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 first published in the Friday, April 17 print edition of The Review.
The numbers in Kitsap County haven’t budged.
And that’s progress.
Kitsap has entered its longest stretch without a new case of COVID-19 since the first case was reported in the county in early March.
Even so, local health authorities said it’s too soon to draw conclusions if the worst of the outbreak is over in Kitsap.
The critical factor?
Lack of testing for coronavirus.
The Kitsap Public Health District has been reporting daily test results since the first case of COVID-19 was discovered in Kitsap County, on Bainbridge Island on March 8.
No new confirmed cases have been found in Kitsap since Thursday, April 9.
So far, a total of 132 residents in the county have been found to be infected with COVID-19.
Of the 132 cases, 38 have been reported in Bremerton, 33 in South Kitsap, 27 in North Kitsap, 23 in Central Kitsap and 11 on Bainbridge Island. One death has been reported.
On its Facebook page Monday, the Kitsap Public Health District said: “We are pleased to have not reported any new cases of COVID-19 in Kitsap County over the past few days, but it’s too soon to know if this indicates an improving trend, especially as testing remains limited.”
“It’s crucial to continue social distancing and practicing healthy habits like hand washing to slow the spread of the virus. Now is not the time to let down our guard! #StayHomeStayHealthy,” the post said.
Tad Sooter, public information officer for the Kitsap Public Health District, noted Tuesday that other counties in Washington continue to report new positive cases of the disease.
Officials in three of the hardest hit counties — King, Snohomish and Pierce — heralded a new report released this week that suggests social distancing efforts are working to slow COVID-19 transmission in the three counties more successfully than earlier anticipated.
Individual and household efforts at physical distancing are having a positive impact, state officials said.
“We know the sacrifices and uncertainty families, businesses, schools and communities across Washington have faced. This new report confirms that working together through this crisis with unwavering commitment is slowing this serious disease,” said Dr. Kathy Lofy, Washington State Health Officer. “Our collective efforts are working, but we can’t let up our guard.”
The report, released Tuesday, was prepared by the Institute for Disease Modeling in Bellevue.
Officials said the new data provides enhanced results from previous virus transmission models reported from the institute that analyzed the overall “mobility” of people in King County, both before and after physical distancing policies were announced.
Using anonymized mobility data from the two previous reports, researchers found COVID-19 transmission measures continued to decline for the most recent report.
In the new report, it notes the measure of how many new infections a single COVID-19 infection will produce has now dropped to around one in King County, with similar trends observed in Snohomish and Pierce counties.
To build on that success, officials said Governor Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order and other distancing efforts must remain in place to prevent a rebound in the number of cases and deaths.
“The social distancing steps the public has taken are having a real impact in reducing the spread of COVID-19 in our region,” said Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health–Seattle & King County.
“Now is not the time to relax — we need to continue with the current measures and further decrease transmission. The threat of a rebound that could overwhelm the healthcare system remains if we let up too soon,” Duchin said.
Mike Famulare, principal research scientist at the Institute for Disease Modeling, agreed.
“It’s encouraging that social distancing measures are working better than we initially estimated, but we are at a critical point in our pandemic response and must not relax current measures or we will lose hard-fought ground,” Famulare said.
Three members of the Bainbridge Island Fire Department have been tested for COVID-19, and all of them have tested negative, said Fire Chief Hank Teran.
As of Wednesday, the fire department has not utilized the new Kitsap County coronavirus testing site set up in Bremerton, the chief said.
A new challenge
With their season over early, Spartronics Team 4915, the competitive robot-building squad at Bainbridge High School, has turned from solving technical troubles with their robot ATHENA to more pressing problems: the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some Spartronics members and their mentors have been using a 3D printer to make personal protective equipment for first responders and health care professionals, including ear guards for masks to prevent chafing.
The team is also joining with other robotics teams across the state to raise money for Food Lifeline to help families in need across Western Washington.
The competitive season was called off after the first tournament, the Glacier Peak competition, where Spartronics placed seventh and took ATHENA to the quarterfinals.
The team was eliminated in the first round, but Spartronics won the Engineer Inspiration Award, for “outstanding success in advancing respect and appreciation for engineering within a team’s school and community.”
Spartronics Coach Enrique Chee, physics teacher at Bainbridge High School, said one of Spartronics’ student leaders, Darwin Clark, was selected as a FIRST Dean’s List Award finalist at Glacier Peak.
Some of the Spartronics members continue to work remotely on ATHENA — most recently on a new drive system for the robot — in the hope that competitions will resume in September and October.
Chee said the loss of the season has been sad for the team’s 19 graduating seniors, but FIRST Washington, the state’s robotics nonprofit, has invited all graduates who can return in the fall to rejoin their teams for the competitions.
