Why are Skagit County’s COVID-19 case rates so different?

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If you’ve been wondering why Skagit County’s case rates are so high and aren’t declining like some other counties in the state, you’re not alone! We’ve gotten many questions recently about why Skagit seems to be so different compared to our neighboring counties. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t simple—there are several factors at play. Here are some things to consider:

1. Skagit County’s population is different! We are more rural and agricultural than our neighbors to the north and south. Many of our residents do not work from home, meaning that folks are out in the community more. We also have many large households here in Skagit, which allows for more household transmissions.

2. Our vaccination rates are still behind our neighbors—especially King county. Populations with a higher percentage of fully vaccinated residents will see lower case rates. Until we have a higher vaccination percentage, COVID-19 will continue to spread.

3.  Many of our residents are still not taking proper precautions. Masking and limiting gatherings can help to keep disease transmission lower. We are currently seeing the results of Halloween weekend, with a greater number of new cases over the past week or so.

Thankfully, it isn’t all bad. There are some good things at play too when considering our case numbers.

1. Skagit County residents continue to take testing seriously! Folks are great at getting tested when not feeling well or when potentially exposed to the virus. We know this by looking at our positivity rates at the Fairgrounds testing site. Since we reopened in August, we’re averaging about 11-12% percent positivity—this means that slightly more than 1 in every 10 people who come to the fairgrounds on a given day are testing positive.

2. Expanding on this—Skagit County has low-barrier testing options that many of our neighboring counties do not! This means that more people can access a test when they need it.

3. Public Health, when conducting case investigation, recommends that positive cases have other members in their households tested. Since we know that COVID-19 can spread easily within one’s home, there is a good likelihood that other members of the home will also test positive.

4. Our partners—schools, employers, long-term care facilities—are really great at doing what they need to do, including following testing guidance from Public Health and the Washington Department of Health.

Lastly, it is important to note that while our case rates are high right now for us, Skagit never saw the incredible spikes in cases that many of our comparable counties saw earlier this year. Yes, our numbers are high, but our trends have always been much smoother than counties in Eastern Washington, for example.


Case and hospitalization data can be found anytime on our website or on the State Data Dashboard


The Flu Vaccine: It’s not too late to get yours!

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Flu activity was kept low last season because of vaccination, social distancing, masking, school closures and limited travel. Now that many pandemic restrictions have been lifted, the flu has a much higher chance of spreading.

The timing of flu is difficult to predict and can vary in different parts of the country and from season to season. So, while we haven’t seen much flu activity yet, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t prepare. Experts have warned that reduced population immunity due to lack of flu virus activity since March 2020 could result in an early, and possibly severe flu season. 

Thankfully, there is something that we can all do to prevent illness and hospitalizations caused by flu. We can get vaccinated!

What is the difference between the flu and COVID-19?

Flu and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 is caused by infection with a coronavirus (called SARS-CoV-2) and seasonal flu (most often just called “flu”) is caused by infection with one of many influenza viruses that spread annually among people.

In general, COVID-19 seems to spread more easily than flu and causes more serious illnesses in some people. Compared with people who have flu infections, people who have COVID-19 can take longer to show symptoms and be contagious for longer. This FAQ page compares COVID-19 and flu, given the best available information to date.

So, do I need to get the flu vaccine this year?

Yes! Getting a flu vaccine is an essential part of protecting yours, and your family’s health every year. Yearly flu vaccination is recommended for everyone aged six months and older. It is also important to note that certain people are at greater risk, including:

  • Young kids (especially kids under five years).
  • People 65 years and older.
  • People of any age with certain health conditions like asthma and lung diseases, diabetes, heart disease, neurological conditions, kidney or liver disorders, cancer, cystic fibrosis, and sickle cell anemia.
  • Pregnant women.
  • American Indians and Alaskan Natives.
  • Health care professionals.
  • Household contacts and caregivers of kids, especially those in contact with babies under six months of age who are too young to get seasonal flu vaccine.
  • Household contacts and caregivers of people in any of the above groups.

Will a flu vaccine protect me against COVID-19?

Flu vaccines are not designed to protect against COVID-19. Flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness, hospitalization, and death in addition to other important benefits.

Likewise, getting a COVID-19 vaccine is the best protection against COVID-19, but those vaccines are not designed to protect against flu. Visit the CDC’s Frequently Asked Questions page for information about COVID-19 vaccinations.

Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine and flu vaccine at the same time?

Yes, you can get a COVID-19 vaccine and a flu vaccine at the same time!

