Are playgrounds re-opening? What you need to know.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I was scrolling through my social media newsfeed on a recent Saturday morning, when a particular post caught my eye: Mount Vernon playgrounds have re-opened. As a mom of a toddler who has been shut out of all playgrounds and splash-pads this summer, I nearly jumped for joy. My first thought was, “FINALLY! Shoes on! Let’s go!” … But then reality set in. Is it too soon? Is it safe? All the anxieties of the past six months flooded my brain and I spent the rest of the morning debating about our next move.

After quickly scoping out our nearest park, I decided that we would give it a try. My daughter couldn’t put her shoes on fast enough when I told her we could go. Before I knew it, we were walking up to her favorite twisty slide, and she looked back at me with reservation in her eyes. It felt so alien to be at a playground again, and even weirder to encourage her to climb onto the steps.  

All in all, it was a wonderful morning. She had a blast! But I was glad that I’d talked to my daughter about my expectations before we went, and about how we had to continue to be careful about keeping our distance when around others. Here are some things that I took into account before we left the house that may be helpful for you and your family.

Talk to your child about keeping their distance

Even though playgrounds may be reopening, we should be trying our best to keep a six-foot distance from others, and this can be really hard to accomplish between children at a playground! Talk to your child before you leave the house about what your expectations are, and even practice what six feet looks like. Discuss some things that your child can say if another child is getting too close, and reassure them that you will be there to help them.

Note: While you may be able to control what your own child is doing, it may be difficult to make sure other children are keeping their distance. Stay close to your child and discuss any concerns that you may have with the parents/caregivers of the other children at the playground (if it becomes problematic). If it is too difficult to keep distance, be prepared to leave.

Go during “non-peak” hours

Go to the playground when it isn’t busy, and leave (or take a snack break and come back) if it gets crowded. Though the park was empty when we arrived in mid-morning, within several minutes we were greeted by two other families. I think if we went again, I’d make a point to go earlier (since it was a sunny Saturday, after all) or maybe even a bit later in the afternoon. Keeping your distance—as mentioned above—is much easier to achieve if the playground isn’t crowded.

Take the usual health precautions

This is nothing new, but it is important to keep in mind regardless! Adults and children must wear masks when at the playground (exception being children younger than two  years old and those with health exemptions), and sanitize your hands often. Bring some hand sanitizer with you to have in your pocket, and talk to your child about avoiding touching their eyes, nose, and mouth.

Be sure to follow the signs!

Some parks may not have opened their restroom facilities yet, so make alternate plans for going to the restroom. If the facilities are open, be sure to wear your mask and try to avoid congregating in big crowds. When you are using the restroom families, take the opportunity to wash everyone’s hands! Hand sanitizer is great, but nothing beats good, old-fashioned soap and water.

Weigh the pros and cons

I had to wrestle with the pros and cons of going back to the playground and even made a few false starts before we actually made it there that morning. Even though being outdoors lowers the risks of infection, there are absolutely some risks associated with crowding and contaminated surfaces. In the end, I trust the benefits to our mental health outweigh the potential risks. That being said, I made sure to follow instructions on all posted signage, and practiced safe distancing and proper hygiene throughout our trip. I also don’t know if we will continue to go if the parks begin to get crowded. I guess I’ll make that judgment call when and if the time comes.  

Take care of yourself, and take care of others. Oh, and don’t forget the sunscreen!


Family, Though Far Apart

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Back in late March, there was a lot of talk between my family members and me about the possibility of the Canadian border closing due to COVID-19. With my mom, step-dad, elderly grandmother, brother, and his young family all located in Alberta, my sisters and I worried that a closure might mean we wouldn’t see our immediate family for a while. My mom sent me an article about the possibility of the border locking down, but I disregarded it. I was unable to conceive at the time that this could even be a possibility.

Now in August, I am going on five months without seeing half of my family. It feels downright heart wrenching at times knowing that they are so close, yet so very far away. On top of the day-to-day feelings of being isolated, we have also seen holidays, anniversaries, and several birthdays come and go without visits from grandparents and cousins.

Since I am a dual citizen, I could technically visit my family. However, the 14-day quarantine requirement in order to enter Canada makes a quick trip impossible, and it would mean leaving my husband and young children behind for weeks. Though I know this forced separation is a very common reality for many, this is the first time in my lifetime where I lack any control over being able to see my loved ones. The thought of being separated from my children sends chills down my spine, and I am thankful that this is not something that I have to endure.

To read more about the current entry restrictions at the Canadian border, visit: https://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/services/covid/non-canadians-canadiens-eng.html

To take away some of the sting, we connect on video chat frequently and make a point of checking in throughout the week. My mom and I definitely shed tears on a routine bases via FaceTime, while my stepdad provides emotional stability and support. Beyond checking in by phone, the distance has forced us to get creative with the ways that we connect.

Here are just a few things that we have done to make the distance seem smaller:

1. Send snail mail
This is something that I do with my three year old on the weekends. She loves creating little masterpieces, placing stamps on the envelopes, and kissing the letters before dropping them in the mailbox. When the letters arrive, she loves seeing pictures of her artwork placed lovingly on fireplace mantels and refrigerators.

Finding fun stamps can be an added bonus! I recently purchased Sesame Street stamps from the post office and these have been a huge hit with my daughter.

