Knock Out Flu: Think of It as Your Best Defense

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From the WA Department of Health

Think of It as Your Best Defense

This year, it’s more important than ever to get vaccinated against the flu. The flu vaccine can keep you from getting and spreading the flu to others during the COVID-19 pandemic and help keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed.

Why is it so important to get the flu vaccine this year?

Flu activity was unusually low last year. People in Washington did a great job getting their flu vaccine, and the COVID-19 safety measures like masking, staying home, and limiting gatherings also helped limit the spread of the flu. But this year, many of these safety measures are lifted.

Some people are returning to work in-person, and most children are going back to in-person school. That means we have a much higher risk of exposure to the flu virus. And with last year’s low activity, most people weren’t as exposed to flu viruses, so they don’t have much natural immunity to the flu anymore. Getting the flu vaccine is your best defense.

Should I still get the flu vaccine if I’m usually healthy?

Yes, we recommend the flu vaccine for everyone six months and older. The flu vaccine protects not only you, but also the people you’re around. Flu can be serious even in healthy people, but some people are at higher risk including:

  • People 65 years and older
  • Young children, especially those under 5 years of age
  • Pregnant people
  • People with medical conditions like asthma, diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, or neurologic conditions

While flu illness can be mild in most people, it’s important to remember how serious flu really is. Sadly, over 900 people in Washington died from flu-related illness in the last five years, including many children. The flu vaccine saves lives.

When should I get the flu vaccine?

You should get your flu vaccine before the end of October for the best protection through the fall and winter months when flu is most likely to spread. You can even get your COVID19 and flu vaccines at the same time. You can still get a flu vaccine for several months after October and get protection through the end of the flu season in the spring.

Where can I get a flu vaccine?

You can visit your local doctor’s office, pharmacy or clinic event in your area. Visit www.vaccinefinder.org or call the Help Me Grow Washington hotline at 1-800-322-2588 (language assistance available) to find a flu vaccine location near you. If you’re working,
you can also check with your employer to see if they are hosting an on-site clinic for their staff.

Does my insurance cover the flu vaccine?

Most insurance plans, including Medicaid and Medicare part B, cover the cost of flu vaccine for adults. If you do not have insurance, you may still be able to get the flu vaccine at no cost.

Children aged 18 and under in Washington can get a flu vaccine and other recommended vaccines at no cost. The provider may charge an administration fee to give the vaccine. You can ask them to waive this fee if you cannot afford it.

For more information, visit www.KnockOutFlu.org.


Taking the Guesswork out of Getting Tested

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Skagit County Public Health has been receiving a lot of calls in recent days from people asking about local COVID-19 testing options. In the past week alone, about 30% of all our incoming calls have been about testing.

Most callers are asking about access and want to know where they can go locally to get tested. In response, we have made sure that our testing options webpage is up-to-date and matches the Washington Department of Health’s list as well.

For a list of local testing options, go to: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HealthDiseases/coronavirusTESTsites.htm.

For a full list of regional testing locations, go to: https://www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/COVID19/TestingforCOVID19/TestingLocations

Many callers are also wondering about the differences between testing locations and the types of tests that they offer. While some locations offer both PCR and Antigen testing, many times a location will provide one or the other. With the recent opening of the Canadian border to fully vaccinated Americans, it is not surprising that so many people are wondering about which type of COVID test they should get.

So, here are some answers that may be helpful as you choose between testing options:

When should I get tested?

If you have had close contact exposure to a COVID-19 case or if you are concerned that you may have been exposed and are not experiencing symptoms, it is recommended that you wait 3 to 5 days after that initial exposure to get a diagnostic test. This wait time is due to the incubation period of the virus, the amount of the virus in your body, and the characteristics of diagnostic tests.

Those experiencing COVID-19 symptoms should get tested as soon as possible. Symptoms may include the following:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

What types of tests are available?

There are essentially two broad categories of testing:

  1. Antigen test (frequently referred to as a rapid test). This test detects protein fragments specific to the Coronavirus. It can be done in at a pharmacy, clinic, doctor’s office, or hospital. Turnaround time for results is usually very quick, and in some cases, results can be reported within 15 minutes.
  1. PCR test (may be referred to as a viral or molecular test). PCR testing is considered the “gold standard” in SARS-CoV-2 detection. This test actually detects RNA (or genetic material) that is specific to the virus and can detect the virus within days of infection, even those who have no symptoms. The test can also be done at a pharmacy, clinic, doctor’s office, or hospital. Turnaround time for results can be longer (generally in the 2-3 day range) since PCR samples are tested in a lab.

