Joint Statement on Local Healthcare Capacity & COVID-19 Transmission Rates

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January 13, 2022

Skagit County hospitals have seen a dramatic increase in the number of individuals admitted for inpatient care due to COVID-19 over the past week. This recent spike has only further exacerbated our already overburdened healthcare system both locally and across the state.

Today, our local hospitals together with County Health Officer Dr. Howard Leibrand are coming together to ask Skagitonians to help in easing the current strain on our healthcare system. Each person can take action to help alleviate this strain on our providers. Please, take necessary precautions to decrease COVID-19 transmission rates and be conscientious of seeking emergency medical services.

Vaccination continues to be the best tool in preventing serious illness due to COVID-19. While we know that breakthrough infections are expected with the Omicron variant, current data has shown that the vast majority of breakthrough infections have resulted in mild to moderate symptoms that do not require medical attention.

Transmission rates are also of grave concern. The Omicron variant is extremely transmissible and has resulted in more than a doubling of COVID-19 cases this week compared to last. Skagitonians can help to control the spread by taking precautions and not gathering when sick or if recently exposed. For this reason, it is our recommendation at this time that people postpone all large indoor gatherings, regardless of the vaccination status of those gathering.

Masking is also still an extremely important tool that people must use when congregating in indoor public settings and certain outdoor public settings. Ensure the quality and fit of your mask by going to the CDC’s masking guidance webpage here.

We understand that testing options are limited at this time, both in Skagit County and throughout Washington. If you are symptomatic or have been recently exposed to COVID-19 and cannot get access to a test, please follow the CDC’s updated isolation and quarantine guidance. Essentially:

IF YOU HAVE SYMPTOMS but do not need medical care and can’t get a test, assume you have COVID-19.  You should isolate for at least 5 days to keep from spreading the virus to others. Monitor your symptoms.

IF YOU WERE EXPOSED to someone with COVID-19 and need to quarantine and are unable to get a test 5 days after your last close contact, you can leave your home after day 5 if you have not had symptoms; wear a mask for 10 days after last contact.

Our hospitals and urgent care facilities have the capacity to care for those who are acutely ill. These are not the locations to go for COVID-19 testing if you are asymptomatic or are experiencing mild COVID-like symptoms. Please look to community testing sites and local pharmacies for testing options.

Severe COVID-19-related symptoms that would require emergency medical attention include:

  • 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.

“From looking at previous waves, we know that this current surge will level out in time,” said Dr. Leibrand. “Now is not the time to get together or socialize. That time will come, but it isn’t right now. It is essential that we work together to see ourselves out of this current wave.”

To find a vaccine provider near you, please use the Vaccine Locator or call 1-800-525-0127 (press #). For a list of local testing providers, please go to the Testing Locations page here.


Testing at home? Here’s what you need to know.

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[Updated January 11, 2022]

The new Omicron variant has been detected here in Skagit County, and we’re expecting to see a dramatic rise in cases over the coming weeks. Thankfully though, we don’t need to fret! Other than getting vaccinated, testing is one of our most important tools for slowing the spread.

Below you’ll find some helpful information about the at-home testing process and what to do once you’ve tested. For more information about COVID-19 testing, visit the Washington State Department of Health’s webpage here.

Why should you test for COVID-19?

Testing saves lives! Testing allows people to take precautions, like quarantining, in a timely manner to stop the virus from spreading; infected people without symptoms can still spread the virus. Testing also helps public health officials identify and respond to outbreaks, and to track new variants of the virus. Testing is an important component in helping resume normal activities.

Who should test?

Anyone, regardless of vaccination status, should get tested if they’re showing symptoms of COVID-19. They should also get tested if they have had close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

COVID-19 symptoms may include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting

If you’re not fully vaccinated, you should also get tested if:

  • You’ve taken part in activities that put you at higher risk, such as being in large gatherings or crowded indoor settings.
  • You’re traveling (even domestically). The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends unvaccinated people get tested 1–3 days before a trip and 3–5 days after returning from a trip.

The vaccines are very effective, but breakthrough cases can happen. If you’re fully vaccinated, you may still need to get tested in some instances (even if you’re not showing symptoms). Basically, it comes down to this: When in doubt: Test.

When should you test?

Go to a testing site or use an at-home test if you have symptoms of COVID-19 or have been in close contact with someone who may be positive for COVID-19. You should test immediately if having symptoms, or 3-5 days after suspected exposure, even if you don’t experience any symptoms.

Where can you get an at-home test?

Public Health has now run out of at-home testing kits. Please consider for-purchase at-home testing options, available at locations such as Walgreens, Rite Aid, Bartell Drugs, CVS, Walmart, Safeway, and Albertsons.

At present, testing demand is far exceeding availability throughout our state. If you cannot get access to testing, please refer to the CDC’s Isolation and Quarantine Guidance found here: https://bit.ly/3JQLIwF.

IF YOU HAVE SYMPTOMS but do not need medical care and can’t get a test, you might have COVID-19 and you should isolate for at least 5 days to keep from spreading the virus to others. Monitor your symptoms.

IF YOU WERE EXPOSED to someone with COVID-19 and need to quarantine and are unable to get a test 5 days after your last close contact, you can leave your home after day 5 if you have not had symptoms; wear a mask for 10 days after last contact.

What kind of test is available for at-home use?

