Gathering safely this Holiday Season

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Although Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and other celebrations are sure to look a little different again this year, things aren’t looking nearly as ominous as they were in 2020! On Friday, October 15th, the CDC updated its guidance for safe Holiday Celebrations. This year’s holiday guidance ensures that with a few precautions, you’ll still be able to gather with family.

So, what is considered safe, and what could be a bit risky this winter? Here’s how to keep yourself and your loved ones safe this holiday season, based on recommendations from the CDC.

Most importantly…Get vaccinated!

Because many generations tend to gather to celebrate holidays, the best way to minimize COVID-19 risk and keep your family and friends safer is to get vaccinated if you’re eligible.

At this time, there is still a percentage of our population that is unvaccinated, including children 11 and younger who aren’t yet eligible. By getting vaccinated, you are doing your part to keep these family members and friends safe.

If you haven’t yet gotten your vaccine, there is still time before Thanksgiving! To be fully vaccinated by Thursday, November 25th, you’ll need to get your first dose of Pfizer by Thursday, October 18th. Want to go the single-dose route? Get your Jonson & Johnson vaccine by November 11th.

To find a vaccine near you, go to https://vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov/.

Outdoors is best. If indoors, wear a mask.

Outdoor gatherings are still safer than indoor gatherings since COVID-19 spreads more easily indoors than outdoors. Studies have also shown that people are more likely to be exposed to COVID-19 when they are closer than 6 feet apart from others for longer periods of time.

If possible, plan to host holiday gatherings outdoors or in well-ventilated spaces (think a garage with the door open, a back patio, or nearby park). If gathering indoors, plan for people 5 and older to wear well-fitting masks, especially if folks are not fully vaccinated. For kiddos 2-4 years old, a mask is also recommended at this time considering our high transmission rates.

Note: In Washington, masks are required to be worn by all people five and older, regardless of vaccination status, in indoor public spaces, and in outdoor settings with 500 or more people. Beginning on November 15th, masks will also be required at certain indoor and outdoor large, ticketed events.

If traveling, plan ahead and take precautions.

If you are considering traveling for the holidays this year, visit the CDC’s Travel page to help you decide what is best for you and your family.

Some things to note:

Plan to test for COVID-19 before you leave. And remember that testing appointments may be in high demand this holiday season, so if you need proof of a negative test, plan accordingly.

To find a testing location near you, go to www.skagitcounty.net/coronavirus.

Postpone if sick, and when in doubt…get tested!

If you are sick or have symptoms of COVID-19, don’t host or attend a gathering until your symptoms have cleared. It is better to postpone than to potential spread the virus to those you love. If, in the days prior to your gathering, you develop symptoms of COVID-19 or have had close contact with someone who has COVID-19, get tested!

So, what if you’ve attended a party or gathering and are now sick with symptoms?

If you are unvaccinated

  • Stay home for 14 days after your last contact with a person who has COVID-19.
  • Watch for fever (100.4°F), cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms of COVID-19.
  • If possible, stay away from others, especially people who are at higher risk for getting very sick from COVID-19.

If you are fully vaccinated

  • Get tested 3-5 days after the exposure, even if you don’t have any symptoms.
  • Wear a mask indoors in public for 14 days following the exposure or until your test result is negative.

The holidays are definitely doable this year, we just need to take a little extra precaution. Get vaccinated, wear a mask, gather outdoors if possible, and stay home if sick. It’s as easy as (pumpkin) pie!


Skagit County Reports 10,000 COVID-19 Cases and 100 Deaths

Reading Time: 2 minutes

October 12, 2021

According to the WA Department of Health Data Dashboard, on Saturday, October 9, Skagit County surpassed a cumulative total of 10,000 COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic. The day prior- October 8- Skagit County reported its 100th death due to the virus.