2. Gift loved ones with a digital picture frame
For my mom’s 60th birthday, we gifted her with a digital picture frame. By downloading the app, my siblings and I can upload our photos, and they pop up on her picture frame in real time. My mom jokes sometimes she sits in front of her frame for an hour, just watching the pictures change.

3. Share a meal or special occasion
Even though we can’t get together physically, we can enjoy a meal together on video chat. Every Saturday morning I call my mom and we chat over coffee and eggs, and talk about what household chores we need to get done before Sunday night. When someone has a birthday, we make sure to have everyone present virtually so that the whole family can sing “Happy Birthday” together.

4. Talk about each other, even when they aren’t on the phone
With young children who may not have the greatest long-term memory, I’ve found that it is crucial to talk about their extended family members throughout the week. I will ask my daughter about her aunts and uncle, will make reference to times that we spent together, and encourage her to talk about her cousins. While it makes me miss my family by talking about them, I’ve found that my daughter really enjoys recalling these memories. And for my baby daughter, I try to show her pictures and have her engage during video chatting sessions in order to keep her familiar with their faces.

5. Plan a trip for the near future
Even though it sometimes doesn’t seem like it, eventually we will be able to get together again. So we talk about what we will do in the near future, and it helps us feel a sense of control and direction. Though these plans may take a while to come to fruition, it can be really helpful to have something to look forward to.

When all the above still doesn’t seem to help, I try really hard to keep myself in the moment and avoid drifting into the “what-ifs.” This distance is really hard and emotionally exhausting, but there are also so many blessings to count. And when we finally do see each other again, the hugs will be even sweeter than they were before.


Family Beach Day During “COVID Summer”

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I don’t know about you, but the last several weeks my family and I have been feeling more cooped up than usual. It has been difficult to deal with the realities of our current situation as the days are now sunny and warm and perfect for all things SUMMER! I feel like I spend a good chunk of my time dreaming up ideas for the weekend, just to strike everything off the list because they are not COVID-safe activities. Last Friday was definitely a tipping point for me, as I sat deflated, and—let’s be honest—angry about not having anything fun planned for the weekend to come.

To pull myself out of this emotional slump, I picked up the phone. I dialed Deception Pass State Park and, with fingers crossed, asked the woman on the phone if their beach was open for visitors. She said that it was, and I thanked her profusely (and rather dramatically) before hanging up. “Woohoo!! Tomorrow will be beach day,” I shouted to my husband. I went to bed feeling over-the-moon excited about finally having a “normal” summer activity planned.

As we drove into the park, I looked around to gauge if anything looked different from last summer. I was nervous about being so out in the open and felt a little anxious about what I might find as we pulled into the parking lot. When we finally parked, I let out a sign of relief.

Deception Pass State Park – photo of the beach at 1:00 pm right before we left for the day.

Along with the regular beach things like sand toys, hats, sunscreen, and a packed lunch, I was sure to bring a face mask for my husband and myself. Even though our oldest is only three (and exempt from the State/County mask requirement), I packed a little pink practice mask along in case she wanted to imitate mommy (and yes, she absolutely did, and it was very cute). Thankfully, we had decided to get there early (as recommended online), in order to avoid larger groups that would gather later in the afternoon. This turned out to be a very smart move! By around 1:30pm, the whole beach was becoming packed with people, and we were able to make a mad dash to the car to keep socially distanced.

All in all, our little adventure at the beach went swimmingly (HA!). Except for having to wear a mask and being a bit more protective of our personal space than I typically would, the day seemed like any other beach day that my family and I might have enjoyed in the past. We all left feeling physically spent, but emotionally energized. On the car ride home, my husband suggested that we should go grab a bite to eat at a local restaurant (which we haven’t done since early March). For the first time in a very long time we sat and enjoyed a meal all together on an outdoor patio. Something that would have been so normal last year now felt like the most delicious treat, and I was impressed and grateful as I watched the restaurant staff and patrons abide by safe-distancing protocols.

What I realized in venturing outside of my comfort zone last weekend is that I cannot feasibly hole up forever. I need to make peace with the fact that this is a marathon—not a sprint—and I need to find balance in order to keep my sanity intact. So, while it isn’t safe or responsible to take on a full calendar of summertime events like before, it is absolutely okay to get out and safely find a little normalcy in very abnormal times.

Don’t forget the sunscreen!

Remember: find some balance this summer and take care of your mental and emotional needs. A little sand between the toes does a lot of good once in a while!

So here are a few take-aways for other households who may be looking for a little beachy fun.

  1. Go early. Like I mentioned above, this is essential in order to make sure that you avoid the crowds that will inevitably arrive come mid-afternoon. We got to the beach at 11am, and it was perfect timing! We were able to secure a space for our things that allowed for safe distancing, and we made an effort to steer clear of more congested areas. Just about the time when we were all feeling sunned-out and a little cranky, it was time to go!
  2. Have your face mask on hand. You will be expected to wear it when using public facilities, and it is smart to wear one when passing people in the parking lot or along trails. Children four and younger and those with underlying medical or behavioral health conditions are exempt from the mask requirement. However, parents of children ages two to four are encouraged to have masks available for their kids when in public settings. Lastly, the CDC states that masks are not required to be worn while people are in the water because they can be difficult to breathe through when they get wet. However, this means that it is even more important to maintain social distancing while swimming or wading.
  3. Pack what you will need and avoid unnecessary stops. And with multiple children, this can be a huge undertaking! Be sure to pack your own sand toys, sunscreen, towels, swimwear, hand wipes, and food (when applicable). Before arriving at the beach, talk to your children about keeping track of their toys and explain why—in this particular situation— they shouldn’t share. Talk to your kids about what they should expect when they get to the beach, and talk them through the experience. 
  4. Practice good hygiene and follow posted instructions. This not only will ensure that you keep yourself and your loved ones safe, but also lets the people around you know that you are taking these new requirements seriously. The more people that are seen following these safety precautions, the more likely that others will follow suit.
  5. Don’t go if you are feeling sick. Also, do not go if you have had recent exposure to a confirmed COVID-19 case. Keep in mind that many infected people never show symptoms but can still be contagious. We can all do our part to curb the spread of the virus, and that means staying home when we have symptoms. You can find the list of symptoms here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html

