The highly contagious delta variant and unvaccinated people, along with summer travel and events, have led to the worst COVID-19 numbers in Bainbridge Island and Poulsbo since the pandemic began.
Dr. Gib Morrow of the Kitsap Public Heath District recommended Monday that businesses require employees and customers to get vaccinated.
Morrow supports vaccinated-only businesses for workers and patrons. “Show some evidence to get in the door,” he said, adding it’s worked at concerts and elsewhere. “It’s good for business. We need a full-court press – a critical mass of local businesses to jump into that.”
“My body, my choice is true,” Morrow said of those refusing to get COVID shots. However, business owners have just as much right to not hire and to refuse service to those people.
That tough stance already is in place for state workers. Health care and school personnel also are under that same mandate before Oct. 18 or they could lose their jobs. There already is a shortage of health care workers, and it could get worse. Morrow said he doesn’t understand why anyone in that profession wouldn’t get a vaccine.
“They’ve taken a sacred vow to do no harm,” he said, adding they’ve been known to go out with friends, and it spreads to people they are providing care for. “It should not be happening.” He hopes teachers also get the vaccine. “I hope what happens is people get vaccinated. That’s what everybody has to do if we want to end this.”
Morrow said government-mandated vaccinations have not been an issue historically. For example, it wasn’t an issue when George Washington ordered smallpox shots for soldiers at Valley Forge. It hasn’t been an issue for Hepatitis B either. “They are safe vaccines. It’s a dysfunctional political view, which is a terrible thing to have” during a pandemic, he said.
The Food and Drug Administration recently endorsed the Pfizer vaccine for those age 16 and older. Since it just happened, there hasn’t been an uptick yet in some holdouts getting the vaccine, but Morrow hopes it happens soon. “It’s not like they’ve been waiting for the moment so they could get it the next day,” Morrow joked about people who said they wouldn’t get it because it wasn’t FDA approved. Fewer people were being vaccinated in mid-July, but Morrow said that is drifting upward, “but a little bit slower than I’d like to see.”
He said it’s hard to know if those finally getting shots now are longtime holdouts or those with compromised immune systems – like cancer, HIV or organ transplant patients. While third doses for them have been approved by the FDA, still to come is a decision on third doses for Moderna and Pfizer vaccine recipients who received their second doses eight months ago. When that is OK’d, the best decision is for a patient to “stick with the same (vaccine) as the first time around.”
Morrow said he wishes more people over age 5 would follow Gov. Jay Inslee’s order to wear masks indoors, no matter their vaccination status. Even though it can be hard for businesses to enforce they need to because there can be problems with Labor and Industries, the Liquor and Cannabis Board, and the Health District.
When the state fully reopened June 30 after 1 1/2 years of COVID closures, it happened after a “long, slow descent in case activity with people getting vaccinated finally,” Morrow said. But for various reasons, it’s “hands down the highest rate we’ve seen in Kitsap County” now. It’s above the peak in January and twice what it was in April, he added.
“Don’t go to Vegas,” he said, adding travel has been an issue. He said there were a number of Kitsap cases related to the Watershed Music Festival at the Gorge and also from a bible camp in Idaho. The unvaccinated are spreading it to not only others who are unvaccinated, but to those who are vaccinated as well. “They don’t get as sick, and they don’t end up in the hospital, but they can still transmit” it to others, Morrow said.
He added that many “vocal ‘anti-vaxers’ at the last minute change their mind, but that’s not helpful once they are sick. They regret not buying into the reality of the whole thing. They absolutely regret that fact when they are sick and on a ventilator.”
Morrow said he is very concerned with schools starting in-person because the delta variant is hitting young people. But he added districts learned last year how important it is for kids to be in school. “Schools know what to do at this point,” he said, adding parents need to keep their kids home if they are symptomatic, regardless of severity. Kids need to be tested and isolated for a minimum of 10 days if positive. Other kids in the classroom also must be tested. Schools need to be active in case investigation, contact tracing and notifying families.
Students on BI have the best vaccination rate by far in the county. “It’s a well-informed community,” Morrow said. “It understands the risk, the science. They’re reading appropriate information, not misinformation.”
With such high COVID numbers, Morrow’s not sure what will happen next. “I don’t have a crystal ball,” he said. However, he said it doesn’t look like Inslee is willing to shut down businesses again. “I’m glad to see vaccinations will be the primary driver.”
Morrow said getting a vaccination is important for personal safety and the safety of others. “We need to get those people off the fence,” he said of the unvaccinated. “It’s a tremendous cost to our society – the ongoing destruction this disease is causing economically, scholastically for kids and for our health care situation.”
Fast county COVID facts
*96% of BI students ages 12-18 have initiated vaccines; Poulsbo is second at 59%.
*44 residents are hospitalized, including 26 new cases in the past week.
*56 of the 67 hospitalizations in August were not fully vaccinated.
*There were seven deaths in August, but 33 in January.
*County cases last week numbered 652, the most ever.
*The risk of COVID is almost four times higher if not fully vaccinated.
*Ages 19-34 have the highest rate of cases this month, followed by ages 35-64, 12-18, 0-11 and over 65.
*The highest age group in number of cases is 20-29 at 21.4%. Those 60 and older are 18.2%.
*The last four weeks, Hispanic or Latinx have the highest rate, followed by non-white and white.
*96% of intensive care unit beds are occupied, half with COVID; 108% of ventilators are in use.