Jennifer Johnson, Skagit County Public Health Director said, “This is an upsetting milestone for the County. These numbers represent people. Our residents—families, friends, and neighbors—have dealt with so much over these past 20 months, with loved ones getting sick and battling this awful virus. We want to encourage people to continue to do their part to curb the spread of COVID-19, to mask up, and get vaccinated as soon as possible.”

Skagit currently has a case rate of 666.2 per 100,000 residents over the last 14 days, and a hospitalization rate of 13.0 COVID-19 patients per 100,000 over the last 7 days. These rates are still extremely high—with Skagit County expecting to see a record case rate high of 670.0 in the next day or so. It appears, based on incomplete data on the Data Dashboard, that the county will start to see a decrease in new cases and hospitalizations over the coming days. However, it is too early to say whether this downward trend will continue, and for how long.

Skagit County is currently sitting at 66.9 percent fully vaccinated amongst residents 12 years and older. Of the entire population, the percentage of fully vaccinated is 57.4 percent. This means that 42.6 percent of Skagit County residents, including children under 12 years old, are still unprotected against COVID-19.

The recommendation continues to be the same: Get vaccinated as soon as possible. Vaccination is a critical tool for containing the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective and greatly reduce the risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19.

As weather gets colder and people begin to move inside, it is important that Skagit County residents continue to use precaution when gathering with people from outside of their households. All the risk mitigation strategies that people have been using since the beginning of the pandemic continue to be the best course of action: mask up when in crowded indoor and outdoor locations, get tested when feeling sick or when notified of recent COVID-19 exposure, and stay at home when ill with COVID-like symptoms.

To find a list of COVID-19 testing and vaccination providers in Skagit County, go to: www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine or call the WA COVID-19 Information Hotline: Dial 1-800-525-0127, then press #.


Washington State to Reopen SOON!

Reading Time: 3 minutes

As of June 14th, more than 7,528,340 doses of vaccine have been given across the state and more than 4.1 million people have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Washington is getting closer to its 70% initiation goal set by Governor Inslee. The state currently sits at 67.8% of Washingtonians 16 and older who have initiated vaccination, meaning they have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine.

June 30th or when we hit 70%.

The Governor has stated that Washington will fully reopen on June 30th, though the state could reopen sooner if the 70% initiation goal is met. To reopen before June 30th, at least 70% of people 16 and older need to receive at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

This is an extremely exciting time for many of us, as we begin to see things go back to normal. But with reopening comes great responsibility! It is important to remember as things open back up that we must proceed responsibly and with care and respect for those who are not yet vaccinated and for those who are at increased risk.

Reopening & what to expect:

What happens on June 30th or when we hit 70%?

The state will be open for business and recreation, and people who are vaccinated can go along with their regular lives for the most part. Unvaccinated people will need to continue wearing masks indoors. Most businesses get to operate as they did in January of 2020, with the caveat that they’re following workplace safety requirements (which come from Labor & Industries). Restaurants, bars, bowling alleys, and grocery stores are going to be fully open.

Are there any exceptions to reopening?

The one major public sector that will continue to have some limits is large-scale events that the governor just released guidance for. Events that are indoors with 10k or more people must be limited to 75% occupancy or require vaccination and follow mask requirements.

Higher risk congregant settings like healthcare, long term care facilities, or places where many people are not yet able to be vaccinated like childcare, day camps, K-12 must follow different guidance. In these settings, masking is still required, even among fully vaccinated persons.

Will unvaccinated people still need to wear a mask?

The Secretary of Health’s mask order remains in place, which means that unvaccinated people need to continue to mask in public. This helps protect not only those who are unvaccinated, but also vulnerable children who are not yet able to be vaccinated and others with auto-immune or other conditions that prevent them from being vaccinated.

Can businesses still require people to wear a mask after restrictions are lifted?

Yes, counties and businesses can be more strict and enforce masking, distancing and handwashing, etc. – whatever is appropriate in those spaces.

The situation in Skagit.