Phase 3 Progress

Reading Time: 5 minutes

It’s been three weeks since Skagit County moved to Phase 2 of the governor’s Safe Start plan. Three weeks is the minimum amount of time a county has to wait before applying for the next phase. During this time, the county has to meet several metrics—the most important of which is positive case numbers—showing that it has the COVID-19 outbreak under control. Friday, the Skagit County Board of Health met with Skagit County Public Health and decided not to apply to move forward to Phase 3, because the County does not meet all the metrics.

“Of course, this is disappointing,” Public Health Director Jennifer Johnson said in a press release. “But unfortunately, we’ve seen an uptick in positive cases over the past several weeks that have prevented us from being able to move forward, per the Safe Start—Reopening Washington plan.”

In this post, we’ll take a look at the metrics the state is using and see how Skagit County measures up.

METRIC: Fewer than 25 positive cases per 100,000 people (32 Skagitonians) in the last 14 days

In order to meet this metric, Skagit County would need to see no more than 32 positive cases over the last 14 days. We’ve had 36 positive cases over the last two weeks. While we recently saw a decrease in cases, which helped get us to Phase 2 of the governor’s Safe Start plan, since then we’ve experienced a disturbing increase in the rate of positive cases.

Right now, most of our current cases are linked to extended family gatherings and celebrations, people traveling to visit family or friends both in and out of state, and we continue to see workplace transmission from worksites within Skagit County and adjoining counties. For many weeks now, most people becoming infected are of working age, born between 1970 and 2000. Positive cases usually show up about two to three weeks after exposure, and you can see the increase in cases three weeks after Memorial Day, indicating that people gathered against state and local health guidance.

“We have primarily seen cases tied to unauthorized gatherings, travel outside of the immediate community and workplaces,” said Dr. Leibrand. “It’s disappointing to see so many cases tied to activities not authorized under Phase 2. We hope the community will view this as a wakeup call and start taking the guidance more seriously.”

Below is a graph showing our County case data based on the numbers you can find on the Skagit County website. These numbers differ slightly from the state data, as Skagit County bases its case data on when the positive test result comes in, and the State bases its data on when the positive test was collected. The state also has a 6-day lag time to ensure it has all positive test results in before it publicizes its data. The state is using its own data when determining whether a county has met the metrics to move forward. While the data may differ slightly, the story told is the same: Our cases continue to rise faster than we’d like. The state shows that we have a positive rate of 27.1 cases per 100,000 Skagit County residents. Public Health expects this number to rise to 29.4 percent by June 29th and 30th, due to the six-day delay in the state data.

Skagit County COVID-19 positive case data.
Data as of June 26, 2020

Is Skagit County meeting the metric? NO

What can you do to help the County meet this metric? Minimize your risk of infection so you (and your close contacts!) don’t add to the case count. It’s not fun, but the best thing you can do is continue to stay home as much as possible. If you do go out, there are ways you can protect yourself:

  • Wear a mask (now required whenever you’re in indoors in public or if you’re outdoors in public and can’t maintain six feet of physical distancing)
  • Stay as far away from non-household members as possible (six feet minimum)
  • Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer often
  • Don’t touch your face
  • Limit the number of non-household members you come into close contact with to five or fewer per week. Any single gathering of more than five people (who don’t all live together) are prohibited during Phase 2.
  • Stay home if you’re feeling unwell, even just a little unwell, except to get tested. The drive-thru testing site in the Skagit Valley College parking lot is open Monday-Friday, 9am-4pm. Please bring your insurance card or the information from your card (plan name, group number, and individual identification number). With this information, insurance covers the cost of the test with no co-pay from you. If you don’t have insurance, the state will cover the cost.

METRIC: COVID-19 hospitalizations is flat or decreasing

Skagit County has been seeing a relatively flat hospitalization rate, between zero and three people hospitalized at any given time over the last few weeks.

Is Skagit County meeting the metric? YES

METRIC: Health care system readiness

The state defines health care system readiness as having less than 80% of the licensed beds full, and less than 10% of licensed beds occupied by suspected and confirmed COVID-19 cases. According to the state’s Risk Assessment Dashboard, 75.7% of Skagit County’s hospital beds are occupied, and only 0.6% of them are occupied by COVID-19 patients.

