A vaccine to prevent COVID-19 will not be in place for the general public for quite some time, according to Skagit County Public Health Officer Howard Leibrand.

Leibrand stopped by Anacortes last week to join Mayor Laurie Gere on her weekly informational COVID-19 update for the community. He talked about how the county is doing, where officials have seen outbreaks and what the future could look like here and across the nation.

A COVID-19 vaccine could be approved as early as November, according to reports, but only those at highest risk could get it at first.It would take at least four to five more months after release for it to be openly available, Leibrand said.

When that day comes, the Skagit County testing site will offer both testing and vaccines. Eventually, the vaccine would also be available at pharmacies and be administered at nursing homes.

While waiting for the COVID-19 vaccine, residents should get an influenza vaccine, Leibrand said. The flu has many of the same symptoms as COVID-19, so reducing the possibility of getting it helps both potential patients and health care officials.

“It will take the burden off the health care system, and we won’t have an influenza outbreak this year,” he said.

Other questions for community members included timing for schools openings and restaurants going back to pre-COVID capacities.

How fast things open up are not questions that can be answered yet, Leibrand said.

“Things are predicated on a vaccine, and we just don’t have enough answers yet,” he said.

The community is also learning how to keep distance and make adjustments to assist with safety.

“We will allow more things to happen as we learn how to do them safely,” he said.

Leibrand also encouraged people to wear a mask, keep distance and avoid seeing more than five people outside of the household during any week.

The ideal would be to see no one, but county and state health officials realize that is not sustainable, Leibrand said. So, if a person limits exposure to five or fewer people and ends up with COVID-19, it’s easier for county health workers to track down who else may have been exposed.

County health workers call every single person that person has been in contact with, Leibrand said. So, if a person goes to a party with 25 people, the department has to call them all, get them tested and attempt to find out how widespread the virus could be within that social gathering.

“That number five is a compromise,” he said.

Skagit County’s position in Phase 2 is “indefinitely extended” by an order from Gov. Jay Inslee, Gere said. Even if counties could move to the next phase, Skagit County would not qualify.

As of Monday, Skagit County had 69 cases diagnosed over the past two weeks per 100,000 people in the county. The rate needs to be lower than 25 cases to qualify to move on to the next phase.

“The virus continues to control the situation,” Gere said.

She expressed concern about the possibility of Labor Day holiday gatherings that could spread the virus and lead to spikes like those that occurred after the Fourth of July holidays.

“If everyone will comply with public health guidance, we will move to Phase 3 more quickly,” she said.

Masks are the biggest tool to fight spread of the disease, Gere said

Right now, the highest risk of transmission is among family gatherings, Leibrand said. People are gathering together, not wearing masks, hugging and speaking to each other close together. That close contact is spreading the disease, he said.

Following the safety rules is the right thing to do now, Gere said.

“The weeks have turned into months, but we must stay the course,” she said.

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