In Skagit County, 63.6% of our population 16 years and older have initiated vaccination. From data on the state dashboard, we can see that roughly 81% of our population 65+ have initiated and 64% of people 50-64 have initiated vaccination. The greatest room for growth would be amongst Skagitonians ages 12-49; the smallest percentage being those 12-17 years of age.

“We’re calling all our young adults and families with tweens and teens to get vaccinated now. It wouldn’t take much to get the state over the 70 percent threshold. We could see things reopen in the next few days if all eligible people would access their vaccine now.”

Jennifer Johnson, Skagit County Public Health Director

Getting your vaccine.

There continues to be many opportunities to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in Skagit County. Getting a vaccine is free, easy, and now—more convenient than ever!

The Skagit County Fairgrounds Clinic is still offering vaccines to anyone 12 and older, though the site closes permanently after June 26th to allow Public Health to focus on mobile outreach and pop-up clinics. To access a Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the Fairgrounds, drop by on Thursday from 1-7pm or Friday/Saturday from 10am-4pm.

A list of all upcoming mobile pop-up clinics can be found on Public Health’s website: www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine. All pop-ups are available to anyone 12+, unless indicated on the webpage. No appointments are required for these dates and locations.

If none of the above options suit your needs, other vaccine providers and locations can be found at Vaccinate WA or by calling the DOH help line at 1-800-525-0127.

For more information.

WA DOH: https://www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/COVID19/FrequentlyAskedQuestions

Governor’s Office: http://Governor’s Office: https://www.governor.wa.gov/issues/issues/covid-19-resources/covid-19-reopening-guidance

Percentages come from combining data from the Washington State Immunization Information System (IIS) and aggregate data from the Department of Defense (DoD) and Veterans Affairs (VA). To access state and county level vaccine data, go to the state Dashboard at: https://www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/COVID19/DataDashboard.


What the Data Tells Us: Vaccines Save Lives

Reading Time: 3 minutes

There has sure been a lot of uncertainty since March of 2020; our routines changed dramatically, schools closed then reopened, and vacations were postponed or cancelled all together. There hasn’t been a ton that we could rely on—until now.

The data shows us that we can, and should, rely on the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine. The data tells us that the vaccines are saving lives in Skagit County, across our country, and throughout the world. As more and more people get vaccinated, we see our case rates drop, our hospitalizations decrease, and the number of COVID-19 deaths decline.

This data tells us that we can count on the vaccine to get us out of the pandemic; that we can count on the vaccine to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe and healthy. It gives us reason to get vaccinated against a virus that has taken the lives of 74 Skagitonians thus far.  

COVID-19 vaccines work.

Over 62% of people 16 or older have had at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine in Skagit County. Since we began administering COVID-19 vaccines in late December 2020, our 14-day case rate reversed course, dropping from a peak of 459.2 per 100,000 around Thanksgiving of last year, to 74.4 in May 2021. Now, after a quick spike in April, we are seeing lower numbers again.

Outbreaks at long-term care facilities have sharply declined. People living and working there were among the first to be vaccinated. Our highest risk senior populations were also eligible for the vaccine first, and case numbers amongst this population has dropped pretty dramatically since the winter.

Total COVID-19 deaths in Skagit County have slowed, as well, and the people we are seeing in our ICU beds are—by and large—not those who have been vaccinated. We know that vaccinations have played a key role in these falling numbers. We also know that continuing to use our safety precautions when unvaccinated (like mask wearing and social distancing) plays a large part.

Breakthrough cases are expected, but statistically rare.

Data has also shown that no vaccine is 100% effective. Breakthrough cases (when a fully vaccinated person tests positive for COVID-19 more than two weeks after the final dose) can happen, but they are rare. It is expected that a small percentage of fully vaccinated people will get sick with COVID-19; in most cases, these individuals will experience mild symptoms, however, hospitalization and/or death can still happen.