Is Skagit County meeting the metric? YES

METRIC: Average number of tests performed per day during the past week is 50 times the number of positive cases (maximum of 2% positive test rate)

According to the state’s Risk Assessment Dashboard, Skagit County is testing 56.8 people per positive case reported, a positive rate of 1.8%. It’s important that the county continues to test a lot of people to keep the ratio of positive test results low. Also, testing is the only way to find asymptomatic or presymptomatic people and have them isolate in order to stop them from spreading the virus to others in the community.

Is Skagit County meeting the metric? YES

METRIC: 90% of cases reached by phone or in person within 24 hours of a positive lab report

Skagit County Public Health contact tracers attempt to contact 100% of all positive cases within 24 hours of their notification of the case. Last week, they were able to successfully reach every single positive case within this time frame.

Is Skagit County meeting the metric? YES

METRIC: 80% of contacts reached by phone or in person within 48 hours of receipt of a positive test report on a case

Skagit County Public Health contact tracers attempt to contact 100% of close contacts of positive cases within 48 hours of notification of the case. Last week, they were able to successfully reach 92% of close contacts within this time frame.

Is Skagit County meeting the metric? YES

METRIC: 80% of cases are contacted daily during their isolation period

Is Skagit County meeting the metric? YES

METRIC: 80% of contacts are contacted daily during their quarantine period

Is Skagit County meeting the metric? YES

METRIC: Maximum of one outbreak (defined as two or more non-household cases epidemiologically linked within 14 days in a workplace, congregate living or institutional setting) per week

In June, Skagit County Public Health has investigated about one outbreak per week among employees at workplaces.

Is Skagit County meeting the metric? YES

Determining whether it’s safe to reopen is not something Skagit County leadership takes lightly. We’re all eager to open back up fully and return to some sense of normalcy. Skagit County is meeting most metrics—our healthcare system is prepared, our contact tracing team is absolutely incredible—but our case counts are too high for us to proceed.

“We want to reopen, but as the metrics show us, it’s just not safe right now,” said Board of Health Chair Commissioner Ron Wesen. “My colleagues and I will continue to watch the metrics closely, and consult with Public Health. As soon as we are able to do so safely, we will apply to move forward.”

It’s up to all Skagit County residents to do their part to help the county reach Phase 3. We need everyone to practice social distancing and good hand washing; we need everyone who is medically able to wear a mask, even if you find them uncomfortable (we all do!); we need everyone to limit their contact with people they don’t live with. This isn’t easy for anyone. But the more consistent we all are, the sooner we’ll be able to move on. Help us get there.


COVID-19 and the Flu Don’t Compare

Reading Time: 6 minutes

The novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, that causes COVID-19, has been compared at times to the flu. The flu kills tens of thousands of Americans every year. Yet we don’t shut down businesses, close schools and issue “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” orders to limit the spread of the flu. What makes the coronavirus so different? Why do we need to take strong action such as physical distancing with COVID-19? While the full picture is not yet complete, it’s increasingly clear that the flu, while it should be taken seriously, pales in comparison to COVID-19

  1. Novel coronavirus spreads more rapidly than the flu.

While all flu strains are slightly different, research shows that, on average, a person infected with the flu infects 1.28 additional people. By contrast, a person infected with the novel coronavirus spreads the virus to two or three additional people.

What does this look like? Even if we take the conservative estimate of spreading COVID-19 to just two people instead of three, you can see that the spread of the virus happens much more rapidly than the spread of the flu.

COVID-19 Spreads Rapidly

2. COVID-19 is contagious longer before people start showing symptoms, meaning people are more likely to spread it before they know they’re sick.

With the flu, you typically have symptoms between one to four days after exposure, with most people showing symptoms after two days, and are contagious 24 hours before you feel sick Once people start feeling sick with the flu, they generally stay home, minimizing the spread of the virus.

Infected people start showing symptoms of COVID-19 one to 14 days after exposure, with most people showing symptoms after four or five days. It appears that the coronavirus can spread 48 to 72 hours before the onset of symptoms, and we’re discovering some people have minimal or no symptoms at all. These people don’t know that they have COVID-19 and may not follow social distancing guidelines. In turn, they can pass the virus along to people who may get severely ill or even die from COVID-19. This is one possible explanation for why people who are infected with the virus spread it to more people than the flu.

3. COVID-19 doesn’t seem to slow down with warmer weather, like the flu.

In the U.S., flu season usually begins in the fall and lasts until March or sometime in early spring, with the peak in cases occurring between December and February. As the weather warms, flu activity generally decreases. While there are many reasons why this may be the case, research shows that the virus spreads more easily in cooler temperatures. Higher temperatures can cause degradation of the flu virus in a much shorter time.

With COVID-19, however, there’s no guarantee that warmer weather will slow the spread. Countries such as Singapore, Indonesia, Brazil and Ecuador, all in their summer season, are experiencing high spread of the virus. As social distancing guidelines ease in Washington State over the coming months, it’s possible we’ll see a resurgence of the virus despite warmer weather. Only time will tell.

4. COVID-19 kills at a faster rate than the flu.

We’re still in the middle of this pandemic, so it’s impossible for us to say with certainty what the death rate of COVID-19 will end up being. As it becomes clearer that some people have the novel coronavirus without symptoms, the implication is that the death rate should be lower than the one to two percent initially estimated. But it’s also becoming clear that many deaths that should have been attributed to COVID-19 have not been. Even though we cannot know for certain what the death rate of COVID-19 is, we can clearly say that it has killed more people in far shorter a time period than the flu.

