I’m traveling and I might be sick … what do I do?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

COVID-19 spreads quickly between individuals when in close contact with each other, like when on airplanes, trains or in cars. Sitting in close contact with anyone you don’t live with for a prolonged period of time puts you at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Further, when driving long distances, you increase the likelihood that you’ll come into contact with more people than you normally would (stopping at gas stations or rest areas when driving, getting food, etc…).

This is why Public Health strongly discourages people from traveling outside of their immediate geographic area right now. We’ve said it repeatedly: Now is not the time to go see Grandma in Arizona or travel to your cousin’s wedding in Missouri. In fact, we wouldn’t even encourage you to get lunch with a friend in Seattle right now.

However, our case investigation data is showing that people are still traveling, and unfortunately, some are getting sick. Some of this travel is essential, like for work or to care for an ill family member. But all travel puts the traveler, the communities they visit, and their home community and family at risk. So, we feel compelled to explain what one should do if they’re far from home and start to get that cough and fever (or any other COVID-19 symptom) we all dread right now.

First, and most importantly: DO NOT TRY TO GET HOME.

If you’ve got symptoms, you need to hunker down wherever you are and do your best not to expose anyone else to the illness. Do not go to the store, do not let housekeeping clean your hotel room, and do not get back on an airplane. When you’re symptomatic, especially in the first days, it’s likely you’re highly contagious. You have a personal responsibility to not be in close contact with other people and not put them at risk of contracting COVID-19.

Related to this, anyone in your travel party (or any other close contacts you’ve had) shouldn’t travel or continue to be around other people either. The average person is contagious two days before symptoms present, so anyone you’ve been in close contact with (sharing a car, hotel room, sitting next to each other on airplane, etc.) has likely already contracted COVID-19 by the time your symptoms start to present. They also have a responsibility to not put anyone at risk and quarantine themselves so that COVID-19 doesn’t further spread to others

Second: Seek testing and, if you need it, medical care.

Wherever you are at, some kind of medical care should be available. If you have active symptoms, get tested as soon as possible. If you are the travel companion of a person with symptoms, wait 6-8 days after your companion’s symptoms started, and then seek testing.

Third: Cooperate with contact tracers.

It’s likely that if you’ve been traveling, you’ve come into contact with others who may now also be infected. Sharing that information with contact tracers is vital to prevent a cluster from growing. The information you share is confidential.  

Fourth: If your test comes back positive, you will need to isolate.

You will need to isolate for at least 10 days since the onset of symptoms (or test date, if you are asymptomatic). It is absolutely vital that you or anyone you have been traveling in close contact with do not get on an airplane, or any other sort of public transportation, during this time.

As you can see, traveling does not just increase your risk of getting sick, it also increases your risk of being stuck away from home while you are sick. This could mean out-of-network medical bills, prolonged hotel stays, and a need to change travel plans, which could be costly. This is not to mention being far from your support networks and trusted medical care. If you are choosing to travel right now, you need to have a plan in place to ensure you can quarantine or isolate wherever you are headed if the need arises.

If you are stuck somewhere and are unable to safely stay where you are, Public Health recommends renting a car and driving home. It will be important that you stop as little as possible, wear a mask whenever you have to get out of a car and try to sanitize anything you touch as you go. Every time you get out of the car, you risk exposing others to the virus—the customers and workers at the gas station or restaurant, housekeeping at the hotel, etc. Again, it’s important to remember that even if you’re the only one in your travel party exhibiting symptoms, it’s likely that your whole travel party is already infected and also contagious. Everyone needs to take the same level of precautions.

COVID-19 has taken a lot of things away from us, travel being one of them. Please, act responsibly so we can take care of each other and get back to normal as soon as possible.


Children and COVID-19: What do we know?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

COVID-19 is called a “novel” coronavirus because it is a new viral strain that has not previously been seen in humans. Because it is new, scientists continue to learn about the disease and how it impacts us. One topic we are gaining a growing understanding about is how COVID-19 affects children. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released updated guidance last week to reflect new information about COVID-19 and children.

Do children get COVID-19?

Yes. The fact that children can catch COVID-19 is not new, but it has not been clear how susceptible children are for infection. We know that children have made up a smaller percentage of COVID-19 cases. The CDC’s latest guidance notes that while children make up 22% of the population, only 7% of all diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in the United States were for children (as of 8/3/20). In Skagit County, the percentage of cases in children is somewhat higher at 14%, but children still make up a lower proportion of cases than in the adult population.