“We may be sequestered at home, but the proverb necessity is the mother of invention rings true as our Spartronics students and mentors are adjusting remarkably well during these unprecedented events,” Chee said.
Still on pause
The shutdown at the Kitsap Regional Library will continue past May 4.
Library Director Jill Jean announced this week that the library system is canceling all library classes, events, outreach and use of all meeting room spaces through the end of August.
Kitsap Regional Library closed its buildings March 17, and Jean said it’s uncertain when branches will open their doors again.
“While I can say definitively we will be closed through at least May 4, I cannot say with certainty when our opening date will be,” Jean said in an update Wednesday night. “The safety of our community and our staff continue to be paramount in all that we are considering.”
Burgertime for frontline
The owners of Pleasant Beach Village are offering free meals at Hammy’s Burgers to Bainbridge Island’s first responders and frontline medical workers.
Staff at Pleasant Beach Village reached out to members of the island’s police and fire departments, Franciscan Urgent Care, Swedish Primary Care, Virginia Mason Bainbridge Island Medical Center, and the city of Bainbridge Island’s medical reserves and volunteer emergency medical responders who have been active in the city’s COVID-19 response with the offer of a free meal for the frontline folks and their families.
“We feel it is important for our frontline workers to know how much we truly value the determination that they meet each new patient with daily,” said Joe Raymond, general manager of Pleasant Beach Village.
“The uncertainty and selflessness involved during the current pandemic has got to be harder than any of us can imagine,” he added.
The free meal deal is a thank-you to the families who are feeling the stress of having parents and partners go to work every day in the battle against COVID-19, as well as a chance for a little “down time” at Hammy’s Burgers, which has been taking orders online for curbside pick-up and home delivery.
The dramatic drop in riders aboard the Bainbridge Island-Seattle ferry route has led to many near empty boats plying the Puget Sound.
There have regularly been fewer than 25 customers aboard the 11:30 p.m. weekday sailings from Bainbridge to Seattle, according to Justin Fujioka of Washington State Ferries.
That run is by far the lightest sailing, Fujioka said, and the 11:30 p.m. sailing had just six riders on it Monday, April 6. Riders on that sailing were outnumbered by the crew, which usually numbers a dozen.
Other sailings that have been averaging about 10 riders include the 12:15 a.m. weekday sailings from Seattle to Bainbridge; the 10:30 p.m. weekend sailings from Bainbridge to Seattle; the midnight weekend sailings from Bainbridge to Seattle; and the 12:45 a.m. weekend sailings from Seattle to Bainbridge.
Overall, the Bainbridge-Seattle route has seen plummeting numbers in passengers and vehicles since February.
On Monday, Feb. 17, the route carried 9,336 passengers and 4,716 vehicles, for a total ridership of 14,121.
Compare that with Monday, April 6, when just 724 passengers rode on the Bainbridge ferry, and just 1,323 vehicles boarded vessels on the route. (A single ferry can carry 2,499 passengers.)
That’s a drop in total ridership from 14,121 to 2,047.
The single-day low point in ridership on the Bainbridge route since Feb. 17 came on Sunday, March 29, when 612 passengers and 870 vehicles were carried, for a total ridership number of 1,482.
Daily ridership topped a thousand in both the passenger and vehicle categories last week for the first time on the Bainbridge route since March 25.
The temporary jump — 1,086 passengers and 1,627 vehicles — was reported on Friday, April 10, the last weekday before the Easter holiday weekend.
The city council’s extended discussion at last week’s council meeting of teenagers ignoring the importance of social distancing was apparently prompted by an email sent to the entire council by James Friday, chairman of the city’s Race Equity Task Force.
Friday sent an email to the council on April 7, and criticized councilmembers for a lack of leadership during the COVID-19 outbreak.
“I am writing because I feel as if the city council is not aware of their social responsibility to the citizens of Bainbridge Island,” Friday wrote.
Friday said the city’s police needed to crack down on teens who were gathering, and that basketball hoops and other sports equipment should be removed to prevent teens from playing.
“There are kids (teenagers) grouping to play basketball and have soccer matches that are not in conformance with the mandate of our governor.
“This type of behavior is totally unacceptable. Our police force needs to see that the basketball hoops and other equipment are disassembled to discourage our youth from engaging in these activities. I am really disappointed that our city council has failed to respond to the public in a role of leadership and inform the public about resources that are available to them in this time of need,” Friday wrote.
“The failure of our leadership is resulting in a lack of understanding of how necessary it is at this time to be vigilant with the practices of social distancing. Every day I see our community acting as if this is just an overreaction …
“We need our police force to hold these people accountable for their actions,” Friday concluded.
Missed the message
Though Bainbridge parks officials ordered all parking lots closed at all park district facilities in March, some continue to ignore park closures to anyone who can’t walk or bike there.
