The Bainbridge Island Review site has lifted the paywall on this developing story to provide readers with critical information. To support vital reporting such as this, please consider a digital subscription (https://www.bainbridgereview.com/subscribe/). This story was published in print March 13; some information on closures has changed or been updated; see our home page for the latest COVID-19 updates.
The outbreak of 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has spread to Bainbridge Island, with two residents testing positive for the deadly virus since Sunday.
The cases, one involving a person in their 60s and the other, a resident in their 70s, were the first confirmed COVID-19 cases in Kitsap County.
The arrival of coronavirus has upended island life: most large community events have been called off; schools canceled, visitors to Bainbridge’s tourist-dependent downtown have dropped off by the thousands; schools are asking volunteers and others who are students or staff to stay away; sports events have been canceled; and Bainbridge city officials issued a “proclamation of local emergency.”
Numbers detailing the spread of COVID-19 continue to change day to day.
“An abundance of caution” is the new normal, and Bainbridge officials are warning that the spread of coronavirus — which the World Health Organization this week declared a global pandemic — will continue to be a reality for the next 12 to 18 months.
Now on Bainbridge
A Bainbridge resident was the first person in Kitsap County suspected of having coronavirus, and the Kitsap Public Health District announced Sunday that an islander in their 60s had been tested positive for COVID-19 from the University of Washington.
Kitsap officials said the resident was in isolation and receiving care, and the health district had notified “a small group of individuals” who were identified as having had close contact with the Bainbridge case, and that those individuals had been asked to stay home.
The Kitsap Public Health District would not say how many people were in the “small group” when asked by the Review.
Officials would also not say if any people in the “small group” were being tested for COVID-19.
“We will not be releasing information about specific community members being tested, just numbers for the county,” said Tad Sooter, public information officer for the Kitsap health district.
The second confirmed case in Kitsap County, announced Tuesday, was also made by a test conducted at the UW. The second positive COVID-19 test came from a Bainbridge resident in their 70s, and that person was also in isolation.
Though health officials would not give details on those found to have COVID-19, it’s now known that one of those with the virus is a woman.
In a post on Facebook earlier this week, the Bainbridge Island Senior Center announced that the spouse of one of the dozen people who were playing table tennis at the facility on Monday, March 2 had been hospitalized with pneumonia “and her family says preliminary testing indicates she may have contracted the novel coronavirus.”
Reed Price, executive director of the senior center, said the center quickly alerted the health district.
“I immediately notified everyone who had been at the little game of round robin and encouraged them to take precautions to self isolate or monitor their symptoms and talk with their doctor,” Price said.
Price said the health district had also reached out to those who had been at the two-hour table tennis session.
There was no word that the husband had been infected with coronavirus when he was at the senior center.
“As far as I know there have been no people at that Monday event who have been symptomatic,” Price added.
The Bainbridge Island School District announced Thursday that all schools would be closed for two days in order for the school district to prepare for the possible long-term closure of facilities due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Classes were called off for Thursday, March 12 and Friday, March 13.
“Our district is experiencing an increase in staff absences, and we are at the cusp of not having enough staff to safely operate our schools,” District Superintendent Peter Bang-Knudsen said in an announcement of the closure late Wednesday.
“In addition, today we also heard from Governor Inslee that districts should prepare now for the possible long-term closure of schools,” he added. “As you know, this is a very fluid situation and a lot can change. The governor is expected to make an additional announcement regarding schools in the coming days. Once we learn how the announcement impacts BISD, we will share it with our school community.”
Death toll climbs
Twenty-nine people in Washington state have died from the 2019 novel coronavirus, according to the Washington State Department of Health.
Most of the fatalities from coronavirus have occurred in King County; the number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 grew to 26 in the latest figures provided by the Department of Health Wednesday.
There have been 366 cases of COVID-19 confirmed in Washington state — up from 267 cases Tuesday.
King County remains the epicenter of the outbreak, with 234 positive tests of COVID-19 confirmed.
