4th of July

This year’s July 4th – Tips for a fun and safe holiday

Reading Time: 2 minutes

While pets and wild animals everywhere rejoice, many Skagitonians are disappointed that July 4th community fireworks displays have been canceled due to COVID-19. This is just one more thing that the pandemic has taken away from us!

But all is not lost! It won’t feel exactly the same, but there are still fun ways to celebrate our nation’s independence. Here’s a short list of alternative ways to commemorate the United States’ 244th birthday, while maintaining social distancing and following Phase 2 guidelines so we can all get through the holiday safe and healthy.

What NOT to doWhat you CAN do instead
Invite a large group of friends, extended family or neighbors over for a backyard barbeque.Keep your gatherings limited to no more than 5 non-household members, stay outside, wear a mask when you’re near others, and skip the potluck or buffet-style meals; it’s not ideal, but everyone should bring their own food and drinks. And it can’t hurt to keep hand sanitizer in close reach and use it often!Family challenge: Who can make the most delicious and creative red, white and blue treat? Click here for some inspiration.WATER BALLOON FIGHT! Water balloon dodgeball?First Annual Lawn Games Olympics. Bocce, long jump, DIY obstacle course, whatever you want! THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE CHAMPION!Gather around a fire pit and roast marshmallows. Maybe try some of these gourmet s’mores recipes!
Go to a fireworks display where non-household members have gathered.Set off your own (legal!) fireworks or light sparklers with your family. Keep a bucket or water or a hose nearby, just in case. Involve your kids in making a holiday craft. Maybe paint a flowerpot red, white and blue, or create a festive wreath (out of fabric, pompoms, pinwheels, or whatever!) for the front door.Watch a patriotic or America-themed movie. Disney+ will be streaming a filmed version of the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton” starting July 3rd. And of course, there’s always “Independence Day.”Go somewhere dark and watch for shooting stars. It still gets cold at night, so dress warmly and bring along hot chocolate and blankets.
Attend a July 4th parade.Take a scenic drive east on the North Cascades Highway, where you’re bound to see some bald eagles.Visit a nearby state or national park (check if they’re open first). Just be sure to maintain social distancing and bring a mask, hand sanitizer, snacks and water with you. Keep in mind that bathroom facilities may not be open, so … be prepared.Gather your family and put on your own parade for the neighborhood. Pinterest has lots of ideas for DIY noisemakers, and here are a few more.Go on a virtual tour of all 50 states in our beautiful country. You can even visit the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia or Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. This list is a good place to start.

It’s going to look a little different this year, but you can still find fun ways to celebrate Independence Day. It’s normal to feel disappointed, especially if you really look forward to the community events. Hopefully, you can turn this forced change into an opportunity to start a new family tradition.  

Whatever you do, please be sure to keep your pets safely indoors. While community fireworks displays have been canceled, individuals will still be setting off their own, and this can be very terrifying for animals. The ASPCA, Petfinder and Banfield Pet Hospital have some tips to keep your furry family members safe while you celebrate.


Scammers, Spammers, and Crooks!

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Tips to protect yourself from criminals exploiting COVID-19

Criminals exploit; that is what they do best. It’s only 11 AM on Monday, and I have already received three unsolicited text messages from scammers telling me how I can receive a “free coronavirus test kit,” that I’m “eligible for an phone upgrade due COVID-19,” or that I need to “hurry up” before I “miss out” on what is ultimately a bogus coronavirus-related product. In my email, there are 11 similar messages. These text messages, emails and similar scam posts on social media sites can cost you lots of money, perhaps even your life savings! Today, we will focus on how you can protect yourself from the scammers, spammers and crooks hiding behind COVID-19.

HOW SCAMS WORK

Scams work for many reasons, but here are a few of the most common.

Scammers feed on fear and anxiety

Local, state and federal health officials are telling us to “stay home” to “stay safe.” A virus we cannot see with the naked eye is all around the community, threatening our health and our livelihoods. People are scared and worried. Scammers know this!

Scammers target senior adults

Scammers, spammers and crooks like to target seniors. The bad guys assume that senior adults are less tech savvy, have a “nest egg” or ample home equity to draw on, are lonely and easy to engage in scams. Scammers also know that seniors are less likely to report to law enforcement if they have been scammed.

