Phase 1: Bainbridge takes first steps on leaving home

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This story was first published in the Friday, May 8 print edition of The Review.

Bainbridge Island has started to emerge, slowly, from its COVID-19 cocoon.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced a four-phase plan last week to reopen the state’s economy from the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” shutdown enacted March 23, and the island’s incremental opening was marked this week by the reopening of public parks, as well as the city’s boat launch ramp and golf courses on Bainbridge.

But the move into Phase 2 is at least three weeks away, according to the standards set out by Inslee. That second step, once reached, will allow limited non-essential travel, as well as the reopening of retail stores for in-store purchases, and restaurants and bars at less than 50 percent capacity.

So far, so good

Dr. Susan Turner, the health officer for the Kitsap Public Health District, told the agency’s board at this week’s meeting that most people have done a good job of complying with restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“We know this stay home and stay healthy order has been very difficult on people. We recognize that,” she said.

That public cooperation has helped Kitsap County avoid the worst of the outbreak so far.

“One of the reasons we have fared pretty well, having not as many cases as other counties, is because our public has taken to heart the governor’s order,” she said.

Public perception may differ on that, though.

Turner said the agency has received “lots and lots of complaints” about people who are not abiding by restrictions mandated by the stay-home order, but added, “many of them are not substantial in nature, thank goodness.”

People who have been found to be outside the boundaries, however, have been responsive to abiding by the restrictions once they have been contacted by the health district or law enforcement, Turner added.

The health district still has about 100 employees at work, with 75 devoted to the COVID-19 response. Of those, 38 staff members have been trained to conduct case and contact investigations for confirmed cases of the disease.

That number may not be enough, however.

“That could be a problem down the road when some of our other services start to be implemented in full,” Turner said.

The health district office will remain closed to the public through May 31, said Keith Grellner, administrator of the Kitsap Public Health District.

Grellner said the agency is making plans for its eventual reopening.

“We will be ready when the governor tells us we can do all of our work again,” he said.

This time of the year, health district employees are usually renewing food service permits; the annual cycle for the permits is May to May.

The pandemic has pushed back that work.

“We have decided to extend on a temporary basis the 2019 permits at least for the next 30 days, at least. It will likely be longer.”

Grellner said most food-service operations are not open and those that are have very limited menus and are only doing carry out and pickup. He said the district didn’t feel it was appropriate to send out invoices for next year’s cycle at this point in time.

Also needed, he said, was more clarity on the governor’s phased plan.

“We’re working on plans for down the road. There’s still a lot of uncertainty,” he said.

The district has devoted a lot of staff time and effort to the COVID-19 outbreak, officials said this week.

From February through April, there have been 9,400 staff hours spent on its coronavirus response, at a cost of $600,600.

Approximately $309,000 in disaster response reimbursement funds have been received, and the district expects another $340,000 in federal funding.

Supplies are limited

Testing for COVID-19 is not currently a problem in Kitsap County, health officials said at their meeting Tuesday. That said, supplies shortages are still an issue going forward.

“Testing is fairly widely available across Kitsap,” Turner said.

On Bainbridge Island, there are four testing sites. Bainbridge has had 11 cases of COVID-19, which is 7 percent of the cases in Kitsap when broken down by geographical area. By population, the number of confirmed cases is 45 per 100,000 residents.

Grellner said the availability of tests may change.

“It’s been pretty good for Kitsap the last two to three weeks,” he said, but he noted the agency was hitting a lull in the availability in test kits and supplies.

“We’re the lucky ones,” Grellner added, and he noted that there were counties in Eastern Washington that have had requests in for testing supplies for five weeks “and they haven’t received anything yet.”

The reality remains that there is a “severe and widespread shortage of test kit supplies,” Grellner said.

Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson, a member of the district’s board of commissioners, questioned whether that was really the case.

“I have to push back,” she said.

Erickson said that up to last week, health officials didn’t even know where the testers were.

She wanted officials to contact those giving tests and find out the size of their inventories for testing, as well as their burn rates for using the tests.

“I really want to kind of put this in a basket and really know that we have limited supplies. I’m not sure we do,” Erickson said.

