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Public Health Essentials

A place to highlight the work of the Snohomish Health District as well as share health-related information and tips. Have an idea or question? Drop us a line at SHDInfo@snohd.org.

Apr 09

COVID-19 and celebrating events, holidays and milestones: April 9, 2020

Posted on April 9, 2020 at 3:15 PM by Kari Bray

In keeping with the social distancing measures that are necessary to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), many of us are having to change plans for events, holidays and milestones.

Our community has made progress in reducing the spread of COVID-19, and it would be easy to assume the worst is over. However, the worst won’t be over if we let up now on social distancing measures.

Everyone should continue following the statewide Stay Home, Stay Healthy order, which remains in effect until at least May 4. That means people should continue to stay home unless they are out for essential work or errands. 

We know this is causing hardship socially, emotionally and economically. People want to get back to normal, especially now that local case counts don’t appear to be climbing as rapidly. However, the virus is still in our community. 

Health Officer Dr. Chris Spitters said it’s like having a 10-point lead in the third quarter of the big game – we’re on track to win, but we’re not done yet. It’s important that we don’t declare victory too soon only to lose our lead when it matters most.

Social connection is important for mental and emotional health
Since we can’t host or attend gatherings beyond our household members to mark holidays or events, finding other ways to stay in touch and acknowledge special days is crucial.

If a remote option is available, consider changing plans for celebrations or get-togethers rather than canceling entirely. This time is stressful for many, and coming together socially – even though we need to stay separated physically – is critical for mental and emotional health. 

Were you looking forward to annual traditions like holiday meals with friends or family, or a community egg hunt? Schedule a call so you can visit before your meal, or a video call so family or friends can participate remotely while children hunt eggs at home. 

The list of what’s been disrupted isn’t short – birthday parties, weddings, funerals, baby showers, family traditions for holidays like Easter or Passover, picnics or camping trips to welcome the sunshine. There are also the more routine but equally treasured times, like family dinners, playdates, sporting events, or happy hour with friends. 

For the events we can’t or don’t want to experience remotely, like weddings or graduation parties, start making plans for the future. It’s still too soon to set a date, but it might be just the right time to start gathering ideas for a rescheduled celebration. Don’t lose sight of the important stuff. These are things we will be able to enjoy and treasure again, but we need to pull together to get through this pandemic.

Faith communities play a key role 
Sharing traditions and companionship, particularly around days of significance in your faith, is deeply meaningful for many in Snohomish County. People are feeling the loss of congregation and are eager to get back to faith-based activities and services.

We encourage faith leaders to explore options for remote services and events in the meantime. This could include live-streaming the service, having a conference or video call, or providing emails to members of your faith community with key messages and/or links to pre-recorded videos. If use of technology is discouraged overall or on certain holy days, letters or other mailings with reminders, prayers or scripture may be another option. More ideas and guidance for faith-based services are available on our website.

We also ask that members of faith communities continue to stay home and participate in remote services or other options as they are able. The goal is to keep you and those around you safe and healthy. 

There may be other ways you can help serve and honor your faith, too. Are there members of the congregation you know who are older than 60, have underlying health conditions or are pregnant? You could offer to pick up what they need on your next grocery shopping trip and provide doorstep delivery – without ever being within six feet of them. Leaders in your faith community may have other good ideas of how you can help while maintaining social distancing.

Support children and teens
On April 6, it was announced that school will continue to be closed and learning will be remote through the end of this school year. This means disruptions to major highlights for children and teens, like graduations, proms, concerts or plays, sporting events, club activities or competitions, and more. 

Parents should talk to their children about these changes and explain the necessity – social distancing is being done to save lives. They should also listen to the concerns their children have and brainstorm ideas to make sure they are staying connected.

Consider having high school students dress up, take photos and share a playlist of their favorite songs online with friends for a virtual prom. Perhaps teammates or club members could channel their competitive spirit into virtual challenges, or board and card games played over video chat. We’ve heard of local dance, gymnastics and sports clubs moving to weekly online classes.

Support teachers who are working to provide remote education. Monitor communication from your school district and your children’s teachers for updates and resources.

Talk with other students and parents about how you might start planning events for after we emerge from this pandemic. Once again, it’s too soon to set a date, but a plan can be a good way to remind kids that their accomplishments matter and won’t be forgotten.

Good intentions, but still not safe
We have been approached by a number of schools and organizations with well-intentioned, creative ideas on how to stay connected. These have included drive-in concerts, drive-by parades or drive-thru Easter egg/basket donations. While beautiful sentiments, and we know hearts are in the right places, it is the Snohomish Health District’s recommendation not to proceed.