All available at-home tests are rapid antigen tests. These tests typically provide results in 10-15 minutes and are used to identify those with active COVID-19 infections. A positive result generally means a person currently has COVID-19 and can spread the virus to others.

What should you do if you test positive?

Please call the state COVID-19 hotline at 1-800-525-0127 (press #) as soon as you receive a positive test result. The hotline is available Monday from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Tuesday to Sunday (and observed holidays) 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

An interviewer from the Washington State Department of Health will contact you to discuss what’s next and what support is available. Learn more about what to expect if you test positive.

If you have confirmed or suspected COVID-19 and have symptoms (regardless of vaccination status), you can end home isolation when:

  • It’s been at least 24 hours with no fever without using fever-reducing medication, AND
  • Your symptoms have improved, AND
  • At least 5 days since symptoms first appeared.

If you test positive for COVID-19, but have not had any symptoms, you can end home isolation when:

  • At least 5 days have passed since the date of your first positive COVID-19 test, AND
  • You have had no subsequent illness.

Note: If you need help while you’re isolating at home, you may be able to get support from Care Connect Washington.

What if you tested negative but are experiencing symptoms?

If you test negative but are currently experiencing COVID-like symptoms or have been recently exposed to COVID-19, the safest thing to do is to get a follow-up PCR test. A PCR test is a molecular test that looks for genetic material inside the virus and can determine if a person is “COVID-19 positive.” The turnaround time for results with these tests is usually 24–72 hours. While you wait for your results, please quarantine to avoid any possible spread.

Looking for a PCR test? Visit our website for a full list of testing providers here in Skagit County.


Updated Quarantine Requirements for Vaccinated Persons

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On February 10th, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced some recent changes to quarantine requirements for those who are fully vaccinated. This update comes at a perfect time as more people are getting vaccinated and as many are beginning to wonder what life will look like post-vaccine.

If you have been following the news, or if you have been recently vaccinated, you have most likely heard the recommendations: Vaccinated persons should continue to follow current guidance to protect themselves and others, including wearing a mask, staying at least 6 feet away from others, and avoiding crowds.

But why must those who have received both doses of vaccine continue to practice these safety precautions? Shouldn’t we be able to go back to normal once vaccines are more readily available?

Well…the science just isn’t there quite yet to tell us otherwise!

What we know—and don’t know just yet

We know that the currently approved COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19, meaning that those who have received a full vaccine series have protection against developing symptoms and are especially protected against severe illness related to COVID-19. The evidence also shows that symptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission has a greater role in transmission that purely asymptomatic transmission.

While mRNA COVID-19 vaccines (like Pfizer and Moderna) have demonstrated high efficacy at preventing severe and symptomatic COVID-19, there is limited information on how effective the vaccines are at reducing transmission and how long protection lasts. The efficacy of the vaccines against emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants is also not yet known.

As we wait to learn more about how much vaccines are able to reduce transition, it is best to be cautious. Counties across Washington State have shown reductions in COVID-19 cases in the past several weeks, and it is best to keep doing what we know works best against the virus.

If you are like me though, you may be looking for a glimmer of hope for the coming months. The updated CDC quarantine guidelines is a promising example of the benefits that vaccinated individuals will begin to see.

Updated Guidance for Vaccinated Persons

The CDC states that vaccinated persons with an exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 are not required to quarantine if they meet all of the following criteria. Persons who do not meet all three of the below criteria should continue to follow current quarantine guidance after exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19:

1. Are fully vaccinated (i.e. it has been longer than two weeks following receipt of the second dose in a two-dose series, or it has been longer than two weeks following receipt of one dose of a single-dose vaccine).

2. Have remained asymptomatic since the current COVID-19 exposure.

3. Are within three months following receipt of the last dose in the series (meaning that an individual is no more than three months out from their last vaccine dose).

Experts are currently gathering data about the duration of immunity to COVID-19 post-vaccination. At present, we have good data confidence to say that immunity lasts for 90 days (or three months). This may change as more data is gathered and analyzed.

Vaccinated healthcare personnel, patients, and residents in healthcare settings

If you are a healthcare worker, patient, or resident of a healthcare setting, these new updates will not apply to you. This exception is due to the unknown vaccine effectiveness in this population, the higher risk of severe disease and death, and challenges with social distancing in healthcare settings. These individuals must continue to follow current quarantine guidance.

Exposed and feeling sick. Now what?

Fully vaccinated persons who do not quarantine should still watch for symptoms of COVID-19 for 14 days following an exposure. If they experience symptoms, they should be clinically evaluated for COVID-19. In addition, vaccinated persons should continue to follow current guidance to protect themselves and others, including all other SARS-CoV-2 testing recommendations and requirements, and state, territorial, tribal, and local travel recommendations or requirements. For local information, visit: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HealthDiseases/coronavirus.htm.

More to come

The CDC quarantine recommendations for vaccinated persons, including the criteria above, will be updated when more data becomes available and additional COVID-19 vaccines are authorized.

To find out if you are currently eligible for vaccine in Washington State, visit www.findyourphasewa.org. If eligible, people can register for an appointment at one of the many vaccine provider locations: https://www.doh.wa.gov/YouandYourFamily/Immunization/VaccineLocations. Please know that vaccine supply is still quite limited at this time, and it will take several months for all currently eligible individuals to receive vaccine.

For information about Skagit County Public Health’s vaccination clinic at the Skagit County Fairgrounds, visit www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine or call the Vaccine Hotline at (360) 416-1500.