Pierce Pioneer

Washington moving to Phase 3

On May 18, 2021, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that Washington state is moving to Phase 3 and reopening June 30. If at least 70% of Washingtonians over the age of 16 begin to get vaccinated before then, the reopening date could be sooner; currently we are at 56%.

 

The list of permitted activities is on the Roadmap to Recovery. It includes 50 people at an outdoor home event, 50% capacity for indoor sports and fitness facilities and 400 people at outdoor entertainment establishments. 

 

The reopening was recently paused for two weeks, but hopefully it doesn’t need to be pushed back any further. Washington will go back to a lower phase if the statewide ICU capacity exceeds 90%. If all goes well, then Washingtonians should be able to enjoy the sun this summer.

 

To be up to date on Gov. Jay Inslee’s announcements, visit his website here.

Tacoma Public Library and Seattle Public Library announce a reciprocal borrowing agreement

On March 29, 2021, Tacoma Public Library and Seattle Public Library announced they would have a reciprocal borrowing agreement. People who have a library card with TPL and a government issued ID can now get one with SPL. 

 

According to SPL’s library card FAQ, previous availability went only to people who lived, worked, went to school or owned property in Bothell or King County. Other libraries made reciprocal borrowing agreements with SPL in the past, and now TPL is added to that list. 

 

Applications for an SPL card are available at any SPL branch or online at their website. Once approved, readers can check out and put up to 25 e-books and e-audiobooks on hold, as well as 50 physical items on hold. Physical items on hold must be picked up at a SPL branch. This process is the same for SPL patrons getting a TPL card as well. According to both libraries, they are not charging overdue fees—only fees for lost or damaged material. 

 

Most TPL are still closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. However, there is hope for people who miss the calm environment of the library. “Fern Hill Library and Swasey Library are now open for visits by appointment or walk-in,” TPL stated. TPL Now updates regularly on the availability of services being offered at TPL. 

 

This is a wonderful partnership, and people should take advantage of this wider access to library catalog as more libraries continue to open up.

COVID-19 Self-Test Kits available at local libraries

On April 14, 2021, Tacoma Public Library and Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department partnered up to offer free self-administered COVID-19 test kits, with library cards not being required. The kits can be picked up at any TPL location during their service hours, or by speaking with a librarian at one of their branches; it is unclear if the Eastside Community Center is included.

Afterwards, the kit can be registered online using the included instructions. Once that is complete and the test has been administered, the kit can be dropped off at a UPS store or UPS drop box. Postage has been included since it is required that the kit be mailed to UPS the same day it is taken. TPL advises those interested to not bring kits back to the library after picking one up.

This is a great way to give people more flexibility and privacy while also being safe. For more information regarding TPL’s pickup services and schedules, visit TPL’s Events calendar.

Students and professors share their experiences switching from in-person classrooms to fully virtual learning one year after the fact

On March 16, 2020 Pierce College closed its campuses to students following the sudden uprising of COVID-19 cases in Washington State. One year later, Pierce College has proceeded to do its teaching virtually. 

Announcements to continue in person teaching have since been extended to a small number of classes for Fall 2021. As Pierce prepares to bring students back to campus step by step, and other campuses and school districts begin to open their doors, many students and staff at Pierce feel as though the overall transition from being in person to fully online was mostly successful. 

While some issues regarding communication and overall engagement brought mixed feelings for some, the general consensus seemed positive, with part of this being due to the accommodations made by professors. For Jade Dickinson, writing tutor and Running Start senior, she’s felt that Pierce College has done the best they could do, given the circumstances.

“Pierce and its professors have a strong commitment to quality,” Dickinson said. “I find that I have still been learning in my online classes and that most of the professors that I’ve come across have been really understanding. [However] I know that’s not the case for every professor.”

Dickinson can recall earlier March of 2020 when Pierce first closed its campuses and transitioned to online learning. “At the beginning of the pandemic, everybody was really really confused—including Pierce,” Dickinson said. 

