Public Health Reminder: Masking Still Critical this Holiday Season

Reading Time: 2 minutes

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!


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!