What kind of test should I get?

It is always best to talk with your health care provider about which test is best for you.

If you have symptoms, get the quick antigen test if it is available. If it is positive, you can start isolating right away to protect those around you from the spread of the virus. If the antigen test is negative, you should get retested using a PCR test and be sure to isolate yourself until you receive the result.

For most people who do not have symptoms but want to be tested because they may have been exposed or are traveling soon, the PCR test is the better choice. It can find small amounts of the virus that might be seen before symptoms start.

How accurate are these tests?

PCR tests work by detecting genetic material from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The genetic material from SARS-CoV-2 cannot be confused with the genetic material from other viruses, so this kind of test is highly specific. This means it rarely gives a false positive. If you are tested and the test comes back positive, you can be very sure that you are infected with this virus. Antigen tests are also very specific and rarely give a false positive.

Unfortunately, neither test is equally sensitive. If the specimen collection is not done perfectly, or if you are in an early stage of infection or already partially recovered, a sample might not contain enough viral material to come back positive. This is why timing is key for getting a positive test result. If you have been potentially exposed to COVID-19 but are not sick, it is best to get tested at least 5 days after the last potential exposure.

Because false negative results on diagnostic tests can happen, a negative result should not give you a sense of false security. If you have any symptoms of COVID-19, it is safest to assume you are infected and self-quarantine.

What test do I need to travel?

While the most universally accepted COVID-19 test is a molecular PCR test, some destinations may accept antigen tests as well. It is best to check with your destination, airline (etc.) when planning your trip.

If you are not fully vaccinated and must travel domestically or internationally, you will be required to get tested 1-3 days before your trip. Those who are fully vaccinated do not require testing before domestic travel, however most international destinations will still require pre-travel testing.

For those traveling, the best local PCR testing option is:

I’m looking for a low barrier testing option in Skagit County. Where should I go?

Skagit County Public Health is now offering free antigen testing at our Wednesday evening vaccine clinics at the Skagit County Administrative Building (700 S 2nd Street Mount Vernon, WA 98273) from 6-9pm.

We accept anyone 5 years and older; no appointment or insurance required. Test results are available in 15 minutes.

Note: This is NOT intended as a pre-travel test.

Can I use an At-Home Test Kit?

If you need to be tested for COVID-19 and can’t get tested by a healthcare provider or another testing location, you can consider using either a self-collection kit or a self-test that can be performed at home or anywhere else. Sometimes a self-test is also called a “home test” or an “at-home test.”

The following At-Home Tests are recommended by the Washington Department of Health (DOH):

When using an At-Home Test, please keep the following in mind:

  • All instructions for performing the test must be followed.
  • Self-tests can be used by anyone who is symptomatic regardless of their vaccination status.
  • Unvaccinated persons with no COVID-19 symptoms can also use self-tests, especially if they were potentially exposed to someone with COVID-19.
  • If an individual tests positive, they should isolate and inform any close contacts.

Those who test positive are asked to call the WA State COVID-19 Hotline at 1-800-525-0127 as soon as possible. The hotline is open from 6 AM to 10 PM Monday, and 6 AM to 6 PM Tuesday – Friday (and observed state holidays). Language assistance is available.

What is an Antibody test?

An antibody test looks for the body’s response to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. It is a blood test that is good at determining if you had the disease, but not good for determining if you have the disease. As such, antibody tests should not be used to diagnose the virus.

While there is evidence that antibodies may provide protection from infection, that has not yet been proven and therefore results of an antibody test should not be used to determine immunity.

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For more information about testing and for frequently asked questions, go to the WA DOH COVID-19 Testing webpage: https://www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/COVID19/TestingforCOVID19.


Seasonal Allergies or COVID-19?

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There’s nothing better after a long winter than the first few glimpses of spring. The cherry blossoms are in full bloom, and some days it takes everything in me to remain seated inside at my desk. But for those with allergies, springtime isn’t always that welcome, and blooming flowers don’t call to them like they do for me.

This is our second spring during COVID-19, and while we’ve learned a lot, there are still questions. Is my sinus headache a sign of seasonal allergies or could it possibly be COVID? Is my toddler’s runny nose cause for concern or just your run-of-the-mill springtime sniffles?

If you’re feeling a bit under the weather and are asking yourself these questions, here are a few more to contemplate:

What are your symptoms?