“I remember, we actually went online four days before classes ended and I had to do my last week of classes online. I think there was just so much fear around what could happen and we didn’t know anything about the virus. We barely knew how it spread, and we didn’t even have a mask mandate at that point.”

Mika Asiag, another Running Start student, also thought Pierce handled it well but felt that not everyone likes online learning and would have preferred other methods instead of fully online classes.

“I think they honestly could have done hybrid,” Asiag said. “I just feel like not everyone likes online learning—especially me. I hate online learning, and it’s hard for me to grasp ideas when [I] have to learn on [my] own.”

Students were not the only ones affected by the switch to online. For math professor Claire Gibbons, Ph.D., she’s been trying to view the whole ordeal in a positive light, not just for herself, but for those around her as well. “I think if I have the privilege, that I need to be using that to make a good situation out of this,” Gibbons said.

“If I’m just kind of feeling bad for myself—when I actually have so much—I don’t think that is the right way to handle it. The empathy that I can feel for my coworkers who are going through this I can try to share with my students, because my students also might have things going on at home—they might have kids, they might have jobs. I have lots of stuff that’s been impacted,so to be warm and understanding of that is good I think.”

Gibbons shared how a small disconnect between admin and higher-ups and the actual experience of faculty in their classes felt present at times. Overall though, Gibbons is grateful that Pierce was able to provide the needed support for this transition. “I think that [the higher-ups have] done a lot, especially with transparent communication and trying to be as supportive as possible; so I’ve been overall really impressed, personally.”

For math professor Cody Fouts, this was his first time having to teach full time online. Fouts had to adapt his class to online, as he’s been attempting to find different methods of teaching that may help his future students.

“I actually, prior to the beginning of the pandemic, had no desire to teach online because I think that one of my strengths as an educator and a teacher is in-person interactions with students, and I thought that was gonna be really hard to replicate online—, which has been true,” Fouts said.

For Fouts, getting students to register to the proper locations for his class, such as WAMAP, proved to be a small issue, as Pierce’s primary work-space for students is Canvas. But one thing in particular that has been difficult for Fouts has been interpersonal relationships with students and being available to his students while juggling his schedule.

“I think one of my biggest struggles as an educator—online or not—is trying to meet all students where they’re at, but I also want to keep myself in mind,” Fouts said. “I have things that I want to do in the evenings and weekends too that are not work. And it’s not that I don’t care about my students; I just only have so much time during the week.”

For Dickinson, she felt as though the school should do more to make their basic information more visible to students. Dickinson further said how she thinks sometimes info needs to be shoved in peoples’ faces.

“I think they’re doing a great job and making the right decisions personally, but just remind students through email [and] Canvas when tuition is due, when registration starts and any other important dates they should know about instead of relying on the students themselves to look in the handbook or look in the calendar,” Dickinson said.

For Fouts, what he felt could have been done differently had less to do with Pierce and more to do with himself personally. “I don’t know [if] I would have been as optimistic that things were going to be as short lived as they were,” Fouts said.

“I also would have really sought out more resources for how to effectively facilitate an online course. I think again during those first initial quarters, [it] was in my mind [that] all this was still very temporary, so I was still trying to do a very similar version of what I do in person; I was trying to do that online.”

Pierce has been trying their best given the situation. A year ago they were scrambling to move everything online as soon as they could. Some people understandably disliked online learning; others have tried to make the best of it despite the isolation. One thing Fouts misses most about in-person learning includes the simple “good mornings” and the relationships that could be built from getting to know students personally. 

 

“You just know that when you’re seeing someone every day or even every couple of days you get to know things about their lives,” Fouts said. “You know maybe their families or things they’re looking forward to, or even just why students are in school, and then [you’re] able to ask them about that,” Fouts said.

