Grounded for life.
That’s what it feels like for some folks as the outbreak of 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has left us isolated in our homes, socially distanced from friends, co-workers, crowds and community.
And that’s what it’s been like, literally. Staying home to stay healthy, and to slow the spread of the deadly disease across Washington and the world.
But even as we remain stranded and sidelined in uncertainty and anxiety, encouraging voices continue to emerge as the COVID-19 crisis continues.
Moments of pride
Peter Bang-Knudsen, superintendent of the Bainbridge Island School District, told the Bainbridge school board at its meeting late last week about the “We’re all in this together” attitude of employees.
“I am so proud of our Bainbridge Island School District staff, more than I’ve ever been — and there’s been a lot of proud moments — on the way people are pulling together, stepping up.”
“It’s just incredible. It’s just a really great spirit,” Bang-Knudsen told the board during the March 26 meeting that was closed to the public but accessible to dial-in callers.
Significant progress has been made in everything from the free meal program to efforts to implement online learning.
The district’s Grab and Go meal program, which is offering all students a hot-and-cold combo meal that includes a lunch as well as a breakfast for the next morning, has passed out more than 4,500 meals over seven days.
The program, which involves volunteers and district employees distributing meals to three lanes of waiting cars at Ordway Elementary, gave away 800 meals in a single day last week.
“That’s pretty amazing,” Bang-Knudsen said, and it’s good food, too.
“They mix up the menu; it’s not just the same thing day in and day out,” Bang-Knudsen told the school board.
“Not a huge surprise, but the pizza option on Friday is probably the most popular.”
He recalled the families who pulled up for meals; in some cars, children held up homemade signs with phrases like “Thanks — This is awesome.”
“It was such a two-way street; both the kids and the parents were so excited to see school staff, but the school staff were excited to see the kids and the parents. It lifted people’s spirits.”
A competition of sorts for the most waves whipped up when Bainbridge police brought by their police dog Whitney, but the Bainbridge Island Fire Department rolled up with one of their fire engines — both to the delight of the kids coming to get meals.
The district expects to be reimbursed for the cost of the Grab and Go program, Bang-Knudsen said, which will now continue through Spring Break.
Learn from home
Another important effort was going on behind the scenes in Bainbridge schools: preparing electronic devices that could be taken home by students for remote learning.
Bang-Knudsen detailed the work of employees to thoroughly clean the electronics gear and get it distributed to students.
Students in grades seven through 12 were each set up with a Chromebook within the first week-and-a-half of schools being closed.
Staff then went searching for tech devices for students in kindergarten through sixth grade.
Devices that had been embedded on mobile carts to use in classrooms were disassembled, with devices cleaned and then programmed for individual student use by the district’s tech specialists and para-educators.
It was a project that culminated with a device was found for every student.
“It was a massive infrastructure shift,” Bang-Knudsen noted.
After the gear was scrubbed and prepped, it was handed out, with iPads given to kindergartners and first-graders.
“They had to do a lot of work to get them prepared; they weren’t set up to be one-to-one devices,” Bang-Knudsen explained.
For distribution, another lunch-line style set-up was used, with the gear placed on tables outside, and parents pulling up and being handed a Chromebook for each child by waiting volunteers.
About 90 percent of the devices have been distributed, more than 1,300 so far.
“It was an awesome effort,” the superintendent said.
Efforts to set up remote learning are complex, and the district has to take into consideration not only how to keep students engaged and assess their progress, but other factors as well that will impact learning.
How do you account for older students who may be babysitting younger siblings at home or having to work to help their families, Bang-Knudsen asked, or conversely, the teacher has two young children at home but is trying to teach remotely.
It’s a work in progress, he said, “but we’re going in the right direction.”
“We’re going to keep working through this,” Bang-Knudsen said.
Most of the district’s employees are also working from home, and all facilities have been closed with the exception of Sonoji Sakai Intermediate School (where meals are prepared); Ordway Elementary (where the meals are handed out); and the district office, which usually has no more than four people in the building at any one time.
All other schools have been shut down.
“We haven’t boarded them up literally, but we’ve closed them off,” Bang-Knudsen said.
Custodians and groundskeepers were continuing to report to work until the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order from Gov. Jay Inslee was issued early last week.
“We want to do everything we can to keep people at home,” Bang-Knudsen said. “I think it’s going to make a difference.”