The CDC has a helpful diagram (to the right) that shows the differences and similarities between COVID-19 and allergy symptoms. While there are many symptoms that the two share, there are some symptoms that are very obviously one or the other.

Sneezing, by itself, is uncommon with COVID-19. If someone does have COVID-19, and they are experiencing sneezing, there are typically other symptoms involved. There are also some COVID-19 symptoms that would never be caused by allergies. These include fever, severe fatigue, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps.

Have you had allergies in the past?

If you regularly deal with springtime allergies, and you’re starting to feel the typical symptoms (sneezing, runny nose, and itchy eyes), allergies may be the issue. These aren’t the most common symptoms associated with COVID-19, although sneezing, runny nose and itchy eyes can sometimes occur.

When in doubt, get tested. Especially if your allergies feel different than usual, if your symptoms progress or you begin to get sicker, or if you’ve had a potential exposure to COVID-19.

How severe are your symptoms?

In general, seasonal allergy symptoms remain relatively consistent but may get worse when pollen counts are high. If you notice that your symptoms are getting progressively worse, or if you develop different symptoms, you’re probably not dealing with allergies.

Do allergy medications help? 

If you take allergy medication and it seems to relieve your symptoms, you probably don’t have COVID-19. Even still, it is important to continue to monitor your symptoms.

Could you have been exposed to COVID-19?

If there is a chance that you may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 recently and you begin to experience symptoms, it is important to get tested right away. While uncommon, someone can develop mild allergy-like symptoms first before the illness progresses. COVID-19 symptoms generally appear two to 14 days after exposure to SARS-CoV-2.

You are concerned that you may have COVID-19. Where can you get tested?

If you think you may have COVID-19, or if you decide to be extra cautious, visit here for a list of testing locations near you. If you have a health care provider, you may also be able to call them for an appointment. 

Your symptoms are getting worse. When should you seek help?

Look for emergency warning signs for COVID-19. If you or a loved one are showing any of the signs below, seek emergency medical care immediately:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds, depending on skin tone

How can you prevent allergies?

The easiest way to prevent seasonal allergies is to avoid your known “triggers.” For example, if you are allergic to pollen, stay inside with your windows and doors closed during particularly pollen-heavy days.

Interestingly enough, wearing your trusted face mask (you know…the one that slows the spread of COVID-19) might also provide a bit of protection against seasonal allergies. And be sure to wash your mask in between wears since a used mask might carry pollen particles!


Looking Toward the Finish Line: Precautions Post Vaccine

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We are at the point in this COVID-19 marathon where the muscles in our legs are burning and our feet are begging for a rest. We have been dealing with this “new normal” for so long, and sometimes it has felt like there will never be an end to it all.

With vaccines now becoming more widely available (though still quite limited, due to supply), many people may feel that the finish line is just within their grasp. And what a wonderful feeling this is!

As more and more people receive the vaccine and as Washington State moves through the Governor’s new Roadmap to Recovery re-opening plan, it is important to remember that the race isn’t over. While we are absolutely looking toward the finish line, it isn’t the time to stop just yet.

There are still precautions to take, even once someone receives the vaccine. We are all tired of these safety measures, but they will continue to be necessary (at least for now). So why do we need to keep taking precautions? Here are some things to consider:

The vaccine is highly effective–but not foolproof.

At present, both vaccines available in the U.S. (Moderna and Pfizer) require two doses. These vaccines have proven to be extremely effective; the first dose gives 50 percent protection against COVID-19, while the second dose raises the effectiveness to about 95 percent. Of course, that means that there is a 5% chance that someone may still contract COVID-19 after receiving both doses.

And while the hope is that most—if not all—people receive the vaccine over the next several months, we know that there are some limitations. Both Moderna and Pfizer have not yet been approved for children (though Pfizer has been approved for people 16 and older). It may be some time until either a new brand of vaccine is approved that is recommended for children, or until Moderna and Pfizer finish clinical trials for minors and are granted approval for this population. So, until this time, children are still at risk of contracting the virus.

We do not yet know how long immunity lasts.

At this stage, experts do not yet know how long people are immune to COVID-19 after receiving the vaccine. Long-term effectiveness will depend on two factors: the duration of one’s immune response and changes in the virus over time. There is a chance that people will need to receive the COVID vaccine yearly, just like the flu, in order to account for any changes. Experts just do not know yet because the vaccine is so new.

That said, some research has indicated that the current vaccines are effective for at least 6 to 12 months. We will become informed in the coming months as more people receive the vaccine and as scientists track long-term effectiveness.