Recent Washington Department of Health statistics tell us that out of 3.1 million vaccinated, 1,471 breakthrough cases occurred. Of those cases, 23 people died. That’s about .0007%, or 1 in 134,782. Half of these deaths were in individuals 84 years of age or older.

In addition, both the Washington Department of Health and the CDC report extremely low rates of COVID-19 breakthrough cases, hospitalizations and deaths among vaccinated people. Washington Secretary of Health Dr. Umair A. Shah recently said hospital admission rates in those 45-64 who have not been vaccinated are 21 times higher than those who are fully vaccinated.

From this data we can see: the vast majority of those getting sick, being hospitalized or dying from COVID-19 are people who have not been vaccinated.

Getting vaccinated is easy.

Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 allows us to get back to the things that we enjoy. Vaccinated people are taking off their masks. Families and friends are gathering again. Restaurants and businesses are seeing more customers and a loosening of restrictions. And now, the data is confirming that the vaccines are effective at preventing sickness and death from COVID-19. The vaccines are our best path out of this pandemic.

Finding your free vaccine is easier than ever. To find a provider near you, go to: https://vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov/. You can also still visit the Skagit Fairgrounds for a free Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson vaccine between now and June 26th.

If taking time to go to an appointment or dropping in at a pharmacy or clinic doesn’t work for you, that’s no problem! Skagit Public Health is holding pop-up vaccine clinics around the county all summer long. We’ll be where you are at so getting vaccinated is quick and convenient. For a list of our pop-up dates, go to: www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine.

If you need help finding vaccine, call our Vaccine Hotline at (360) 416-1500. We look forward to serving you!


Finally, fully vaccinated! Now what?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Rosemary Alpert, contributing author

Summer is right around the corner. Time to get outside and enjoy opportunities to reconnect with families and friends; especially if you are fully vaccinated. But you may have questions! “What does it mean to be fully vaccinated?” “Do I still need to wear my mask?” “Can I hug my grandchildren?” These are a few of the questions I’ve been asked while welcoming and observing community members after receiving their first and second vaccinations at the Skagit County Fairgrounds. 

With each step of the COVID-19 road to recovery, our collective movement forward has relied on accurate, updated information. This can be challenging to keep up with! Reliable sources are vitally important and ensure that we keep informed, and also help us to make the best decisions for ourselves and families. Resources like www.coronavirus.wa.gov can answer the above questions and much more.

Still wondering? Here are a few common questions I’ve gotten at the site:

“What does it mean to be fully vaccinated?”

You are considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19 two weeks (14 days) after you have received your second vaccination if you had to get two doses (Pfizer or Moderna), or two weeks after receiving a single dose vaccine (Johnson and Johnson).  

“Do I still have to wear my mask?”

If you are fully vaccinated, the answer to that question is yes and no, depending on the circumstance. 

The data shows you can visit with other fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask or physically distancing. To protect others and yourself, it is important to continue to wear your mask in crowded settings like sporting/music events or public indoor settings like grocery stores. If you are traveling, please check with mask requirements for the state you’re traveling to, and continue to wear your mask when using all forms of public transportation. Airlines are still requiring you to wear your mask, even if you are fully vaccinated. The reason to continue wearing a mask is because we do not have enough information yet about whether the vaccine prevents the spread of COVID-19 from one to another. The best answer? Be responsible and respectful; use your best judgement and be safe. 

“Can I hug my grandchildren?”

I know for myself, I have been desperately missing hugs. If you are fully vaccinated, you can now hug other fully vaccinated people! This is a welcome relief and reward after the past year when we endured separation and isolation from family and friends. Please remember though that as we move forward, it is important to remain careful while engaging in group settings. We’re not out of the woods just yet. Enjoy those longed for hugs, and while you’re at it, give yourself one for getting fully vaccinated! 

While making post-fully vaccinated plans, keep up with the most updated accurate information. Be aware that not everyone in public will be vaccinated, and for that reason, it is recommended that people continue to wear their mask in public and when in large gatherings–especially indoors. We are certainly moving forward in a positive direction! But the coming months are critical in our road to recovery, and our day-to-day choices matter.

