County health officials talk Phase 3 application

After a successful application moved Kitsap County from Phase 1 to Phase 2 of Washington’s “Safe Start” last week, the Kitsap Board of Health discussed last Tuesday what might entail an application to move on to Phase 3.

Per state guidelines, all counties must wait a minimum of three weeks before applying for the next phase. For Kitsap County, the earliest date is June 18th, which could prove tricky for county officials as government buildings have remained closed and large groups are still disallowed in Phase 2.

Earlier this year, Gov. Jay Inslee temporarily suspended certain parts of the Open Public Meetings Act, including parts that require governments to hold meetings in public places, in order to avoid mass gatherings. Those proclamations are currently in place through June 17, which means that without an extension, the board of health and board of commissioners would have to find a way to hold an in-person meeting.

“Somehow, we’ve got to have a meeting,” said Port Orchard Mayor Rob Putaansuu, who chairs the board of health.

The health board tentatively agreed to early morning, back-to-back meetings on June 19 at a location to be determined in order to get the potential application out to the state Department of Health by mid-day.

Of course, those plans hinge on Kitsap County meeting the requirements set forth by the state for moving to Phase 3, the timely completion of all necessary paperwork for the application, and the approval from county officials.

Kitsap Public Health District administrator Keith Grellner said there are several brand new data points that will need to be included in the next application, and the amount of work needed to complete the application will be a tremendous undertaking for the health district as it requires a large amount of data gathering and analysis.

Health officials will have to provide information on the proportion of cases in the county without a known epidemiological link to other cases, a breakdown of age and race/ethnicity distribution, a description of populations disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and, if there is an income or racial disparity, how to address it, among other requirements.

“We can’t just take the application we submitted last week, and resubmit it on June 18,” Grellner said. “That’s now how that works.”

However, Grellner believes the application can be completed by June 18. Once the work is complete, the health officer will have to write a letter of recommendation to the Board of Health, which will have to review and approve the submission of the application. From there, it heads on to the Board of Commissioners for final approval and forwarding to state Secretary of Health Jonathan Wiesman.

As far as a threshold for number of new cases, the target is less than 25 cases per 100,000 residents. Kitsap County reported just ten new cases in the month of May and currently has a two percent positive rate among the 8,507 residents tested.

Health district officials will also have to dig into caseloads and look at how often contact tracers are in touch with folks who have tested positive. The target rate for daily check-ins is 80 percent of positive cases.

“It’s work we do all the time, it’s just the timelines,” Grellner said. “The pressure and the timeline to turn it all around so fast, that’s the difference here.”

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