Experts do not yet know whether people can still spread COVID-19 after getting vaccinated.

The COVID-19 vaccines that are currently available are designed to keep people from getting sick. Clinical trials did not test whether those vaccinated could still spread SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

This means that someone who has received the vaccine is approximately 95 percent protected against getting sick but could still contract the virus and infect a friend or loved one who has not been fully vaccinated.

Everyone should still wear masks and social distance—even after getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

For all the above reasons, it remains crucial that people continue to take pre-cautions—even after receiving the vaccine. Continue to wear your mask when in public, continue to keep gatherings small and keep your distance, and stay home when you are sick. Yes, these precautions aren’t fun. And yes, we are tired and we want so desperately to stop.

The finish line is in sight and we are getting closer. In the meantime, continue to take precautions and make sure to get vaccinated when you are eligible. If you don’t know your phase of eligibility for the vaccine, visit: www.findyourphasewa.org. You can also call Skagit County Public Health’s Vaccine Hotline at (360) 416-1500, Mondays-Saturdays from 7:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

We will continue to update our webpage when new vaccine developments are available. Go to www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine for updates.

Keep Going! You’ve Got This!


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

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

Why is it important to get a flu vaccine?

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

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

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

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

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

Can I get the flu from a vaccine?

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

Are flu vaccines safe?

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

Where can I get vaccinated?

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

When will COVID-19 vaccines be available?

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


I’m traveling and I might be sick … what do I do?

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COVID-19 spreads quickly between individuals when in close contact with each other, like when on airplanes, trains or in cars. Sitting in close contact with anyone you don’t live with for a prolonged period of time puts you at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Further, when driving long distances, you increase the likelihood that you’ll come into contact with more people than you normally would (stopping at gas stations or rest areas when driving, getting food, etc…).

This is why Public Health strongly discourages people from traveling outside of their immediate geographic area right now. We’ve said it repeatedly: Now is not the time to go see Grandma in Arizona or travel to your cousin’s wedding in Missouri. In fact, we wouldn’t even encourage you to get lunch with a friend in Seattle right now.

However, our case investigation data is showing that people are still traveling, and unfortunately, some are getting sick. Some of this travel is essential, like for work or to care for an ill family member. But all travel puts the traveler, the communities they visit, and their home community and family at risk. So, we feel compelled to explain what one should do if they’re far from home and start to get that cough and fever (or any other COVID-19 symptom) we all dread right now.

First, and most importantly: DO NOT TRY TO GET HOME.

If you’ve got symptoms, you need to hunker down wherever you are and do your best not to expose anyone else to the illness. Do not go to the store, do not let housekeeping clean your hotel room, and do not get back on an airplane. When you’re symptomatic, especially in the first days, it’s likely you’re highly contagious. You have a personal responsibility to not be in close contact with other people and not put them at risk of contracting COVID-19.

Related to this, anyone in your travel party (or any other close contacts you’ve had) shouldn’t travel or continue to be around other people either. The average person is contagious two days before symptoms present, so anyone you’ve been in close contact with (sharing a car, hotel room, sitting next to each other on airplane, etc.) has likely already contracted COVID-19 by the time your symptoms start to present. They also have a responsibility to not put anyone at risk and quarantine themselves so that COVID-19 doesn’t further spread to others

Second: Seek testing and, if you need it, medical care.

Wherever you are at, some kind of medical care should be available. If you have active symptoms, get tested as soon as possible. If you are the travel companion of a person with symptoms, wait 6-8 days after your companion’s symptoms started, and then seek testing.

Third: Cooperate with contact tracers.

It’s likely that if you’ve been traveling, you’ve come into contact with others who may now also be infected. Sharing that information with contact tracers is vital to prevent a cluster from growing. The information you share is confidential.  

Fourth: If your test comes back positive, you will need to isolate.

You will need to isolate for at least 10 days since the onset of symptoms (or test date, if you are asymptomatic). It is absolutely vital that you or anyone you have been traveling in close contact with do not get on an airplane, or any other sort of public transportation, during this time.

As you can see, traveling does not just increase your risk of getting sick, it also increases your risk of being stuck away from home while you are sick. This could mean out-of-network medical bills, prolonged hotel stays, and a need to change travel plans, which could be costly. This is not to mention being far from your support networks and trusted medical care. If you are choosing to travel right now, you need to have a plan in place to ensure you can quarantine or isolate wherever you are headed if the need arises.

