As ‘Kraken’ lurks, islanders urged to test

COVID risk has been ticking up, and Vashon’s population is at particular risk because our median age is roughly 20 years older than residents of the King County mainland.

Checking the dashboard for the last month at Public Health — Seattle & King County (PHSKC), the 65+ age group accounts for two-thirds of all the COVID hospitalizations in King County, and virtually all COVID-related deaths in King County. Even if you aren’t a senior, you probably interact with seniors. So, testing may save an older family member or friend from a dangerous case of COVID.

That’s even more important right now because the highly infectious XBB.1.5 Omicron variant, nicknamed Kraken in the media, has arrived in the Northwest. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), XBB.1.5 has grown to nearly half of COVID cases nationally.

With lots of COVID still around, and a new highly infectious variant lurking, it is highly recommended to have everyone test before a gathering, especially if anyone in the group is at risk. So, stock up on free tests and don’t hesitate to use them.

Check that test: has it expired?

Step-by-step: Many people have taken advantage of the wide availability of no-cost home test kits for COVID. But unused tests have been aging and do expire. It’s easy to check for expiration.

First, check the expiration date on the package. Most tests use the format year-month-day. For example, “2023 03 15” means March 15, 2023. The test has not expired if that date has not yet been reached.

• Expiration dates for most common home tests have been extended, including BinaxNOW and iHealth. If the expiration date on the package has passed, check to see if it has been extended by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA):

• If the right-hand column on the FDA webpage says the date has been extended, click the link to get the new expiration date. Write the new date on the test package.

• Even if you just received your tests, double-check the expiration date. Some Vashon residents have recently received nearly-expired tests.

• A single line on your COVID test strip means negative (good) and two lines mean positive (not good). The area marked with a “C” stands for control. If you don’t get a C line (or in some cases, the C line doesn’t change color) you’ll need to re-test.

• If the area marked with a “T” has a line, then the result is positive for COVID. It doesn’t matter how faint or bright the T line is. If it’s there, COVID virus particles have been detected.

• If you have symptoms and test negative, follow the recommendations of the Vashon Medical Reserve Corps and other experts: test again after 48 hours to be on the safe side. Home rapid tests are very accurate but sometimes give false negatives early in the course of illness. False positive results are exceedingly rare.

Need more tests? Ordering is easy

Given the current elevated risk of COVID on Vashon, it’s smart to test at home before attending a gathering or event. Staying home if you test positive or have symptoms will reduce the spread of COVID. If you need more tests, here are some easy-access no-cost sources.

While supplies last, order up to 10 tests per household per month from the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) at Order up to four tests per household from U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) here.

Vashon Pharmacy has tests in stock. The Pharmacy will file the insurance paperwork for you, with no out-of-pocket payment required. Many health networks (e.g., Kaiser and others) offer easy no-charge online ordering of tests and will send you up to eight tests per month.

COVID Risk Level: Elevated

Vashon remains at the yellow Elevated Risk level. That’s based on the hospitalization rate in our three-county COVID risk area, plus factors such as the new case rate, the positive test rate, and wastewater testing by regional public health departments.

We aggregate data for King, Pierce, and Kitsap because ferry system statistics show the equivalent of one-third of the island’s population make round-trip ferry journeys to the mainland each day where Vashonites may be exposed to COVID while working, attending school, shopping, or receiving medical care. At this Elevated Risk level, it’s smart for everyone to wear an N95 mask indoors in public.

People who are unvaccinated, at high risk from COVID, or living with someone at high risk should avoid non-essential indoor public activities. If you must be indoors in a public place, it’s extremely important to wear an N95 mask if you are unvaccinated, and/or at risk from COVID for health reasons, and/or you live or spend time with someone at risk from COVID, and/or are regularly exposed to COVID risk in work or group settings such as retail, school or commuting.

It is also recommended to test at home before gathering with friends and family; to get the bivalent COVID vaccine if you have not already done so; maintain good ventilation at home and at work; and avoid individuals with suspected or confirmed COVID.

If exposed to COVID, wear a mask in public and avoid contact with those at high risk for 10 days.

Always home-test if you have symptoms.

If you test positive, isolate for at least five full days after the onset of COVID symptoms, or test positive if asymptomatic. Remain isolated until you test negative. Avoid those at risk and wear a mask when indoors around others for 10 full days after the onset of COVID symptoms or a positive test even if testing negative after five days. If immunocompromised, discuss additional prevention actions with your healthcare provider.

Safety Tip: Storing Emergency Water

We’re surrounded by water on Vashon and it has been raining like crazy recently. But ironically, all that water is not easily available as safe drinking water.

The fact is, you cannot survive very long without safe drinking water. People can go a month without food but last only a few days without water. Yet an earthquake could rupture water lines or a big storm could cut power to water pumps. Lots of things could cut your drinking water supply. How can you prepare to provide safe drinking water for your household in an emergency? Here are a few action steps to get started.

• Store emergency water in containers designed for potable water such as food-grade polypropylene from outdoor outfitters. Don’t use any bottle that was used to store toxic substances, and don’t reuse empty milk jugs, as they’re hard to clean well enough to prevent bacterial growth.

• Consider portability: A five-gallon jug filled with water weighs 40 pounds, which is hard to lift when you need to pour. A rain barrel can catch water from your downspouts, but consider fitting the barrel with a tap, and remember to purify the water before use.

• Get started with some baby steps and build up from there. Store one gallon per person per day for drinking and cooking, and store enough for three days for everyone in your household. Then, store additional water every month until you have enough for two or three weeks. Include water needs for your pets and livestock.

The state Department of Health publishes an excellent detailed guide on purifying and storing water here.

— Read VashonBePrepared’s weekly public health updates, in Spanish or English, at, or visit VashonBePrepared’s Facebook page for more information.