City takes precautions
At this week’s Bainbridge Island City Council meeting, officials warned that they expected the outbreak to continue for another 18 months.
City Manager Morgan Smith issued a “Proclamation of Local Emergency” Monday because of the spread of COVID-19, which was ratified by a 6-0 council vote Tuesday.
Mayor Leslie Schneider noted the fast evolving nature of the outbreak, and “how our world seems to change by the minute.”
Schneider said she had spoken with Deputy Mayor Rasham Nassar about closing council meetings to public comment, noting that approach had already been taken by Seattle, Des Moines, and Normandy Park.
“We had to give it considerable thought,” Schneider said, but said the city would not adopt that policy just yet.
Instead, the city turned to “social distancing.” Chairs for the audience in the council chambers were set far apart, more than an arm’s distance away from one another.
“I hope you’re taking it with love that we placed all the seats further out,” Schneider said to the sparse crowd in attendance.
“This seems like a good balance, but you know, things might change; hour to hour, day to day,” she added.
Smith, the city manager, said she expects the response to COVID-19 to not last “days or weeks,” but stretch from a year to 18 months.
“The context for our community and region is changing quickly and that is going to continue to be the case,” she said. “We expect to be moving toward a mode where it’s understood that community spread of this virus is a reality.”
Officials said the emergency proclamation “allows the city to use all resources necessary to prepare for and respond to an outbreak, to adjust city policies and operations if needed, and to access state or federal funds and other resources related to emergency response.”
“It gives us added flexibility around the city’s operations and procurement,” Smith said of the proclamation. “It also begins our eligibility for reimbursement for the things and the time … we are spending on this issue.”
City hall is also keeping an eye on employees and their ability to make it to work during the outbreak.
“We are monitoring absenteeism, which so far, has not been an issue for us,” Smith said.
That said, the city is developing a plan for increased absenteeism.
City officials also noted that Bainbridge’s municipal court is allowing telephonic hearings to minimize the number of people coming to the courthouse in Rolling Bay.
Staff at Bainbridge Island Municipal Court are asking people to not come in for a court hearing or passport appointment, but to contact the clerk instead to reschedule andy hearing or passport appointments to a later date. (The court can be reached at 206-842-5641.)
No other changes have been made to city operations or services, city officials said, and city council meetings and committee meetings will be held as usual.
Smith said the city will ramp up cleaning services to city-owned public spaces at city hall, the Bainbridge Island Senior Community Center, the police station, and the municipal court.
Bainbridge’s proclamation follows one adopted Monday by Kitsap County.
Kitsap officials also adopted a “Proclamation of Emergency” in response to the positive test of COVID-19 for the Bainbridge resident. Both the director of the Kitsap County Department of Emergency Management and the Board of County Commissioners issued emergency proclamations.
In the proclamation from county commissioners, officials said the Kitsap Public Health District had “received significant resource requests from across Kitsap County.”
The county proclamation gives the county authority to waive competitive bidding and procurement requirements, as does the Bainbridge proclamation.
The Bainbridge proclamation states: “The situation is sufficiently serious that it is necessary to proclaim an emergency within the city due to the possibility that the spread of COVID-19 may become a pandemic.”
The city’s Emergency Operations Center will remain on standby.
Activation of the Emergency Operations Center will be determined by resource requests from local clinics, health care providers and other community partners, according to the city.
It’s hardly business as usual, but it’s still business — so far.
Amid a rash of event cancellations and postponements, Winslow business owners, merchants and nonprofit directors are predominantly optimistic that life in the wake of COVID-19’s arrival on Bainbridge will continue, if not unabated, mostly unhindered.
Meanwhile, stores, galleries, theaters and museums — a swath of operations are reporting decreased visitation of late, and several have taking steps to reassure and protect wary customers.
“We’re telling people they can do orders over the phone, we’ll bring it out to their car,” said Lauren Trujillo, manager of Calico Toy Shoppe.