The CDC estimates that in the 187 days between October 1, 2019, and April 4, 2020, 24,000-62,000 people in the U.S. died of the flu. These numbers mean that between 128 and 332 people died per day of the flu. This is a huge range, I know. The CDC uses modelling to estimate the number of flu deaths each year, so it’s not always possible to get an exact death toll.

The first known U.S. death from COVID-19, once thought to be in Kirkland, Washington, on Feb. 28, has been discovered to have occurred in the San Francisco Bay area on Feb. 6. In the 85 days between Feb. 6 and May 1, there have been 37,308 deaths directly attributed to COVID-19 by lab confirmation, equaling 439 COVID-19 deaths per day.

If we also consider deaths of cases with no lab confirmation – but who were considered probable for COVID-19 (based on symptoms, known exposure to the novel coronavirus, etc.) – there have been more than 67,000 COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. This equals 788 COVID-19 deaths per day.

This is not a perfect comparison because the CDC uses modeling to estimate the number of flu deaths per season. The COVID-19 numbers reported here are actual deaths, not based on a model. The CDC does have a COVID-19 death forecast, but it changes based on the data, including when Stay Home orders are lifted. You can find it here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/covid-data/forecasting-us.html

Let’s look at just Skagit County now. The 2019-2020 flu season, which has now come to a close, resulted in just one death in Skagit County. But COVID-19 has been another story. Skagit County’s first diagnosed COVID-19 case occurred on March 10. Just 11 days later, we sadly lost our first person to COVID-19. And since then, we’ve lost 13 Skagitonians to COVID-19, more than doubling the death count of the worst flu season in recent years. While 13 people isn’t a huge number, the families and friends of those 13 people lost huge parts of their worlds to this virus. We don’t want more people experiencing the pain of such a loss. It’s safe to assume that this death toll would be higher without the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order; look at the death rate in Sweden, which has not instituted social distancing guidelines, versus the other Nordic nations that have.

It’s likely the number of reported COVID-19 deaths is underestimated, and likely significantly underestimated. The CDC has begun estimating the burden of COVID-19 deaths by looking at the number of excess deaths from what would be expected. More information on that can be found here: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid19/excess_deaths.htm

5. COVID-19 does not have a vaccine.

Influenza is a long-known, well-studied virus. There are vaccines available for all sorts of strains of the virus, and a well-established supply chain ensures enough doses are available for each new flu season. While some years the vaccine is less effective than other years, people who get the vaccine and still get the flu generally have a milder case of the illness than unvaccinated people.

Of course, not everyone gets vaccinated, sometimes because of personal choice, sometimes because of health conditions that make vaccination dangerous, sometimes because it’s easy to let things slip by unnoticed. The CDC estimates that right around 60% of Americans, give or take a few percentage points, get the flu vaccine each year. The more people who get the vaccine, the fewer people the virus can infect and the slower the spread.

There is no vaccine available for the novel coronavirus. Even if you want it, you can’t get it. In the past, vaccines for new viruses took 10 or more years to develop. Scientists are working hard to have one available sooner than that, maybe even within a year or so. But until then, this virus will spread, infecting millions and killing hundreds of thousands around the world.

The only defense we have against this virus is to limit the spread ourselves. This means washing our hands often and using hand sanitizer when we can’t. It means avoiding crowds and only going out when we absolutely need to, wearing a mask in public, and staying at least six feet away from non-household members. As businesses start to open back up, it may be tempting to forget social distancing, but that is likely to lead to a resurgence of the virus, meaning we’ll have to shut down all over again. So take precautions and limit your trips out. It’s not easy and it’s not fun, but it saves lives.

It could even save your life.

Sources:https://bmcinfectdis.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2334-14-480; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7074654/; https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/if-youve-been-exposed-to-the-coronavirus; http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2014/the-reason-for-the-season-why-flu-strikes-in-winter/; https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/preliminary-in-season-estimates.htm; https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid19/index.htm


Piper the Saint Bernard.

Can my pet give me COVID-19?

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Another question we never imagined before!

Many of us adore our pets. They give us tail-wagging, purring, squawking doses of pure love, whether we’ve earned such huge affection or not! This is good medicine, especially as our lives have narrowed. Plus, we get to hang out with someone who is not going to say one thing about COVID-19. What a relief! It seems like we tend to worry about even good things these days. A lot of that worry keeps us safe when we practice physical distancing and a little obsessive hand washing. But it also brings up new and strange ideas like, “Can I catch COVID-19 from my pet?”

Who’s at risk: us or our pets?

There is limited evidence on the subject, but the evidence we have suggests animals can become sick with COVID-19 from us! Several dogs have tested positive for coronavirus after contact with infected humans. Ferrets seem to be susceptible. I didn’t see that one coming! Cats also. As you may have heard, this includes not only house cats but also the four tigers and three lions that tested positive for COVID-19 at the Bronx Zoo. So, remember, if you are within six feet of a tiger or lion, wear a face mask!

On the other hand, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states, “At this time, there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading the virus that causes COVID-19.” The risk from animals, including your pet, is low. All the same, the CDC upgraded its guidance telling us to be a bit more cautious about our pets. Here’s what we should do:

Physical distancing and your pet

  • Think of your pet like any other member of your family; we should make sure they stay at least six feet away from non-household members, both humans and animals. No puppy tussling, no snuggles from the neighbors!
  • Keep dogs on a leash to maintain distance.
  • Keep cats indoors when possible so they don’t have contact with other people or pets.
  • Dog parks or crowded public spaces are a no go.

