Dr. Howard Leibrand, Skagit County Health Officer
Today is the first of several heavy anniversaries for Skagit County. On March 10, 2020, the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Skagit County. On March 13, Governor Inslee closed schools in order to protect students, staff and the community at large from COVID-19 spread. On March 17, Skagit County first became aware of the Chorale outbreak, which would lead to the loss of 2 Skagitonians- some of the first known casualties from COVID-19 in Washington State. On March 23, the first ‘Stay Home, Stay Healthy order’ began.
Since then, we’ve learned a lot. The science has come a long way- we now know how effective masks are at preventing spread of COVID-19; we know that surface transmission is pretty unlikely (so wiping down groceries isn’t really necessary), and we have three vaccines that are highly effective against the wild coronavirus. All of this is a testament to human innovation and resiliency.
We’ve also worked incredibly hard. Skagit Public Health, Department of Emergency Management and Unified Command have put in long, hard hours and accomplished so much. Skagit operated the longest continuously running COVID-19 mass testing site and has opened one of the largest mass vaccination clinics in the region. This clinic has administered over 6,000 doses of vaccine so far and has the capacity to do up to 940 total doses per day.
Residents and friends of Skagit County have also made huge efforts. Beyond everyone taking precautions to keep the community safe, individuals have donated thousands of masks, volunteered over 14,000 hours at the test site, vaccine clinic and staffing the hotline, and given $700,000 dollars to the Skagit Community Foundation’s COVID-19 fund which helped families in need through this difficult year. I am continuously in awe of my colleagues and the community that I serve.
Unfortunately, the work is not yet over. While I look forward to further reopening of Skagit businesses and activities, now is not the time to let up on our basic precautionary measures. The B117 variant was confirmed in Skagit County two weeks ago, and it is likely that this more contagious version of the virus is circulating at large in the Community. Because it spreads more quickly and easily, if we don’t continue to observe precautions we risk a large fourth wave of illness. We also risk the B117 or the wild virus potentially mutating further and lessening vaccine efficacy; something that we have seen early evidence of in places like Brazil (P1) and South Africa (B1351). I encourage the community to double down their precautionary efforts. Wear masks- two if you can- at all times in public or during private social gatherings. Stay six feet apart from anyone you don’t live with, continue to practice good hand hygiene and please, stay home if you feel ill.
I promise you, spring is coming. We will further reopen, and learn to live with COVID-19. You will see loved ones in unmasked social gatherings again. Vaccines will protect us. But we cannot get there without everyone’s help. Over the last year, I’ve said this many times but it bears repeating: wear a mask, wash your hands, and stay safe, stay healthy.