The most blatant offenders were at Battle Point Park early last week.
A Bainbridge parks employee called police Monday, April 6 after discovering the entrance gate and barricades at the park had been removed and left on the side of the road.
The gate had been checked at 5:30 p.m. the previous night, but a park employee found it had been removed by 7 a.m. the next morning when he went to check on Battle Point Park.
Video footage taken by a camera at the park showed a driver in a light color, small sports car doing donuts in the parking lot.
Police are not sure if the gate was removed by occupants in the vehicle, or others.
Park officials have noted that under Inslee’s restrictions on containing the spread of COVID-19, “driving to a park district property is not an essential function outlined in the ‘Stay Home, Stay Healthy’ order.”
911 calls down
Calls for police service have fallen off since the start of the COVID-19 lockdown, according to statistics from the Bainbridge Island Police Department.
In January, calls for service totaled 1,337.
In the month of February, that number dipped slightly to 1,161.
Total calls for police services in March numbered just 765 — a 57 percent drop from January.
One area of decline is the number of traffic stops made by Bainbridge officers.
Island police made 222 traffic stops in January. In March, police made 82 traffic stops.
Complaints on reckless driving on the island haven’t changed much, however; 14 in January, 17 in February, and 12 in March.
That’s also largely true for fender benders.
The number of calls for non-injury vehicle accidents fell from 18 in January to 17 in February. In March, there were 11 reports of non-injury vehicle accidents.
‘The COVID Monologues’
Bainbridge Performing Arts is looking for submissions to an upcoming event that’s currently titled, “The COVID Monologues.”
BPA is inviting people to write an original poem, monologue, or song that expresses how they feel at the moment.
“Whether that’s fear or hope, isolation or family togetherness, write down those feelings and share them with us in the form of a video or simply as text. These messages don’t even need to be about the coronavirus, but more about how you and those around you are experiencing this event,” BPA said in its announcement.
The entries will be complied for a live stream event at a date to be announced later.
Contributions are due by April 30. An entry form can be found at www.bainbridgeperformingarts.org/events/covid-monologues.
Construction on the Bike Barn project at the Bainbridge Island Ferry Terminal has been postponed until the governor’s stay-at-home emergency order ends, Kitsap Transit announced earlier this week.
The transit agency said bicyclists can still use the bike hooks and racks on a daily basis during the postponement, but added that all items must be removed at the end of the day.
Kitsap Transit said a future rider alert will be issued with new closure and vacate notices once the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order has been lifted.
The “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” emergency order bans public gatherings and temporarily closes non-essential businesses through May 4.
Free rides continue
Kitsap Transit has extended its fare-free policy through May 30.
The bus company stopped collecting fares on all of its services starting on March 23, and officials said Kitsap Transit is extending the temporary suspension through the end of May “to help limit the spread of COVID-19 in our community.”
The fare-free policy applies to all services, including routed buses, and the ACCESS, worker/driver, and vanpool programs, as well as Kitsap Transit ferries and the Annapolis Park & Ride.
Free parent coaching
Bainbridge Youth Services is offering free coaching lessons to parents who are struggling with balancing family needs, remote schooling, self-care and working from home during the stay-at-home COVID-19 order.
The coaching sessions are done through secure video conferencing, and appointments are available 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Parents and guardians can call 206-842-9675 or email appointments @bainbridgeyouthservices.org to set up an initial appointment with a professional mental health counselor at Bainbridge Youth Services for up to six to eight weekly sessions.
Coaching sessions will be individualized to the parent or guardian’s needs, and BYS said the sessions will share support, give guidance, and provide additional skills that help strengthen their relationship to their child or teenager.
Topics include conflict resolution, communication skills, dealing with their child’s emotions, positive reinforcement, boundary setting and more. Different parenting tools will be offered each week to help enrich family connections now and for the road ahead.
BYS notes that space is limited in the coaching sessions; call 206-842-9675 for more information.
In addition to the parent coaching, BYS also offers free and confidential video or phone counseling appointments for youth ages 13 through 21. Last year, more than 200 young people sought support from a mental health professional for challenges of all types, big and small. Youth counseling appointments are also available 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday by calling BYS or going online at www.askbys.org.
Limit your loads
Bainbridge Disposal is asking islanders who take their garbage to the transfer station to leave the larger, bulky items at home.
The transfer station at 7215 Vincent Road will only be accepting standard kitchen waste.
Residents should wait to bring large items, as well as “spring cleaning” loads, after the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order has been lifted.
Winter schedule stays
The winter sailing schedule has been extended through June 20, Washington State Ferries announced this week, because of the continued decline in ridership due to COVID-19.
WSF had planned to end the winter schedule April 25.
Officials said ferry routes that are on a modified/reduced service schedule “will remain on those schedules until further notice.”