In addition to these being non-essential outings, they also send messages to community members that aren’t supportive of the Governor’s (and our Health Officer’s) order to Stay Home, Stay Healthy. 

Instead, look for phone or virtual opportunities for staff to share their well-wishes, or perhaps send special mail. Kids (and adults) can draw pictures and mail them to loved ones, or even strangers who might need a little cheering up. 

Take care of those around you
Many of us are missing the people we can’t be with in-person right now. That makes it more important than ever to be there for the people who are near you. Support your household members or, for essential workers, your coworkers. This is the time for courage and compassion. Be ready to listen and offer a friendly reminder: We’ve got this. We’re in this together. We’re all part of the team. 

You matter, and so do the traditions and events you’d been looking forward to. We’re grateful that you are making sacrifices to stay home, stay away from others, and help the community fight this disease.
Apr 06

COVID-19 and cloth face covers: April 6, 2020

Posted on April 6, 2020 at 4:50 PM by Kari Bray

Wearing a cloth face cover in public areas where it is challenging to keep a six-foot distance from others may help to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19). 

Remember that wearing a face cover is not a substitute for social distancing. Continue staying home and away from others unless you are going out for essential work or errands. It’s also important to note that wearing a face cover is more about protecting others around you than it is about protecting yourself. 

Cloth face covers are one tool to help slow the spread of this disease, but they are not effective if people don’t use all of the other tools we’ve been emphasizing: handwashing, cleaning and sanitizing high-touch surfaces, avoiding touching your face, staying home except for necessities, and maintaining at least a six-foot distance from others as much as possible. 

We also want to emphasize that the face covers recommended for the general public are simple, homemade cloth covers. People should not be using personal protective equipment (PPE) like surgical or N-95 respirator masks. It is crucial that we prioritize the limited supply of PPE for our medical providers, first responders, long-term care facilities, and others whose life-saving work requires them to be in close contact with patients. 

How do cloth face covers help? 
The recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for cloth face covers to be worn by the general public is new. Previous guidance was that only people who were ill should use face covers. However, recent studies indicate that people who are not actively symptomatic can spread the virus. This is why wearing face covers in areas with high rates of community transmission may help – not so much to protect the person wearing the cover, but rather to protect others in case someone has the virus without realizing it. A cloth face cover creates a barrier so the infected person doesn’t spread the virus while talking, or if they sneeze or cough.  

In short, when you are in a location where it is difficult to stay more than six feet apart, like grocery stores or food banks, wearing a face cover can help reduce the likelihood that your are spreading the virus to others. For safety reasons, children under the age of 2 should not wear a cloth cover. 

If you don’t wash your hands often or if you are fidgeting with your face cover and touching your face more because you are wearing it, the face cover is counter-productive. A cloth cover also does not make it OK to be within six feet of others if you can avoid the contact. Social distancing is still a critical piece of our community’s response to this virus. 

Making cloth face covers
For those who have access to cloth covers or the ability to make them and share with others, we want to talk about how to do so safely. 

There are a number of patterns and tutorials available for making cloth face covers. We recommend reliable sources like the CDC that have provided general information and design guidance.  

The covers can be made from any tightly woven but breathable material, and may be double-layered. The fabric should be washable and should be able to handle high temperatures and hold up for a number of washes. 

Face covers should fit over the area from the bridge of the nose to the chin, and from one cheek (past the corner of the mouth) to the other. There should not be gaps when the person moves or speaks. 

The CDC has guidance on how to properly make a cloth face cover, including tutorials (with images) of how to do so using several rectangles of cotton fabric, a T-shirt, or a bandana or other square of fabric. 

How to safely share face covers in the community 
We have seen the generosity and compassion in our community during this pandemic. People who can sew at home have stepped up to make cloth face covers, and many are offering to donate or sell them to others in the community. 

It is essential that people who are giving or receiving the covers take steps to prevent spreading COVID-19. While a cloth face cover can be a tool to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, it can also become a vector for spreading the virus if not handled properly. 