Schools to stay shut
Bang-Knudsen said that discussions between district officials across the state and the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction has left the impression that the mandatory school closure that has been put in place through April 24 will be extended to the end of the school year.
“That message has definitely been out there,” he said.
School Board Member Mike Spence agreed.
“That’s what it feels like to me. We are already into what, the second week of April?” Spence asked at last week’s meeting.
“Let’s say an extension is two weeks … then we’re damn near the end of April. And, God forbid, one more of these, and then it’s May. Wow.”
Come the end of the school year, there will likely be even greater differences in the equity of educational offerings for students in different parts of the state, exacerbated by those who have access to the internet and technology, and those who don’t.
“Some districts are doing great and other districts are not,” Spence noted.
Despite what may be big differences in student learning, one thing is certain: The school year will end June 19.
“Data reporting issues at the state level” prompted delays late this week by county health officials in updating the number of positive tests for COVID-19 in Kitsap County.
According to the last figures available before The Review went to press, there were 74 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Kitsap by Tuesday, an increase of 11 new cases over the 63 people infected with the virus that were reported by the health district at the start of the week.
Most of the confirmed cases of the coronavirus were in South Kitsap, with 21 (or 28 percent of the total in the county).
North Kitsap had 18 confirmed cases of COVID-19 (24 percent of the countywide total), followed by Bremerton with 14 cases (19 percent), Central Kitsap with 12 cases (16 percent) and Bainbridge Island with nine cases (12 percent).
A breakdown in cases done Monday by the Kitsap Public Health District, when there 63 positive COVDID-19 cases in Kitsap, showed that Bainbridge Island has the highest rate of people testing positive for the virus when based on “cases per 100,000 residents by geographic region.”
Statistically, Bainbridge had 32.89 cases per 100,000, with Bremerton at the low end with 8.89.
Be not afraid
Like other leaders in the faith community, the Rev. Karen Haig, Rector of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, has found that plans made on Monday may not last until Sunday.
Concerns about touching then turned into worries about large group gatherings, then smaller gatherings and social distancing, until finally, staying home and only the “essential” people still out and about.
On one Sunday earlier, Rev. Haig adopted the idea that those who couldn’t be in church could at least drive by for a blessing.
When social distancing kicked in, she explained, she heard from people who missed hearing the tower bells at St. Barnabas every Sunday, which had gone silent.
“We decided we would ring the bells every Sunday anyway. And I said, if you come I’ll give you a blessing from the steps.”
And so she did.
“It was so sweet,” she said; there were smiles and there were tears on the passing faces.
Episcopal worship is liturgical, she explained. Communal at its core.
Now, St. Barnabas is staying connected by streaming Sunday services on the web.
Groups in the church and its members are keeping in touch through Zoom video conferencing.
“We love our church services; they are about beauty, and holy and transcending,” Haig said. “Being able to bring some of that beauty into people’s homes is pretty wonderful.”
The truths remain the same. The church is not the building itself.
“What we’re learning, we’ve always known,” Haig said. “We’re the church; we can be the church in the world in all kinds of ways, and staying home is one of the best ways to be the love that we try to be in the world.”
There is also, of course, fear.
“My job is to hold hope, and not give in to the temptation to despair,” she said. “It’s pretty great because I really have a job to do and I can help. That feels good.”
“What we are doing is not normal. Treating each other, or seeing each other, as dangerous — that’s not normal,” she said.
“Trying not to turn that into seeing each other as source of fear, and recognizing that there are things we can do — and there are lots of things we can’t do — and sitting in the uncertainty of that, while difficult, we have, as people of faith, the God of love at our center. There is nothing precluding us from loving. Maybe even more now than from when this all started, and certainly, in ways we never imagined.
“Be not afraid. Jesus said it all the time and I repeat it often,” the reverend said.
WSF scales back
The ebb of everyday life continues.
Sailings on the Bainbridge Island-Seattle ferry route have been cut in half due to fewer riders getting on state ferries because of the spread of COVID-19, state ferry officials announced last Friday.
The cutback in sailings extends beyond Bainbridge and includes all of Washington State Ferries’ central Puget Sound routes.
Sailings were cut back starting Sunday, March 29, and the shortened schedule will stay in place through April 25, at least.
“The suspension of these sailings will give vessel crews and terminal staff more time to thoroughly clean and sanitize, making the ferries safer for everyone,” said Amy Scarton, head of WSF. “Further suspensions and adjustments are possible depending on ridership trends.”
WSF said that while sailings on the Bainbridge-Seattle and Seattle-Bremerton routes were reduced by about half, the “Triangle” route – Fauntleroy-Vashon, Fauntleroy-Southworth, and Southworth-Vashon — was moved to a two-boat schedule, which reduced sailings by about one-third.
The final roundtrips of each sailing day have also being cancelled on the Bainbridge-Seattle, Seattle-Bremerton and Mukilteo-Clinton routes.
“I know many people depend on our state ferries to get to work, and for goods, services and medical appointments,” said Secretary of Transportation Roger Millar.
“Our top priority remains the safety of our passengers and WSF crew as they continue vital ferry service,” Millar added.
Ridership on state ferries was down about 60 percent as of March 26, when compared to the last week of February, WSF said.
Walk-on passengers have decreased more than 80 percent, while the number of vehicles carried has dropped nearly 50 percent.
A quick start
The Island School quickly launched its distance learning curriculum after Inslee ordered all schools in the state to shut down.
Stay-at-home schooling is now in its third week at the private school.
According to The Island School, staff and faculty and staff worked as a team to set up the curriculum for students stranded at home within two school days of closing the Day Road campus on March 13.
Officials said the programming offers both asynchronous and synchronous learning opportunities.
Materials have been provided by the teachers, and each day begins with a student greeting time with Head of School Amanda Ward. The school noted that catching up with each other is an important community tradition, especially in these times.
Teachers in each grade in kindergarten-through-fifth grade independent school give weekly assignments, hold real-time class meetings, and are available for office hours for students and parents. Teachers provide daily schedules, a wide range of activities for the students, and tips for parents.
“I’m so grateful to The Island School for creating such an incredible guide for distance learning in such a short amount of time,” said parent Kari Wetzler.
The distance learning program is being adjusted over time, in response to feedback from parents.
“In a survey completed by parents last week, 87 percent said the workload is just right,” Ward said. “Families are prioritizing reading, writing, math and PE.”
Even outside the walls of the school, traditions like the all-school Monday Morning Sing are still continuing, but with Zoom. School officials said music teacher Mike Derzon plays banjo and guitar from his living room, librarian George Shannon shares a riddle or two (“What is a cat’s favorite color? Purr-ple!”) and everyone sings “Happy Birthday” to those who are celebrating in the week ahead.
Rotary Auction cancelled
One-on-one contact isn’t the only thing that’s been chased away by the coronavirus outbreak. Major community events continue to be postponed or cancelled outright.
Others planned for the summer months are being shadowed by question marks.
One of Bainbridge Island’s biggest and most beloved community events — the Rotary Auction & Rummage Sale — has been cancelled due to COVID-19, the Rotary Club of Bainbridge Island announced Tuesday.
“Given the wealth of questions about how this public health crisis will evolve over the coming weeks and months, it is with sadness that we announce the cancellation,” organizers of the island’s biggest fundraiser said in their announcement.
In past years, work on the auction and sale has kicked off in the spring. The benefit is a major draw during the island’s annual Fourth of July celebration, and attracts a crowd of locals and visitors that number in the thousands.
“This was a painful decision, but the health and safety of all who participate is paramount,” Rotary officials said, adding that the big event requires more than 1,500 volunteers and thousands of volunteer hours to pull off.
“In this extraordinary time, members of the Rotary Club of Bainbridge Island are proud to be part of our strong and vibrant community. We are confident that by working together and taking care of our most vulnerable neighbors, we will weather this uncertain storm.”
The cancellation of the benefit will be felt, organizers noted.
“Over just the past five years, the Rotary auction raised more than $2 million to fund community grants to nonprofits, large community projects, scholarships for Bainbridge Island students, international humanitarian projects, and other worthy causes that support our community. Additionally, each year unsold auction items are put to good use by many nonprofit organizations.”
Bainbridge Rotary officials said they are exploring alternative ways to raise money to continue the nonprofit’s support of community projects.
“We thank all of our past volunteers, sponsors, vendors, shoppers, and everyone who has ever loaded up a car full of treasures and driven it to Woodward Middle School. As for that box of Rotary Auction donations in your garage right now, please keep it going for 2021. Next year’s Rotary Auction, which will be our 60th, will be a community celebration like none other,” auction organizers said in Tuesday’s announcement.
“Our community is tenacious, and the Bainbridge Island Rotary Club’s passion and commitment to community service will not waver,” club officials said. “We will stand together and emerge stronger for our efforts. May you and your loved ones be safe and well.”
