Moving Beyond the Statewide Mask Mandate

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On February 17th, Governor Inslee announced that the statewide indoor mask mandate will be lifted on March 21st, 2022. This mandate, which includes indoor locations such as restaurants, grocery stores, malls, and public-facing offices, has been in effect in some capacity since June 24, 2020. Beginning on March 21st, the mandate will also be lifted for K-12 schools and childcare locations throughout the state.

For many people, this is going to feel like a big change. After all, we’ve been required to wear a face covering for nearly two years now. If you have questions or concerns about this shift in direction—if you are feeling big emotions like frustration, anger, fear, or apprehension—please know that all these responses are valid.

Current Disease Summary

We are still experiencing a level of disease activity across the state that is considered high by the CDC, with case, hospitalization, and death rates still well above what we would have considered “acceptable” prior to the Omicron surge. So, you may ask, why end the mask mandate now?

The governor’s decision is based on science and our current statewide data. While rates are still high, we have been seeing a decrease in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations for several weeks now and, as a result, our hospitals are better able to care for patient loads. The date was selected based on our hospitalization trends and where the state predicts we will be in the next several weeks. It has been determined that by March 21st, Washington state will be at a safe level of disease activity, which will allow our hospitals to operate at a sustainable level.

We have also seen similar trends around the globe where Omicron surged before us. Many experts are predicting that the pandemic may be on the way to becoming endemic, meaning most cases will be less severe, and the disease’s impact on society will be more predictable and (in theory) less disruptive.

By the end of March, statewide COVID-19 hospital admissions are projected to fall to levels that no longer overwhelm hospital systems.

Another big factor? More than 73 percent of Washingtonians are now at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19 and over 2 million boosters have been administered. The large number of people who were infected during the Omicron surge will also likely result in some additional community immunity, at least for the short term. However, because we don’t know yet how long this immunity lasts or have a way to test for it in individuals, vaccination is recommended for everyone, even those who have been previously infected.

Change Will Be A Gradual Process

It is important to remember that change will be gradual. The governor began the process last Friday by lifting the outdoor mask mandate, which included large outdoor gathering and events with more than 500 attendees. Now, folks are free to attend outdoor concerts, street fairs, and farmers markets sans mask—something that many of us wouldn’t have considered doing back in the thick of 2020 or 2021.

The lifting of the indoor mask mandate on March 21st will also not include certain indoor settings considered to be high-risk for disease spread, like healthcare settings, long-term care, and correctional facilities.

Also still in effect is the federal mask mandate that requires masking on all forms of public transportation, including buses, trains, and airplanes, and in transportation hubs. This mandate is still in place, though the White House is reviewing data and may announce changes in the near future.

And though the mandate will be lifted for K-12 schools on March 21st, schools will still be required to report COVID cases and outbreaks and work with local public health departments to monitor disease activity. Routine testing, isolation, and quarantine protocols will also remain in place per the CDC’s guidance.

Feel Empowered to Mask Up

For those who are weary about taking off their mask, please know that Washingtonians can make their own decisions about when it may be appropriate to wear a mask, even after the mask mandate ends. This goes for businesses, as well, which still retain the right to choose stricter requirements.

Those who want or need to wear a mask in public can continue to do so. If you are at greater risk because of factors such as your age or underlying health conditions, you are encouraged to continue to take more precautions. There also may be certain settings where wearing a mask makes sense, like when caring for someone who is high-risk, if you are sick, if you’re in a location where social distancing isn’t possible, or if you are not fully vaccinated.

And if you are choosing to wear a mask in certain settings, you may wonder what mask you should wear. The answer is simple: Wear the mask that you will use consistently—and correctly.


For additional information on Governor Inslee’s announcement, please read the full press release or call the State COVID-19 Information Hotline at 1-800-525-0127. For local questions related to COVID-19, you may contact Skagit County Public Health at (360) 416-1500.


Statewide Indoor Mask Mandate Lifting on March 21

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February 17, 2022

This afternoon, Governor Inslee announced that the statewide indoor mask mandate will be lifted on Monday, March 21, 2022. This mandate, which includes indoor locations such as restaurants, grocery stores, malls, and public-facing offices, has been in effect since August 23, 2021. Beginning on March 21, the mandate will also be lifted for K-12 schools and childcare locations throughout the state.