Though the store’s hours remain the same, Trujillo said staffing has had to be adjusted in response to slow sales and the possibility that the situation will remain unchanged, or even get worse.
“We’ve slowed down on ordering and we’ve had to call off a lot of staff, we’re working with a kind of skeleton crew now,” she said. “On a day like [Wednesday] we normally would have three staff members, but we’re kind of down to two. Some days, for several hours at least, we have just one person working, which we don’t normally do.”
The toy shop reportedly has six employees, three full-time and three part-time.
“Traffic is definitely down,” Trujillo said. “It’s been a little rough.”
As the shop specializes in a more hands-on wares than most, Trujillo said sanitation has become a major concern.
“We always sanitize, but we’re in hyperdrive sanitation mode,” she said. “About every 20 minutes we’re sanitizing things. We’ve pulled a lot of the demos that we usually have out. We’ve got hand sanitizer [at the register], we’ve got one at the front door; just doing everything we can.”
It’s an effort echoed by many merchants. And while most say foot traffic has been noticeably light, there is disagreement as to whether tourists specifically have been frequenting Winslow less.
“It seems we have more tourists than locals coming in,” Trujillo said.
Raymond Gendreau, owner of Backstreet Beat, said the vintage vinyl/secondhand book shop has been visited by off-island customers, though traffic overall is down despite January and February having been actually more profitable than last year.
The shop, primarily a family-run business, will be open by appointment only for the foreseeable future, he added. (Interested customers should call 206-780-6721 or go to the shop’s Facebook page for the latest updates or to arrange a visit.)
Representatives from Eagle Harbor Book Company said Monday, the day after the first case of COVID-19 on Bainbridge was announced, was especially slow, though customers, both locals and tourists, were coming in.
One of the few island operations to not wholly cancel group events, book store representatives said the size of their space prohibits overly large gatherings and they plan to leave the decision to individual guest authors/speakers for now. They also have stepped up their sanitation game — cleaning all surfaces inside the shop every hour, all the door handles every 30 minutes.
A representative of Bon Bon Candies said business is stable, though noted March has tended to be a highly unpredictable time in retail in general.
All hands on deck
Meanwhile, Town & Country Market spokeswoman Becky Fox Marshall said the store has actually seen an increase in customers.
“As people stick closer to home and avoid social settings like restaurants, we’ve seen an increase in foot traffic as they have more meals at home,” she said.
The hot food/salad bar items have also remained popular.
“We have put measures in place so that we can continue to offer these fresh products as safely as possible,” Marshall said. “For example, we have a staff member dedicated to monitoring the food bars — sanitizing the handles of the serving utensils repeatedly and, every three hours, swapping them out altogether.
“Each bar has sanitizing wipes or gel and disposable food-service gloves for customers to use, subject to supply — and how quickly they disappear! We do know that if staffing becomes an issue, bars will close early.”
Like other retailers, T&C did temporarily sell out of some products, especially in the first days of the outbreak, Marshall said.
“We’re experiencing some shortages of the things you’d expect — in particular sanitizing wipes and gels and some household disinfectants,” she said. “Paper goods seem to be OK. It’s a situation that changes daily — and is depending on our back stock and on our distributors being able to find the products that are going quickly.
“We have all hands on deck when we get a load of freight, to be sure things get on the shelves as soon as possible,” she added. “Most of our outages have been temporary but yes, it’s hard to keep some items in stock.”
T&C has also been making a concerted effort to regularly sanitize all surfaces.
“Our priority is absolutely on sanitation right now,” Marshall said. “Cart sanitation, credit/debit card readers … are top of mind. We have a response team that meets every day of the week for an 8 a.m. call — these meetings last 45 minutes to three hours. We debrief the previous day, hear from each market and continually explore areas where we can improve and go over different scenarios.
“We also are committed to transparency with our customers — posting on social media and keeping our website page updated. We are mindful that people need food — and to be as safe as we can possibly be.”
