Skagit County Public Health updated the community Tuesday on the state of the COVID-19 pandemic, and efforts locally to fight it.
“Our goal continues to be stopping the spread of the virus,” said Jennifer Johnson, director of county Public Health.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the county has 48 confirmed cases, of which five were severe enough to require hospitalization.
The first death of a Skagit County resident, a woman in her 80s, occurred Saturday.
Johnson said information on the virus is evolving daily, and sometimes hourly.
“It’s hard to believe three months ago coronavirus was something we’d never heard of,” she said.
In the time since then, Public Health has issued social distancing guidelines, informed seniors and other vulnerable populations on best practices, and funded the sanitizing of public restrooms.
Johnson said the county bought two RVs, which will be available those who need to quarantine, but either don’t have stable housing or live with those with compromised immune systems.
She said the county’s Meals on Wheels program is going strong, providing food for the growing number of seniors who can’t leave their homes.
“Our volume of clients has increased, and continues to increase.”
The county is producing an online video series, called Conversations COVID-19, which Johnson said will give a face to her and her staff while offering information.
She said the first episode should be available Wednesday and will feature county Health Officer Howard Leibrand. Information is available at skagitcounty.net/coronavirus.
“Our only weapon against this is social distancing and good personal hygiene,” Leibrand said in the trailer for the episode.
Those recommendations align with those from Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order, issued Monday, calling on the entire state to stay home as much as possible.
Johnson urged the public to cancel any nonessential trips, saying the better we are at abiding by social distancing, the sooner the pandemic will be over.
“We know people are still gathering in groups,” she said. “Please, please stop.”
At the meeting, Leibrand said the effects of the community’s social distancing efforts won’t be immediately visible, but will pay off if done correctly.
“The people who are exhibiting symptoms right now were infected two weeks ago,” he said. “What we see in two weeks will be a reflection of what we were doing today.”
“One rule of thumb is to consider everyone is infected,” he said. “Change your lifestyle accordingly.”
To demonstrate the virus’ ability to infect, Leibrand pointed to a meeting in the county that led to a cluster of confirmed cases.
Public Health has traced an outbreak to an early March gathering of members of Skagit Valley Chorale. Since then, about half of the 58 attendees has tested positive for the virus.
“To our knowledge, no one who was there was symptomatic (at the time),” Leibrand said.
He also addressed the inaccurate idea that herd immunity will protect people. There is no immunity to this virus because it is new.
It would take 10 to 15 years worth of infections before enough people developed immunity to help the community at large, he said.
Johnson said anyone with general questions about the virus can call the state Department of Health hotline at 1-800-525-0127.
Questions specific to Skagit County can be directed to Public Health at 360-416-1500.