As a reminder, the statewide outdoor mask mandate is scheduled to end tomorrow, Friday, February 18. The state will stop requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for entry to large events beginning on Tuesday, March 1.

K-12 schools will still be required to report COVID cases and work with local Public Health Departments to monitor disease activity. Routine testing, isolation, and quarantine protocols will also remain in place per the CDC’s guidance. Current “requirements” regarding distance, ventilation, and sanitation in schools will be downgraded to “recommendations”, with new guidance expected from the state by March 7.

The lifting of the indoor mask mandate will not include certain indoor settings considered to be at high-risk for disease spread. This includes, but is not necessarily limited to, healthcare settings, long-term care facilities, and correctional facilities. Additionally, the federal mask mandate is still in effect and requires masking on all forms of public transportation, including buses, trains, and airplanes, and in transportation hubs.

Following the lifting of the mandate, Washingtonians can continue to wear a mask if they so choose. This goes for businesses, as well, who will retain the right to choose stricter masking requirements if desired.

There may be certain settings where wearing a mask makes sense, like when caring for someone who is high-risk, if you are sick, if you’re in a location where social distancing isn’t possible, or if you are not fully vaccinated. Those who are at greater risk because of factors such as their age or underlying health condition are encouraged to continue to take extra precautions.

For additional information on Governor Inslee’s announcement, please visit wwww.governor.wa.gov or call the State COVID-19 Information Hotline at 1-800-525-0127. For general questions related to COVID-19, you may contact Skagit County Public Health at (360) 416-1500.


Tsunami Preparedness: Before, During, After

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A tsunami advisory was lifted this past Sunday for parts of the U.S. West Coast and Alaska after a volcano erupted in the Pacific on Saturday. The initial advisory went into effect on Saturday morning, with waves projected to be 1-to-3 feet along the coastline spanning from California to Alaska. Emergency alerts went to residents in King and Snohomish counties, as well as many other locations across Puget Sound.

While the Washington coastline thankfully saw minimal impacts from the tremors, we should use this experience as a reminder to be ready for future tsunami events. After all, being prepared is one of the best things that you can do for yourself and your loved ones. You can take steps today to lessen the potential impacts of a tsunami event in the future.

Here are some things to consider before, during, and after a tsunami. For the full list, go to Ready.gov.

Prepare NOW

  • If you live near, or regularly visit a coastal area, learn about the risk of tsunami in the area. Some at-risk communities have maps with evacuation zones and routes. If you are a visitor, ask about community plans.

    In Skagit County, a great way to stay informed is by signing up for CodeRed alerts. Register here to receive emergency alerts and notifications in your area through the CodeRed Emergency Notification System. For more information, contact Skagit County’s Department of Emergency Management at (360) 416-1850.
  • Learn the signs of a potential tsunami, such as an earthquake, a loud roar from the ocean, or unusual ocean behavior, such as a sudden rise or wall of water or sudden draining of water showing the ocean floor.
  • Know and practice community evacuation plans and map out your routes from home, work, and play. Pick shelters 100 feet or more above sea level, or at least one mile inland. Check with Skagit County’s Department of Emergency Management for public shelter information or download the free Red Cross Emergency app for a list of open Red Cross shelters in your area.
  • Create a family emergency communication plan that has an out-of-state contact. Plan where to meet if you get separated. Consider putting together a basic Disaster Supply kit for your family. A checklist can be found here.
  • Help educate your family about the importance of being prepared for natural disasters. Visit Ready.gov/kids for helpful tips.
  • Consider earthquake insurance and a flood insurance policy through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Standard homeowner’s insurance does not cover flood or earthquake damage.

Survive DURING

  • If you are in a tsunami area and there is an earthquake, then first protect yourself from the earthquake. Drop, Cover, and Hold On. Drop to your hands and knees. Cover your head and neck with your arms. Hold on to any sturdy furniture until the shaking stops. Crawl only if you can reach better cover, but do not go through an area with more debris. If possible, avoid touching your eyes, mouth, and nose.
  • When the shaking stops, if there are natural signs or official warnings of a tsunami, then move immediately to a safe place as high and as far inland as possible. Listen to the authorities, but do not wait for tsunami warnings and evacuation orders.
  • If you are outside of the tsunami hazard zone and receive a warning, then stay where you are unless officials tell you otherwise.
  • Leave immediately if you are told to do so. Evacuation routes are often marked by a wave with an arrow in the direction of higher ground.
  • If you are in the water, then grab onto something that floats, such as a raft, tree trunk, or door. Keep in mind that floodwaters may contain debris, chemicals, or waste that are harmful to your health.  
  • If you are in a boat, then face the direction of the waves and head out to sea. If you are in a harbor, then go inland.