For people who are making covers: Keep in mind that even if you are feeling OK, there’s a chance that you still may have the virus (some people have mild or no symptoms) or be working with materials or tools that have been in contact with the virus. We want your generosity to help people stay healthy, not make them ill. 
  • After you finish making cloth face covers, put them in the washing machine and wash with hot water and detergent.  
  • Wash your hands thoroughly. Transfer the covers from the washer to the dryer. Dry on high heat.  
  • Once the covers are dry, put on your own face cover and thoroughly wash your hands again – at least 20 seconds of scrubbing all over your hands with soap and warm, running water – before you remove the cloth face covers from the dryer. Place them directly from the dryer into a re-sealable plastic bag or container.  
  • Seal the bag and do not open it. Deliver the sealed bag to the recipient by mail or doorstep delivery/pick-up. 
  • We encourage you to only mail or deliver to individuals that you know. Otherwise, please consider donating to a distribution center or donation drop-off location. 
For people who are receiving covers: You should receive them in a sealed plastic bag or container, preferably through the mail or doorstep delivery/pick-up. Please use caution when providing your address to others. 
  • Once you receive the cloth face covers, wash them again. Put them through the washing machine using hot water, or hand wash with hot water if a washing machine isn’t available.  
  • Wash your hands after handling the face covers. 
  • Dry the covers on high heat or leave in a warm, dry place until they are no longer damp. You can iron them to help keep their shape.  
  • When not in use, store cloth face covers in a clean, dry place. A re-sealable bag or container works great.  
  • Be sure to wash and dry the covers after each use. We recommend having at least two per person so one can be used while the other is being washed. 
  • Once a cloth face cover is showing signs of wear or is no longer holding shape to securely cover the mouth and nose, throw it away.  
See graphic at end of post or click here for summary of steps to safely donate and handle cloth face covers.

Donating cloth face covers 
There are a few options for donations. 

The first is not for homemade covers, but rather for personal protective equipment that will be distributed to medical providers and first responders. Snohomish County has extended its PPE donation drive through the end of this week at Willis Tucker Park, 6705 Puget Park Dr. in Snohomish. Hours of operations are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 10 a.m. to noon Friday. Accepted donations include new and unused disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer, medical face shields, medical gloves, N95 masks, surgical gowns, surgical masks and Tyvek suits. Used PPE, handmade masks, non-PPE items, food and cash donations are not being accepted during this drive. 

For donations of cloth face covers, many community groups on social media have begun encouraging donations. If you are part of one of these efforts, please follow all of the steps above to make sure you are donating safely. 

Snohomish County is working with partners to identify more avenues for donating and distributing cloth face covers, and we hope to have more information on that soon. Please keep an eye out for announcements from Snohomish County government and the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management, as well as the Health District. 

We are grateful to live in a community where generosity shines during the toughest times. We know that donating homemade cloth face covers is one way people are stepping up. We urge you to continue giving, and to do so safely. 
Cloth Mask Care
Apr 02

COVID-19 and Supporting Essential Workers: April 2, 2020

Posted on April 2, 2020 at 11:52 AM by Kari Bray

In order to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Washingtonians have been told to stay home except for essential services or errands.

We cannot stress enough the importance of following those rules. We know that these are unprecedented measures during unprecedented times.

We also know that essential workers are putting in tremendous effort to make sure core services remain available. This includes our healthcare workers, first responders, and the many staff who support them in the field and at hospitals, clinics and long-term care facilities. They are on the front lines of this pandemic. 

The essential workforce includes a number of other crucial businesses and agencies. We won’t touch on all of them in this blog, but we want to go over a few of the areas where the public can help support workers now. These include public transit, grocery stores and pharmacies, and delivery.

Many of these teams are stretched thin. Taking the right steps as an employer means that sick workers and those at high risk of severe illness are staying home. There may also be workers under quarantine or isolation because they were in close contact with a confirmed case, are waiting on test results, or have tested positive. The people who are working at essential jobs are often putting in long hours during difficult times.

One of the best ways to help keep workers healthy is to stay home except for necessary outings. And when we do go out for the necessities, there are steps we can take to minimize the risk of spreading illness.

This is the time for patience and compassion. Crowding other people, rushing to finish errands, or blaming workers for circumstances beyond their control will not aid in easing the strain this pandemic has put on our community.

Let’s talk a bit about some of the essential services and the steps we can take to help.

Healthcare Workers and First Responders
If you know a healthcare worker or first responder, you likely know how much this pandemic has impacted them. 

Healthcare workers need to be able to focus on urgent needs. This means many non-urgent medical appointments have been canceled or rescheduled. Doing everything in your power to keep yourself healthy and using tele-health services (phone or online appointments) to interact with medical providers for non-urgent issues are two ways to help. We don’t want to discourage medical care – there are many reasons aside from COVID-19 that people need to talk to or see their physicians. However, be understanding of the demands on your medical provider and as flexible with your scheduling as you are able. 

If you want to report a business or organization that is in violation of health orders, do not call 911. Go to coronavirus.wa.gov/business-workers to clarify whether a business is considered essential under “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” or to report a violation. If you do have to call 911 for an emergency and someone in your household has tested positive or has symptoms of COVID-19, notify the dispatcher. 