That brought a quick rebuttal from fellow board member Ed Wolfe, a Kitsap County commissioner.

He recalled that they all had been told, in multiple meetings, that COVID-19 testing materials are in short supply.

“We’re competing with every other county in the state and the nation,” he said. “For us to be in that situation is abysmal.”

“It’s grave. It’s dismal,” he said of the stock of the district’s testing supplies, especially as it relates to advancing through the phases for reopening Kitsap.

Health district officials said that tests were being conducted primarily on the most ill people, as well as first responders and other frontline workers.

“There have been many, many people with mild symptoms that we fully suspect have COVID but could not get tested because of the shortage,” Grellner said.

An adequate supply of tests would make testing available to a much larger group.

“My response would be, to have sufficient testing supplies, it means that when health care facilities need them, they have them on hand,” Grellner said. “When they need to order them, they get them within a day.”

Survey says

A “community health and well-being survey” conducted by the Kitsap Public Health District found that 80 percent of Kitsap residents who responded were doing “well” or “mostly OK” to handling life during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Bainbridge, that number was 83 percent, the highest of any area in the county.

The percentage of those who answered “It depends on the day” was 14 percent on Bainbridge, 20 percent in Bremerton, 18 percent in South Kitsap, and 16 percent in both Central and North Kitsap.

When asked why people had left home during the stay-home order, more than 90 percent said it was to go grocery shopping or to get essential supplies.

The next top two reasons were exercise in the neighborhood, and to get take-out food.

When asked how often people had left their home; 33 percent on Bainbridge said once a week, and 37 percent said not every day, but several times a week.

Survey respondents said the most challenging part of the stay-home shutdown was “missing friends, family and coworkers,” followed by “missing usual activities.”

A total of 11,102 people took the survey. On Bainbridge, there were 1,256 respondents, which is about 9 percent of the population (2018).

Wild things roam

Things are about to get a little ugly in downtown Winslow.

The reason, of course, is COVID-19.

Those who venture along Winslow Way may see some fearsome faces in the coming days in the windows of shops along the island’s main drag.

The ugly comes courtesy of Meloni Courtway, a teacher at Woodward Middle School, and her seventh-grade students.

Courtway teaches family and consumer sciences, and her 90 students have been learning sewing by making “ugly dolls.”

Making the creations, which follow the fanged and funky plush toys of the same name that have been sold in stores since 2001, has been an assignment for the past 2 1/2 weeks for her students.

Courtway said her lab classes have ironically “become very validated in this period. It’s very important to know how to cook food from scratch for yourself.”

Same for sewing. It’s a useful skill that can stretch from replacing a lost button to repairing clothing or making your own.

“Those are the skills I teach every semester in my class. Now they are really valid — but I have to teach them virtually, online,” she added.

Shifting from teaching a hands-on skill from an in-person setting to an online hone as led to its own set of challenges.

And the change was swift, she said, from being in the classroom to “now go be a teacher online. Teach these kids. Take those relationships and turn them into something magical online.”

“That’s what we do as teachers; try to spin gold out of straw,” she added.

This assignment got started by the students getting a template for the dolls and a kit of felt, thread and other materials.

But some went off in their own direction when hands met needle and needle met felt.

“Some people embraced the ugly and some people made very cute monsters. It’s hard to call them ugly,” Courtway said.

That’s OK, she said, and all part of “meeting the kids where they are.

“If your ugly doll is going to look like that, great. Did you learn to sew? Fantastic. That’s all that matters to me,” she said.

Courtway learned something as well with this assignment, done remotely.

“It reminded me how capable these students are,” Courtway said.

“In their own time they needed to interpret my directions and make an attempt without me there to say every step of the way, ‘You’re doing it right.’”

It also made her reflect on how well she was communicating, and the times when she has said something that didn’t actually connect.

The ugly dolls have been a part of her lessons since she came to WMS three years ago. One of the great things about the class has been students getting a chance to see the monsters made by other hands.

But with WMS closed and the students unable to share their creations with classmates, Courtway came across another idea — letting these little monsters out into the wider world of Winslow.

The perfect place? Downtown, a spot that could use a little whimsy in these troubled times.

