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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 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.
Mar 26

COVID-19 Update: March 26, 2020

Posted on March 26, 2020 at 4:19 PM by Kari Bray

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the measures being taken to slow the spread of the illness are causing stress and raising questions in our community.

Fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and bring out strong emotions in adults and children. Businesses and organizations have been required to temporarily close or modify operations. Planned events – birthday celebrations, weddings, family dinners – have been canceled or postponed to maintain social distancing.

Our community has come together in some remarkable ways to support one another. While we need to maintain physical distance, we are finding other ways to stay close – video calls; online groups, clubs or games; remote learning for our students and remote work for employees who can do so; shopping local online or ordering take-out or delivery to support shops and restaurants; donating money, time or resources where we can. 

Still, we are in the midst of a difficult time when things are changing quickly. We want to remind people that the measures put in place – staying home, temporarily closing schools and businesses, and limiting close contact with others – are extremely important to save lives. 

Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations.  

The emotional impact of an emergency on a person can depend on the person’s characteristics and experiences, their social and economic circumstances, and the availability of local resources. People may become more distressed if they see repeated images or hear repeated reports about the outbreak. Knowing your limits and taking care of yourself and your loved ones is essential.

Staying physically away from others is important for preventing the spread of this disease, but there’s no doubt that it creates mental and emotional hardships for many of us. We thrive better together. This is the time to do what you can to maintain emotional closeness even if you can’t be with friends, family, neighbors or coworkers in person. 

It’s also a good time to focus on what you can control. Find routines at home, make plans and set times to check in with loved ones by phone or online, get outside for a while and unplug when the news gets overwhelming. And be compassionate – most of us are in uncharted territory, adjusting to new rhythms in our work or home life and trying to stay healthy. A little bit of kindness goes a long way.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has gathered some information and resources to assist the public with navigating mental health during this stressful time. Please visit their website to learn more.  

You can also check out these online resources to see if any of them resonate with your needs.

Is my business an essential business during the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order?


We have received a number of questions about whether certain types of businesses, activities or services are considered essential and can continue while the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order is in effect.

To be clear, all Washingtonians who are not going out for essential business or errands are instructed to stay home at this time. Outdoor activity like walking is allowed if people social distance (maintain a six foot distance from others). Yes, you can still go grocery shopping, get take-out from a restaurant, pick up a prescription or to go to a medical appointment. No, you should not be going to a friend’s house for dinner or meeting up at the park for picnic.

For businesses or other employers who are not certain about whether they are an essential business, please follow these steps:
  1. Visit www.coronavirus.wa.gov/whats-open-and-closed and review the information, including the essential businesses document that is linked there. Many of the questions are address there.
  2. If your question is not addressed on that site, go to the Essential Business Inquiries web form. This form is for businesses or workers to find out if their businesses is considered essential or to request that it be added as an essential business.
  3. If your business is not included in the existing essential businesses list and you have not yet received additional guidance after submitting the form, act as though your business is not considered essential at this time. That means you and your workers should be home. Remote work can continue, but not in-person operations.

How can I help?


Thank you to everyone who has stepped up and offered help during this response. The strength of our community is showing. 

For people who are looking to donate money to community organizations and efforts that are working to mitigate the impact of this virus on the people of Snohomish County, go to www.cf-sc.org

For people who would like to volunteer or donate items, visit www.givewelllocal.org. This is a Community Needs Hub where people can post a need, post an available resource, or see all of the posted needs and resources to try to match what they have to what our community is looking for. Please do not drop off donations at local fire or police stations or at the Health District unless you have been given specific instructions to do so. The best way to make sure donations are going where they are needed most is to check the hub.

We have also received incredible support from our Medical Reserve Corps (MRC). Volunteers with the MRC have helped staff a call center to field questions about COVID-19, greeted and directed people at our drive-thru testing site, and made themselves available to help as other needs have come up throughout this response.

The MRC is recruiting volunteers. Health professionals and support people are encouraged to join. We have expedited the process to assist in the COVID-19 response. To apply to be a volunteer, complete the MRC Application Forms (PDF), sign it and then scan and email to TQuinn@snohd.org. For more information about the MRC, visit www.snohd.org/mrc