If you are stuck somewhere and are unable to safely stay where you are, Public Health recommends renting a car and driving home. It will be important that you stop as little as possible, wear a mask whenever you have to get out of a car and try to sanitize anything you touch as you go. Every time you get out of the car, you risk exposing others to the virus—the customers and workers at the gas station or restaurant, housekeeping at the hotel, etc. Again, it’s important to remember that even if you’re the only one in your travel party exhibiting symptoms, it’s likely that your whole travel party is already infected and also contagious. Everyone needs to take the same level of precautions.

COVID-19 has taken a lot of things away from us, travel being one of them. Please, act responsibly so we can take care of each other and get back to normal as soon as possible.


Children and COVID-19: What do we know?

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COVID-19 is called a “novel” coronavirus because it is a new viral strain that has not previously been seen in humans. Because it is new, scientists continue to learn about the disease and how it impacts us. One topic we are gaining a growing understanding about is how COVID-19 affects children. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released updated guidance last week to reflect new information about COVID-19 and children.

Do children get COVID-19?

Yes. The fact that children can catch COVID-19 is not new, but it has not been clear how susceptible children are for infection. We know that children have made up a smaller percentage of COVID-19 cases. The CDC’s latest guidance notes that while children make up 22% of the population, only 7% of all diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in the United States were for children (as of 8/3/20). In Skagit County, the percentage of cases in children is somewhat higher at 14%, but children still make up a lower proportion of cases than in the adult population.

One explanation for the lower COVID-19 rate among children is that because kids frequently get colds, which are often caused by other coronaviruses, their antibodies provide some protection from COVID-19. Another theory is that community measures like school closures were effective in keeping children safe. As communities have opened up, cases in children have increased. Nationwide, there was a 90% increase in child cases over the four weeks from 7/9/20 to 8/6/20.  

During these times, it can be expected that our children are experiencing heightened anxiety. The CDC has some wonderful recommendations to help adults have conversations with children about COVID-19 and how to cope with stress.

What are COVID-19 symptoms for children?

Generally, COVID-19 symptoms in children are similar to but milder than in adults. The most common symptoms in children are cough and/or fever, but children may also show no symptoms at all.

According to a recent American Academy of Pediatrics report, severe illness due to COVID-19 is rare among children. Although infrequent, children younger than age 2 appear to be at higher risk of severe illness with COVID-19 than older children. This is likely due to their immature immune systems and smaller airways, which make them more susceptible to developing breathing issues.

There have also been some reports of children developing a rare complication called multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). MIS-C is a serious condition in which different body parts can become inflamed, which causes heart or other organ complications. The CDC is still learning about MIS-C and how it affects children, so we do not know why some children have gotten sick with MIS-C and others have not. MIS-C can be serious, even deadly, but most children who were diagnosed with this condition have gotten better with medical care.

What symptoms should I be worried about in children?

Parents or caretakers should immediately contact urgent or emergency medical care if they notice these warning signs in a child:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Pain or pressure in the chest that does not go away
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Bluish lips or face
  • Severe abdominal pain

If you have children in your home, the CDC recommends some other general precautions for your whole household to help stay safe:

  • If others in your home have an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19, consider extra precautions to separate your child from those people.
  • If you are unable to stay home with your child while school is out or conducted remotely, carefully consider who can best provide childcare. If someone at higher risk for COVID-19 will be providing care (e.g. a grandparent or someone with a chronic medical condition), limit your children’s contact with other people so they are less likely to come into contact with the virus and expose their caretakers.
  • Consider postponing visits or trips to see older family members and grandparents. Connect virtually or by writing letters and sending via mail.

If you do have a child that is showing mild COVID-19 symptoms or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, the Skagit County Drive-Thru site will test anyone five years of age or older with parent or guardian approval. Families with children younger than five should reach out to their pediatric provider’s office to ask about testing.

Sources:

CDC Information for Pediatric Healthcare Providers:
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/pediatric-hcp.html

Washington Skagit COVID dashboard:
https://coronavirus.wa.gov/what-you-need-know/covid-19-risk-assessment-dashboard

Children & COVID-19-State Level Data Report, American Academy of Pediatrics: https://services.aap.org/en/pages/2019-novel-coronavirus-covid-19-infections/children-and-covid-19-state-level-data-report/


My Experience at the COVID-19 Test Site

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On Saturday morning, I started to feel a little tickle in my throat. By mid-morning, I was in full sick mode: sneezing, runny nose, and a headache. If it was back in January, I would have brushed it off as “just a normal cold” and kept on with my weekend plans. But now? There are some new precautions that I must take. By Monday morning, I still wasn’t feeling great. To be honest, I was feeling down-right horrible. So I jumped in the car first thing and drove myself down to the COVID-19 drive-thru testing site at Skagit Valley College.

