That’s a Wrap for the Skagit County Fairgrounds COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic

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This Saturday, June 26th, marks the final day of operation for the Skagit County Fairgrounds COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic. This clinic, run by Skagit County Public Health, has been in operation consistently since December 2020 when the COVID-19 vaccine first became available in Washington state.

Before the Vaccine Site opened, a robust drive-through test site was already operating at the Fairgrounds by Public Health’s crew. In November of 2020, Skagit County Public Health was in desperate need of a new location for its COVID-19 Drive-through Test Site. Severe weather had literally ripped the tents out of the ground at the Test Site’s original location at Skagit Valley College. The Fairgrounds allowed for a safer—and slightly warmer—work environment, which provided a much-needed morale boost for our wind-worn staff.

Once established in the Fairgrounds F-Barn, Public Health quickly got its Test Site back up and running, administering over 10,690 tests until testing operations closed on March 12th, 2021. For a few months, staff was actually running testing and vaccinations at the Fairgrounds simultaneously, with vehicles being directed to all corners of the site by our traffic crew. 

In the early months of vaccine roll-out, supply was extremely limited. Counties and other vaccine providers were receiving weekly shipments from the state, and at times shipments were much smaller than anticipated, or they were delayed due to bad weather. Healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents were prioritized first in December 2020 and January 2021. Eligibility was then expanded by the WA Department of Health to include other at-risk populations, including seniors 65 and older and those 50 years and older living in multigenerational housing.  Childcare providers and K-12 school teachers and staff followed shortly.

People all around Washington were scrambling to find appointments. On one particular Saturday morning, hundreds of appointment slots at the Fairgrounds were grabbed up in only 14 minutes flat!

By March 2021, certain critical workers became eligible for the vaccine, as well as pregnant individuals and those with disabilities over the age of 16. Then, eligibility expanded to all people 60 and older and people 16 and older with two or more co-morbidities.

Finally, all Washingtonians 16 years of age and older became eligible for the vaccine on April 15, 2021, and on May 13, the Pfizer vaccine became available to minors 12-15 years of age in Washington state. At this point, our focus shifted to those who may be less inclined to get the vaccine, or who may have inadequate access.

Public Health launched a Vaccine Hotline early on to help individuals who needed extra assistance in finding a vaccine appointment, offering service in both English and Spanish, six days a week. Staff also worked directly with community partners to ensure that vaccine services were provided equitably for all eligible individuals in our county. The Fairgrounds moved to provide evening and weekend hours on Thursdays and Saturdays to better accommodate our working folks. The site even stopped requiring appointments when it became evident that this step was creating an unnecessary barrier for some.

Staff sought to make the vaccine experience as easy as possible at the Fairgrounds. The drive-through option became a reality once testing wound down in F-Barn, allowing people to get their shot while sitting in their vehicle. At one point, the Fairgrounds even partnered with the Children’s Museum of Skagit County to offer free child-watching services so that parents and caregivers wouldn’t have that extra hurdle.

During its run over the past 6 months, the staff and volunteers at the Fairgrounds Vaccine Clinic administered just over 31,000 doses of the vaccine to eligible Washingtonians, both from Skagit and our neighboring counties.

From the beginning, this site was intended to be a gap filler; a location where people could go if they couldn’t get access to a vaccine through their doctor or pharmacy. But what the Fairgrounds ended up being was so much more. It was a hub, a safe space, and a second home to the hundreds of staff and volunteers who worked in its barns and outbuildings in 2020 and 2021.

The Fairgrounds and its crew saw many ups, downs…and everything in between. After providing COVID tests to thousands of people throughout 2020, it was a huge blessing—and a huge relief—to begin administering the vaccine at the site. The first day of vaccinations felt almost like Christmas morning for some; it felt like for the first time, we had a fighting chance.

So, as the team wraps up service at the Fairgrounds and puts its sights solely on mobile vaccine outreach, we reflect on the bitter sweetness of this moment. Many of us just assumed that our job at the Fairgrounds wouldn’t be over until COVID was done and gone. Maybe we expected our last day would be like a graduation of sorts, where we would rip off our masks and throw them in the air.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 isn’t quite done with us. We must continue to fight the good fight, to take precaution, and to urge our family and friends to get vaccinated.

Though our doors are closing at the Fairgrounds after this Saturday, Public Health isn’t going anywhere. We will be out in the community all summer long providing better, and more convenient access to the vaccine that will help see us out of this mess.

If you are still needing your vaccine and are able to, come see us during our last week at the Fairgrounds. We’ll be open Thursday from 1-7pm and Friday and Saturday from 10am-4pm. You can also find a list of all providers in our area by going to Vaccinate WA.  

But if we don’t see you then, no worries. Check out our website for a list of our upcoming pop-up clinic dates. We’re excited to see you out and about, friends.


COVID-19 Testing Site at the Skagit County Fairgrounds to close permanently after Saturday, March 13

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February 10, 2021

Today, Skagit County Public Health announced that the final day of testing at the Fairgrounds drive-through testing site will be Saturday, March 13, 2021. Further, on February 23rd, testing will be operating on reduced hours from 1:00-4:00 p.m.

