Disposing of Used Sharps in Skagit County

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Millions of people use needles, syringes, and other injection tools to self-administer healthcare treatments each year. People use sharps to manage a wide variety of conditions, including allergies, arthritis, cancer, diabetes, hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, infertility, migraines, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, blood clotting disorders, psoriasis, and more.

If someone doesn’t have immediate access to an FDA-cleared container, it can be unclear how to dispose of used sharps. Disposal rules can vary by situation and location, which may lead to sharps being disposed of loosely—and improperly—in the trash.  Adding to possible confusion, disposal options are different for businesses and household-generated sharps waste.

For HOUSEHOLD-generated Sharps

An example of an FDA-cleared Sharps Container. For information about Sharps Disposal Containers, check out the FDA webpage.

The best way to dispose of sharps is by using a mail-order, FDA-cleared sharps container. When purchasing this type of container, people can mail back their full containers to the mail-order service that the container was purchased from.

It is important to note that FDA-cleared containers can be purchased from local and chain pharmacies; however, these containers may or may not come with instructions on how to mail them back. And unfortunately, FDA-cleared sharps containers cannot be disposed of with regular household garbage. If you have purchased an FDA-cleared sharps container and are unsure of how to dispose of it, ask your pharmacy or doctor’s office if they will accept your sharps container. You can also look for a disposal site by going to https://safeneedledisposal.org/.

If you cannot purchase an FDA-cleared mail-order sharps waste container in store or online, Skagitonians have another option for disposing of household generated sharps.

In Skagit County, people can dispose of household generated sharps—including used syringes, needles, and lancets—in a correctly labeled container in their household garbage. Follow the steps below to ensure that all used sharps are disposed of safely and properly.

Step 1: Store

Used sharps should be placed in an opaque, hard plastic or metal container with a screw-on or secured lid. An empty bleach or detergent bottle works well! Do not use glass or thin plastic.

Step 2: Seal

When ¾ full (don’t overfill!), screw the lid on tightly and seal around the lid with duct tape or plastic tape.

Step 3: Sticker

Label the container with a special Skagit County Public Health label “Warning: Syringes. Do NOT Recycle.” printed on bright orange or red colored paper. Tape the label securely to the container with clear plastic tape. Labels can be downloaded from the Environmental Health webpage here. You can also request labels from our office by calling (360) 416-1500.

Skagit County Public Health’s approved warning label.

Step 4: Dispose

Dispose of the container with your regular household trash. Do NOT recycle.

Gloves, soiled bandages, and other items should be places in securely fastened plastic bags and disposed of with your regular trash.

For BUSINESS-Generated Sharps

Business are not allowed to dispose of biohazardous sharps with regular solid waste. Businesses are required to dispose of their collected biohazardous sharps via a licensed biomedical waste handler. On-site pick up services and mail order services are available. Businesses can contact Stericycle or Waste Management – Health Care to schedule services.

What about disposing of my unwanted medications in my home?

If you have unwanted, unused, or expired medication, Skagit County residents can safely dispose of these items for free by taking them to secure drop boxes, ordering free mail-back envelopes and/or picking up mail-back envelopes from convenient mailer distribution locations throughout Skagit County.

To find updated information on drop box locations, request mailers, and find mailer distribution locations go to MED-Project.

For more information about Skagit County’s Secure Medicine Return program, visit our webpage at https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/Health/medicinereturn.htm.

For questions, please contact Skagit County Public Health by calling (360) 416-1500.


Confirmed Cases of Delta Variant in Skagit County: What You Need to Know

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July 15, 2021

Two COVID-19 cases attributed to the delta variant have been identified in Skagit County so far, though it can be assumed that the variant has spread more widely given that sequencing is not done on all tests.

The delta variant has been credited for dramatic increases in COVID-19 cases in other parts of the country and globally due to its increased transmissibility (meaning it spreads more easily). As of June 19, the CDC estimated the delta variant accounted for more than 30% of COVID-19 cases in the US. Two weeks earlier, 10% of cases were attributed to the delta variant.

In Washington, the delta variant accounts for about 28% of sequenced cases – that’s up from about 12% the prior two-week period. Not all cases are sequenced in Washington, so that may not represent the actual statewide proportion of cases due to the delta variant.