If you are sick, protect your pets!

The CDC has added chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and new loss of taste or smell to its list of COVID-19 symptoms, expanding on the long-known symptoms of fever, cough, and shortness of breath. You can learn more about these symptoms by clicking here. If you have any of these symptoms, keep your distance and do not have contact with your pets. That involves:

  • When possible, have another member of your household care for your pets while you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food or your bed.
  • If you have to care for your pet while you’re sick, wear a face mask or covering and wash your hands before and after contact with them.
  • If your pet becomes sick while you are ill, don’t take your pet to the veterinary clinic yourself. Call your vet and let them know you have been sick, possibly with COVID-19 or a confirmed diagnosis. Some vets offer telemedicine consultations or have other plans for seeing sick pets. Your vet can identify solutions that keep you, others and your pet safe.

You’re a great pet owner!

You’ve read this post to the end, so you’re a curious and great pet owner! This means you probably want more information. Just check out the CDC’s COVID-19 and Animals Frequently Asked Questions.


Fresh Air Exercise

Fresh air: Is it safe to exercise outside?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

By now, everyone knows Governor Inslee has extended Stay Home, Stay Healthy through May 4.  Non-essential workplaces and schools have closed. We are staying home and using social distancing when we need to venture out for staples like groceries.  But the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order does not ban all outdoor activities. We know getting exercise and fresh air is healthy—strengthening our bodies and brightening our moods. But how do you safely exercise outside in Skagit County?

Physical Distancing

First, it is important to maintain social distancing, also called “physical distancing.” This means keeping space between yourself and other people outside of your household. As you have surely heard, you should stay at least 6 feet away from other people, avoid gathering in groups, and do your best to stay out of crowded places.

Source: https://www.nrpa.org/about-national-recreation-and-park-association/press-room/NRPA-statement-on-using-parks-and-open-space-while-maintaining-social-distancing/

We are lucky to live in Skagit. Our county is filled with true gems – open space, walking trails, and great parks.  But before you go out, you should be aware that some parks are closed or partially closed.  At this time, Skagit County parks are open for hiking. Again a reminder – when hiking, make sure that there is space for social distancing. Picnic shelters, sports courts, play structures, and other facilities at all Skagit County parks are closed.

Brian Adams, the Skagit County Parks and Recreation Director has the following advice for Skagit County residents looking to get outside:

  • A good option for a walk or a hike is a park or a trail within walking distance from your home.
  • If you don’t have a park nearby, you should consider walking on your neighborhood streets and sidewalks.
  • If that is not an option, Adams recommends you visit some of our large open spaces where you can see people approaching in advance and be prepared to maintain social distancing
  • If  people do drive to trails or parks, they should avoid stops or using restrooms in order to minimize physical contact during your trip.

Adams said that Skagit County residents seem to be doing a good job so far:  “Most people, more than 90% are complying with the closures.  From what I’m seeing people are doing a good job.”

Adams said they haven’t seen large crowds yet at any county parks, but that traffic at some popular trails is more in line with July than the usual April traffic. “The kind of things you see in on the news with crowds and problems in more urban areas like Seattle’s Green Lake — Skagit County hasn’t experienced anything like that,” Adams said.

Here are some outside dos and don’ts to stay safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19

DO

  • Prepare before you visit: confirm park is open, including bathroom facilities, bring anything you need with you
  • Visit parks and trails that are close to your home
  • Stay at least 6 feet away from others (“social distancing”) 

DON’T

  • Don’t visit parks if you are sick or were recently exposed to COVID-19
  • Don’t visit crowded parks
  • Don’t use playgrounds
  • Don’t participate in organized activities or sports

Source: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/visitors.html

One other important piece of staying safe is avoiding injuries while you are outside.  Our hospitals and first responders are under increased pressure. It is up to us to preserve these limited resources for those most in need. And now is not the time that you want to go to the Emergency Department! That means don’t try out your child’s hover board or tear down the mountain on a bicycle that you have not ridden for years.  Be sure to follow common sense safety procedures — bring extra water on a hike, wear your bike helmet, obey rules of the road, and tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to be back.

In short, outdoor exercise, when following these dos and don’ts, keeps you safe and healthy. Fresh air can ward off cabin fever and brighten your day. Just be safe out there!


Expecting

Safe at Home – Pregnancy during COVID-19

Reading Time: 4 minutes

An expecting mom anticipates the joy of her new baby in her arms while managing the anxiety of pregnancy and birth in the time of COVID-19.

It takes a village.

I’ve always heard that it takes a village to raise a child. From my own experience, I know that this is definitely true. During my first pregnancy, I woke up in the middle of the night wondering if I was ready to take on this huge new responsibility. During my second pregnancy, I nervously asked my husband if we were ready for two. There are still many days where I wonder if I’m doing this mothering thing right. But I can tell you there is one thing I know for certain: I am so glad I have a village.

When I interviewed my pregnant coworker Amber for our “Safe at Home” series, I had a lot of questions. For one, how is she handling the late stages of pregnancy during social distancing? She shared many of the same worries I had when pregnant.  But she is also facing a whole new set of daunting anxieties resulting from COVID-19.