Even as Bainbridge lives through what will surely be remembered as a rather tense time in its history, the primary keepers of that tale are themselves not immune to the effects of life post-outbreak.
Brianna Kosowitz, executive director of the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum, said they have noted a significant decrease in visitation since March 1, as compared to last year’s numbers.
“We are working as quickly as we can to address the situation and communicate effectively to our visitors, volunteers, and staff,” she said. “Right now, the museum is still open, though we have canceled all events and programs for the rest of March.”
Perhaps most notably, Kosowitz said the museum had to take the unfortunate steps of canceling a fundraiser scheduled for next week, Clay Jenkinson’s “Shakespeare: The Magic of the Word.”
“The safety and well-being of our guests, members, staff, and volunteers will always be our highest priority and we felt it was the right decision to cancel,” she explained.
“This is one of the museum’s four major fundraisers for the year. We are fortunate that so many people have been gracious enough to donate the cost of their tickets to the museum rather than be reimbursed, or make a donation in lieu of attending the event. However, we are still grappling with the uncertainty of the situation and trying to figure out how we’ll adjust if we have to cancel additional fundraisers later this year. As a small nonprofit, every donation counts as we work to grow our capacity and serve the community.”
Kosowitz said she and the museum staff are monitoring the situation and hope to return to normal operations as soon as it is safe.
“We know we are a hub of the community and we take responsibility for the health and safety of our visitors, volunteers, staff, etc.,” she said. “Internally, we are significantly increasing the frequency with which we disinfect our facility. We are asking staff and volunteers to stay home if they are sick and to wash hands upon arrival and before they leave.”
Steve Tremble, executive director of Bainbridge Arts & Crafts, said visitation has been down and staff are making some changes to the exhibition lineup in the wake of the outbreak.
“[We’re] extending this month’s exhibition through end of April,” he said, “as it is unfair to this month’s artists to have such limited audience. To do this, I have shifted the April exhibition to June.
A slightly more involved shake-up is happening at Bainbridge Cinemas and the historic Lynwood Theatre, where, in addition to an escalated sanitation effort, ticket sales will be curtailed so as to ensure audiences have space to spread out.
“Throughout our circuit, which is all of our nine theaters, two on Bainbridge, the rest in other locations, what we’re going to be doing to encourage social distancing, which seems to be on everybody’s mind at the moment, is we’re going to be selling theaters at 50 percent capacity,” said manager Jeff Brein.
“This time of year, we rarely have sellouts. There isn’t anything on the horizon right now that looks like it’s going to deliver sellouts. We’ll take a 100-seat theater and we’ll stop selling at 50 tickets, and the reason for that will be so that people have plenty of room inside an auditorium if they want to sit by themselves or they don’t want to be squeezed in amidst strangers.”
Theater staff is also enhancing cleaning efforts, Brein said, to include focusing on door handles and armrests. Hand sanitizer will also be available at the concession counters, as well as disinfecting wipes, when available, for people to take with them into the theater and clean the armrests of their own seat.
So far, Brein said, attendance has been steady.
“There has not been any sort of a real drastic or very obvious cutback of people appearing here, at least for now,” he said. “Our attendance at both theaters for this time of year … seems to be fine. We are in a period of time where we’re kind of waiting for summer blockbusters. The Disney movie that we just opened at Bainbridge Cinemas did well for us last weekend. ‘Emma,’ that opened at the Lynwood [Theatre], did well for us. Our midweeks have been a little slow but it’s hard for us to tell whether that is product-driven slowness or whether people seem to be wondering whether it’s safe to go to the movies.”
Brein said, upon speaking with other industry professionals, he is confident the Bainbridge theaters are as safe as they can be.
“We are in constant communication with our trade association … and [right now] there are 41,000 screens in movie theaters across the United States and we are unaware of any that have closed,” he said. “We still feel that movie theaters are safe places to be.
“We’re in a time of the year right now when we’re not really packed so I think what we’re doing is going to work.”
Ridership on Washington State Ferries has dropped off dramatically in the two weeks since Gov. Jay Inslee declared a “state of emergency” due to COVID-19.
While noting that day-to-day fluctuations in ridership are impacted by factors such as weather and special events, WSF said there was a week-to-week decrease each day last week Monday, March 2, through Sunday, March 8, when compared to the week of Feb. 24 through March 1.
Walk-on passengers on the ferry system’s Central Sound routes made up most of the decline, said Justin Fujioka of WSF.
“Of note, there was a noticeable increase in this week-to-week drop starting on Thursday, March 5,” Fujioka noted.
On the Bainbridge Island-Seattle route, ridership (vehicles and walk-on passengers) was 16,234 on Friday, Feb. 28.
Inslee declared a state of emergency the next day, and ridership on the Bainbridge run fell to 12,116 by Monday, March 2.
The following Friday (March 6), it had dropped to 10,995.
Ridership on Monday, March 9 between Bainbridge and Seattle was 9,372.
“Our ferry system has always followed robust cleaning procedures, including cleaning vessels between each sailing,” Fujioka said. “If riders want to take extra precautions, they can stay in their vehicles if driving onto the ferry.”
The number of ferry sailings may be cut if ridership continues to plummet.
“There is a possibility that we could reduce ferry service if ridership demand continues to drop, other transit agencies cut services or if employees are unable to get to work,” Fujioka added. “This would be similar to severe weather schedules used during a major snow event.”
WSF said earlier that some ferry travelers had shared concerns about having to exchange money or passes with tollbooth staff.
Officials noted, however, that wireless or hands-free ticket scanning is not available at all WSF terminals, and the agency said “it would be very difficult for staff to completely avoid handling money or transit passes.”
Instead, good personal hygiene — hand-washing and using hand sanitizer — was the best defense.
Lessons from afar
As the health crisis continues, officials with the Bainbridge Island School District continue to plan for the time when schools will be closed on a long-term basis. Schools were shuttered for two days late this week to prepare.
In a message earlier this week to the Bainbridge community, Bang-Knudsen said the district has a task force working to develop “distance learning opportunities.”
“The opportunities would vary depending on grade level, and would not replicate classroom learning. Instead, they would provide students with an avenue to keep their minds engaged during a school closure,” Bang-Knudsen explained.
He added that it will take time for district staff to plan and prepare for the implementation of distance learning.
Bang-Knudsen also asked families to start planning for childcare needs if Bainbridge schools are closed.
“When the school year began in September, I never would have imagined that we would be faced with such a stressful March,” Bang-Knudsen added. “I appreciate the care, concern, and suggestions that many of you have shared with me during this unprecedented time. I am also deeply appreciative of the BISD staff who continue to do a remarkable job supporting our students.”
Bang-Knudsen had planned to host one of his regular Coffee with the Superintendent meetings this week at the Bainbridge Public Library. But like a multitude of other public gatherings, it was called off due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Please stay away
The Bainbridge school district is also trying to limit the number of parents and volunteers who are visiting the island’s public schools during the ongoing outbreak.
In a message sent by the school district Tuesday night, district officials encouraged parents and guardians who have meetings scheduled with school staff to call or use email “in an effort to reduce the number of people coming in and out of school buildings.”
Volunteers at local schools are also being limited to those “who help deliver school programming and athletic volunteers.”
“We are thankful for our volunteers and the support they provide our students,” the district said in its message, and added that more details for volunteers at specific schools will be posted Tuesday on each school’s website.
All school field trips have also been suspended.
Sporting events will continue as planned, as will specific club competitions approved by the superintendent’s office.
School district officials said sport schedules are subject to change.
District officials also said that open houses, information nights, recitals and other events may be canceled or postponed.
“Please know that we did not make these decisions lightly. While we recognize the impact, we believe it is in the best interest of our students, staff, and community,” the district said.