“While Skagit County continues to see a downward trend in new COVID-19 cases, it is vital that people continue to use precautions. The detection of these COVID-19 variants in our state proves that this pandemic isn’t over just yet.”

Jennifer Johnson, Skagit County Public Health Director

New variants seem to spread more easily and quickly than other variants, which may lead to more cases of COVID-19. An increase in the number of cases will put more strain on health care resources, lead to more hospitalizations, and potentially more deaths.

The good news is the COVID-19 vaccines are providing protection against the delta variant, particularly against severe illness leading to hospitalization and death. Some precautions to take to decrease the spread of the delta variant—and all currently known COVID-19 variants include:

  • Getting vaccinated as soon as possible if 12 years of age or older! Recent Skagit County data shows that 96% of cases since March 1, 2021 were in unvaccinated individuals. The data tells us that the vaccines work!
    • Note: Vaccination is recommended even for individuals who have already had COVID-19, as experts do not yet know how long people are protected from getting sick again after recovering from COVID-19.
  • If you are not yet vaccinated:
    • Wearing a well-made, well-fitting face mask, even with people you see regularly and in your smallest social circles.
    • Keeping gatherings outside whenever possible.
    • Avoiding any social gatherings indoors, but if participating, wearing a mask and ensuring windows and doors are open to maximize ventilation.
  • For all individuals, staying home if you are sick or if you have been exposed to COVID-19. WA Department of Health data shows that 81% of those vaccinated who experience a breakthrough case are symptomatic. If you feel sick—get tested!
  • Getting tested for COVID-19 if you have symptoms or were exposed to someone who tested positive.

If you are not yet vaccinated, it’s not too late! Visit your nearby pharmacy or medical clinic to get vaccinated against COVID-19; many locations now offer walk-up appointments! You can also call our vaccine hotline at (360) 416-1500 or text your zip code to 438829 (GETVAX) to find locations near you with vaccine available.

You can see the state Department of Health’s variant report, updated every Wednesday, here: https://bit.ly/3ehLzo7


Shellfish Harvesting & Consumption: What You Know To Know

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With the upcoming warm weather and low tides, you might be venturing out to harvest shellfish from one of Skagit County’s many beaches. With the help of a diligent group of volunteer harvesters, Skagit County Public Health routinely monitors samples of clams, oysters and mussels for the toxins that cause Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP), Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning (ASP), and Diarrhetic Shellfish Poison (DSP). 

Consuming shellfish with elevated levels of these marine biotoxins can cause serious illness or death. What begins as a tingling sensation in the lips and tongue can progress to a life-threatening paralysis of the respiratory system. 

Skagit County Public Health works with the Washington State Department of Health to issue beach closures when toxin levels become elevated. Before harvesting shellfish, always check for current beach closures posted on the Shellfish Safety Map or the Marine Biotoxin Bulletin, or call the Marine Biotoxin Hotline at 1-800-562-5632.

Samish Bay Seasonal Vibrio Advisory

The Department of Health has updated the Shellfish Safety map to reflect the seasonal vibrio bacteria advisory for recreational shellfish harvesting in Samish Bay from May 1- September 30, 2021. Vibrio is a bacteria naturally found in marine coastal waters, normally present in low numbers. When the weather warms up, these bacteria multiply rapidly so shellfish are more likely to be contaminated in the summer.

Tips for Safe Shellfish Consumption

There are a variety of other bacterial and viral illnesses caused by consuming contaminated shellfish. Proper cooking of shellfish before eating is always advised. Eat only well-cooked shellfish, especially during summer months. Do not consider shellfish to be fully cooked when the shells first open; shellfish need to cook for longer and must reach 145° F to be safe to eat. Click the link for more information on how to handle, store, and cook shellfish.

Safe Harvesting

  • Just before you leave, check for closures and advisories due to vibrio, biotoxins, and pollution at on the Shellfish Safety Map, by contacting Skagit County Public Health (360-416-1500), or by calling the Biotoxin Hotline at 1-800-562-5632.
  • Harvest shellfish as soon as possible with the receding tide.
  • Don’t harvest shellfish that have been exposed to the sun for more than one hour.
  • Keep shellfish on ice immediately after harvesting.
  • Thoroughly cook shellfish. The internal temperature must reach 145 °F for at least 15 seconds. Cooking shellfish thoroughly destroys vibrio bacteria; however, cooking does not destroy biotoxins.
  • If you need a refresher, here is a guide on shellfish identification.
  • More shellfish safety tips.