Amber’s Story

Amber has the unusual challenge of both being pregnant and serving as an Epidemiologist performing COVID-19 case investigations for the Public Health Department. Strictly following social distancing, she works from home.  She spends the bulk of her days investigating the spread COVID-19 and taking actions to prevent further local transmission. This work is crucial to the wellbeing of Skagit. If anyone understands the importance of social distancing, it’s Amber! She sees how easily this virus can spread. So she and her husband are taking extra precautions to stay home and stay healthy.

Many people are worried about themselves and their loved ones getting sick from COVID-19. Amber also is concerned that her and her husband’s health could affect the birth experience of their child. She wondered out loud:

“If my husband shows any signs of infection when I go into labor, would he be able to be in the delivery room with me? What if I contract COVID-19? Would I be forced to isolate from my newly born child?”

NOTE: According to the World Health Organization, we don’t yet know if a sick mom can pass the virus to her unborn child or to the baby during delivery. Pregnant women who have tested positive for COVID-19, or who have coronavirus-like symptoms, should consult with their doctor. Together, they can make a birth and delivery plan to ensure safety for everyone. Medical professionals know the benefits of skin-to-skin between mothers and babies and encourage breastfeeding. Even moms diagnosed with COVID-19 or having symptoms can breastfeed and hold their baby if they practice good hygiene and wears a face mask.

The thought of being alone during labor is incredibly scary. Hospitals have a temporary restricted visitor policy. This policy allows one healthy labor companion in the delivery room of a healthy mom.  It is heartbreaking to think that so many families are having to deal with these concerns, but this what is needed to keep everyone safe from COVID-19.

So Amber’s mom won’t be able to visit her in the hospital. Family and friends won’t be able to drop to see her new baby once she comes home in order. They will need to keep everyone safe through social distancing. Thinking back to when I brought my own babies home from the hospital, it makes me sad to know Amber won’t have the same supports that eased me into motherhood—the village of family, friends, and community.  Before COVID-19, I and other moms routinely took these supports for granted.

To deal with these added stressors, Amber tries to focus on the things she has control over. She joked that she was eating lots of healthy foods because she isn’t able to go buy all the treats she’s craving. When the weather allows, she likes to take long walks. At the same time, she’s a bit weirded out by how people cross the street when they see her. But Amber is grateful people are taking the Governor’s orders seriously.

Amber finds hope and comfort knowing she will soon have her baby in her arms. She tries to remember that “there’s always something to look forward to…for the rest of her life.” Even though things are crazy right now, “there’s guaranteed joy on the way.”


Are you a pregnant or new mom?

There are many new (and free!) support services available to you during this time! Websites like WhattoExpect.com have compiled fantastic resources to help pregnant and new moms navigate this difficult time. Some of my favorites include virtual doula and lactation services, online childbirth classes through Lamaze International, and meditation apps to be used during labor.

Get connected with your local village!

Skagit County’s Welcome Baby program is unable to meet new parents at the birth centers at this time, but they are hoping to connect with Skagit families in their third trimester or those who have recently delivered. Call or text 360.922.2644 or send an email to welcomebaby@unitedwayskagit.org  For more information visit www.skagitwelcomebaby.com

Want other support services? Check out these March of Dimes resources below:

NOTE: Wonderful news! Since this interview, Amber and her husband Drew welcomed their baby daughter Isla to their family. They are all healthy and happy!

Amber – Skagit County Epidemiologist, COVID-19 Investigator, and mom to be!
Baby Isla – Born 4/13/2020!


Social Distancing – Independent Skagitonians, Age 60+

Reading Time: 4 minutes Reading Time: 4 minutes

How one Skagit woman stays connected while practicing social distancing

Only weeks ago many Skagit seniors were thriving. 2020 was going to be a good year. They were living comfortably and independently – in their own homes, apartments and retirement communities. Folks were savoring time with grandkids. Pick out any health club and you would find retiree regulars filling the morning workout shifts. They were dominating the treadmills, sweating out spinning classes, counting laps in the pool. Ukulele classes were overflowing at our senior centers. Couples were traveling the world. Seniors formed a huge volunteer force, helping those in need throughout Skagit. For example, almost all local Meals on Wheels drivers met the age requirement for the program’s clients they were serving. 

Things changed abruptly. Everyone 60 years of age or above suddenly found they were in a new club no one wanted to joinhigh risk from COVID-19. Skagitonians long ago learned to be resilient in hard times, and people with a few more years under their belts have more experience dealing with life’s challenges. But over the last week, there was a new tone in people’s voices, a new strain in their words. 

I sensed a similar tone when I spoke with Toni. Toni is a resident of a senior living community in Mount Vernon. She diligently follows social distancing. During our phone interview, Toni mentioned on several occasions  that she has had to postpone or cancel her weekly activities. This break with the things she enjoys and values in her daily life has caused “a rollercoaster” of emotions. 

Meet Toni

Health officials urge people over 60 to stay home and stay healthy.  Whenever possible, seniors are being asked to refrain from routine errands and even keep away from grandchildren. This is no easy task! Seniors who are used to being self-sufficient still rely on their time with family and friends for connection and community. 

Toni has worked out a plan for social distancing. She stays connected to the outside world through social media and by phone. She keeps informed of current events by reading the news. She frequently mentioned how grateful she is to have children (and adult grandchildren) living nearby who bring her groceries and run important errands. She has considering taking advantage of grocery drop-off services. 