 

“I am really goofy and silly in the way that I teach generally and so I really miss being able to do that every day with my students and see the look on their faces when they roll their eyes at my stupid math and dad jokes.”

Pierce has been in quarantine for over a year now with signs of returning to campus in Fall 2021. If there’s anything the pandemic has taught us, it’s to not take things for granted and the importance of compassion. 

Reach out to people; no one is above burnout. Find little things to be grateful for—they exist everywhere. Be proud for making it an entire year.

Fully vaccinated people not required to quarantine

The CDC announced that individuals who are fully vaccinated no longer need to quarantine after being in contact with people diagnosed with COVID-19

 

On February 10, the CDC announced that people who are fully vaccinated no longer need to quarantine if they are in contact with someone that has COVID-19. However, this doesn’t mean that vaccinated people can ignore other CDC guidelines, as stated by CNN reporter Christopher Rios.

“[T]he CDC makes clear that vaccine trials have largely focused on preventing symptomatic cases of Covid-19.” Rios stated. “That doesn’t mean people can’t catch the virus and spread it asymptomatically.”

The CDC states that there are three criteria needed to be met in order to not quarantine:

  • Are fully vaccinated (i.e., ≥2 weeks following receipt of the second dose in a 2-dose series, or ≥2 weeks following receipt of one dose of a single-dose vaccine)
  • Are within 3 months following receipt of the last dose in the series
  • Have remained asymptomatic since the current COVID-19 exposure

“Persons who do not meet all 3 of the above criteria should continue to follow current quarantine guidance after exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.” The CDC stated.

Almost all vaccines in Phase 3 use a two shot method; only one currently requires a single shot. For the vaccines that require two shots, there is a two week to three month window for the second shot to be administered. Currently it’s unknown if every vaccine fits the CDC’s requirements for “skipping quarantine.”

This is an ongoing story; as such, updates will continue to be released here as the CDC provides more future information.

Pierce County to Greenlight Behavioral Health Sales Tax Increase

 

During a Pierce County council meeting held on December 22, 2020, members approved a 1/10% sales tax increase meant to fund behavioral health services in the near future. As stated on their official site, by a super-majority vote of 5-1, the small tax increase is estimated to generate $12 million a year and aims to reinvest more Medicaid dollars into Pierce County.

Josephine Peterson from the News Tribune mentions how this tax increase has taken three attempts within the last four years to be passed. In March of 2020, Council Vice Chair Dave Morell was the deciding vote which delayed the passing of said increase. “He told Democrats and the large community turnout that he did not feel comfortable voting for a tax increase until a spending plan was in place,” Peterson stated. “The ordinance was [then] tabled.”

The Accountable Care Organization will oversee this distribution, as it is co-sponsored by Morell and council members Derek Young and Connie Ladenburg. Many within the council feel as though behavioral health is a significant issue facing Pierce County residents. “The ACO pilot plan allows for local engagement, ownership and governance, and Pierce County to build a better healthcare system,” Morell said.

Along with distributing Medicaid dollars, the ACO will use the estimated $12 million generated annually to cover health related sectors not covered by the program or Medicaid. Examples of what this could fund include behavioral health education, empowering those who use behavioral health services and training for first responders and criminal justice professionals interacting with people during behavioral crises.

From the News Tribune, Morell shared their personal experiences involving mental health within their own circle. “I’ve learned a lot about behavioral health through family experiences in dealing with issues of addiction with family members and also dealing with a death in the family that was because of an addictive behavior that went on and on and on,” Morell said. “But I also understand that there has to be guardrails in place to protect the taxpayer.”

Pierce County’s official site states that the status of this sales tax increase has since been sent to state executives. “The county finance director has until April 15, 2021 to certify state and federal agency approval of the ACO model,” the site stated. “Once certified the sales tax increase will be collected. The tax collection will cease after Dec. 31, 2027 unless a future Council extends it.”

More news and updates will be provided as this story unfolds.

