Kitsap expert: Wear masks in public indoors

COVID numbers skyrocketing statewide

Dr. Gib Morrow, health officer for the Kitsap Public Health District, issued a new masking directive effective Aug. 14 that everyone age 5 and older in Kitsap County is asked to wear a face covering within indoor public spaces.

Requiring nearly everybody to wear masks indoors again is necessary for Kitsap County to curb the alarming growth in COVID-19 cases, he said. A fifth wave of increasing COVID-19 transmission has been underway since approximately July 10, leading to a 591% increase in seven-day case rate to 152 per 100,000 residents.

This case rate exceeds the threshold for “high transmission” as defined by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is expected to surpass the highest disease activity experienced in Kitsap throughout the entire pandemic by this weekend.

Hospitalizations are at the highest levels of the pandemic as well and climbing rapidly, further straining the healthcare system.

The directive applies to retail, grocery stores, government buildings, and other businesses. It does not apply to indoor non-public spaces. Employers in those settings should continue to follow state Department of Labor and Industries worker safety guidelines.

“I strongly urge all people in Kitsap County to voluntarily comply with this directive, and direct all businesses open to the public to continue implementing policies and procedures to ensure that their employees and customers wear face masks,” Morrow said. “We need everyone to take these steps in order to protect the health of our employees, customers and our whole community.”

Vaccines remain one of the best tools against COVID. While vaccinations have been available in Kitsap County since December, just over 52% of all county residents are fully vaccinated. Approximately 100,000 residents of age 12 and older remain unvaccinated. Approximately 38,000 under age 12 remain unvaccinated due to their ineligibility.

Statewide, the Department of Health reports that COVID cases and hospitalizations are accelerating, demonstrating the delta variant’s potential to unravel hard-fought progress toward recovery. Unvaccinated people are being hit hardest.

“We are extremely concerned by this increased spike in cases, driven by the delta variant, spreading like wildfire amongst men, women, and children,” said Umair A. Shah, Secretary of Health. “Vaccination the best tool we have in this pandemic, but we also recommend that individuals mask indoors, and avoid large, crowded settings vaccinated or not. We need to use all the tools we have to reduce the ongoing spread of this virus in our community and to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.

Within the last 30 days, the majority of counties have seen substantial increases:

  • Only seven counties (Kittitas, Okanogan, Ferry, Klickitat, Walla Walla, Jefferson, Garfield, Grays Harbor) have seen cases increase less than 100% .
  • Twelve counties (Kitsap, Adams, Thurston, Snohomish, Benton, Skamania, Whatcom, Skagit, Yakima, Cowlitz, Mason, Grant) have seen cases increase between 100-299%.
  • Ten counties (Clallam, Stevens, Asotin, Whitman, Franklin, Spokane, King, Clark, Lewis, Pierce) have seen cases increase between 300-599%.
  • Six counties (Pend Oreille, Douglas, Lincoln, Pacific, Chelan, Island) have seen cases increase more than 600%.
  • Columbia, San Juan and Wahkiakum counties have among the fewest cases.

Prevalence is approaching levels last seen in the winter 2020 surge, which means a lot of people are infected and may be spreading the virus. As of July 30, one in 172 state residents was estimated to have an active COVID infection.

Hospitals and health care facilities are under increasing strain.

*COVID related hospital occupancy and ICU occupancy are skyrocketing, and many regional hospitals are at or near full capacity.

*COVID related hospital admissions reached November 2020 levels as of Aug. 8. COVID admission rates are increasing in all 18+ age groups.

*Many hospitals and other healthcare facilities are experiencing staffing challenges that decrease the number of available beds.

*Health care facilities report an increasing numbers of workers who have tested positive for COVID, further impacting hospital staffing challenges.

*As of late July, about 95% of COVID cases who were hospitalized since February were not fully vaccinated.

*Expected increases in summer hospital occupancy coupled with a sharp increase in non-COVID patients who are arriving at hospitals sicker and staying longer.

The state is now seeing daily case counts in the 3,000 range for the first time since the winter surge. DOH is also reporting 24 new deaths Friday, which is a significant increase from weeks past.

“Vaccination progress is continuing, but not fast enough,” Shah said. “If you are unvaccinated and continue to have questions, we encourage you to speak to a trusted healthcare provider.”