Be Safe AFTER

  • Listen to local alerts and authorities for information on areas to avoid and shelter locations.
  • Avoid wading in floodwater, which can contain dangerous debris. Water may be deeper than it appears. Never drive through standing water.
  • Be aware of the risk of electrocution. Underground or downed power lines can electrically charge water. Do not touch electrical equipment if it is wet or if you are standing in water.
  • If you become injured or sick and need medical attention, contact your healthcare provider for further care instructions and shelter in place, if possible. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 9-1-1.
  • Stay away from damaged buildings, roads, and bridges.
  • Document property damage with photographs. Conduct an inventory and contact your insurance company for assistance. You may also reach out to Skagit County’s Department of Emergency Management at (360) 416-1850.
  • Save phone calls for emergencies. Phone systems are often down or busy after a disaster. Use text messages or social media to communicate with family and friends.
  • Take care of yourself physically and emotionally in the aftermath of a disaster. Follow CDC guidance for managing stress during a traumatic event. The Disaster Distress Helpline, 1-800-985-5990, is a 24/7, 365-day-a-year, national hotline dedicated to providing immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster.

Skagit County Health Officer Releases Statement on Omicron Variant Reports in Skagit County

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December 16, 2021

Today, Skagit County’s Health Officer, Dr. Howard Leibrand, issued the following statement:

This afternoon, we received confirmation from the Washington State Department of Health that the Omicron variant has been identified in three Skagit County residents. Omicron is circulating in our community, and we expect that infections from this new variant will continue to increase over the next several weeks.

It can be unsettling to hear news of a new variant, particularly as we approach the holidays. There are still things that we do not know. Early reports have suggested that the Omicron variant may re-infect people who have since recovered from COVID-19 at greater rates than with other variants. There is also some concern about whether vaccines and antibody treatments will work effectively against Omicron, but the CDC expects that current vaccines will remain effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalizations, and death.

What we do know is that we have the necessary tools to slow the transmission rate of omicron in our community: the layered protection of vaccination, boosters, masking, and testing.

We know what works to prevent the spread of viruses that cause COVID-19, including: wearing high-quality and well-fitting face masks or respirators; improving indoor air quality through ventilation; avoiding crowded indoor spaces and physical distancing; and getting tested and staying home when sick or exposed. These precautions, layered with vaccination and getting a booster dose when eligible, are the best and most important things we can do to protect against COVID-19 and the spread of Omicron.

New variants are unfortunate, but expected, especially when there are still large percentages of our population who are unvaccinated. This variant may pose new, or different challenges that will require a quick response by Public Health and our healthcare partners. But compared to the early days of the pandemic, we know much more about COVID-19 now, and we’re better prepared to respond.  

Until we know more, every person should take steps to reduce their risk for contracting or spreading COVID-19. Remember: your choices can have positive or negative consequences. When making decisions about travel or gathering this holiday, please use all necessary precautions to keep yourself, your loved ones, and your community safe.  

I wish you all a happy—and safe—holiday season!


Omicron and Masking: Is it time to update your mask collection?

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The new Omicron variant is now circulating in Washington State. Although we do not yet have an official report of the variant here in Skagit County, now is the time to be taking precautions. There is still much that experts don’t know about this new variant. What we do know, though, is that we already have the tools we need to fight the spread of omicron.

The CDC has listed vaccination, boosters, testing, and masking as the best ways to keep omicron under control. We know that COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalizations, and death, and the CDC recommends that those 16 years and older who are eligible for a booster go and get theirs now.

As for masking—we know that face masks offer protection against all variants, including omicron. The CDC continues to recommend wearing a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high community transmission, regardless of vaccination status. Here in Washington, the statewide mask mandate requires that all people five years of age and older must wear a mask in public indoor settings and at large, outdoor events with 500 or more attendees, including sporting events, fairs, parades, and concerts, regardless of vaccination status.

We’ve been masking up for 21 months at this point, and some of us have amassed quite the collection! Some of those masks may be getting a bit worn, or maybe they’re not fitting as snugly as you’d like. If you’re wondering if those cloth face masks from 2020 are still offering the right amount of protection, please read on.