Even though both vaccines can be given at the same visit, people should follow the recommended schedule for either vaccine: If you haven’t gotten your currently recommended doses of COVID-19 vaccine, get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as you can, and ideally, get a flu vaccine by the end of October. To find a COVID-19 vaccine provider, go here.

While limited data exist on giving COVID-19 vaccines with other vaccines, including flu vaccines, experience with giving other vaccines together has shown the way our bodies develop protection and possible side effects are generally similar whether vaccines are given alone or with other vaccines. If you have concerns about getting both vaccines at the same time, you should speak with a health care provider.

If I get sick with the flu, am I at greater risk of contracting COVID-19?

Because COVID-19 is still a relatively new illness, there is little information about how flu illness might affect a person’s risk of getting COVID-19. We do know that people can be infected with flu viruses and the virus that causes COVID-19 at the same time.

Getting a flu vaccine is the best protection against flu and its potentially serious complications, and getting a COVID-19 vaccine is the best protection against COVID-19.

When is the best time to get your influenza vaccine?

September and October are generally good times to be vaccinated. Ideally, everyone should be vaccinated by the end of October.

Adults, especially those older than 65, should not get vaccinated early (in July or August) because protection in this group may decrease over time. Children can get vaccinated as soon as vaccine becomes available—even if this is in July or August. Talk to your child’s pediatrician if you have questions about the flu shot.

While flu activity may be low right now, it could begin increasing at any time. Remember, after you are vaccinated, your body takes about two weeks to develop antibodies that protect against the flu.

Where can I get the flu vaccine?

If you don’t have a health care professional you regularly see, you can find flu vaccines at many places, including your local pharmacy!

Looking for a vaccine for your child? Talk to their pediatrician or call the Help Me Grow Washington Hotline at 1-800-322-2588.

How much does a flu shot cost?

In Washington, all children under age 19 get flu vaccines and other recommended vaccines at no cost. That said, a provider may charge an administration fee to give the vaccine. You can ask them to waive this fee if you cannot afford it.

Uninsured and over 18 years old? The WA Department of Health is collaborating with Safeway Inc. and Albertsons Companies LLC to offer free flu vaccines across the state. Check here for a list of participating locations.  

Note: Most insurance plans, including Medicare part B, cover the cost of flu vaccine for adults.

I got the flu shot. What else can I do to prevent getting sick?

The flu vaccine keeps many people from getting the flu, however some people who get the flu vaccine may still get sick. If you do get the flu, the vaccine will help reduce the severity of your illness. It will also lower your chance of needing to go to the hospital.

Increase your protection by covering your coughs and sneezes, washing your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water, and staying home when you’re sick. Cloth face coverings or masks can also help prevent the spread of the flu—just like with COVID-19!

If you do feel sick with flu, it’s important to know when to stay home and when to get emergency medical care. When in doubt, check with your doctor.


Resources:

https://www.cdc.gov/flu/season/faq-flu-season-2021-2022.htm#what-virus  
https://www.doh.wa.gov/YouandYourFamily/IllnessandDisease/Flu


Skagitonians Urged to Get Vaccinated; Wear Masks in Light of Increasing COVID-19 Cases

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August 5, 2021

Skagit County Public Health is extremely concerned about the rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations being seen locally and across the state due to the spread of the delta variant. This concern is felt at the state level, as well, with the Washington State Department of Health releasing a statement on Tuesday, urging Washingtonians to get vaccinated immediately and wear masks in indoor spaces to combat the variant’s spread.

In the last 7 days alone, Skagit County has reported 90 new confirmed COVID-19 cases and 10 new COVID-19 hospitalizations. State-wide hospital occupancy is at the highest levels seen to date in 2021 due to increased COVID-19 transmission and patient demand.

The highly contagious delta variant, which is a more transmissible strain of the virus, is now the dominant strain in Washington making up roughly 76% of sequenced cases. While no vaccines are 100% effective, it is proven COVID-19 vaccines provide strong protection against variants, prevent severe illness and hospitalization, and lower your risk of death. 

More than 94% of all cases, deaths, and hospitalizations in Washingtonians 12 years of age and older can be attributed to people who have not been fully vaccinated. In Skagit County, between February 1 and July 30, 2021, 95.3% of all PCR-confirmed COVID-19 cases were in unvaccinated individuals. During this same period, 100% of deaths due to COVID-19 were in unvaccinated individuals.