Fundraiser pushed back
The Kiwanis Club of Bainbridge Island also said this week it has postponed SHREDFEST, the club’s annual fundraiser, “in recognition of the ongoing coronavirus ‘stay at home’ order and the new federal tax filing deadline of July 15.”
“Kiwanis Club of Bainbridge Island is making every effort to ensure our members, their families and the community we support are safe and healthy during these challenging times,” the club said in its announcement.
The paper-shredding event, co-sponsored by Columbia Bank, has traditionally been held on the second Saturday after Tax Day, April 15.
SHREDFEST is now planned for 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, July 25 in the parking lot of Columbia Bank on High School Road.
The event typically brings out a large crowd of people and businesses that want to safely dispose of sensitive documents, and all money raised by donations at SHREDFEST further Kiwanis’ mission of “changing the world one child and one community at a time.” Donations are used to help fund scholarships for graduating high school seniors, and Kiwanis funded 12 scholarships in 2019.
While home construction and other building projects have been closed down as being non-essential by the governor, public development projects continue onward.
Bainbridge island school officials said late last week that construction on the new Building 100 on the Bainbridge High School campus would continue through the “stay at home” shutdown ordered by the governor.
District officials said they had no objection to construction continuing, and added that the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction had determined that school construction projects across the state could continue.
Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order went into effect March 25.
“Based upon this instruction from OSPI, BISD does not object to our contractor and sub-contractors to continue construction operations at BHS,” the Bainbridge Island School District said in an announcement. “It is vital that construction workers follow the proper social distancing measures put in place by Governor Jay Inslee.”
“Our construction partners, however, may select to not work during this time and this could inevitably cause some delays,” the school district noted.
Rotary steps up
The Rotary Club of Bainbridge Island donated $50,000 this week to the Bainbridge Community Foundation for its emergency fund.
The Community Response Fund, which was set up to provide financial assistance to the nonprofit community in times of a crisis, is awarding grants to nonprofits that need additional funding during the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Our community is facing an unprecedented situation,” said Ed Gilbert, president of the Bainbridge Rotary.
“Our club immediately took measures to ensure we were meeting the pressing needs of the community,” Gilbert said.
The Rotary gift is one of the first times the club has given financial support for operations; money raised by the organization is usually devoted to capital projects, such as earlier grants to the Bainbridge Public Library and the Waypoint Park.
Foundation officials said the Community Response Fund has already received generous donations from individual donors, as well as Town & Country Markets.
Officials said the foundation has already contributed more than $118,000 for urgent health and human services needs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s times like these I’m proud to be a member of the Bainbridge community,” said Jim Hopper, the foundation’s executive director. “I’m watching our community come together at a critical time and local nonprofits are working overtime to support those in need. It’s been a tough time for everyone, but we know we can count on the community for help.”
Kitsap County officials said this week that case investigators for the public health district have found an encouraging trend: “Kitsap residents who recently tested positive for COVID-19 are reporting fewer close contacts (people they have been in close proximity to) compared with cases we investigated prior to the statewide social distancing measures taking effect.”
“This tells us social distancing is helping reduce the number of people exposed to the virus,” county officials said in an announcement earlier this week.
Officials stress that following social distancing guidelines is critical in slowing the spread of COVID-19 in Kitsap.
Kitsap Public Health District officials said this week the department’s front counter will remain closed until further notice.
The department has been closed to walk-in visits to “promote social distancing and protect our staff and community during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the agency said.
COVID-19 hitting those under 50
More residents in Kitsap County under the age of 50 have tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19) than those 50 or older, according to statistics released Tuesday by the Kitsap Public Health District.
A total of 74 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been discovered in Kitsap County, with a majority of those cases — 52 percent — occurring in South Kitsap and North Kitsap.
Nine residents of Bainbridge Island have been found to have COVID-19, or approximately 12 percent of all cases reported so far in Kitsap County.
Out of the 74 cases of COVID-19 confirmed in Kitsap, 38 involve residents 49 years or younger. The other 36 confirmed cases involve Kitsap residents age 50 or older.
The Kitsap County Public Health District has said there have been four coronavirus cases, or 5 percent of the total, found in people 19 or younger.
Eight people age 20 to 29 have been confirmed to have COVID-19 (11 percent), while there have been nine cases involving people 30 to 39 (12 percent of all Kitsap cases).