Skagit County Public Health will continue to utilize the Fairgrounds location for COVID-19 vaccinations only. Other testing providers are available in Skagit County.

Many doctor’s offices are now offering COVID-19 testing to their patients. Contact your healthcare provider first to see if they offer COVID-19 testing. Those seeking other testing options can also find a list of providers here: www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HealthDiseases/coronavirusTESTsites.htm.

Public Health has tested over 43,000 individuals since the Testing Site first opened at Skagit Valley College in April 2020. In November of 2020, the Testing Site moved to the Skagit County Fairgrounds.

“It is time for Public Health to shift focus and resources to vaccine roll-out,” said Jennifer Johnson, Skagit County Public Health Director. There are many more testing options available to those in Skagit County compared to when we first opened, and this has allowed Public Health to move in this new direction. It is our goal at Public Health to be responsive to the current needs of our community and we are excited to be able to focus on our mass vaccination location at the Fairgrounds.”

When vaccine supply allows, the COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic at the Fairgrounds location operates by appointment only. Eligible individuals can make appointments online at https://prepmod.doh.wa.gov/ when supply is available. Skagit County is currently vaccinating Phase 1a and Phase 1b, Tier 1 individuals. Visit www.findyourphasewa.org to determine if you’re eligible.

For more information, visit Public Health’s website: www.skagitcounty.net. For COVID-19 vaccine questions, please visit www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine or call the Vaccine Hotline at (360) 416-1500.  

 


Our Masked Heroes: Community Service During COVID-19

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Post by contributing author, Rosemary Alpert

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is…What are you doing for others?’”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The third week of January, we honored the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; welcomed President Biden and Vice President Harris; and, across the country, remembered all the lives touched and lost by the Coronavirus. With deep gratitude and compassion, two words rise in my heart: community and service. 

Volunteerism: The policy or practice of volunteering one’s time or talents for charitable, educational, or worthwhile activities, especially in one’s community. (Dictionary.com) 

“Skagit County, Washington”, ©Rosemary DeLucco Alpert, 2021 

Since April 21, 2020, the Skagit County COVID-19 Testing Site has welcomed 196 volunteers to assist with all aspects of support during the pandemic: traffic control, registration, testing, contact tracing and vaccination. These volunteers stepped up to the frontline with the purpose to serve our community. Skagit County Department of Emergency Management’s Volunteer Program Coordinator, Tina Bobbit, coordinates, organizes and schedules all the volunteers. Tina recently shared that as of January 15, 2021, volunteers have given approximately 13,000 hours in support of our community. 

While working at the testing site, I have witnessed the best of volunteerism, remarkable and impressive. Some of the employees at the testing site began early on as volunteers. Each volunteer has a story and reason why they are motivated to serve. All volunteers are Registered WA State Emergency Workers, registered and coordinated through the Skagit County Department of Emergency Management (DEM).  

Volunteers represent various groups:  

  • Skagit County CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) members from all over the County 
  • Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES) 
  • WA State Temporary Emergency Workers—Skagit County, registered to assist with the COVID-19 response drive-thru testing and vaccination site 
  • Skagit County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue 
  • Snohomish County Medical Reserve Corps 
  • Civil Air Patrol (CAP) will be assisting with our Vaccine Operations 

In addition, community agencies around our county have shared paid employees. True community collaboration during these challenging and transformational times. In reference to the awesome volunteers, Tina shared this, “The volunteers are what make my job easy, as they give so much of their time and dedication to helping the community during this COVID-19 response. Appreciate all that they do!” 

I asked a few volunteers at the testing site to share their thoughts in reference to their community service:

“The reason I decide to volunteer is because I was so impressed with how friendly the staff was and how quickly the entire process was at the testing site. I’ve since become a temporary part-time employee. It is a great work environment, feels like I’m doing something positive for the community.” 

“I was trained as a CERT, Community Emergency Response Team, member. As COVID broke out, it made sense to me to give a hand at the test site. I am a traffic guide. It is very safe. People stay in their cars, everybody is wearing masks. The COVID site managers make sure everybody follows safety protocol. Nobody that has worked at the site has gotten COVID. I volunteer twice a week for four hours. It has been a very satisfying job. We are appreciated by the management. It is a way for me to give back to the community.” 

“Some reasons why I started volunteering was to mainly help out the community. I want to see us better as a community and help give information to families that may not be as informed. My experience so far has been great. I really enjoy it!” 

As our National Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman, wrote so eloquently in the presidential inauguration poem, The Hill We Climb, in honor of all the volunteers and community members who tirelessly serve our communities, the following words are for you: 

When day comes, we step out of the shade,  
aflame and unafraid 
The new dawn blooms as we free it 
For there is always light, 
If only we’re brave enough to see it  
If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

If you are interested in volunteering at the COVID-19 testing/vaccine site, please contact Tina Bobbit for more information. She can be reached through email at tinab@co.skagit.wa.us, or by calling the DEM Main Office at 360-416-1850.  Specifically, we are seeking volunteers who can speak Spanish, and can work in either traffic or registration. We are also seeking those who are trained medical personnel. 