Scammers pray on people who want to donate money

Some charitable organizations won’t make it through this crisis; they are relying on people to make donations to keep them afloat. Scammers are very skilled in writing emails and texts to try and convince us they are from an agency serving those in great need. They try to pull on your heartstrings and your wallet!

Scammers take advantage of opportunities wherever they see them!

Whether it’s trolling the obituary pages to target broken-hearted life insurance beneficiaries, stealing your identity to file a false unemployment claim, or price gouging, scammers and crooks see COVID-19 as an opportunity to strike.

WHAT SCAMMERS WANT

Ultimately, scammers want your money, but they probably won’t come right out and say that! The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) identifies three pieces of information scammers use to gain access to your finances. Protect this information well!

  • Passwords (email, bank, credit cards, online accounts of any kind)
  • Social Security numbers (yours, your spouse’s, your child’s, your parents’)
  • Account numbers (whether you access your account online or only via snail mail or phone)

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY

The best way for you stay protected is to consult trusted sources and stay vigilant. If you think you’ve accidentally taken the bait, report it!

From the Federal Trade Commission

ftc.gov/complaint

Not sure you can recognize these scams? The FTC and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) have teamed up to offer brief video examples to help you avoid these common scams.

From the Food and Drug Administration

From the Internal Revenue Service

Taxpayers should be on the lookout for IRS impersonation calls, texts and email phishing attempts about the coronavirus or COVID-19 Economic Impact Payments. These scams can lead to tax-related fraud and identity theft.

Here’s what taxpayers should know:

  • The IRS will not call, email or text you to verify or request your financial, banking or personal information.
  • Watch out for websites and social media attempts to request money or personal information. The official website is IRS.gov.
  • Don’t open surprise emails that look like they’re coming from the IRS or click on attachments or links.
  • Taxpayers should not provide personal or financial information or engage with potential scammers online or over the phone.
  • Forward suspicious emails to phishing@irs.gov, then delete.
  • Go to IRS.gov for the most up-to-date information.

From the Social Security Administration

Be on the lookout for fake calls and emails

Scammers are pretending to be government employees. They may threaten you and may demand immediate payment to avoid arrest or other legal action. Do not be fooled!

A screenshot of a social media post

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SSA.GOV

From the State of Washington

  • The WA State Employment Security Department (ESD) is seeing an increase in fraudulent unemployment claims. There have been several false claims in Skagit County already. In these scenarios, the crooks have made claims for unemployment using the name of someone else employed in Washington State. If you have reason to believe someone has applied for unemployment benefits using your information or used a scam to obtain your private information, please report it to the ESD immediately!
  • The Office of the Attorney General – Attorney General Bob Ferguson has launched an awareness campaign encouraging Washingtonians to report price gouging in three easy steps: “See It, Snap It, Send It.”
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www.atg.wa.gov

From the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)

From Norton & McAfee (antivirus protection)

BOTTOM LINE

Scammers, spammers and crooks see COVID-19 as an opportunity to swindle you. By being informed and staying vigilant, you will be better able to defend yourself from falling victim.

If you think you’ve already been duped, you will need to report it. Gather emails, receipts and phone numbers so you’re prepared to complete your report. If the agency you need to report to is not listed above, you can also report to your local law enforcement office, or report to your state consumer protection agency. USA.gov has a great resource page to help you locate state consumer protection resources. The Washington State page can be found here.

Stay informed. Stay vigilant. Report it.


No Summer Events for 2020: Canceling our Wedding

Reading Time: 3 minutes

GUEST AUTHOR: LAURA GELWICKS

I was never the person who dreamed of their wedding day, but when my fiancé Taylor Han and I got engaged in September 2019, there were a few things that I knew for sure:

  • First, we were going to have a year-long engagement. Long enough to plan the party and enjoy being engaged, but no longer.
  • Second, I was going to take my fiancé’s last name. This is a personal decision that is different for everyone, but I always knew that I was going to be Laura Han. 
  • Finally, it was going to be a big wedding. We’re both very connected with our extended families, and we wanted to celebrate with everyone. Our guest list easily topped 200 people without even thinking, and many of our loved ones would be coming from out of town, including quite a few from out of state and abroad. 

When COVID-19 first appeared in Everett in February, I wasn’t worried about our wedding. It was more than eight months away, and for us, that seemed like a lifetime. Fast forward to May, and the picture is very, very different. Even before Governor Inslee issued his four-phase Safe Start plan, which wouldn’t allow groups of more than 50 until mid-July at the earliest, we decided to drastically change our wedding plans. We recognized that it is just not safe for our loved ones to gather with us at this time.

There are a number of people in our lives who are in the high-risk demographic, including Taylor, who was born with a heart defect. It doesn’t affect his day-to-day life, but he is at much higher risk for heart and lung complications than many others in our age group. With Taylor and many of our relatives having various conditions that put them at higher risk, we couldn’t responsibly bring them together and risk widespread transmission. We love them too much.

We also recognize that a group of that size could have widespread ramifications for the community at large. My family has been in this area for four generations. Most of my family still lives in the region. If someone with COVID-19 came to our wedding and a number of my relatives got sick, it could cause a major health event. Taylor’s family lives in California. We could see a cluster in the San Diego area directly resulting from our gathering, as well. We have a civic responsibility to not put anyone at risk, especially for something as non-essential as a wedding reception.

Some of our friends are choosing to postpone weddings, and that’s a great option, but Taylor and I don’t want to wait any longer to get married. Instead of our giant celebration, we’ll get married at my parents’ house with our immediate families. It will look very different than the day we had originally planned, but at the end of it, I’ll still be Mrs. Han, and he’ll still be my partner. It’ll be okay.  

I do want to make it clear that while the decision for us was straightforward, it was definitely a painful one. If you’re in the same situation, it’s okay to be upset and a little angry. It’s a big life event that has been altered irrevocably for you. Even while recognizing that changing or postponing a wedding celebration is not the end of the world, it’s definitely okay to grieve what would’ve been.

COVID-19 has changed a lot of our day-to-day lives, and everyone is entitled to some sadness about it. It’s important to remember that by not having your big wedding, family reunion or annual block party barbecue, you’re doing an important service to keep your loved ones and community members safe. We all have to make sacrifices in order to beat COVID-19, and I applaud all of you who are making responsible decisions as we head into the summer months.

Also, you can believe Taylor and I will be throwing one GIANT party when all this is over.


Don’t delay your healthcare: a message from Connie Davis, MD

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Health Care is a Basic Need 

As always, pandemic or not, healthcare providers are keeping a watchful eye on our community. I must say, although people are following most advice, there is one thing that I have noticed from the front line; some people are waiting far too long and are arriving at our healthcare facility doors very late and very sick. 

People have told us they are avoiding coming to doctor’s offices, urgent care clinics and emergency departments. I have seen patients and heard stories of people delaying their concerns about chest pain, then finally arriving at the hospital with very serious heart attacks that could have been prevented by coming in earlier. Patients have tolerated abdominal pain and come in with a hole in their appendix after it ruptured and now requires prolonged surgery. Likewise, I know of a pregnant woman who developed a medical issue and showed up late for fear of catching COVID-19 in the hospital. And I have heard from other physicians that people are not going for their important blood thinner testing. I am afraid people are putting themselves at risk because of COVID-19 fear.

Clinic Spaces are Kept Safe

I and my fellow healthcare providers want to make sure you know we are keeping our spaces safe. We screen all people coming into our clinics and hospitals, we offer telemedicine visits you can join from home, we stood up Acute Respiratory Clinics to keep people with symptoms separate from those without, we boosted our already strict cleaning procedures to be super clean and designed separate areas in our hospitals to care for those with COVID-19. We are a safe place to come when you need care. 

My ask is that you call us, use the telemedicine options to connect for regular appointments and discuss the importance of maintaining your screening program (such as mammograms, blood testing, etc.) with your doctor. If you have a chronic illness, stay on the rhythm of appointments and tests as you normally would. If you are experiencing new or worse symptoms, you must quickly connect with your doctor, or go to urgent care or the hospital.  We want to make sure that you visit a healthcare provider for the same level of care you would expect at any other time.

I value the trust that you put in our teams to provide for your health and well-being.  You can trust us now, more than ever, with your care.

Connie Davis, MD

Chief Medical Officer

Skagit Regional Health

Connie Davis, MD
Skagit Regional Hospital


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!


15 Tips Safer Shopping

15 Tips for Safer Grocery Shopping

Reading Time: 6 minutes

With the number of COVID-19 infections in Skagit County still on the rise, we should all keep doing our part to stay home and stay healthy. But is it safe to go grocery shopping? There are grocery delivery and pick up options available at some stores. But if somehow these options don’t work for you, it probably means a trip out of the house. Today, we will share 15 tips for safer grocery shopping, including how to handle your food when you are home.


Full disclosure, I rarely do the cooking in my house and so I rarely do the grocery shopping. When I do buy groceries, it is usually because my spouse is out of town or my kiddo has texted saying there is, once again, “nothing to eat in the house”. On these occasions, I usually stop by the grocery store after work, strolling every aisle until something catches my attention, chatting with friends I might see and buying things I didn’t come for. By the time I get home and sort through my hodge-podge of food and sundries, it might be 8 pm before dinner is on the table. Just as we sit down to eat, I’ll probably realize that I forgot the milk! So back to the store the next day, or maybe even the same night.

My way of shopping – my former way of shopping – wasn’t cost effective or a good use of time. But I never thought of shopping as unsafe! Today, it absolutely would be – unsafe for me, unsafe for essential grocery store workers, and unsafe for you! Below are 15 tips for safer grocery shopping we can all follow to make grocery shopping safer everyone.

PLAN AHEAD

1. Stay home if you don’t feel well.

The symptoms for COVID-19 vary, but fever and cough are most common. Some people with the virus have mild symptoms while others don’t feel sick at all. If you have symptoms or if you just don’t feel well – even if you’re just feeling “a little off” – PLEASE STAY HOME. Today is not your day to go out in public or to the grocery store.

2. Limit trips to buy groceries — a shopping list helps!

Limiting your trips to the store is important! Every time you visit the grocery store, you increase your exposure to others and your risk for COVID-19. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommend that you plan to buy 1- to 2 weeks-worth of groceries at a time.

Good Housekeeping and nutrition.gov have some great suggestions for budget friendly and nutritious foods to help you shop. We also suggest these tips:

  • Scan your refrigerator and cupboards for what you need or want and start making a list!
  • Stock up on non-perishables such as frozen vegetables, meats you can freeze, beans, and grains.
  • Make sure you add any toiletries, household cleaners (bleach is very effective), and medicines you might need.
  • Check in with others in your home to see if they need to add anything to the list.
  • Remember the pets! Make sure Fido and Fifi are covered.
  • Organize your list in a way that will help you get through the store the fastest. You don’t want to linger in the store or walk up and down every aisle. Be strategic!

3. Leave the family at home.

For the same reasons you should limit your trips to the store, you should limit who goes with you. If you are a couple, only one of you at a time needs to shop. If you have children and someone who lives with you can watch the kids, please don’t take them with you.

4. Choose a time when the grocery store is less crowded.

Many stores now have special hours for people over age 60 or those of any age with underlying health conditions. Check out our resource page for a list of local stores with special hours.

You can also use Google Search to see when the busiest shopping times are your favorite grocery store.  Saturdays and Sundays are generally when stores are most packed with customers, however there are times of day that tend to be slower than others. Try it out!

5. Consider not bringing your own shopping bags.

I know – this is exactly the opposite of what you usually hear. However, more and more stores are asking people to leave their reusable shopping bags at home. The primary concern is reusable bags may further spread the coronavirus in the store to employees, and to other shoppers. If you do bring your own bags, the FDA reminds us to please wash them between use. Also, be prepared to bag your own groceries – some stores will not allow baggers to handle reusable shopping bags.

6. Do consider bringing your own disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer.

The CDC recommends disinfecting your shopping cart before use and washing your hands frequently. Bringing your own supplies will guarantee that they are available when you need them.

7. Plan for how you will pay.

How you pay at the check makes a difference. Some methods are better at reducing your exposure to the virus. If possible, use a touchless system such as phone app that lets you tap your phone to pay. If you must touch the PIN pad or handle cash, be sure to use hand sanitizer after!

8. Bring your face mask or cloth covering.

It is recommended by federal, state, and local health officials that everyone wear a mask when in indoor public places or anytime it is difficult to maintain proper social distancing. When you buckle your seatbelt, or start your walk to the store, ask yourself “Do I have my face mask?”

Don’t have a mask? Then check our April 5th blog post, Should I wear a face mask? for easy instructions on how to make and wear one.

AT THE STORE

9. Put on your mask!

10. Think twice about wearing gloves.

You may have seen people at the grocery store wearing disposable gloves and wondered if gloves could help protect you from contracting COVID-19. Well, that depends. In many cases, wearing gloves may simply provide a false sense of security, and the person would be better off not wearing them and just using hand sanitizer. If you’d like more information, our Skagit County Public Health Facebook page had a great post on this last week – Can wearing disposable gloves help keep you safe?

11. Disinfect your shopping cart.

Stores often have disinfecting wipes ready by the entry door. However, if they are out, you will be glad you have your own. The FDA provides easy instructions on how to wipe down your cart.

12. Whenever possible, maintain 6 feet distance from others.

Wearing a face mask does not eliminate the need to maintain proper social distancing while shopping. Keep at least 6 feet between you, other shoppers, and store employees. Always keep your hands away from your face.

AFTER SHOPPING

13. Wash hands or use hand sanitizer.

Use hand sanitizer after you finish loading groceries into your car or truck. When you arrive home, wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap, and again after you have put your groceries away.

14. Putting food safely away at home.

According to the FDA and CDC, there is no evidence of food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19. However, if you wish, you can wipe down product packaging and allow it to air dry as an extra precaution. COVID-19 or not, we all have a role to play in food safety. For general tips on how to shop safely, store food, and prevent foodborne illnesses, see the FDA’s Tip for Grocery Shopping and Storage sheet.

15. Consider alternatives to going to the grocery store.

If you can, avoid stores all together!

  • Delivery or Curbside Pick-up – Many grocery stores are offering delivery service or curbside pick-up. Check out our resource page for details on Skagit grocery stores small and large offering these special services. 
  • Farmers Markets are considered essential according to State Department of Health Guidance. Skagit County Public Health is working with local Farmers Markets to ensure social distancing practices will be followed as well as proper cleaning and sanitizing of commonly touched surfaces.  Check your local farmers market online for opening day announcements.
  • Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) ­–Support our local farmers and small business by subscribing to a CSA farm box. Local, seasonal, produce and dairy, straight from the Skagit Valley to your porch! Our Resource page has a list of local CSAs for you to explore.

So there you have it, 15 tips for safer grocery shopping. Practice these tips and share with others – together we can stop COVID-19!


Mail – new best friend or menace?

Reading Time: 2 minutes Reading Time: 2 minutes

Is mail the highlight of the social distance day or a sneaky invader?

Life is locked down at our house. A family high risk health condition has us full-on embracing social distancing. No wiggle room! The closest physical contact we enjoy is yelling across the road to the neighbors and waving. Wow – what a party!

So maybe it makes sense that mail and package delivery is suddenly the day’s highlight. The delivery guy – a true American essential services hero – places on our porch a little item that’s packed in a box 14 times its needed size. I can’t help but feel a new and mysterious friend is sending gifts my way. Someone out there cares about us! Who knows what’s in there: printer ink, sidewalk chalk for the kids, canned soup, or – against all odds – toilet paper? Now I know the only reason the delivery came our way is the cold hard cash pulled straight from my own credit card. But somehow I convince myself I have a buddy out there looking out for my best interests, sending me what I need at the very moment I need it. I even get a tiny buzz from junk mail, and all I do is dump it straight from the mailbox into the recycle bin!

But one little thought creeps in and starts to grow, grow, grow. Who has touched this thing? Am I inviting some menace into our home?

Well, the CDC, the World Health Organization, and the Surgeon General have all said there is no evidence that COVID-19 is being spread through the mail. The CDC says the chance of “an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low.” On top of that, “the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, traveled, and been exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low.” So – I’m going with no menace. Of course, you’ll find me washing my hands with soap and hot water for 20 seconds right after.

All the same, it might be circling around in the back of your brain that the tiny word is low and not 100% totally impossible. So, if you’re still worried, look up the CDC’s guidance on cleaning and disinfecting households. Scrub away and the mail will be your new best friend. A very, very clean new best friend.