Personal protective equipment (PPE) has become one of the most sought-after resources during the response to COVID-19. It’s also a scarce resource due to the high demand nationally and internationally.

While the Health District and Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management are working on PPE requests with first responders, hospitals, long-term care facilities and others, there is not enough to fulfill every request.

Two donation sites are now open in Snohomish County where you can drop off new, unopened PPE. These locations, currently open through April 3, are: Willis Tucker Park (Administration Building, 6705 Puget Park Drive, Snohomish) and Haller Park (Stillaguamish Conference Room, 154 W Cox Street, Arlington). Hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday, and 9 a.m. to noon Friday.

Donations accepted include unopened and unused N95 masks, surgical masks, surgical gowns, medical gloves, medical safety glasses, medical face shields, Tyvek suits, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. The locations will not be able to accept non-PPE donations, used PPE, food, drink, perishable items or money. Handmade PPE donations will be accepted at the Haller Park location only.

To donate financially to the coronavirus relief fund for Snohomish County, visit https://www.cf-sc.org.

Transit
Public transit is no more or less safe than other public places during this time. Local transit agencies have stepped up to make sure illness prevention and social distancing requirements are in place. Where needed, they have modified or reduced services. They are keeping up with regular cleaning and disinfecting as well as making sure employees have access to proper hand hygiene, are distancing from others as much as possible, and are not coming to work ill. 

Transit is an essential service. We’re in this together, and we need to ensure that people can access other critical locations like grocery stores, pharmacies, food banks or hospitals. Other critical workers rely on transit to get to and from their job. People can help support transit agencies’ efforts to keep them safe and healthy by:
  • Only using transit for essential trips
  • Social distancing while at stops or on vehicles
  • Staying home, even from essential jobs or errands like grocery shopping, if they are sick
  • Washing their hands frequently and thoroughly and sanitizing high-touch surfaces in their home or workplace to reduce the overall spread of the virus in our community.

Delivery
Delivery has become key during social distancing. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is low risk of spread from packages that are shipped to people over a period of days or weeks. People should not be afraid to bring packages into their home. Wash hands after handling items and avoid touching your face with unwashed hands – the same illness prevention steps we encourage throughout the day.

However, we want to keep delivery drivers and customers safe. That means delivery drivers should leave packages in a mailbox, on a porch, or where designated for delivery. This is not the time to hand people packages directly. If you see or hear a delivery at your door, let the worker leave the package and wait until they are at least 6 feet away before going out to pick it up.

The same goes for food delivery or take-out. If you call a restaurant or order online, you may be provided with specific instructions on how to properly pick up your meal. Please follow these instructions. This may involve someone setting the packaged meal down and walking away before you go to pick it up.

Grocery stores 
Try to limit your grocery shopping to once a week or less frequently, or use delivery or curbside pick-up when possible. Check out your local grocery store online or give them a call to see what options they have. Many businesses have taken steps to increase delivery or pick-up.

If you do go into a grocery store or another essential business like a pharmacy, maintain a distance of six feet from other people as much as possible. Many stores have started having special hours for seniors to shop. They also have signage and tape to show where to wait and maintain distance. Please respect all of these precautions. 

Have one person from your household go into the store if at all possible. Consider offering to pick up items and drop them off on the doorsteps of friends and neighbors who are in a high-risk category (60 or older, have an underlying health condition, or currently pregnant) to make sure they don’t have to go into the store. 

The need for keeping distance in stores means it will likely take longer to get through a shopping trip. It can be frustrating to wait while someone browses the shelf, but this is not the time to encroach on other people’s space or lean around them to grab that box of pasta. Come prepared for a longer trip. 

Space yourself out from others at the checkout line, and avoid paying with cash if you can use the card reader to reduce close contact with workers at checkout. You can also look for opportunities to use digital payment, like Google Pay or Apple Pay, where available. 

There is no evidence that COVID-19 is spreading through take-out orders or groceries. This is a good time to support your local businesses. You should always wash your hands thoroughly when you get home after grocery shopping, but there’s no need to disinfect groceries aside from the usual rinsing of items like fresh produce.

Conclusion

Thank you to everyone who is staying informed and taking steps to stay healthy as well as keep their friends, family and neighbors healthy. By staying home and away from others aside from necessary work or errands, we can all help reduce the spread of this illness and save lives. Support those around you, including our essential workers. 

And thank you to all of the essential workers who are putting in long days and nights to make sure we have access to the necessities during an immensely challenging time. There are many more essential workers who were not specifically mentioned in this post. We know you are doing crucial work, and we appreciate you. We couldn’t get through this without you.