The changes took effect Tuesday and will be reviewed after Spring Break, which starts Monday, April 6.
Among the missing
Absentee rates have climbed in Bainbridge schools over the past week.
The number of absent students has grown in every district school between March 5.
At Bainbridge High, 62 students were not in class on Thursday, March 5. That number rose to 155 by Tuesday, March 10.
At Sonoji Sakai Intermediate School, 24 students missed school on March 5, and 54 did not go to school March 11.
Actors at Bainbridge Performing Arts won’t be belting out the first lines to “It All Comes Back” during Friday’s performance of “Fun Home,” now postponed indefinitely. The bus at the Bainbridge Island Senior Center will stay parked, with travel trips put on hold. Members of the Battle Point Astronomical Association won’t be looking up for “Galaxy Collisions and the Milky Way”; instead, they’re looking out for health concerns and the planetarium show has been canceled.
Community life has largely been placed on hiatus since COVID-19 has spread to Bainbridge.
Kids Discovery Museum announced Tuesday it has cancelled programs, art activities, field trips, and large gatherings because of concerns over the outbreak of 2019 novel coronavirus.
“Our leadership team is meeting every morning to reevaluate the situation,” KiDiMu said in an announcement on its website.
According to the museum, the exhibits at KiDiMu, as well as bathrooms and props, are cleaned and disinfected each night and maintained throughout the day.
“With concerns over the virus we have increased the amount of times props, surfaces and areas are disinfected throughout the day,” KiDiMu said in a message on its website. “KiDiMu has several hand-sanitizing stations located in the museum, and our staff continue to encourage patrons to wash their hands with soap and water at the beginning of their visit and as needed and whenever possible during their visit. You will also find additional positive prompts (i.e. multiple ‘yuck bins’ and signage) in the museum to help practice healthy routines with our youngest learners.”
(KiDiMu has more information on preventative health measures for visitors to the facility, as well as parents, at https://www.kidimu.org/plan-your-visit/health/.)
The annual Poetry in the Woods event at IslandWood was also called off.
“Although we were very much looking forward to welcoming you to Poetry in the Woods this weekend, out of an abundance of caution, we are canceling the event,” IslandWood said on its website.
“Recent King County recommendations aimed at reducing the risk of exposure to COVID-19 have suggested avoiding bringing large groups together. Your safety, and the safety of our staff and community at large, are of the utmost importance to us. While it saddens us to have to cancel a weekend of bringing people together — something we are extremely passionate about doing — we know this is the right decision for all,” the announcement said.
IslandWood said the event, now in its eighth year, is being rescheduled for Nov. 6–8.
This year’s Poetry in the Woods was scheduled to feature renowned poet, author, and speaker David Whyte.
Refunds will be made for issue a refund to those who can’t attend the event in November.
Bainbridge Beach Naturalists have postponed the potluck dinner that was planned for Saturday, March 14 at the Bainbridge Island Senior Center.
The upcoming dinner was the first in what’s planned to be an annual affair.
The group announced it was pushing back the potluck “due to possible health implications.”
A new date for the potluck dinner has not yet been set.
Officials at Bainbridge Performing Arts said last Friday that all shows, classes and operations had been canceled until further notice, “in response to growing concerns around the COVID-19 risks posed by public gatherings.”
The postponements include the planned Friday, March 13 opening of BPA performance of the Broadway musical “Fun Home,” as well as the EDGE Improv performance and current Theatre School classes.
At the Bainbridge Public Library, Interim Branch Manager Courtney Childress said Monday that the library’s Read to a Dog programs have been cancelled by Therapy Dogs International until further notice.
Other activities were under review Monday, Childress added.
“We are looking through programs this morning,” she said.
The upcoming Seabold Second Saturday concert featuring Kathy Jonas has also been canceled.
Organizers of the monthly Seabold Second Saturday Acoustic Open Mic announced Tuesday that the show would not go on. The announcement was made after the second case of COVID-19 was confirmed on Bainbridge Island Tuesday.