Steps 1 Through 6 at the New Test Site

Reading Time: 4 minutes

By this point, you’ve probably heard that the Skagit County COVID-19 Testing Site has moved from Skagit Valley College to the Skagit County Fairgrounds. While moves like this one always result in some growing pains, we are happy to report that the transition is going quite smoothly!

As a Public Health staff and a part-time testing site worker, I have really appreciated being a part of the test site’s evolution. Since April, we have served over 33,760 individuals! We have also worked through extremely hot days, frigidly cold days, and everything in between. Our amazing volunteers and staff have shown so much dedication to this work, and have—honestly—become like a second family.

I wanted to share with you a quick insight into what to expect when you come to our new location, because sometimes new things can seem a bit intimidating. So here is what to expect, step-by-step:

Step One: Planning

Sometimes waits can be long (a few hours) and sometimes they can be quite short (only 15-30 minutes). We will try our best to communicate current wait times on our Twitter and Facebook pages, so always give those a check before leaving the house. Typically wait times are the longest first thing in the morning. Vehicles can begin lining up an hour before opening—and there is no street parking/waiting allowed.  

Before you leave, make sure that you have all your documents! Check your wallet or purse before walking out the door. Do you have your ID and insurance card?

There has been confusion in the past about the cost of testing. We will test all insured and un-insured individuals who live or work in Skagit County, but that doesn’t mean that the test is free and that you don’t need your information!

For those who are un-insured, there is a federal grant that covers the cost of your test. This grant is limited, and meant only for those who do not have insurance.

For those with insurance, please expect to provide this information! Check with your insurance provider before you get tested to make sure that they will cover the cost of your test. Skagit County Public Health does not do the billing—this is done by the lab. In order to test you, we will require your insurance information. If you do not have your card, please come with either a picture of it, or the insurance ID number and group number. We may also need your social security number, if you have specific coverage.

Parent or legal guardian consent is required for all minors, ages 4 to17. We do not test children under age 4; in this case please consult with your pediatrician.

Step Two: Enter

The entrance to the site is through the South Gate, located at 501 Taylor Street, Mount Vernon 98273. There, you will be greeted by one of our amazing volunteers who will ask you some questions (Do you live or work in Skagit County?), and will direct you to a lane. They can also tell you about how long your expected wait may be. Once you enter the fairgrounds and are assigned a holding lane, there is no exit until just prior to entering the testing zone.

For the safety of our volunteers and staff, please be sure to wear your mask, and only lower your window about 2 inches when answering questions.

Step Three: Waiting

We are using a ferry system at the location, which helps to avoid vehicles from congregating on the nearby street. Up to 84 vehicles can be held in our 12 lanes, and another 63 in the entrance lane and building. Vehicles will be moved forward with their lane, and each lane will move one at a time. About every 15 minutes, we can empty a lane. If you are the last car in lane 12, expect a three hour wait. The only exit from this point forward, is just prior to entering the testing zone.

When you get to your lane please turn off your vehicle and put on the parking break (this is to avoid any bumper-car type blunders!). Bring a coat! It can get chilly and just like the Washington State ferry system, the holding lanes are a no idling zone!

Also, make sure not to drain your vehicle’s battery while you sit in line. While we have staff who can help with a jump-start, it can certainly slow down the process and cause you unnecessary stress. I have personally done this, and it isn’t fun!

If you are waiting and you need to use the restroom, please note that there is a port-a-potty for public use in the waiting area.

Use this time to get your documents ready!

Step Four: Registration

A site worker will indicate when it is time for your lane to move forward. Please drive slowly! Especially when it is raining and visibility is bad, we want to make sure that everyone is safe. Just like before, when you enter the building, turn off your vehicle and put on your parking break. Please lower your window (when instructed) just a few inches, and wear your mask.

Vehicles will enter the testing building one at a time, and drivers will be directed to one of two lanes. Within each lane, there are multiple workers doing registration. Please be patient as they work to collect your information—it is imperative that they put down the correct information in order for you to receive your results, and to have your test billed correctly.

Step Five: Testing

Testing is done in the same building as registration. Once you pull up to a testing bay, you will be greeted by a nurse who will provide you with instruction. You will be expected to administer your own test—a nasal swab that will go in both nostrils (four large circles), and then you will place the swab in a tube through the vehicle window. Parents, we will instruct you on how to swab the noses of your small children.

Our nurses are amazing; so patient, and kind. It isn’t unusual for someone to say that they are a bit nervous—don’t worry! Our nurses will walk you through the process.

Step Six: Results

Typically, results can be expected within 72 hours (or three days). If it is a positive result, you will receive a phone call from a Public Health staff. In the past, we have experienced some delays from the lab. Check our website for any updates.

Attention: Wait times for results can sometimes take longer than 72 hours. Please check our website for updates. You can also check with site workers at the front gate for current result times.

If it is a negative, you will receive a test message that says, “Negative.” If you will need proof of your results, please let your registering site worker know, or you can call Public Health (360-416-1500) once you receive your results.

We are so happy to be in our new location, and excited to continue serving Skagit County! Thank you for your patience and understanding during this time, as we settle in.