But even with the love of family, she struggles finding what she calls the “patience to hang in there.” She laughed about the situation, continuing to find a lighthearted tone.  But like many seniors, the well-being of family weighs on her mind. She can’t help feeling anxious for her children and grandchildren. “What’s this going to do for their livelihoods and their children? What’s their lifestyle going to be like? Will they have to go through a recession?”

Toni has found ways to minimize feelings of loneliness and anxiety. She takes daily walks. She checks in with family and friends regularly. For example, on the day we spoke she had just gotten off a call with her granddaughter and felt uplifted.

“I was excited about the FaceTime. So I got up, showered, got dressed, put my makeup on and acted like I was going to leave the house and go downtown shopping, or something. I wasn’t going anywhere, but I felt better. And I had something I was looking forward to.” 

There are days when Toni doesn’t have something to break up the monotony. During these low moments, Toni relies on her faith and the support of her church, where she works as a deacon

“Some days I don’t have something I look forward to, so I just as soon stay in bed. So I stay in pajamas most of the day…or all day. It depends. Some days are better than others in regards to feeling on top of things. There are days when I just don’t want to do anything, so I just don’t. I’ll read or watch TV.”

We all struggle with COVID-19 and social distancing. Toni has identified ways of keeping engaged with family, friends and other community groups through video chat and social media. While taking walks around her neighborhood, she enjoys conversation from a distance with friends. However, many seniors lack the opportunity to do the same. 

Skagit County has been working hard to provide services to our seniors in need during this time, especially to maintain access to nutritious meals!

  • Meals on Wheels: The Skagit County Meals on Wheels program is busier than ever! People 60 years or older who have barriers to preparing meals can contact (360) 416-1500 for more information.  
  • Frozen meal pick-up: Even though senior centers are temporarily closed, frozen meals are available for pick up.  Call your local senior center below for details. 
    • Mount Vernon Senior Center, 360-416-1585, Kristl Hobbs or Nickie McNulty
    • Sedro-Woolley Senior Center, 360-855-1531, Ellen Schweigert or Merrilee Komboukos
    • Burlington Senior Center, 360-755-0942 or 360-755-0102, Jackie Cress or Cheryl Kaufman
    • Anacortes Senior Activity Center, 360-293-7473, Amanda Miller or Annette Saling

Feeling overwhelmed?

This is the time to reach out, whether you are a senior or a loved one of a senior. People are often saddened and depressed by the narrowing of their lifestyle and anxious about the impact COVID-19 is having on our world. Talking and laughing can be one of the best ways to cope with the pandemic. 

There are also creative ways to deal with loneliness and anxiety that you can find online! Websites like AARP have great guides for seniors and their family members, like “7 Ways to Boost Your Loved One’s Morale During the Coronavirus Epidemic,” which lists things like virtual dinners, and book clubs as helpful boredom-busters.

Want more information about resources Skagit County has seniors? Watch the Senior episode of Conversations COVID-19 with Public Health Director, Jennifer Johnson and Senior Services Manager, Renee Corcoran. 


Worried about housing for you or others during COVID-19?

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Here are some answers if you or a loved one are worried about not being able to make rent or the mortgage during COVID-19.

COVID-19 is causing huge hits to our economy. Social distancing results in current and painful economic losses. But the Skagit economy would be devastated if we don’t stop COVID-19. More people would become sick and die. We must pay now or pay a lot more later. We need to stay home and stay healthy. But what if you or a loved one is worried about not being able to make rent or the mortgage? What if you faced housing problems even before COVID hit?

There is help for people who are struggling. If you do not have enough money in savings to cover your mortgage or rent, contact your lender or property owner immediately. Lenders and property owners may work with you to waive late fees, set up a repayment plan, or make another plan.

Renters and Eviction

At this time, renters do not need to worry about being evicted for not paying rent. On March 18, Governor Jay Inslee announced a 30-day stop on evictions. Skagit County Superior Court also issued an order suspending all eviction hearings until at least April 24, 2020.

What does this mean for you? It means property owners can’t issue “Pay or Vacate” notices if you can’t pay rent during this period. Also, the Sheriff’s Office will not enforce eviction orders because you can’t pay. You still might be evicted for crimes committed on the property, causing a nuisance to the community, or public health issues. If you are a renter and have concerns about being evicted, you can call the CLEAR (Coordinated Legal Education, Advice and Referral) Hotline operated by NW Justice Project at 1-888-201-1014.

Mortgage Help

There is help for people whose mortgages that are federally backed or insured. Mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will suspend foreclosures and evictions for at least 60 days. FHA-insured single-family mortgages are also included. For help, call your mortgage servicer, which is the company listed on your mortgage statement. Options include:

  • Payment relief for up to 12 months
  • Waiving late fees
  • Suspending reports to credit agencies
  • Loan modifications

More Info

Interested in more information? The Washington State Department of Financial Institutions has a page with all the up-to-date information – click here to reach it. The website also includes info about help on:

  • Paying your utility bill
  • Unemployment
  • Student loans
  • Other resources

New resources are likely to become available, so keep checking in on the website.

Scammers

Unfortunately, scammers look for chances to take advantage of us during emergencies. Be careful of emails, texts, or social media posts that may be selling fake products or promise quick financial fixes for a fee.

Want to Help?

If you are in a position to help others in dire housing situations, considering donating to: