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


Calling all Millennials, Zennials & Gen Z: GET VACCINATED TODAY!

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Post contributed by Laura Han, Skagit County PIO

Hi everyone!

I got my second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine today and I felt compelled to write something to address my follow Millennials. And while I’m at it, let’s not forget our Zennials and Gen Z’ers out there. To our high school seniors, college students, young professionals and young parents…to those helping to care for their parents and those who are just striking out on their own…It’s time for you to get vaccinated!

On April 15, Governor Inslee opened up vaccine eligibility to all Washington residents ages 16 and older. We’re seeing throughout Skagit County that vaccine appointments are open and available. Unlike early on in the vaccination efforts when finding an appointment was a bit of a shot in the dark, you should be able to find appointments via covidwa.com, the Washington State Department of Health Vaccine Locator, and by calling your local health department (360-416-1500).

Laura Han (Skagit PIO and resident Millennial) gets her final COVID-19 vaccine.

And look, I get it. If you’re not living in pandemic response (like me and my Public Health colleagues) and have a low chance of poor health outcomes from COVID-19 (maybe you’ve even already had it and it wasn’t that bad), finding and making a vaccine appointment is like making your yearly dental cleaning: It’s no fun, it’s a pain and it’s a chore that you don’t really have time or emotional energy for.

But here’s the thing: getting everyone vaccinated is the only way out of this pandemic and YOU ARE PART OF EVERYONE. Even if you feel like you don’t ‘need’ it for personal safety. It’s a community effort, ya’ll.

You getting vaccinated not only protects you from getting sick, potentially becoming a long hauler or DYING (which, I have to be honest, seems like motivation enough to me but, I digress), it protects the people around you. It protects your grandparents, your friends who might not be sixteen yet, the kids in the preschool class you teach, your partner with extra risk factors. It helps keep your Uncle’s restaurant open, or your Mom’s yarn store in business.

Anyone who can’t be vaccinated or is at higher risk of poor health outcomes from COVID-19 will be safer because you took the time to get vaccinated and community spread will be slower, allowing us to keep businesses open and focus on moving past the pandemic.

Look, Millennials and younger folks get mocked for ‘wanting to change the world.’ We’re more idealistic, more community focused than our parents and grandparents. How often do you get an easy, one step (okay, two steps) way too make your community better? To make everyone you know and love safer? GET VACCINATED TODAY.

You can find appointments at:
www.covidwa.com
www.vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov

Or by calling Skagit Public Health Vaccine Hotline at 360-416-1500.


“Let’s get out of here!” Traveling After Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine

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You did it! You got vaccinated! Thank you for doing so. It helps not only protect you but the community at large. We bet that you’re ready to start returning to some of the activities you gave up in March 2020, including travel. If you are, please keep some things in mind.

The COVID-19 vaccines currently in use are highly effective.

Real world data has shown that their nearly 100 percent effective at preventing hospitalization and death amongst fully vaccinated individuals. In fact, Washington State has only observed a breakthrough rate of 0.01%, which is fantastic. Being fully vaccinated means you can do a lot of things again, such as:

  • Gather indoors with other fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask or social distancing
  • Gather indoors with unvaccinated people of any age from one other household without masks or social distancing unless one of the participants is at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
  • Travel domestically, or return from international travel without getting a negative COVID-19 test or self-quarantining (Note: if you’re traveling internationally, you might still need a negative COVID-19 test to enter the country you’re visiting. Do your research before you go).
  • Unless you live in a group setting (like a correctional facility or group home), you don’t need to quarantine after an exposure to COVID-19 as long as you don’t develop symptoms.

Reminder: After receiving your second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or your Johnson & Johnson shot, you need to wait two weeks for immunity to build in your system. After that two week period, you’re considered fully vaccinated.

That said, COVID-19 vaccines aren’t get out of jail free cards.

There is still a risk that you could contract COVID-19 and spread it to loved ones or close contacts. This means that when traveling you should:

  • Keep wearing masks- and two if you can- especially on airplanes, in public spaces and when gathering with unvaccinated individuals from multiple households. 
  • Avoid large gatherings or events, especially when indoors, where people don’t remain in fixed locations, engage in activities that pose great risk for spread (singing, exercising, shouting, etc…) or wear masks aren’t or can’t be worn.
  •  Monitor for COVID-19 symptoms, and if any develop get tested right away.
  • Avoid visiting unvaccinated individuals who are at increased risk for poor health outcomes after traveling or being in public spaces for prolonged periods.
  • Follow your workplace guidance on quarantine when returning, which may be more strict than what is outlined here.

We’re all looking forward to increased travel and activity–but we’re not quite out of the woods yet. Please, continue to be smart and practice good behaviors. Wear your mask, practice social distancing in public or with unvaccinated individuals, wash your hands frequently (like, all the time and for lots of reasons it’s just a good thing to do).

If you’re planning a trip and are nervous about some of the circumstances, we’ve included a handy flow chart that can help guide you towards the best decision for your situation.

We’re in this together and we’ll get through this by protecting our community together.


B.1.1.7 COVID-19 Virus Variant Found in Skagit County

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March 3, 2021

Skagit County Public Health released today that evidence of the COVID-19 virus variant has been found in Skagit County. Variant B.1.1.7, also referred to as the U.K. variant, is more contagious than the original COVID-19 strain.

The individual first tested positive for COVID-19 two weeks ago and has been working with contact tracers. The individual had not traveled and is associated with another known COVID-19 case that is likely another B.1.1.7 variant case. Genome sequencing takes time, so the variant was only discovered last night- more information will likely become available in the coming days. Public Health is thankful to all involved for their cooperation.

