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!