through details like how food will be shared. The safest option is to have everyone bring their own food. If sharing, separate food ahead of time into individual servings and forgo communal bowls and utensils. Find more tips about food prep in the FAQs.
  • Clean, clean, clean. If you’re hosting, frequently disinfect surfaces that people may encounter during their visit. 
  • Consider pre-event quarantine. Can all participants (including yourself) self-quarantine for 14 days before the gathering?
  • Get tested. If you have been around many other people or do not regularly wear a mask, get a COVID-19 test to make sure you’re negative. Take into account that it can take a few days to receive test results. If you test negative, you still need to wear a mask and keep your distance from others when you socialize. 

While You Gather

  • Wash early and often. Ask adults and kids to wash hands on arrival, before and after eating, and before they leave with soap for at least 20 seconds. If there is no access to a sink, provide hand sanitizer. 
  • Gather outdoors if at all possible. If indoors, open windows to increase ventilation.
  • Mask up. Wear a face covering at all times when not eating. Consider having extra masks on hand if people forget.
  • Separate servings. Avoid communal food and sharing utensils, even with babies and young children. Don’t share drinks.
  • Avoid close contact. Smiles and air hugs only, and prepare kids ahead of time to do the same.

After You Gather

  • Wash hands (again). Wash for 20 seconds with soap and water.
  • Sanitize. Clean all surfaces that may have been touched by guests such as tabletops, counters, doorknobs and bathroom fixtures, with soap and water first, and then a disinfecting agent. 
  • Watch for symptoms. Alert others at the gathering if there’s a positive test among anyone in attendance. Learn more about what to do if you’ve been exposed.

If you are reading the above steps and feeling absolutely overwhelmed, you aren’t alone! And if the idea of canceling or postponing your Thanksgiving plans feels heartbreaking, that is an entirely normal response. During normal times, the fall and winter months are wonderful times to gather. So, limiting and changing the way in which we gather with family and friends isn’t easy. It may cause feelings of stress, anxiety or depression.

In the end, it is up to you and your family to decide what your Thanksgiving holiday should look like. But it is also important for us all to think hard about what really matters most to us. So even though the holidays may look a bit different this year, we know that our actions—as well as some planning—can go a long way in keeping all of us safe and healthy this winter.

If you are experiencing stress due to COVID-19, call the Washington Listens line at 833-681-0211 for support and resources.


Saturday, October 24th is Drug Take Back Day

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While stuck at home this past spring and summer, you might have done a bit of cleaning. If you happened to sort through your purse or rearrange your medicine cabinet, you might have come across some old medication that you no longer need. If so, you’ll be happy to know that National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is coming up on Saturday, October 24th! Now is the time to unload your unused or expired meds.

What is Drug Take Back Day?

This is an event that takes place each spring and fall: once in April, and again in October. It is a national event which is organized by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)—and co-hosted by local law enforcement—and has been taking place for 18 years. In October 2019, more than 880,000 pounds of unused and expired medications were collected nation-wide. In Skagit alone, more than 300 pounds were collected during last year’s fall event!

Why is it important?

The National Prescription Drug Take Back Day addresses a crucial public safety and public health issue. According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 9.9 million Americans misused controlled prescription drugs. The study shows that a majority of misused or abused prescription drugs were obtained from family and friends, often from the home medicine cabinet. Unused and expired medications typically remain in the home unmonitored, making them an easy target. Promptly removing leftover prescriptions from your home and safely disposing of your medication is a simple step to ensure that these medications do not end up being misused.  

Where are Take Back events happening locally?

There will be Drug Take Back events happening at the following locations, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.:

  • Anacortes Police Department: 1218 24th St, Anacortes, WA 98221
  • Burlington Public Safety Building: 311 Cedar St, Burlington, WA 98233 Burlington, WA 98233
  • Swinomish Tribal Police Department: 17557 Front St, La Conner, WA 98257
  • Skagit Valley Family YMCA: 1901 Hoag Rd, Mount Vernon, WA 98273
  • Sedro-Woolley City Hall: 325 Metcalf St, Sedro-Woolley, WA 98284

What should I expect?

Due to COVID-19, all locations will be providing drive-through services this October. Drivers will be expected to wear masks, and they will be instructed to stay within their vehicles and to adhere to all directions and posted signage.