We are pleading with Skagitonians to get vaccinated now” said Jennifer Johnson, Skagit County Public Health Director.Getting vaccinated will give our community a chance to breathe again. It will keep our hospitals operating the way they need to be during cold and flu season. It will ensure the safety of our children as they go back to school in the fall. If there was ever a time to get vaccinated, it is absolutely right now.

These vaccines are a medical marvel, and I would confidently recommend to every family member, friend and patient I have to take advantage and get vaccinated. The vaccines are saving lives,” said Dr. Howard Leibrand, Skagit’s Health Officer. “I am also recommending that everyone return to masking in indoor public spaces. This is in light of emerging information about the delta variant and will help protect yourself, kids under 12, immunocompromised people and others who may be unvaccinated. We need to keep this disease under relative control to prevent deaths and hospital overwhelm.”

Getting vaccinated is a very personal choice, and also an extremely important one. If someone has questions or concerns about the vaccine, it is recommended that they speak with their doctor or visit the WA DOH Frequently Asked Questions page for fact-based information. To find a list of vaccine providers near you, go to: https://vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov/ or call Public Health at (360) 416-1500.

Lastly, with case numbers on the rise and delta circulating in Skagit County, Public Health wants to remind everyone that getting tested is still essential in our fight against the spread of COVID-19.

Whether you have been vaccinated or not, if you’ve been around someone who has a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19, you should get tested 3-5 days after your exposure, even if you don’t have symptoms.

For information about when you should get tested (for both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals) and for current testing locations, read our blog post: https://bit.ly/3Aa2v8f. For a list of testing providers, go to: https://www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/COVID19/TestingforCOVID19/TestingLocations.


Mask Recommendation from Skagit County’s Health Officer

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July 26, 2021

The following is a statement from Dr. Howard Leibrand, Skagit’s Health Officer.

Earlier today, several of my colleagues issued a joint statement recommending masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status. It is the goal of this recommendation to protect high-risk individuals and those who are not able to be vaccinated, including children under twelve years old.  

It is clear that masks protect individuals from COVID-19. It is never a bad idea to wear a mask in an indoor situation, particularly as we see the delta variant becoming more prominent in our communities.

With that said, I want to assure my community that vaccination is—and will continue to be—the absolute best tool we have to stop the spread of COVID-19. Local data shows that from March 1, 2021 to July 13, 2021 96% of all COVID cases were in unvaccinated individuals. This perfectly highlights the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines.

It is true that the delta variant is particularly concerning. It is much more transmissible than the variants that have been circulating in our county prior to July.  Delta variant may cause more serious illness. If you are unvaccinated and not using precautions like masking and social distancing, you are at very high risk of becoming infected with delta variant and getting seriously ill in the coming days and weeks. Therefore, if you are unvaccinated, I highly recommend that you wear a mask in all crowded situations and continue to encourage your loved ones to do the same.

COVID-19 is likely going to be with us for a long time. Like many reportable diseases, there is no clear end to this health concern. I am encouraging everyone to use every tool available in their toolbelt to protect themselves. Masks will always be a great option, but getting vaccinated is most important.

In summation, the strongest recommendation that I can make as a health professional is this:

Get vaccinated today.


Dr. Leibrand has served as Skagit’s Health Officer since 1989. For more information on Skagit’s COVID-19 response, including upcoming vaccine clinics, visit www.skagitcounty.net/covidvaccine.


Confirmed Cases of Delta Variant in Skagit County: What You Need to Know

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July 15, 2021

Two COVID-19 cases attributed to the delta variant have been identified in Skagit County so far, though it can be assumed that the variant has spread more widely given that sequencing is not done on all tests.

The delta variant has been credited for dramatic increases in COVID-19 cases in other parts of the country and globally due to its increased transmissibility (meaning it spreads more easily). As of June 19, the CDC estimated the delta variant accounted for more than 30% of COVID-19 cases in the US. Two weeks earlier, 10% of cases were attributed to the delta variant.

In Washington, the delta variant accounts for about 28% of sequenced cases – that’s up from about 12% the prior two-week period. Not all cases are sequenced in Washington, so that may not represent the actual statewide proportion of cases due to the delta variant.

“While Skagit County continues to see a downward trend in new COVID-19 cases, it is vital that people continue to use precautions. The detection of these COVID-19 variants in our state proves that this pandemic isn’t over just yet.”

Jennifer Johnson, Skagit County Public Health Director

New variants seem to spread more easily and quickly than other variants, which may lead to more cases of COVID-19. An increase in the number of cases will put more strain on health care resources, lead to more hospitalizations, and potentially more deaths.