The numbers narrow between people ages 40 to 49 and those who are 50 to 59.
Seventeen people in the 40-49 age bracket (23 percent) have tested positive, while 18 people in the 50-59 age bracket (24 percent) have been found to have COVID-19.
There have been 11 confirmed cases in Kitsap for people 60 to 69 (15 percent); five cases for those age 70 to 79 (7 percent); and just two cases involving people 80 or older (3 percent).
Bus routes suspended
Kitsap Transit reduced services on some Bainbridge Island routes — or suspending them entirely — as part of the agency’s reduction in bus services.
Agency officials said Kitsap Transit has cut back bus runs by more than 30 percent due to the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19.
The service cuts started Monday, April 1. Service will be reduced on 34 bus routes across Kitsap County, while buses will stop running on eight routes across Kitsap.
The ACCESS program and Dial-A-Ride services will continue to operate at normal levels.
Kitsap Transit said the reduced bus runs are temporary.
Three of the eight routes in the system that have been suspended completely are on Bainbridge Island.
Routes that serve Bainbridge that stopped running on April 1 are:
• Route 91 – Kingston-Bainbridge;
• Route 333 – Silverdale-Bainbridge; and
• Route 338 – Gateway-Bainbridge Express.
Route 92, the Kingston-Suquamish bus service, has also been suspended.
All other routes that serve the island are also being reduced. Those are:
• Route 93 – Manzanita;
• Route 94 – Agate Point;
• Route 95 – Battle Point;
• Route 96 – Sunrise;
• Route 97 – Crystal Springs;
• Route 98 – Fort Ward;
• Route 99 – Bill Point;
• Route 106 – Fletcher Bay; and
• Route 390 – Poulsbo-Bainbridge.
A list of changes to specific routes can be found at https://www.kitsaptransit.com/agency-resources/covid-19.
Thanks, but more needed
Gov. Inslee welcomed the approval of a $2 trillion federal stimulus package in response to the COVID-19 crisis, but said more assistance will be needed will be needed in the months ahead.
Inslee noted that the emergency aid package won’t address “billions of dollars in shortfalls we are expecting to face at the state, local and tribal levels.”
“This bill does not solve those longer-term challenges,” Inslee said after the package was signed into law by President Trump last Friday.
“This public health emergency is impacting all Washingtonians and we need solutions that reflect the size and scale of the moment. Our state welcomes this critically-needed support, as we continue to face down an unprecedented crisis. From investments in essential child care and medical supplies to expanded unemployment insurance and small business support, we know it will make a meaningful difference in people’s lives in the days and weeks ahead.
“However, we also know it is not enough. There’s no question more help will be needed in the coming months to address the harsh economic realities of this moment. Make no mistake — it is a moral imperative that leaders across the country continue to make the difficult choices to protect public health and keep Americans safe. But it is also incumbent on federal government to help address the billions of dollars in shortfalls we are expecting to face at the state, local and tribal levels. This bill does not solve those longer-term challenges.
“I am grateful for commendable efforts of Washington State’s Congressional Delegation, who fought on a bipartisan basis to secure vital resources for Washingtonians who are on the front lines of this crisis. Their leadership in this moment sends a message to every corner of our state that we are truly all in this together.”
COVID-19 kills free newspapers
Sound Publishing, the largest community news organization in Washington state and the publishers of the Bainbridge Island Review, announced last Friday it was ceasing publication of its free-distribution newspapers in Kitsap County.
The newspapers to cease publication are the North Kitsap Herald, Port Orchard Independent, Kingston Community News and Central Kitsap Reporter.
The Bainbridge Review will continue publishing a print edition, as well as delivering the news online at www.bainbridgereview.com.
The announcement was made on the front pages of the North Kitsap Herald and Port Orchard Independent in the March 27 editions.
It said: “As the coronavirus pandemic continues to rapidly evolve all across the globe, the North Kitsap Herald, Central Kitsap Reporter, Port Orchard Independent and Kingston Community News must also adapt in order to ensure the continuation of high quality local journalism into the future.
Significantly decreased advertising revenue, directly resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak, has forced Sound Publishing to make the incredibly difficult decision to temporarily reduce staffing and suspend print publication of its free Kitsap County newspapers … Thank you for your continued support, as we patiently await the day when we may resume print publication of your local newspapers.”
This story was originally published in the Friday, April 3 edition of The Review.