For questions about shellfish at beaches in Skagit County, please email Samantha Russell at srussell@co.skagit.wa.us or call 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

Washington State to Reopen SOON!

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As of June 14th, more than 7,528,340 doses of vaccine have been given across the state and more than 4.1 million people have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Washington is getting closer to its 70% initiation goal set by Governor Inslee. The state currently sits at 67.8% of Washingtonians 16 and older who have initiated vaccination, meaning they have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine.

June 30th or when we hit 70%.

The Governor has stated that Washington will fully reopen on June 30th, though the state could reopen sooner if the 70% initiation goal is met. To reopen before June 30th, at least 70% of people 16 and older need to receive at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

This is an extremely exciting time for many of us, as we begin to see things go back to normal. But with reopening comes great responsibility! It is important to remember as things open back up that we must proceed responsibly and with care and respect for those who are not yet vaccinated and for those who are at increased risk.

Reopening & what to expect:

What happens on June 30th or when we hit 70%?

The state will be open for business and recreation, and people who are vaccinated can go along with their regular lives for the most part. Unvaccinated people will need to continue wearing masks indoors. Most businesses get to operate as they did in January of 2020, with the caveat that they’re following workplace safety requirements (which come from Labor & Industries). Restaurants, bars, bowling alleys, and grocery stores are going to be fully open.

Are there any exceptions to reopening?

The one major public sector that will continue to have some limits is large-scale events that the governor just released guidance for. Events that are indoors with 10k or more people must be limited to 75% occupancy or require vaccination and follow mask requirements.

Higher risk congregant settings like healthcare, long term care facilities, or places where many people are not yet able to be vaccinated like childcare, day camps, K-12 must follow different guidance. In these settings, masking is still required, even among fully vaccinated persons.

Will unvaccinated people still need to wear a mask?

The Secretary of Health’s mask order remains in place, which means that unvaccinated people need to continue to mask in public. This helps protect not only those who are unvaccinated, but also vulnerable children who are not yet able to be vaccinated and others with auto-immune or other conditions that prevent them from being vaccinated.

Can businesses still require people to wear a mask after restrictions are lifted?

Yes, counties and businesses can be more strict and enforce masking, distancing and handwashing, etc. – whatever is appropriate in those spaces.

The situation in Skagit.

In Skagit County, 63.6% of our population 16 years and older have initiated vaccination. From data on the state dashboard, we can see that roughly 81% of our population 65+ have initiated and 64% of people 50-64 have initiated vaccination. The greatest room for growth would be amongst Skagitonians ages 12-49; the smallest percentage being those 12-17 years of age.

“We’re calling all our young adults and families with tweens and teens to get vaccinated now. It wouldn’t take much to get the state over the 70 percent threshold. We could see things reopen in the next few days if all eligible people would access their vaccine now.”

Jennifer Johnson, Skagit County Public Health Director

Getting your vaccine.

There continues to be many opportunities to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in Skagit County. Getting a vaccine is free, easy, and now—more convenient than ever!

The Skagit County Fairgrounds Clinic is still offering vaccines to anyone 12 and older, though the site closes permanently after June 26th to allow Public Health to focus on mobile outreach and pop-up clinics. To access a Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the Fairgrounds, drop by on Thursday from 1-7pm or Friday/Saturday from 10am-4pm.

A list of all upcoming mobile pop-up clinics can be found on Public Health’s website: www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine. All pop-ups are available to anyone 12+, unless indicated on the webpage. No appointments are required for these dates and locations.

If none of the above options suit your needs, other vaccine providers and locations can be found at Vaccinate WA or by calling the DOH help line at 1-800-525-0127.

For more information.

WA DOH: https://www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/COVID19/FrequentlyAskedQuestions

Governor’s Office: http://Governor’s Office: https://www.governor.wa.gov/issues/issues/covid-19-resources/covid-19-reopening-guidance

Percentages come from combining data from the Washington State Immunization Information System (IIS) and aggregate data from the Department of Defense (DoD) and Veterans Affairs (VA). To access state and county level vaccine data, go to the state Dashboard at: https://www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/COVID19/DataDashboard.