“We are sorry to have to cancel the show this month. We now have at least two COVID-19 cases on Bainbridge and it is likely that it has been circulating socially for some time and that other residents of Kitsap County are carrying the virus,” the Seabold Second Saturday crew said in an email Tuesday afternoon.
The status of the April show is still in flux, and Seabold organizers said they will try to re-book any featured acts that are affected by the March cancellation and any future cancellations.
ARTLAB — a free art extravaganza for all ages and abilities planned for Saturday, March 14 at Strawberry Hill Center — has been postponed by Bainbridge parks officials out of “an abundance of caution” due to the spread of 2019 novel coronavirus.
Officials with the Bainbridge Island Metropolitan Park & Recreation District said the reboot of the event will be an “even bigger, even better launch.”
In an email announcement of the cancellation Monday, park officials said the inaugural ARTLAB is now planned for 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, June 13.
This month’s month’s Teen Writers’ Workshop was called off “in consideration of the health and well-being of our teen writers, actors, and library staff,” organizers said.
“We are hoping the students can present their 5-minutes plays at Teen Creatives’ Live in April, but at this point that event is pending,” organizers Rayne Lacko and Gem Seddon said in an email announcement. “Thank you for your patience as we navigate uncharted territory together.”
Also canceled until further notice: the Let’s Play Chess program on Mondays at Helpline House.
Price, of the Bainbridge Island Senior Center, said the center’s board met Wednesday morning and decided to reduce trips using the nonprofit’s bus.
“We’ve decided that it’s not responsible to take people into an environment we don’t have any control over,” he said.
Many of the activities at the center have also been put on hold.
“We are trying to run a delicate balance between continuing what we see as an important service and information distribution and social opportunity, in a safe and responsible way that doesn’t put people at risk but also respects their adult ability to make decisions about their life,” he added.
There were exceptions, though.
The Bloedel Reserve said it would stay open for regular business hours and most programs and events are proceeding as planned.
No change here
There has been no change to staffing levels at the Kitsap Public Health District since the outbreak of COVID-19.
“We have not expanded staffing in response to COVID-19. We have shifted some staff from their regular duties to assist in the response,” Kitsap Public Health Administrator Keith Grellner said in an email to the Review.
The district has 102 full-time employees.
In a presentation to the Kitsap Public Health Board at its meeting last week, officials said the district’s emergency response team was activated Feb. 3 in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
As of Feb. 25, the district has devoted 725 hours to the outbreak, and staffing costs had totaled $53,113,
The Kitsap Public Health District has received no extra funding for its COVID-19 response.
Before its meeting last week, members of the Kitsap Public Health Board were told that officials were preparing for a possible widespread outbreak of COVID-19 in Kitsap County.
Turner said the district had already spent $53,000 and devoted more than 725 hours of staff time on the response to COVID-19.
“We expect this work and expense to increase significantly in the coming weeks and months. This work is exceeding the capacity of our agency and means that many of the regular, day-to-day work and responsibilities of those employees involved in the response are being suspended or cancelled,” Health Officer Dr. Susan Turner said in a memo to the board.
The Kitsap health district’s work plan includes preparedness efforts for a COVID-19 pandemic, and the district is working with its partner agencies on developing a comprehensive county pandemic flu plan, as well as exercises and resources. Officials will continue to monitor the outbreak and update disease-specific procedures as needed.
The Kitsap Public Health Board also has no immediate plans to change its meeting schedule in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
The board — made up of the three Kitsap County commissioners and the mayors of Bainbridge Island, Port Orchard, Bremerton, and Poulsbo — are the governing body for the health district and have the legal authority and responsibility to protect the community’s health.
The seven-member deliberative body meets on the first Tuesday of every month, except in August.
No additional board meetings have been scheduled, but Grellner said the board is prepared to hold special meetings if needed.
“We have asked board members to check our website for daily updates and are also sending them notice of significant updates, in line with the information we are providing to the public.”