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:


Social Distancing – Living Room Ruckus Edition

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One Skagit family’s struggles with staying home, staying healthy.

It was day eleven of my family’s social isolation, and my three year old was beginning to lose it. On a normal Sunday, by 2:30 pm we would have sped through a host of weekend activities: grocery shopping, play dates, church, visits to the park, etc. But not today, not on day eleven. Today we hadn’t left the house, hadn’t even changed out of our pajamas. I find myself stumped. How can I explain to my toddler daughter why we can’t play with friends or go to her classes, especially when every fiber of my being wants to be able to do so?

No surprise — within minutes I have an unruly little child on my hands, plus a fussy infant, and a dog pleadingly staring at the front door for run to the dog park. In the middle of this ruckus, my neighbor calls to see if my daughter wants to come jump on their trampoline. I’m thankful for the questioning look on my husband’s face, gently nudging me to do the right thing when I say no thanks. A wave of frustration and anxiety wells up in me and I barely can shove it all down, knowing the last thing I want to do is to break out crying. That would only add more mess into our living room drama.

This social distancing thing is really tough! Humans are social creatures and we thrive on routine. So the sudden absence of both these things leaves us reeling. I laugh at memes like the one that says “Our grandparents were called to war. We’re being called to sit on the couch.” This in no way describes what I’m doing as a mom of a toddler and a baby during the age of COVID-19. Without daycare, I spend my days trying to balance mothering and this new working from home thing, while struggling to fit in a moment to jump in the shower.

Don’t get me wrong—this struggle rings true for all of us, not just for moms of small children! All over my social media feeds there is a sense of mourning, a sadness and nostalgia for a past that was only a couple of week ago. Personally, I am wrestling with how to tell my daughter that we can’t have her friends over for her third birthday party in April. The guilt and frustration piles up and I snap into anger. But who am I mad at? No one dreamed up COVID-19 – it just happened.

What is being called of us is not easy, and it isn’t “just sitting on the couch.”

Our actions (or actually, inaction), will make all the difference in the end.

Staying put and staying home is courageous and strong. It’s patriotic. So while these so, so incredibly long days drag on, it is important to remember we are helping to write history. We can be the next greatest generation.

How do we do this?

  • Well, we accept a new normal…for a while. How long is unknown. It won’t be like this forever. So, let’s make the best of it, and feel a little grace along the way. This is your big chance to lead a work meeting in your pajamas, or hear your boss’ kid crying in the background of a conference call. There is something hilarious about cobbling together dinners made solely out of canned goods, or rationing out toilet paper amongst your family members.
  • We will learn new things about ourselves…I am learning a lot of things about myself and how I handle a crisis. For example: a) I can feel lonely, even in a room full of children, a husband, and a dog. b) Not being able to go to the grocery store when I want to causes me to feel claustrophobic. c) Starting the day off with a shower improves my mood and helps me be a better mom and employee.
  • We will practice self-care…Aside from forcing myself to get dressed every day in something other than sweats, I am trying my best to practice that thing we might talk about but never really take seriously: self-care. When my brain gets too foggy, I take a walk. When I begin to feel overwhelmed and anxious, I do some deep breathing. And I encourage my toddler to do the same. Just as my Director, Jennifer Johnson, said on our Conversations COVID-19 video talk show, “this is truly a time to lean on others” (from at least six feet away!). When my kid couldn’t go play with her friend on Sunday, we hit the pavement with sidewalk chalk and wrote secret notes to her buddies. Come Monday morning, our driveway was scrawled with messages from kids from throughout the neighborhood, and the joy in my daughter’s face helps me to know we will get through this.
  • Skagit County, we can own how difficult this is. We don’t always have to be so tough. Along the way, we can help each other make it through the challenges we face. This is already happening! After all, it does not take much to find encouraging and heartwarming and stories in the news and on social media. The heroes are all around us – probably right next door. These stories tell us something about ourselves – they show Skagit’s ability to find the positive in a seemingly negative situation. Just stay tuned and you will find more in upcoming editions of Skagit Health Connection.

So, here’s one Public Health employee saying, “You can do this.” And please just know, you’re not alone. 

For great ideas and support for families, check out United Way of Skagit County’s COVID-19 Resources for Parents & Caregivers: https://www.unitedwayskagit.org/covid-19-resources