Get SMOKE READY this Wildfire Season

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Thankfully, we haven’t seen much smoke in Washington skies yet this year. Unfortunately though, we know that all it takes is one spark. Today—June 14th—marks the beginning of Smoke Ready Week, so let’s use this time to get prepared!

Like last year, there continues to be heightened concerns around the health impacts of breathing in wildfire smoke, and how this can worsen symptoms for those with COVID-19—or who may be at increased risk of contracting the virus. How we protect ourselves from wildfire smoke now is different than during other years when COVID-19 wasn’t a factor. Especially for those who are unvaccinated, it may be more difficult to go to public spaces where the air is cleaner and cooler than private homes may be. N95 respirator supplies continue to be somewhat limited, however not nearly as limited as last year. And we now all know from experience that cloth face coverings don’t provide much protection from wildfire smoke!-

So before we dive in, let’s discuss why getting Smoke Ready is important.

How can wildfire smoke harm your health?

Smoke is made up of gasses and microscopic particles. When inhaled, these particles bypass our bodies’ normal defenses, traveling deep into the lungs and even entering the bloodstream. Breathing in smoke can have immediate health effects, including the following:

  • Coughing     
  • Trouble breathing      
  • Stinging eyes     
  • Scratchy throat
  • Runny nose  
  • Irritated sinuses        
  • Wheezing         
  • Chest pain
  • Headaches   
  • Asthma attack           
  • Tiredness         
  • Fast heartbeat

Who is at most risk from wildfire smoke?

Inhaling wildfire smoke can be harmful to anyone, but it is especially harmful to these vulnerable groups: people with heart and lung disease, people with chronic respiratory conditions, infants and children, pregnant women and adults 65 and over. People in these high-risk groups should reach out to their healthcare provider to discuss specific ways to be prepared against wildfire smoke.

So, are you #SmokeReady? Here are 10 tips to help you prepare:

1. Plan ahead with your doctor.

If you or a family member has asthma, or suffers from heart or lung disease, have a plan to manage your condition. Children, pregnant women, and people over age 65 are especially at risk during smoke events. Learn more.

2. Get HEPA filters, recirculate your AC, and share space if able.

Use a HEPA filter in your home’s central air system or your air conditioner unit or air purifier. Learn how to turn your AC to “recirculate” in both your home and your car.

If purchasing a portable room air cleaner isn’t in your current budget, there are DIY instructions for building a “box fan filter.” These are fairly simple to assemble and cost around $50. View a tutorial to create a box fan filter.

For those who are vaccinated, you can also check with your neighbors—something we couldn’t do last year! If you or your neighbor doesn’t have good air filtration or air conditioning at home, arrange to share spaces with those who do.

3. Employers, plan ahead with your employees
.

Have a plan in place for employees who work outdoors. Consider alternate work assignments or relocation to reduce employee exposure to smoke. For staff that work indoors, ensure your air filtration system is protective for smoke. Prepare for employees to face childcare closures, home emergencies, etc. Check with Washington Labor & Industries for guidance

4. Have a Plan B for outdoor events.

Have a contingency plan prepared in case you need to cancel or reschedule. If you have children in summer camps or childcare, ask the organizers about their smoke plan. If the only viable plan B appears to be moving the event indoors, be sure to check with Skagit County Public Health before proceeding with plans. Visit the website or call (360) 416-1500.

5. Information about respirator masks.

If you have to be outdoors for extended periods of time, consider a N95 or N100 respirator. Thankfully, N95s are now a little easier to find in 2021 than last year, but the Washington Department of Health is still encouraging people to look at other options before getting a respirator.

If you do purchase a respirator mask, keep in mind that it can be difficult to find a mask that fits correctly. Test the fit and comfort of your mask before you need it. Learn more.

6. Stock up.

Stock up safely and responsibly. Have several days of water, groceries, and family needs on hand so you don’t have to go out when it’s smoky. Learn how to prepare.

7. Don’t forget your pets!

If the air quality is forecasted to be poor while you’re away from home, plan ahead to keep your pets inside or with a caregiver. Learn more.

8. Learn the air quality index numbers and colors.

During periods of poor air quality, watch for air quality alerts, pay attention to numbers and colors of air quality monitors, and know when to limit your time outdoors.

9. Make sure to get alerts.

Sign up to receive air quality email alerts for your zip code. Also, bookmark or subscribe to this blog for statewide air quality and wildfire updates.

Wildfire season doesn’t need to slow you and your family down, but proper planning is a must! Keep up to date by following the Washington Smoke Information blog. Learn more about being Smoke Ready at EPA’s Smoke-Ready Toolbox for Wildfires and Washington Department of Health’s Smoke From Wildfires Toolkit.


Eat & Be Well: Food Safety Tips from Public Health

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This past Monday, June 7th, was World Food Safety Day. The United Nations has declared this day to draw global attention to the health consequences of contaminated food and water. Food safety and illness prevention and investigation are some of Public Health’s primary functions here in Skagit County, so we’d like to take this time to share some food safety tips with you!

But first…What is Foodborne Illness?

Foodborne illness often presents itself as flu-like symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or fever, so many people may not recognize the illness is caused by bacteria or other pathogens in food. Thousands of types of bacteria are naturally present in our environment.

Not all bacteria cause disease in humans. For example, some bacteria are used beneficially in making cheese and yogurt. Bacteria that cause disease are called pathogens. When certain pathogens enter the food supply, they can cause foodborne illness. Millions of cases of foodborne illness occur each year. Most cases of foodborne illness can be prevented. Proper cooking or processing of food destroys bacteria.

How Bacteria Get in Food?

Bacteria may be present on products when you purchase them. Plastic-wrapped boneless chicken breasts and ground meat, for example, were once part of live chickens or cattle. Raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs are not sterile. Neither is fresh produce such as lettuce, tomatoes, sprouts, and melons. Foods, including safely cooked, ready-to-eat foods, can become cross-contaminated with bacteria transferred from raw products, meat juices or other contaminated products, or from food handlers with poor personal hygiene.

So how do you keep your food safe and pathogen free?

There are Four Steps to Food Safety: Clean, Separate, Cook, Chill.

1. Clean

  • Germs that cause food poisoning can survive in many places and spread around your kitchen.
  • Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water before, during, and after preparing food and before eating.
  • Wash your utensils, cutting boards, and countertops with hot, soapy water.
  • Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running water.

2. Separate

Raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs can spread germs to ready-to-eat foods—unless you keep them separate. Here are some tips for avoiding cross-contamination:

  • Use separate cutting boards and plates for raw meat, poultry, and seafood.
  • When grocery shopping, keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and their juices away from other foods.
  • Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from all other foods in the fridge.

3. Cook

Food is safely cooked when the internal temperature gets high enough to kill germs that can make you sick. The only way to tell if food is safely cooked is to use a food thermometer. You can’t tell if food is safely cooked by checking its color and texture.

Use a food thermometer to ensure foods are cooked to a safe internal temperature. Check this chart for a detailed list of foods and temperatures.

  • 145°F for whole cuts of beef, pork, veal, and lamb (then allow the meat to rest for 3 minutes before carving or eating)
  • 160°F for ground meats, such as beef and pork
  • 165°F for all poultry, including ground chicken and turkey
  • 165°F for leftovers and casseroles
  • 145°F for fresh ham (raw)
  • 145°F for fin fish or cook until flesh is opaque

4. Chill

  • Keep your refrigerator at 40°F or below and know when to throw food out.  
  • Refrigerate perishable food within 2 hours. (If outdoor temperature is above 90°F, refrigerate within 1 hour.)
  • Thaw frozen food safely in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave. Never thaw foods on the counter, because bacteria multiply quickly in the parts of the food that reach room temperature.
  • Bacteria can multiply rapidly if left at room temperature or in the “Danger Zone” between 40°F and 140°F. Never leave perishable food out for more than 2 hours (or 1 hour if it’s hotter than 90°F outside).

For more information, visit our webpage here! To submit a question, report a health hazard or concern to Environmental Health, go to our online feedback page.

You can also find other helpful information here:


What the Data Tells Us: Vaccines Save Lives

Reading Time: 3 minutes

There has sure been a lot of uncertainty since March of 2020; our routines changed dramatically, schools closed then reopened, and vacations were postponed or cancelled all together. There hasn’t been a ton that we could rely on—until now.

The data shows us that we can, and should, rely on the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine. The data tells us that the vaccines are saving lives in Skagit County, across our country, and throughout the world. As more and more people get vaccinated, we see our case rates drop, our hospitalizations decrease, and the number of COVID-19 deaths decline.

This data tells us that we can count on the vaccine to get us out of the pandemic; that we can count on the vaccine to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe and healthy. It gives us reason to get vaccinated against a virus that has taken the lives of 74 Skagitonians thus far.  

COVID-19 vaccines work.

Over 62% of people 16 or older have had at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine in Skagit County. Since we began administering COVID-19 vaccines in late December 2020, our 14-day case rate reversed course, dropping from a peak of 459.2 per 100,000 around Thanksgiving of last year, to 74.4 in May 2021. Now, after a quick spike in April, we are seeing lower numbers again.

Outbreaks at long-term care facilities have sharply declined. People living and working there were among the first to be vaccinated. Our highest risk senior populations were also eligible for the vaccine first, and case numbers amongst this population has dropped pretty dramatically since the winter.

Total COVID-19 deaths in Skagit County have slowed, as well, and the people we are seeing in our ICU beds are—by and large—not those who have been vaccinated. We know that vaccinations have played a key role in these falling numbers. We also know that continuing to use our safety precautions when unvaccinated (like mask wearing and social distancing) plays a large part.

Breakthrough cases are expected, but statistically rare.

Data has also shown that no vaccine is 100% effective. Breakthrough cases (when a fully vaccinated person tests positive for COVID-19 more than two weeks after the final dose) can happen, but they are rare. It is expected that a small percentage of fully vaccinated people will get sick with COVID-19; in most cases, these individuals will experience mild symptoms, however, hospitalization and/or death can still happen.

Recent Washington Department of Health statistics tell us that out of 3.1 million vaccinated, 1,471 breakthrough cases occurred. Of those cases, 23 people died. That’s about .0007%, or 1 in 134,782. Half of these deaths were in individuals 84 years of age or older.

In addition, both the Washington Department of Health and the CDC report extremely low rates of COVID-19 breakthrough cases, hospitalizations and deaths among vaccinated people. Washington Secretary of Health Dr. Umair A. Shah recently said hospital admission rates in those 45-64 who have not been vaccinated are 21 times higher than those who are fully vaccinated.

From this data we can see: the vast majority of those getting sick, being hospitalized or dying from COVID-19 are people who have not been vaccinated.

Getting vaccinated is easy.

Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 allows us to get back to the things that we enjoy. Vaccinated people are taking off their masks. Families and friends are gathering again. Restaurants and businesses are seeing more customers and a loosening of restrictions. And now, the data is confirming that the vaccines are effective at preventing sickness and death from COVID-19. The vaccines are our best path out of this pandemic.

Finding your free vaccine is easier than ever. To find a provider near you, go to: https://vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov/. You can also still visit the Skagit Fairgrounds for a free Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson vaccine between now and June 26th.

If taking time to go to an appointment or dropping in at a pharmacy or clinic doesn’t work for you, that’s no problem! Skagit Public Health is holding pop-up vaccine clinics around the county all summer long. We’ll be where you are at so getting vaccinated is quick and convenient. For a list of our pop-up dates, go to: www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine.

If you need help finding vaccine, call our Vaccine Hotline at (360) 416-1500. We look forward to serving you!


Playground Safety: A Mom’s Public Service Announcement

Reading Time: 3 minutes

It has been a real privilege to share information on our Skagit Health Connection Blog over the past year. One of the greatest gifts of my role as Communications Coordinator is being able to share with you both professional and personal information I’ve gleaned over the years as a Public Health employee, wife, mother, and Skagitonian. Creating content for the blog has been—in many ways—a cathartic experience during these difficult months; a place where I can share my thoughts, but also provide content that is essential for the health, safety, and wellbeing of our community.

Today’s post comes from a more personal perspective: it is a PSA provided by me, a 30-something mother of two young children; a bit crazed after a long rainy winter and weather-worn from COVID. It also comes from a place of humility as I share some things I’ve learned from my most recent “mommy fail.”

About a month ago I took a quick trip to a local playground with my two young daughters, ages 4 and 18 months. It was a park that we’d never been to before and my girls were running hog wild! At one point my youngest made her way to the top of the tallest slide, and, instead of grabbing her off and suffering the consequences of a toddler tantrum, I decided to take her down on my lap.