 

 

The pandemic’s impact on seasonal depression and mental health overall

A year defined by loneliness and anxiety, but also resilience is finally behind us.

Over the past few months, there were days that I would suddenly have dark thoughts. I’d be in the middle of homework and suddenly think, “Why am I doing this? What’s the point?” and then continue before stopping shortly after because I lost my motivation.

It’s no surprise that 2020 became sluggish towards the end. With the days getting shorter approaching the winter solstice, it’s important to shed light on something that affects up to one in 10 people in the Pacific Northwest—Seasonal Affective Disorder. 

SAD is just one part of the bigger conversation around mental health. Though the stigma around it has gone down, it’s far from gone. As quarantine fatigue lingers, it’s more important than ever that we normalize discussion around mental health. 

SAD is characterised as a depression that comes around during certain parts of the year; usually during the winter months. There are many similarities between SAD and clinical depression, but what differentiates them is that SAD has a pattern. 

According to Faculty Counselor Jennifer Wright, the most common symptom is a lack of motivation. Grief and loss are common themes that people with SAD express, whether it be direct or indirect.

For Megan Irby, Faculty Counselor, she feels that quarantine will only make the effects of SAD worse for those experiencing it. “Everything has been exacerbated by the quarantine, especially with the second wave and more limitations,” Irby said.

“People are starting to get out a little bit more, [but] now with the new restrictions, they won’t have as many options to see people. It is going to get worse for people that already struggle with it.”

I myself wonder if people with SAD have noticed a difference between this winter and last winter. Is it hard to tell what is causing a lack of motivation? Or is last winter just a blur that no one remembers? 

According to Jennifer Wright, she doesn’t hear a trend one way or another. “[On] the flip side of that, I wonder if people were already so well practiced at it that it’s like, ‘Eh, I’m already used to being indoors,’” Wright said.

I try not to self diagnose. I don’t know if others have had similar feelings or what caused them. What I do know is that my feelings happened and that the pandemic might’ve been a factor. 

Covid fatigue is a pain. The past year felt like a jumbled mess to me, which is why it’s been hard for me to pinpoint exactly what I’m going through. So, I stick with what I know. I started writing down my thoughts in a journal so I can look back for patterns. This isn’t an immediate solution; it’s going to take some time.

There are things you can do if you suspect you have SAD. According to Irby—if you’re able—getting your blood levels check during a doctor visit can tell you if there are any deficiencies. Taking vitamin D supplements is a good idea for anyone living in the Pacific Northwest since we don’t get much natural sunlight. There are also light boxes that mimic sunlight on places like Amazon.

While discussing the stigma around mental health, Faculty Counselor Brenda Rogers mentions how she wants mental health to be an easier topic to talk about. “I wish seeing a counselor seemed like a tool—like having a trainer [at the gym],” Rogers said.

The conversation around mental health needs to be normalized. Speaking from personal experience, it’s no coincidence that Millennials and Gen Z joke about their mental health; It’s our way of coping. 

Even before the pandemic hit, the rate of depression among teens and young adults was on the rise. As an Asian-American student, I’m too familiar with how mental health issues are brushed to the side by family. 

Pierce College has a website with mental health resources and counselors who provide short-term therapy. I have been seeing a counselor for a couple months now and would honestly recommend it even if you don’t think what you’re going through is ‘serious enough.’

To say quarantine sucks is an oversimplification. The pandemic has taken a toll on everyone’s mental health, whether they admit it or not. “If someone’s telling me, ‘I feel great! Everything is fine.’ I don’t believe them,” Wright said. “Nobody should be feeling fine right now, that’s not normal. It’s ok [not feeling fine], we’re in this together, and this is a time to support and love one another.”

You don’t always have to keep your chin up; what you feel is what you feel. Don’t be afraid to reach out. Whether it’s to the resources listed above to your friends. Brighter days—quite literally—lay ahead.

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