The good news is the COVID-19 vaccines are providing protection against the delta variant, particularly against severe illness leading to hospitalization and death. Some precautions to take to decrease the spread of the delta variant—and all currently known COVID-19 variants include:

  • Getting vaccinated as soon as possible if 12 years of age or older! Recent Skagit County data shows that 96% of cases since March 1, 2021 were in unvaccinated individuals. The data tells us that the vaccines work!
    • Note: Vaccination is recommended even for individuals who have already had COVID-19, as experts do not yet know how long people are protected from getting sick again after recovering from COVID-19.
  • If you are not yet vaccinated:
    • Wearing a well-made, well-fitting face mask, even with people you see regularly and in your smallest social circles.
    • Keeping gatherings outside whenever possible.
    • Avoiding any social gatherings indoors, but if participating, wearing a mask and ensuring windows and doors are open to maximize ventilation.
  • For all individuals, staying home if you are sick or if you have been exposed to COVID-19. WA Department of Health data shows that 81% of those vaccinated who experience a breakthrough case are symptomatic. If you feel sick—get tested!
  • Getting tested for COVID-19 if you have symptoms or were exposed to someone who tested positive.

If you are not yet vaccinated, it’s not too late! Visit your nearby pharmacy or medical clinic to get vaccinated against COVID-19; many locations now offer walk-up appointments! You can also call our vaccine hotline at (360) 416-1500 or text your zip code to 438829 (GETVAX) to find locations near you with vaccine available.

You can see the state Department of Health’s variant report, updated every Wednesday, here: https://bit.ly/3ehLzo7


Seasonal Allergies or COVID-19?

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

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

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

What are your symptoms?

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

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

Have you had allergies in the past?

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

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

How severe are your symptoms?

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

Do allergy medications help? 

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

Could you have been exposed to COVID-19?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can you prevent allergies?

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

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


This Sunday, Let’s Play it Safe

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I’m not going to lie. I do not care about football. At all. Games are long and boring. In pre-COVID times, I’d go shopping while my husband watched games. When it came to the Super Bowl, I was 100% in for the snacks and hanging out with friends. But this year, like so many other things COVID-19 has taken away, I won’t be hanging out with friends. It will just be me and my husband. And the snacks.

That doesn’t mean we can’t still be social! If there is one thing the pandemic has shown us, it’s that it’s really not that hard to connect with friends and family, no matter where they are. Zoom, Skype, FaceTime—whatever your preferred method of video chat—are available 24-7. Use them! If you’re looking for a social connection this Sunday while you watch the game, set up a group call with friends and/or family, and react to the plays (and commercials and halftime show) in real time from a safe distance.

Share snack recipes or see who can come up with the most unique game day treat. Compete with each other for who can dress in the best football garb. Play Game Day or commercial BINGO. There are free printable versions online, or make up your own if you’re creative! Take bets on the final score. Loser owes the winner cupcakes or beef jerky or whatever you’re into.

But if you absolutely cannot fathom being physically apart from friends and/or extended family for the big game, please take steps to keep your party from becoming a super spreader event. Remember: COVID-19 spreads really easily, even without symptoms.

So what can you do to hold a safer gathering?

  1. Limit your gathering to one other household. The more households, the greater the risk of virus transmission.
  2. Stay outside. Use a projector to watch the game. Go inside only when absolutely necessary.
  3. Stay six feet or more from people you don’t live with. This also means no high fives except for air high fives.
  4. Wear a mask. Even if you’re outside and at least six feet apart, you still need to wear a mask. Take it off when you’re actively eating and drinking, but put it back on between bites or sips.
  5. Limit your yelling/cheering. The louder you speak, the more aerosols you emit, and the more likely you are to spread the virus if you have it. Bring a noisemaker, clap, stomp your feet, silently swear to yourself—whatever you need to do to keep your volume down and your aerosols to yourself.
  6. Bring your own food/drinks. Share snacks only with members of your own household. Obviously, this means you need to make the most delicious appetizer so everyone else is jealous. And for once, you don’t need to share!
  7. On that note, bring your own plates, cups, utensils, etc.
  8. Keep hand sanitizer handy. If you touch a common surface, wash your hands or use sanitizer.
  9. Moderate your alcohol intake. We all know alcohol lowers our inhibitions. If you have a few too many, you may be less likely to take proper COVID-19 precautions.
  10. Looking for more tips: Check out these from the CDC.

Public Health definitely doesn’t encourage you to hold or attend a gathering this Sunday. But if you do choose to gather, please be as safe as possible!