NOTE: No child under the age of two should wear a face mask for safety reasons.

It comes down to fit and quality.

When choosing a face mask, it comes down to fit and quality. So, let’s discuss fit first.

Masks that are loose, with gaps around your face or nose, are not as helpful in protecting you or others. A mask should completely cover your nose and mouth and should fit snugly against the sides of your face without any gaps.

To ensure a proper fit, you can choose masks with a nose wire to prevent air from leaking out of the top of the mask. You can also use a mask fitter to help ensure a snug fit with a cloth mask. For visuals of these tips, visit the guidance for improved mask use from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Knotting and tucking is also a good way to improve the fit of a medical procedure mask. Knot the ear loops of the mask where they join the edge of the mask, then fold and tuck the unneeded material under the edges. (For instructions, see the following https://youtu.be/GzTAZDsNBe0)

Wearing a mask with at least two layers is also important. Some people even opt to wear a disposable mask underneath a cloth mask. (Note: N95/KN95 masks should not be layered with other masks.)

And for quality…

The highest quality masks are designed and tested to ensure they meet a standard. That means they perform at a consistent level to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The level of quality you need will be dependent on the situation. Sometimes a cloth mask will work just fine, and at other times, a higher quality mask may be called for.

The highest quality, in order, are:

  1. N95 and KN95 (as well as KF94) are the most effective, provided they are genuine and have been tested to meet a standard. These are disposable, so you will need to replace them (depending on how much you wear it). These are not available in children’s sizes and are more expensive.
  2. Surgical masks that have been tested to meet a national standard (ASTM 2/3). These are also disposable.  
  3. Cloth masks that have a double layer. These can be washed and re-used.

When to consider wearing a N95 or KN95 mask. 

For the best protection against COVID-19 variants such as omicron, there are times when folks may want to consider a higher quality mask. However, it is important to note that if you do not have this type of mask available, a high-quality, well-fitting surgical or cloth mask will do just fine.  

The following scenarios may warrant the need for better protection against COVID-19:

Should you use N95 and KN95 masks for everyday use?

The supply of high-quality N95 and KN95 masks have definitely improved since the early days of the pandemic. These are better at filtering the virus and now are more widely available for the public. Even still, the CDC does not recommend the use of N95 respirators for protection against COVID-19 in non-healthcare settings, stating that these masks should be prioritized for healthcare personnel and for other workers who are required to wear them for protection against other hazards. An exception to this would be for scenarios such as the ones listed above.

These types of masks are highly effective when used properly. They are tight-fitting respirators that—when fit properly—filter out at least 95% of particles in the air, including large and small particles. These masks meet a standard of quality, meaning that they are designed and tested to ensure they perform at a consistent level to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

As stated above, N95 and KN95 masks are not available in children’s sizes and can be more expensive. If folks decide to go this route for everyday use, that is perfectly fine. But remember: a high-quality, well-fitting surgical or cloth mask are great everyday options for the whole family (minus those itty bitty kiddos and babies).

For N95 and KN95 masks, fit and quality are key.

Most people outside of health care settings don’t have access to fit testing to ensure proper use with minimal air leakage. If an N95 does not fit tightly, you won’t get the full benefit. Aside from fit testing, some people might find that N95s are less comfortable for everyday use. For these reasons, you should use your best judgement on how much value these types of masks add in a particular scenario.

Counterfeits are a challenge, so find a reputable dealer and make sure the product is legitimate. KN95 masks are commonly made and used in China. Some KN95 masks sold in the United States meet requirements similar to those set by NIOSH, while other KN95 masks do not. It is also important to know that about 60% KN95 masks in the United States are counterfeit (fake)and DO NOT meet NIOSH requirements. Some N95 masks also are counterfeits, described in this article from the CDC.

Need a good resource to ensure the quality and legitimacy of your mask? Project N95 aims to help people find a credible source for buying N95 and KN95. 


As we learn more about omicron, please use everything in your toolkit to keep yourself and your family safe. Mask up, get tested and stay home when sick or exposed, and—most importantly—get vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19. To find your vaccine, go to Vaccine Locator today or give the COVID-19 Info Hotline a call at 1-800-525-0127, then press #.