WSF also noted that all vehicle reservations for the Port Townsend-Coupeville and Anacortes-San Juan Islands-Sidney, B.C. routes that were booked on dates between April 26 and June 20 will automatically be cancelled.
People who plan to travel on those routes during those dates will need to rebook new reservations based on the extended winter sailing schedule. Officials noted that even without reservations, all passengers seeking to travel on those routes should be able to do so due to declines in ridership, which increases the amount of available standby space.
Test site reopens
Kitsap County reopened its drive-up COVID-10 testing site at the Washington National Guard Armory in Bremerton Tuesday, and officials said the site would be open to more residents that when it was previously running from April 8 through April 10.
During its first operation, when the site was giving tests to people who met more stringent parameters, a total of 108 people were tested for the coronavirus.
Now, anyone who is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms (typically a fever of 99.6 degrees, shortness of breath, cough or sore throat) can get tested at the site.
Officials said testing would also be done for anyone who works in a setting where healthcare services are delivered (hospitals, correctional facilities, mental and behavioral health clinics, long-term care facilities, and similar institutions), as well as those who work in public safety occupations (law enforcement, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, Department of Defense, emergency management and 911).
Testing will also be provided for people who live or work in institutional or communal settings (including long-term care facilities, corrections facilities, homeless shelters and similar sites), plus people employed in critical businesses (grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants, gas stations, public utilities).
Tests are being given to those who complete an online registration, which includes a medical screening. The test site was scheduled to stay open through Friday, April 17.
For those tested, results were expected to be provided by the Kitsap Public Health District within five days.
Jobless claims still high
Initial claims for unemployment benefits stayed at their historical highs for the third week in a row, according to officials with the Washington State Employment Security Department.
New figures are available for the week of March 29-April 4, and state officials said more than 170,063 initial claims were filed during that timeframe.
In Kitsap County, claims for unemployment benefits during that week hit 4,860.
Though it marked a drop of 6.5 percent from the previous week, state employment officials noted it was still a 2,627 percent increase compared to 2019, and seven times more than the peak week during the 2008/2009 recession (which saw 26,075 weekly initial claims).
“It remains critical that people stay home and stay healthy, that is paramount. The increased utilization of unemployment insurance across the state demonstrates that more and more people are abiding by this order. Although the number of initial claims is down slightly from last week, we need to be cautious that this does not yet depict a trend,” said Employment Security Commissioner Suzi LeVine.
“As our ESD team works round the clock to make it easier for Washingtonians to apply for unemployment benefits in addition to implementing the new federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program which will increase the number of workers who are eligible for unemployment benefits, we expect to see a new surge of claims in the coming weeks,” LeVine added.
In Kitsap County, the state received 4,860 initial claims during the week of March 29-April 4.
That’s down from 4,941 initial claims that were made during the prior week (March 22-March 28).
Three weeks ago, for the time period of March 15-March 21,
Officials with the department also said the state paid out $79.4 million to 182,315 individuals across Washington state during the week of March 29-April 4.
In total since the week ending March 16 — the first big week of claims related to COVID-19 job losses — the state Employment Security Department has paid out nearly $150 million in benefits to Washingtonians.
Officials said the industry sectors experiencing the highest number of initial claims during March 29-April 4 were construction (24,394 initial claims); retail trade (20,508 initial claims); health care and social assistance (19,462 initial claims); accommodation and food services (18,017 initial claims) and manufacturing (12,973 initial claims).
PSE offers help
Puget Sound Energy will make $11 million available to help customers who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic through its Crisis-Affected Customer Assistance Program, the utility announced Monday.
The offer of assistance includes customers who recently became unemployed, partially unemployed, or cannot work.
The funding for the program is carryover funds under PSE’s Low Income Program, company officials said.
With approval from the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, PSE made revisions to its program to make the funds available to a broader group of customers.
Funds are also available in PSE’s other assistance programs, including the Warm Home Fund, PSE Home Energy Lifeline Program and Weatherization Assistance Program for income-eligible customers.
“We know this pandemic is deeply affecting many of our customers, and we have been working since its start to ensure no one is without electricity, heat or hot water during this time,” said Mary Kipp, PSE president and CEO.
“We are in unprecedented times, and it will take continued partnership and creativity to help as many people as possible,” she said.
This program will be available to PSE’s residential customers in Kitsap, Island, King, Kittitas, Lewis, Pierce, Skagit, Snohomish, Thurston and Whatcom counties who meet the household size and income criteria.
Depending on average monthly usage, a qualified PSE customer:
• Must have a monthly household income limit up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level; and
• Can receive up to $1,000 in PSE utility-bill credits per household.
For more information on the Crisis-Affected Customer Assistance Program, visit www.pse.com/covidhelp.