One explanation for the lower COVID-19 rate among children is that because kids frequently get colds, which are often caused by other coronaviruses, their antibodies provide some protection from COVID-19. Another theory is that community measures like school closures were effective in keeping children safe. As communities have opened up, cases in children have increased. Nationwide, there was a 90% increase in child cases over the four weeks from 7/9/20 to 8/6/20.  

During these times, it can be expected that our children are experiencing heightened anxiety. The CDC has some wonderful recommendations to help adults have conversations with children about COVID-19 and how to cope with stress.

What are COVID-19 symptoms for children?

Generally, COVID-19 symptoms in children are similar to but milder than in adults. The most common symptoms in children are cough and/or fever, but children may also show no symptoms at all.

According to a recent American Academy of Pediatrics report, severe illness due to COVID-19 is rare among children. Although infrequent, children younger than age 2 appear to be at higher risk of severe illness with COVID-19 than older children. This is likely due to their immature immune systems and smaller airways, which make them more susceptible to developing breathing issues.

There have also been some reports of children developing a rare complication called multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). MIS-C is a serious condition in which different body parts can become inflamed, which causes heart or other organ complications. The CDC is still learning about MIS-C and how it affects children, so we do not know why some children have gotten sick with MIS-C and others have not. MIS-C can be serious, even deadly, but most children who were diagnosed with this condition have gotten better with medical care.

What symptoms should I be worried about in children?

Parents or caretakers should immediately contact urgent or emergency medical care if they notice these warning signs in a child:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Pain or pressure in the chest that does not go away
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Bluish lips or face
  • Severe abdominal pain

If you have children in your home, the CDC recommends some other general precautions for your whole household to help stay safe:

  • If others in your home have an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19, consider extra precautions to separate your child from those people.
  • If you are unable to stay home with your child while school is out or conducted remotely, carefully consider who can best provide childcare. If someone at higher risk for COVID-19 will be providing care (e.g. a grandparent or someone with a chronic medical condition), limit your children’s contact with other people so they are less likely to come into contact with the virus and expose their caretakers.
  • Consider postponing visits or trips to see older family members and grandparents. Connect virtually or by writing letters and sending via mail.

If you do have a child that is showing mild COVID-19 symptoms or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, the Skagit County Drive-Thru site will test anyone five years of age or older with parent or guardian approval. Families with children younger than five should reach out to their pediatric provider’s office to ask about testing.

Sources:

CDC Information for Pediatric Healthcare Providers:
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/pediatric-hcp.html

Washington Skagit COVID dashboard:
https://coronavirus.wa.gov/what-you-need-know/covid-19-risk-assessment-dashboard

Children & COVID-19-State Level Data Report, American Academy of Pediatrics: https://services.aap.org/en/pages/2019-novel-coronavirus-covid-19-infections/children-and-covid-19-state-level-data-report/


Important Message COVID-19

Recovered from COVID-19 – Important Message

Reading Time: 5 minutes

A very important message from the first Skagitonian diagnosed with coronavirus.

In life, we generally want to be first. Get that gold medal, be the valedictorian, hold the world record. Like most of us, Susanne had never been first before. Until March 10, 2020.

Susanne, 49, is a recent transplant to Skagit County, having moved here from Enumclaw in January. She decided to live fulltime in her 37-foot-long RV with her rescue dog. On March 10th, Susanne became the first person in Skagit County to be diagnosed with COVID-19.

She began feeling symptoms on Saturday, Feb. 22nd. It’s just allergies, she thought. She’d been through this every year and this time didn’t feel any different. This was weeks before Governor Jay Inslee announced the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order and things started shutting down. Weeks before most people began taking the pandemic seriously. Susanne continued to live her normal life, as we all did. Her story could be any one of ours.

As an avid square dancer, she drove south for a square dancing lesson, followed by a square dance. “I felt crappy enough that when I got halfway down to Lynnwood, I thought that if I have a fever when I get down there, I’m going home. If I don’t, I’ll toughen up,” she says. “I didn’t have a fever.”

“I was really sick the next day. The dog was really concerned about me. I didn’t want to get out of bed, I was getting dehydrated,” she says, crediting the dog with making sure she drank and ate. “But by Monday morning, I felt fine.”