Each location will have a law enforcement officer on site and will be responsible for monitoring the disposal bin and taking all medications into custody at the end of the event. Drivers will be expected to handle their own medications and will be instructed to place items into the bin directly.

Note: Call your local law enforcement department for more information.

What types of medications will be accepted?

Controlled, non-controlled, and over-the-counter substances may be collected. Individuals may dispose of medication in its original container or by removing the medication from its container and disposing of it directly into the disposal bin.

If an original container is submitted, the individual is encouraged to remove any identifying information (like a name or address) from the prescription label by either removing the label or using a permanent marker. Liquid products, such as cough syrup, should remain sealed in their original containers.

Intra-venous solutions, injectables, inhalers, syringes, chemotherapy medications, vaping devices that have batteries that cannot be removed, or medical waste will not be accepted due to potential hazard posed by blood-borne pathogens. These medications require special disposal (see below for more information).

If I can’t make it, what should I do?

Disposal of waste medicines is also available every day in Skagit County through the Secure Medicine Return Program operated by MED-Project LLC. Prescription medicines, legally prescribed controlled substances (e.g. narcotics and stimulants), over-the-counter medicines, and pet medications can all be disposed year round via the following MED-Project options:

  • Drop Boxes: Deposit medicine in drop boxes located at select Skagit County pharmacies and law enforcement agencies. Current Drop Box locations are listed at https://med-project.org/locations/skagit/convenient-locations/. Continue to check the website as the program will expand collection locations.
  • Mailer Sent to Individuals: Order pre-paid, pre-addressed, no-cost medicine return mailers to be sent directly to your home. Please go to https://med-project.org/locations/skagit/mail-back/ or call 1-844-633-7765 to order mailers. You can get standard mailers or special mailers for inhalers and prefilled auto-injectors (like Epi Pens).
  • Mailers Distribution Locations: Pick up a no-cost mailer at participating municipal building like fire stations, city halls and libraries. Continue to check https://med-project.org/locations/skagit/convenient-locations/ for an up-to-date and ever-growing list of mailer distribution location near you.

Can’t I just flush old medication?

Safe disposal not only helps prevent misuse and overdose deaths, it’s also important for the health of our environment. Scientists have found medicines in Pacific Northwest water and soils. Even at low levels, these medicines can harm the health of wildlife and leach into our drinking water. Take back programs, and secure medication drop boxes, are the only environmentally safe ways to dispose of opioid medications.

What do I do with the meds I am currently using?

Most people have some type of medication in their home, from prescription meds to over-the-counter items like ibuprofen or cough syrup. For many people, taking medication may be a part of their daily routine, and it just makes sense to have them out on a nightstand or countertop for ease of use.

While this may be okay for people who live alone or do not have frequent visitors, those who have children in their home should consider securing their medication in a lockable compartment. Locking up medication is one of the easiest things that a parent, grandparent, or caregiver can do to prevent youth misuse—or even accidental poisonings for small children.

Email prevention@co.skagit.wa.us for information about free lock boxes (please note that supplies are limited).

To find out more about National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, visit its website.


What’s worse than a pandemic?! A pandemic during flu season!

Reading Time: 2 minutes

It’s the end of August-the weather is cooling down, the kids are headed back to (virtual) school and pumpkin spice is available once again. Flu season is also just around the corner and this year it’s more important than ever that everyone get a flu vaccine as soon as possible—ideally by the end of October.

Why is it important to get a flu vaccine?

There are lots of great reasons to get a flu vaccine: namely, that it prevents you from getting the seasonal flu, an uncomfortable and potentially deadly illness. Some facts:

  • During the 2016-2017 flu season, vaccinations prevented an estimated 5.3 million illnesses, 2.6 million medical visits and 85,000 flu-associated hospitalizations.
  • Vaccination for people with chronic health conditions can help lessen the severity of the illness and prevent hospitalization or other negative health outcomes.
  • Vaccinating pregnant persons has been shown to not only protect the individual from the flu, but to protect the baby from flu infection for several months after birth before the baby can be vaccinated themselves at age 6 months.  

Additionally, COVID-19 (a respiratory illness with some symptoms in common with the flu) is still very present in our communities. Vaccination can prevent confusion on illnesses and reduce strain on already overburdened healthcare systems. Getting vaccinated for the flu will help keep testing, hospital beds and medical care available for COVID-19 patients who will need it the most.

I got one last year, do I need to get one again?