“Fully Vaccinated!” 
Photograph courtesy of Rosemary DeLucco Alpert, 2021 

For me, personally, the top of my post-fully vaccinated bucket list was visiting my grown adult children. Last month, I was finally able to reunite with my daughter and her husband! As soon as I received word that they were fully vaccinated, I got on a plane and flew to California. It was wonderful to see the Seattle skyline for the first time in over a year! 

To ease my trepidation about traveling and getting on a plane, I made sure to prepare myself. I made sure to have masks on hand, as well as a face shield and gloves while entering the airport. I felt comfort in knowing that I know how to protect myself after over a year of working the COVID testing and vaccination sites! I kept my distance as best I could, and honestly…I wholeheartedly enjoyed the opportunity to be with people, traveling once again! I am grateful to be fully vaccinated and there was nothing better than finally getting that long-awaited reunion hug with my daughter. 

Enjoy your fully vaccinated life, stay healthy, make plans, get outside, hug your family and friends…Appreciate the moments as we reengage with new awareness and understanding of community!

For more information about post vaccination guidelines, visit: https://coronavirus.wa.gov/information-for/you-and-your-family/life-after-vaccine.


Moving Forward & What We’ve Learned

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Rosemary Alpert, contributing author

The global pandemic has altered our lives in extraordinary ways. We’ve learned to adjust, as best we can, finding ways to stay connected and keep going during unprecedented circumstances. As we begin to move forward, we welcome opportunities to receive the vaccination and reconnect. We have the potential to re-engage with deepening awareness and cooperation. Together, respectfully sharing our gifts as we progress forward.  

Last week, while welcoming close to 1,200 community members immediately after receiving their first vaccination, I thought about how far we’ve come and still have to go. Looking into the eyes of our community, seeing hope, relief and sincere gratitude. With each vaccination, we are making progress, slowly and steadily. This is a monumental task and takes strategic daily planning from Skagit County Public Health to move our community forward in a healthy, safe manner. 

During this time of transition, it is vitally important to remember that we still need to be vigilant: wear our masks, socially distance, wash our hands and continue to support one another with kindness and consideration. This is not the time to let our guard down, but to remember what we’ve learned. 

Let us take a moment and acknowledge how far we have come since last year. What are the lessons we learned? What are the unexpected gifts we experienced? What will we take with us as we move forward? 

I asked the team of amazing vaccinators these questions; here are some of the responses: 

  • I’ve learned how important and preventative wearing masks are. We’ve had a drastic decrease in the flu this season because of this practice. We must continue to wear our masks, even after being fully vaccinated.” 
  • “Each time I administer a vaccine, I feel like I am injecting hope into each person.” 
  • “I’ve experienced people are more forgiving.” 
  • “This time has given me an opportunity to step up, show up and be fully present for the community.” 
  • “Fills me with hope.” 
  • “I’ve learned how to really look into someone’s eyes.” 
  • “Together, we can accomplish more than we ever thought possible.” 
  • “I’ve learned to slow down, be more patient and appreciate the moment.” 
  • “Grateful to be a part of the team of community all-stars! I will never forget this.” 
  • “Realized how important it is to take each day as a gift and opportunity to be kind.” 

As more community members become eligible to receive their vaccination, we must remember how important it is to be considerate and patient. We still have more miles to travel as we maneuver through this collective journey. Let’s not regress backwards.  

Remember to stay in touch with updated information from reliable sources. Check Skagit County’s website for vaccination availability and information related to COVID-19. For us to move forward, we need cooperation from our entire community, each of us doing our part. If you know of someone who is seeking their first vaccination and does not have a computer, Public Health has a hotline dedicated to scheduling first vaccinations. Call the COVID Vaccine Hotline at 360-416-1500, option 1 for English, 2 for Spanish.  