I have been working at the testing site for about two months now, and know the process in and out. However, going through the site as a visitor—and a sick one at that—was a much different experience!

Here are some things that I learned on the “other side” of the car window.

1. Get there early
I knew that Monday would not be an ideal day to go since Mondays are always our busiest day. Unfortunately, I had little choice since I cannot go back to work or take my children to daycare until I am symptom-free with a negative test result. I arrived at 8:30 am (a half-hour before we open), and was greeted by a small line of cars. Registration opened slightly before 9 am, and it took me about 45 minutes to get through, all said and done. Wait times can vary dramatically by day, and even during the same day. If you’re worried about wait times, check out Skagit County’s Twitter page, which will be updated daily with wait times.

2. Use the bathroom before you go

I had just downed two cups of morning coffee before I left, and almost instantly regretted it when I pulled into the site. Even though there are porta-potties available for visitors, I knew that it is highly encouraged for all guests to stay within their vehicles. Adding that I had my 3-year-old with me in the car, I really did not want to get out of the car. So I suffered in silence, and thanked my lucky stars that she didn’t need to go as well!

3. Expect it to take some time

Along the same lines, it is important to expect the trip to take some time. For some cars, the trip takes 10 minutes from start to finish, while other cars may take upward of two hours. This wait is dependent on several things: time of day or day of the week, the number of staff/volunteers working that day, technical issues in testing or registration, and even extra time spent helping visitors find their insurance information or processing multiple people in one car.

I knew that I may have to wait a bit, so I made sure to have some things for my toddler to do while we sat. It was early and an overcast day. Thankfully, I didn’t need to worry about sweating it out in the car! It is typically expected that cars in line will need to wait with their windows up (for safety) and the engine off (so that workers can hear visitors’ responses and coordinate with other workers). It can be quite uncomfortable on hot and sunny days.

While many people do not have the option to leave children or even pets at home, if you are able to do so, I recommend it! Site workers will try to be as accommodating as possible on hot days, but it is easiest—and safest—for everyone if only those being tested come through the site.

4. Bring your documents

This is where I was really thankful to have some “insider” knowledge! Even though it is posted on the Skagit County website, there are times when people arrive to the site without the necessary documents. The test is free for uninsured guests. Those with insurance need to have either their insurance cards or the name of their insurance company, along with their group (if applicable) and ID numbers, with them. I already knew that my form of insurance requires that I share my social security number with the person registering me, so I wrote it down on a napkin in advance so that I wouldn’t need to yell it through the glass! This made the registration process move a little quicker, and I didn’t need to yell out my personal information.

Please note that Skagit County doesn’t pay for any lab bills. Northwest Lab bills for their lab processes. While State and Federal officials have required COVID-19 testing and treatment be free for all “medically necessary” treatment, it is possible that your insurance company will not cover a self-referred test. The individual is responsible for checking their coverage, and if their insurance company will not cover a self-referred test, the individual will also be responsible for the bill. The Skagit County Commissioners sent letters to the Office of the Insurance Commissioner and the Federal Delegation asking that they fix this problem. However, it has not been resolved.

5. Have some patience and show some grace

Though I work at the site and know that it can take some time, even I got a little impatient after 30 minutes in the car with a restless kid! The site is staffed by Public Health, other county staff and a group of fantastic and selfless volunteers who donate their time and energies to support the wellbeing of our community. A crew of new volunteers have joined the team as of late because of how busy we’ve been. Each day, there are people being trained in the process, and this can inevitably slow down your visit. Though it may seem tedious, it is so important that things are done correctly so that people aren’t accidently billed for their test, or worst case, the tests are done incorrectly and can’t be processed at all!

Now, on Wednesday morning, I am feeling a bit better, but I am still waiting on my results. I know that it can take a maximum of 72 hours to hear back with a positive or negative, and I am using this time to stay inside with my family, and drinking plenty of fluids so that I can start feeling better soon!

So while I would have brushed my illness off only a few months ago, I now have to go through several new steps. However, I do it to keep my family, friends, and community healthy. I hope that my insights into the testing site are helpful to you, and I encourage you to get tested if you are feeling under the weather. We can all do our part to fight COVID-19 and to keep Skagit healthy.

Take care!

Note: Since this article posted, the author received news that her test results showed NEGATIVE for COVID-19!