Big mistake. Her leg must have caught or twisted just so, resulting in a spiral fracture to her left tibia. 6 weeks with a full-leg cast. Not cool.

It was only after a blubbery call to my husband and a lengthy urgent care trip that I was informed by the doctor that sliding with a child on your lap isn’t something that you should do. I had no idea!

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, an estimated 352,698 children under the age of 6 were injured on slides in the United States from 2002 through 2015, and many of those injuries were leg fractures. Of those under 6 years old, toddlers age 12-23 months had the highest percentage of injuries. The most common injury overall was a fracture at 36 percent, usually involving the lower leg.

The biggest issue appears to be the size and weight of adults. When a young child slides down by themselves, they are unlikely to get a severe injury to their leg, even if the foot catches due to the relatively low forces involved. The force generated by the forward momentum of an adult with a child on their lap is much greater and can easily break a bone if a child’s foot gets caught on the slide.

Thankfully, my daughter’s leg is healing quickly enough and the cast is scheduled to come off in the next few weeks. However, the experience has definitely left me a bit unnerved. I am now finding every opportunity to share what I’ve learned with friends and family—and I hope you will share this information, too!

To prepare for the fun days of summer ahead, I am taking time to read up on other playground safety tips. If you’re interested in this type of information, here is a great place to start. Play equipment like swings and monkey bars can be incredibly fun, but they can also pose safety risks for children—especially those a bit more daring than the rest.

I hope you and your family enjoy our local playgrounds and have a wonderful June.

Play safe and have fun!


Take it Outside!

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Rosemary Alpert, contributing author

Spring is in full swing. It is, without a doubt, the best time of the year to get outdoors and enjoy the longer days of sunlight. Now is the time to welcome these special spring-time opportunities; to appreciate the beauty, fresh air and growing abundance that surrounds us here in Skagit County.  

On April 15, the Governor exclaimed excitedly that it is time to “Take it Outside”. He suggested that, over the coming weeks, we should all be thinking about ways to take our plans outdoors. As he stated about the increase in COVID-19 cases, “Extraordinary times, take extraordinary measures…we are not out of the woods yet.” But ya know what? We can go out into the woods and explore! 

Across the state, many counties are on the verge of moving back into Phase 2 of the Roadmap to Recovery reopening plan, as we are in the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. To keep moving forward, we must continue our collective, healthy progression by getting vaccinated and wearing our masks in public.

Whatever you are planning, take it outside. Let’s think “out of the box”! There are so many unique possibilities to explore here in Skagit County. Let’s take advantage of them!

Need some inspiration? Here are a few ideas to give a try!

Note: Please be sure to wear your mask when in public settings and when gathering with other unvaccinated people (including children)!

  • Plan a small gathering with family or friends at a park or in someone’s backyard.
  • Make a picnic lunch or dinner and find a local park to enjoy your meal. 
  • Watch the sunrise or sunset. 
  • Meet a friend for a walk along the river or under the stars. 
  • Celebrate a birthday or special occasion at a playground!
  • If you can, take work outside! Arrange a meeting or call out of the office. 
  • Explore hiking, running and walking trails across our state. 
  • Plant a garden! There’s nothing more relaxing than tending the earth and listening to the birds. 
  • Paint, dance, sing, photograph—all can be taken outside!
  • Learn a new sport. 
  • Find a quiet spot to read, meditate, or enjoy yoga. 
  • Play with your dog…you know he’ll love it.  
  • Experience outdoor dining and support our local establishments. 
  • Listen to or create music. 
  • Connect with your community; volunteer!

Let’s take advantage of our longer days, be creative, replenish and have fun. After all, there are so many more options available to us this year compared to spring-time 2020. As we move forward with vitality, please–mask up, get vaccinated and “take it outside”!

If you haven’t already, start your spring and summer by getting vaccinated, and help your loved ones do the same. This is the very best thing that you can do to protect yourself and your family and friends, as well as ensure that we continue to move forward with reopening. For more information on COVID-19 vaccinations please visit, www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine or call the hotline at 360-416-1500. If you have any questions about the vaccines, talk with your health care provider!

“Rosario Beach” 
©Rosemary DeLucco Alpert, 2021