Safer Ways to Celebrate Holidays

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Getting together with friends and extended family during the holiday season is a tradition for many folks. Though we have seen COVID-19 cases spike after nearly every holiday since the beginning of the pandemic, this doesn’t necessarily mean that people can’t—or shouldn’t—get together. There are several ways to enjoy holiday traditions, protect the health of your loved ones, and keep COVID-19 from spreading. Read on for 5 tips as you plan for the holidays this December…

#1: If you are not yet vaccinated, now is the time to do so.

With delta still spreading, and the emergence of the new omicron variant, the recommendation is still to get vaccinated as soon as possible. At this time, this includes anyone 5 years and older. Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself, as well as those who are not yet eligible for vaccination such as young children.

If you’re eligible for a vaccine booster, it’s a good idea to get it before the holidays. To find a vaccine provider near you, go to Vaccine Finder or call the COVID-19 Information Hotline at 1-800-525-0127, then press #.

#2: Wear a well-fitting mask over your nose and mouth if you are in indoor public settings.

This includes everyone five years and older, regardless of vaccination status. In Washington State, the statewide mask mandate requires that people wear their mask when in indoor public spaces, including malls, grocery stores, and chain outlets. It also applies to certain outdoor settings, including large events. Remember: Do NOT put a mask on children younger than 2 years old.

#3: Gather with safety in mind.

If you are gathering with a group of people from multiple households and potentially from different parts of the country, you should consider additional precautions (e.g., avoiding crowded indoor spaces before travel, taking a test) in advance of gathering to further reduce risk.

This is especially true if some people are not vaccinated, including young children. If gathering with folks who are not vaccinated, the safest thing to do is for everyone to mask up, and to keep gatherings outside when possible. Proper ventilation and avoiding crowded spaces will be key in these types of scenarios.

People who have a condition or are taking medications that weaken their immune system may not be fully protected even if they are fully vaccinated and have received an additional dose. They should continue to take all precautions recommended for unvaccinated people, including wearing a well-fitted mask.

#4: Know when to stay home.

If you are sick or have symptoms, don’t host or attend a gathering. Period. Get tested if you have symptoms of COVID-19 or have a close contact with someone who has COVID-19. For a list of testing providers in Skagit County, go to our website here.

#5: Travel safely.

If you are considering traveling for a holiday or event, visit CDC’s Travel page to help you decide what is best for you and your family. The CDC still recommends delaying travel until you are fully vaccinated.

If you are not fully vaccinated and must travel, follow the CDC’s domestic travel or international travel recommendations for unvaccinated people. If you will be traveling in a group or family with unvaccinated people, choose safer travel options.

Also, everyone—even people who are fully vaccinated—must wear a mask on public transportation and follow international travel recommendations.


The 5 tips above are nothing new, but they are tried and true. By working together, we can enjoy safer holidays, travel, and protect our own health as well as the health of our family and friends. Happy holidays, everyone!


Public Health Reminder: Masking Still Critical this Holiday Season

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December 1, 2021

The holidays are upon us. As Skagitonians are out and about preparing for holiday festivities, please remember: masking is still critical—and required—in all indoor public spaces AND certain outdoor settings. This includes all local businesses, chain outlets, and grocery stores.

The statewide mask mandate requires that all people five years of age and older must wear a mask in public indoor settings and at large, outdoor events with 500 or more attendees, including sporting events, fairs, parades, and concerts, regardless of vaccination status.

There are some exceptions to the mask requirement, including children under five years of age, and people with a medical or mental health condition or disability that prevents them from wearing a mask. Children between 2 and 4 years of age can, and are encouraged, to wear a mask under close adult supervision. Children under 2 should not wear masks.

Face masks remain an important tool in preventing transmission of the COVID-19 virus. Though Skagit County is just over 60 percent fully vaccinated, there are still many folks, including young children, who are not protected.

Science has shown that masking works. COVID-19 spreads mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets when infected people—many of whom do not exhibit COVID-19 symptoms—cough, sneeze, or talk. Evidence shows that wearing a mask reduces an infected person’s chance of spreading the infection to others.

Furthermore, it is imperative that people wear their mask properly. To be effective, a mask must cover the nose, mouth, and chin, and must fit snuggly against one’s face. For tips on getting the best fit, visit the CDC’s mask guidance webpage here.

Wearing a mask when out in the community is an easy way to show your neighbors and favorite businesses that you care this holiday season. Please help our local businesses operate smoothly this season by following all state and local rules and guidance.

Another great way to ensure that things run smoothly for the holidays is by taking precautions at home. If unvaccinated, please remember that masking is still recommended when gathering with non-household members, especially when indoors. COVID-19 can easily spread in these types of environments, causing folks to miss out on school, work, and fun, festive holiday events.

Have a wonderful holiday season, Skagit! Be well!


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!


Returning Home After A Flood

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When returning to a home that’s been flooded after a natural disaster, be aware that your house may be contaminated by floodwaters, mold, or sewage, all of which can cause health risks for your family. Below are some tips for Skagitonians who may be returning home after flooding.

When you first reenter your home.

Before returning home, make sure that it is safe to do so. Always pay attention to authorities for information and instructions. 

When it is safe, try to return to your home during the daytime so that you do not have to use any lights. Use battery-powered flashlights and lanterns, rather than candles or gas lanterns. Please keep the following in mind:

  • If you have standing water in your home and can turn off the main power from a dry location, then go ahead and turn off the power, even if it delays cleaning. If you must enter standing water to access the main power switch, then call an electrician to turn it off. NEVER turn power on or off yourself or use an electric tool or appliance while standing in water.
  • If you smell gas or suspect a leak, turn off the main gas valve, open all windows, and leave your house immediately. Notify the gas company or the police or fire departments or State Fire Marshal’s office, and do not turn on the lights or do anything that could cause a spark. Do not return until you are told it is safe to do so.
  • If the house has been closed for several days, enter briefly to open doors and windows to let the house air out for a while (at least 30 minutes) before you stay for any length of time.
  • If your home has been flooded and has been closed for several days, assume your home has been contaminated by floodwater, sewage, and/or mold. See Floodwater After a Disaster or Emergency.

Stay out of floodwater.

Floodwaters contain many things that may harm health. It is important to protect yourself from exposure to floodwater regardless of the source of contamination. The best way to protect yourself is to stay out of the water.

If you come in contact with floodwater:

  • Wash with soap and clean water as soon as possible. If you don’t have soap or water, use alcohol-based wipes or sanitizer.
  • Take care of wounds and seek medical attention if necessary.
  • Wash clothes contaminated with flood or sewage water in hot water and detergent before reusing them.

If you must enter floodwater, wear rubber boots, rubber gloves, and goggles.

Throw away unsafe food.

Throw away food that may have come in contact with flood or storm water; perishable foods that have not been refrigerated properly due to power outages; and those with an unusual odor, color, or texture. Unsafe food can make you sick even if it looks, smells, and tastes normal. When in doubt, throw it out. For more information, visit Keep Food Safe After a Disaster or Emergency.

Use safe water.

Floodwater can contaminate your drinking water. Some contaminants from surface water get into the groundwater and affect private drinking water wells and municipal water systems that use groundwater.

Do not use water you suspect or have been told is contaminated to wash dishes, brush your teeth, wash and prepare food, wash your hands, make ice, or make baby formula. Safe water for drinking, cooking, and personal hygiene includes bottled, boiled, or treated water.

For tips on how to properly disinfect contaminated water, go to Public Health’s Safe Water webpage or give us a call at (360) 416-1500.

For well water:

Wells that have been flooded may be contaminated with pathogenic organisms that can cause disease (bacteria, viruses). To have well water tested, contact one of the labs below:

  • Edge Analytical, Burlington: 360-757-1400
  • Everett Environmental Laboratory, Everett: 425-257-8230
  • Monroe Water Quality Laboratory, Monroe: 360-794-6558
  • Exact Scientific Services, Ferndale: 360-733-1205
  • Lynden Water Treatment Plant, Lynden: 360-255-5470

For septic systems.

For information about what to do with your septic system after a flooding event, go to: https://www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/septic-systems-what-do-after-flood.

Clean up your home safely.

Before you begin to clean, be sure to check in with your insurance company. You may need to document any damage to your property.

Take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones during the cleanup process. For more information, visit Clean Up Safely After a Disaster. Some quick tips?

  • Using personal protective equipment (or “PPE”), like gloves, eye protection, and a dust mask to avoid breathing in fine silts and sands.
  • Be sure to wear long sleeve shirts and pants while cleaning and wash hands frequently with soap and water.

Use generators and other electrical equipment safely.

Talk to your utility company about using electrical equipment, including power generators. Be aware that it is against the law and a violation of electrical codes to connect generators to your home’s electrical circuits without the approved, automatic-interrupt devices. If a generator is online when electrical service is restored, it can become a major fire hazard. In addition, the improper connection of a generator to your home’s electrical circuits may endanger line workers helping to restore power in your area.

All electrical equipment and appliances must be completely dry before returning them to service. Have a certified electrician check these items if there is any question. For more information, see Protect Yourself and Others From Electrical Hazards After a Disaster.

Never use a generator, pressure washer, any gasoline-powered engine, or charcoal grills inside your home, basement, or garage or less than 20 feet from any window, door, or vent. Visit Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning After an Emergency for more information.

Dry out your home to prevent mold.

If flood or storm water has entered your home, dry it out as soon as possible to prevent mold. Here’s some helpful guidance:

People with asthma and other lung conditions and/or immune suppression should not enter buildings with indoor water leaks or mold growth that can be seen or smelled. Children should not take part in disaster cleanup work.

If you have electricity and an electrician has determined that it’s safe to turn it on, use a “wet-dry” shop vacuum (or the vacuum function of a carpet steam cleaner), an electric-powered water transfer pump, or sump pump to remove standing water. If you are operating equipment in wet areas, be sure to wear rubber boots to avoid electrocution.

If you do not have electricity, or it is not safe to turn it on, you can use a portable generator to power equipment to remove standing water. Note: If you must use a gasoline-powered pump, generator, pressure washer, or any other gasoline-powered tools to clean your home, never operate the gasoline engine inside a home, basement, garage, carport, porch, or other enclosed or partially enclosed structures, or less than 20 feet from any door, window, or vent, even if the windows and doors are open. Such improper use can create dangerously high levels of carbon monoxide and cause carbon monoxide poisoning.

If weather permits, open windows and doors of the house to aid in the drying-out process.

Use fans and dehumidifiers to remove excess moisture. Fans should be placed at a window or door to blow the air outwards rather than inwards, so not to spread the mold.

Have your home heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) system checked and cleaned by a maintenance or service professional who is experienced in mold cleanup before you turn it on. If the HVAC system was flooded with water, turning on the mold-contaminated HVAC will spread mold throughout the house. Professional cleaning will kill the mold and prevent later mold growth. When the service determines that your system is clean and if it is safe to do so, you can turn it on and use it to help remove excess moisture from your home.

Prevent water outdoors from reentering your home. For example, rainwater from gutters or the roof should drain away from the house; the ground around the house should slope away from the house to keep basements and crawl spaces dry.

Ensure that crawl spaces in basements have proper drainage to limit water seepage. Ventilate to allow the area to dry out.

For more information on mold cleanup, visit Homeowner’s and Renter’s Guide to Mold Cleanup After Disasters.


If you have questions or concerns about re-entering your home, please contact Skagit County Public Health at (360) 416-1500 or email EH@co.skagit.wa.us.


Skagit Fairgrounds Testing & Vaccine Site Closed November 15 and 16

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November 15, 2021

The Skagit Fairgrounds Testing & Vaccine Site will be closed on Monday, November 15 and Tuesday, November 16 due to flooding and high winds. The site will reopen on Thursday, November 18 assuming that there are no serious impacts to the area from flooding and high winds.

“It is our priority to protect the health and safety of our staff and volunteers at the Fairgrounds site,” said Jennifer Johnson, Skagit County Public Health Director. “When it is safe to reopen the site, we will do so.” 

Flooding is expected to continue in Skagit County throughout the days of November 15 and November 16. As of 4:00 am this morning, the Skagit River is forecasted to crest in Mount Vernon at 37.46 feet at 10:00 am on Tuesday, November 16. High winds and falling trees are also of concern with the grounds saturated from rainwater.

Due to the Fairgrounds remaining closed on Monday, November 15, appointments for pediatric vaccines will not be made available this morning at 9 a.m. as scheduled. New appointments will be added next Monday, November 22 at 9 a.m. instead.

Those who have scheduled appointments for booster vaccines for November 15 and 16 will be contacted by Public Health, and these appointments will be rescheduled for a later date.

If you are looking for other COVID-19 testing or vaccination options, visit our website at www.skagitcounty.net/coronavirus. Please check with your chosen location in advance to ensure that they are operating.

For more emergency information, sign up for the emergency information listservCodeRed Alerts or follow Skagit County on Twitter @SkagitGov. The River Level Hotline (360- 416-1404) and www.skagitcounty.net/flood are updated frequently during events with current conditions and can be resources for information as well.