Each day, while overseeing the post-first dose “Observation Space” at the Skagit County Fairgrounds, I share important “public service announcements.” Most importantly, reminders from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC recommends the following to slow the spread of COVID-19: 

  • Wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth to help protect yourself and others. 
  • Stay six feet apart from others who don’t live with you. 
  • Get a COVID-19 vaccine when it is available to you. 
  • Avoid crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces. 
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water aren’t available. 

Together, we will move forward, slowly and steadily.

Welcoming in a new norm, where we engage with healthy practices and consideration to support our entire community. Spring welcomes new growth and opportunities to embrace hope.   

“Apple Blossoms” 
©Rosemary DeLucco Alpert, 2017 

To those who are fully vaccinated: We still need your help!

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I have been fully vaccinated for some time now. As a Public Health employee and a part-time staff person at the Fairgrounds Vaccine Site, I was given the opportunity to receive my vaccine back in January. I cannot tell you how excited I was to get my second dose, knowing that I would soon (in two weeks) be protected from this virus that has ransacked our lives since last spring.

Over the past several months, I have watched my friends and loved ones receive their doses as well. I have also seen thousands upon thousands of Skagitonians come through our Vaccine Site, all rolling up their sleeves with a glimmer of hope in their eyes. There has been no greater gift than watching my community getting vaccinated and hearing the stories that people share.

I’ve also watched these same individuals walk out of our Observation Room, pull off their masks, and continue to walk through the parking lot carefree. This has been so incredibly concerning to watch.

You, our fully vaccinated residents, can be our number one advocates for safety and precaution. By taking the time to get vaccinated, you have essentially done just that! You are showing your friends, neighbors, and family members that you believe in the power of science, and that you are willing to take actions against COVID-19. You—my fully vaccinated peers—can be a powerful force!

So, I am pleading with you now: Please, please continue to wear your mask in public. And please, continue to limit your social gatherings though it is so incredibly tempting to do otherwise.

Trust me—I get it. There is nothing else that I’d rather do right now than have a barbeque with all of my friends and throw my mask in the dirt. I want to see my mother who lives in Canada and who I haven’t seen in over a year. I want to send my babies to daycare each day without worrying about their health and safety. But I can’t do this right now, whether or not I have received my vaccines. We just aren’t to that point yet.

We are making incredible strides, Skagit County. Our vaccination numbers are great and ever increasing. We now have just over 30% of our eligible residents fully vaccinated, and 40% well on their way with one vaccine to their name. That said, there are still many people who haven’t gotten vaccinated (whether by choice or because they haven’t been eligible or have been underage). These individuals need your help right now in order to stay safe. Your choices—daily—can make a life or death difference. I know that this isn’t a responsibility that I hold lightly.

Together, we can show people that we care and that we are willing to fight. By continuing to wear our masks in public, we are communicating a message to our fellow Skagitonians: that masking should be the norm for right now. That science works. That we care. I’d also hate for someone who isn’t vaccinated to see me walking around sans mask, since they wouldn’t know that I’m fully vaccinated. They’d just assume that I don’t care.

Our case numbers are going up right now. The Governor has now coined it as the “forth wave.” I am sick of this and sick of COVID. And I know you are too. But we know that wearing our masks can make a big difference—heck, it has saved so many lives already. Let’s continue to make progress. We don’t want to move backward; not economically with our reopening, or emotionally (you feel me right?).

Thank you for getting vaccinated. From the bottom of our hearts at the Fairgrounds: Thank you! Now let’s be the change that we want to see in the world. Let’s mask up for each other.

And if you’re wondering then what the point of getting vaccinated is if you can’t get rid of the mask all together, I also get that. There are many benefits to getting vaccinated, both for health and safety reasons…but also for fringe benefits as well! For updated CDC guidelines around travel, gathering, and mask wearing for fully vaccinated folks, visit: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/fully-vaccinated.html.


Updated Quarantine Requirements for Vaccinated Persons

Reading Time: 3 minutes

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.