Yes. The seasonal flu virus mutates quickly. The virus is constantly changing, so flu vaccines are specially manufactured each year to best match/protect you from the current common viral strains of flu. Further, protection from a flu vaccine declines over time so yearly vaccination is needed for protection.

Can I get the flu from a vaccine?

No. Flu shots are made using either a dead version of the flu virus (called inactivated vaccines) or without virus at all (recombinant vaccines). Some minor side effects are relatively common like soreness, redness and/or swelling at the injection site, low grade fever and some muscle aches. You can talk to your medical provider or pharmacist about side effects and what to expect or watch out for in yourself and any kids you’re taking to get vaccinated.

Are flu vaccines safe?

Yes. Flu vaccines have an excellent safety record. Hundreds of millions of Americans have safely received flu vaccines over the past 50 years and extensive research supports the safety of seasonal flu vaccines. More information on the safety of flu vaccines is available at: www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/vaccine/vaccinesafety.htm.

Where can I get vaccinated?

Vaccination will be available through your primary care provider, health clinics and many pharmacies. You can also search for vaccines through Vaccinefinder.org.   

When will COVID-19 vaccines be available?

We honestly don’t know. Testing is still being conducted to ensure the effectiveness and safety of a variety of potential COVID-19 vaccines. Public Health is working now in planning efforts with our vaccine partners so we will be ready when COVID-19 vaccines become available in Washington State.  Be aware that the initial vaccine supplies will be limited and so will be targeted for the people at highest risk.  As soon as we have more information, we’ll let you know.


Your Choices Matter: Gather Safe, Gather Small This Labor Day

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Over the last two weeks, we have seen a reduction in the number of new cases each day in Skagit County and throughout Washington State—and that’s great! But context matters. With Labor Day coming up, Public Health is concerned that we could see another spike in cases related to social and family gatherings. About ten days after every major holiday since the start of the pandemic, we have seen a fairly significant spike in cases, mostly related to gatherings. Unless folks continue to make good choices, we expect Labor Day will be no exception.

So, what can you do over Labor Day weekend to ensure that cases don’t increase in the following weeks?

Just think: Gather safe, gather small.

What is “Gather small”?

Gathering small means gathering with no more than five people you don’t live with in any given week. Skagit County is in Phase 2 of the Safe Start—Reopening Washington plan, under which you are not allowed to gather with more than five people you don’t live with each week. This means that if you have dinner with four people on Friday night (or any weeknight leading up to Labor Day), you can only see one additional person throughout Labor Day weekend.

Gather small

What is “Gather safe?

We’d all like there to be a silver bullet, but gathering safe means following Public Health and Washington State Department of Health guidelines for mask wearing, social distancing and hand hygiene. As a reminder:

  • Masks should be worn any time you’re in the company of someone you don’t live with. This includes outdoor activities, private social gatherings, and indoor interactions. Masks reduce the likelihood of transmission by up to 70 percent. If you’re going to gather at all, wear a mask.
  • Host gatherings outside and keep six feet apart from anyone you don’t live with. COVID-19 travels when a person coughs, talks, sneezes, sings, etc. Staying six feet apart reduces the likelihood that someone’s infected particles will get into your system and vice versa.
  • Wash or sanitize your hands frequently. Have a hand sanitizer setup that people can easily access.
  • Ideally, plan your gathering without food at all. Consumption of food requires removing your mask, and once the masks come off, it’s hard to get people to put it back on. If you want to have food, don’t share. At all. Labor Day and other upcoming holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas are times where we would typically share a meal with our loved ones and friends, but it is safest to not share communal food or drinks right now. Have folks bring their own food and drink or prepare separate plates for everyone—no shared potlucks during the pandemic.
  • Make a plan ahead of time and talk about boundaries. Set out chairs and/or tables with proper distance prior to arrival. Talk about keeping masks on and maintaining six feet of distance before you commit to the gathering. Let guests know they should not come inside to help with any food prep and what will happen if they need to use the restroom.
  • Assess your personal risk and comfort and show compassion for others who may need to set firmer boundaries.
  • Also, don’t attend if you feel any ill at all. It’s not worth the risk.
Gather safe

We all want cases to continue trending downward. Looking toward the fall flu season, some school districts going back to in-person session, and everyone spending more time indoors and in enclosed spaces, it’s vital that we get the virus under control—now. Please, make good choices this holiday weekend and gather safe, gather small. Every one of us has a chance to make a difference.