On Tuesday, she went down to her 81-year-old mother’s house in Enumclaw and was cleaning stuff out. Luckily, her mom wasn’t there. On the way back, she ran errands, making stops at several stores, as we all used to do before the outbreak. She had contact with many people along the way.

“I had a long day and my allergies were really flaring,” she says. “At that point, I realized that I’m not going to manage to make dinner, so I stopped at a drive thru and picked something up.”

She was looking forward to a square dance coming up on Sadie Hawkins day, February 29th. As a lifelong allergy sufferer, she knew the feeling of her allergies working their way into her chest, causing pneumonia. She thought, with some rest, in a few days she’d be better.

“At this point, I’m like 99.9% sure that I’m not contagious. It’s just allergies,” she says. “There was no fever, all the drainage was clear. That’s an allergy, not an infection.”

However, she thought she better not go to the dance. Plus, “nobody wants to be around mucus girl!” she joked.

By March 2nd, she could hardly get out of bed. She certainly couldn’t make anything to eat. She didn’t even feel like making herself tea, so she picked up a few iced teas at a drive thru to keep herself hydrated. At 11:15pm, she got back to her RV site and checked her email. Sitting in her car, she read the news. One of her square dancing friends had been hospitalized and died. He had been diagnosed with COVID-19.

She knew she had to get tested. She drove to Overlake Hospital in Bellevue, arriving at 1:08 am, March 3rd, less than two hours after she found out about her friend.

“I drove south because they had people down there who had [COVID-19], so they would be prepared. And they were,” she says. Hospital staff immediately handed her a mask and placed her in a negative pressure room. While she waited to be seen, she turned on the TV.

“I don’t normally watch TV, but in like 5 minutes, I was concerned that I had been out in public and giving this to other people,” she says. “Just five minutes of TV and I was like … ‘Holy crap, no wonder people are freaking out.’ I shut it off.”

They took a chest x-ray and tested for non-COVID-19 respiratory viruses. The results came back quickly – all negative. The x-ray revealed what she already knew – bilateral pneumonia.

But still, she had no fever so she didn’t quite fit the COVID-19 testing criteria at that point in time.

“My symptoms weren’t what we were hearing,” she says. All of her square dancing friends who ended up testing positive had different symptoms, “and none of them were what you had to have to get a COVID-19 test. The one thing we had in common was that there was a time when we all were feeling better so we went out and did things. And then we crashed harder.”

Knowing she had been exposed and a friend had died from COVID-19, hospital staff decided to test her. She was told the results would be available in 24-48 hours. They gave her a box of masks to wear in public and sent her home.

Other friends were also tested on March 3rd and their results were in by March 6th. Of five friends tested, four came back positive, but Susanne was still waiting on her test. On Sunday, March 8th, she got a call from Skagit County Public Health, which had also been waiting to receive her test results. There had been problems processing her test. So Public Health arranged with Skagit Valley Hospital to have her retested early the next morning.

Approximately 24 hours after the retest, she got the call she was dreading. She had COVID-19. She spent the next hour and a half telling Public Health every place she’d been in the last 30 days. Fortunately, she lets her GPS run and it keeps track down to the minute.

Susanne spent the following two weeks in isolation. Once cleared by Public Health, she went out to enjoy some fresh air. From about 30 yards away, she had her first physical conversation with someone in weeks. She asked a man how he was doing, and his response left her astonished:

“Fine, not really doing anything because of this COVID-19. I think it’s a hoax. I don’t know anybody who had it or died from it,” Susanne recalled.

“Well, I’ve had friends die from it,” she responded. “And, hi! I just got out of isolation today!”

Later that day, while doing five-and-a-half weeks of laundry at the laundromat, she had a nearly identical conversation with a woman there.

“How are there still people who don’t think this is a thing?” she wonders. “They’re still denying it. That was kind of horrifying to me.”

She wants everyone to know that they can get this disease, even young people and those who do not have underlying health conditions that make them more susceptible to deadly complications.

“You’re not immune, you’re not special. You can still get it and you can still spread it,” she says.

She has hope for the future and is confident that with accurate, scientific information, the community will come through this.

“Life is never going to be quite the same. We’re going to be aware of things we weren’t aware of before,” she believes. “And that’s a good thing. Knowledge and growth are a good thing. “