We knew this was coming,” said Skagit Public Health Director Jennifer Johnson. “The B.1.1.7 variant has already been found in Whatcom, Snohomish and Island Counties, and given the way COVID-19 spreads it’s likely it’s been here for a while. We should assume that this variant is circulating widely in Skagit at this time.

The B.1.1.7 variant is more contagious than the original strain of COVID-19, it responds to the same safety measures the community has been practicing since the first case of COVID-19 was found in Skagit County. These measures include:

  • Wearing a mask
  • Using good hand hygiene and washing hands frequently
  • Avoiding unnecessary gatherings; particularly informal, indoor social gatherings
  • Staying six feet apart from anyone you do not live with

Additionally, currently in use vaccines are effective against the B.1.1.7 variant, so Public Health encourages all to be vaccinated as soon as you are eligible. For more information about vaccinations in Skagit County visit www.skagitcounty.net/covidvaccine

If you have questions or need additional information, please contact Skagit Public Health at 360-416-1500. For more information about Skagit’s COVID-19 response, visit www.skagitcounty.net/coronavirus.


New Mask Guidance from the CDC

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released new research that found wearing a cloth mask over a surgical mask offers more protection against COVID-19. Findings also showed that tying knots on the ear loops of surgical masks can improve fit and create better protection. This information has prompted new mask guidance at a time when many are experiencing heightened concern over fast-spreading variants of the virus.

Wearing a mask correctly—and consistently—is one of the most effective tools we have against preventing the spread of COVID-19. It is important to choose a mask that fits well and also provides the necessary protection against viruses and aerosols.  

According to the CDC, these are the two most important things to consider when it comes to masks:

1) Make sure your mask fits snugly against your face. Gaps can let air with respiratory droplets leak in and out around the edges of the mask; and

2) Pick a mask with layers to keep your respiratory droplets in and others’ out. A mask with layers will stop more respiratory droplets getting inside your mask or escaping from your mask if you are sick.

Here is a list of “Do’s” and “Don’ts”:

DO

Choose a mask with a Nose Wire:

  • A nose wire is a metal strip along the top of the mask. Nose wires prevent air from leaking out of the top of the mask.

Use a Mask Fitter or Brace:

  • Use a mask fitter or brace over a disposable mask or a cloth mask to prevent air from leaking around the edges of the mask.

Check that it Fits Snugly over your nose, mouth, and chin:

  • Check for gaps by cupping your hands around the outside edges of the mask.
  • Make sure no air is flowing from the area near your eyes or from the sides of the mask.
  • If the mask has a good fit, you will feel warm air come through the front of the mask and may be able to see the mask material move in and out with each breath.

Add Layers of material. Here are three different ways to achieve this:

  • Use a cloth mask that has multiple layers of fabric.
  • Wear one disposable mask underneath a cloth mask.
  • Use a two-layer mask that has a pocket for a filter.

Knot and Tuck ear loops of a 3-ply mask:

  • Knot the ear loops of a 3-ply face mask where they join the edge of the mask
  • Fold and tuck the unneeded material under the edges
  • For video instructions, see: https://youtu.be/UANi8Cc71A0external icon.
  • Don’t like this style? You can also try using a mask extender or hair clip to hold the ear loops tightly at the back of your head.

DON’T

Combine two disposable masks: Disposable masks are not designed to fit tightly and wearing more than one will not improve fit.

Combine a KN95 mask with any other mask: Only use one KN95 mask at a time.

For more ways to improve the fit and filtration of your mask, visit: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/mask-fit-and-filtration.html.


Winter Shelter in Skagit County

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On any given night in Skagit County, dozens of individuals and families experience homelessness. The winter months are always a difficult time for those who are unsheltered but the surge in COVID-19 cases and the economic and mental health impacts of the pandemic make this winter particularly treacherous to those who find themselves in need of shelter.

In past years, the County has supported a congregate-style winter shelter, but COVID-19 has made that option unsafe, as it does not allow for proper social distancing.  In order to temporarily house as many people in our community as possible and prevent the spread of COVID-19, Skagit County Public Health is supporting a number of motel voucher programs throughout the county. These programs provide individuals and families with temporary motel stays until a more permanent housing solution is available.

With the help of Friendship House, Skagit County Community Action, Catholic Community Services of Western Washington and the Anacortes Community Health Council as well as funding from federal, state and local resources, approximately eighty families and individuals will have a warm place to sleep this winter.  Each motel program runs a little differently depending on the funding source. Some programs will focus on helping individuals with behavioral health diagnosis and other significant barriers to housing while other programs will cater specifically to families and offer additional support such as case management for families working to find permanent housing.

While the County regularly budgets funds for winter shelter programs, much of the funding for this winter season came from funds meant to curb the spread of COVID-19. While the additional funds made more beds available this year than in the past, the need is still much greater than the resources available. Currently well over 200 people in Skagit County are seeking housing.

These days, replacing traditional congregate shelters with motel voucher programs is not unique to Skagit County – communities across the country are using this model during the pandemic and there is some preliminary evidence that the benefits of motel voucher sheltering extend beyond curbing the spread of COVID-19. According to Shelterforce.org, organizations that have shifted to individualized care in motel settings are reporting a significant reduction of emotional and behavioral health issues that normally arise in a congregate setting.

These positive outcomes will likely be taken into consideration as the community determines how to best meet the needs of the homeless population in Skagit County beyond this winter and the pandemic. Winter shelter funding will last through mid-March but the County is still without a permanent year round shelter.  Currently the community is looking for ways to support a year-round emergency Shelter in Skagit County.

If you would like to know more about Skagit County’s plans for winter shelters, contact Public Health at (360) 416-1500.