The most common sight on Winslow Way right now are signs that say “Closed.”

“It breaks my heart to go downtown and see these windows,” Courtway said.

“There’s this frozen nature to downtown; it’s like everything is locked in time,” she said.

Bainbridge is an active, outdoor community, but families are still venturing out, taking precautions and using social distancing, of course.

Courtway decided some of the ugly dolls were just the thing to bring some needed humor to shop windows downtown. It would also give students and their families a chance to step out and see this year’s batch of monsters.

Courtway reached out to business owners on Facebook, and quickly found some eager to temporarily adopt the little felt dolls and put them on display.

Now, what’s left is to unleash the beasts. Courtway is working on a way to get some of the dolls to downtown merchants so they can be displayed, hopefully as early as next week.

Numbers climb

There have been 15,905 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Washington as of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, May 5, according to the Washington State Department of Health.

That’s an increase of 311 cases over 24 hours, officials said.

There have been 870 deaths attributed to the coronavirus.

Health officials also noted that through Saturday, May 2, most of the state’s total deaths from COVID-19 have “been identified as associated with a long-term care facility, including nursing homes, assisted living facilities or adult family homes. These cases may include residents as well as employees and visitors, and currently, we have limited ability to distinguish amongst them.”

Of the 870 deaths from COVID-19 through Tuesday, that translates to a total of 61 percent — or 507 deaths.

Statewide, the number of COVID-19 tests numbered 224,813, with 7.1 percent of those tests confirming a case of coronavirus.

A lull in Kitsap

While cases continue to climb statewide, it’s been all quiet on the COVID-19 front when it comes to Kitsap County.

No new cases of coronavirus have been reported by the Kitsap Public Health District since one new case was confirmed last Friday.

The tally of confirmed COVID-19 cases countywide remains at 152.

The number of Bainbridge Island cases — 11 — has remained constant since March 8.

A total of 3,916 residents have tested negative. Of those tested, the positive test rate is about 4 percent.

In addition to Bainbridge’s 11, of the 152 cases across Kitsap, 43 have been reported in Bremerton, 39 in South Kitsap, 32 in North Kitsap, and 27 in Central Kitsap.

There have been two deaths in Kitsap attributed to COVID-19 since the start of the outbreak.

According to Wednesday’s update from Kitsap County Public Health, a total of 4,073 residents have tested negative. Of those tested, the positive test rate is about 4 percent.

Fore shadows

Wing Point Golf & Country Club reopened its 18-hole course to members Tuesday following the lifting of some of the restrictions under Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order.

Jeff D’Amico, the general manager and head golf professional at the club, said there was “overwhelming excitement” from Wing Point’s membership over the return of golf.

The links haven’t been completely deserted since the state-ordered closure, however.

“We’ve actually shared the golf course with our community and neighbors over the last six weeks,” he said, adding that people have been able to use the course’s walkways during the shutdown as long as they follow social distancing and other guidelines.

Now, the private course has shifted back to golf and member’s only play.

“That’s been a good thing while we were closed — and now were getting back to business,” he said.

Though the course was closed to play, D’Amico said a very high percentage of the club’s full-time employees remained at work during the closure to maintain the golf course and 100-acre property.

“We’ve had to adjust even further and ramp up to prepare the course for play,” he added.

The club has more than 400 golf members and about 600 members in total.

“It’s been a very supportive membership over this time in terms of paying dues and following along in our crisis, in terms of the illness running through our society,” he added.

“We’re very appreciative,” D’Amico said of the support. “We’re really looking forward to paying it back, so to speak, by reopening our course.”

Though the course was closed, the restaurant stayed open to offer take-out meals, which was used by about half of the membership.

Wing Point has received many thanks from neighbors who are not members for getting access to the greens during the closure.

One couple wrote that they were “deeply grateful” for the opening of the golf cart paths to the general public while COVID-19 caused the closure of parking lots for Bainbridge parks.

“Although we have attended many functions in the club house over the years, as non-members (and non-golfers), we had never before had the opportunity to walk these paths, so close to home. We so much appreciated walking through the perfectly maintained rolling grounds of varying grasses, punctuated by stately trees, ponds with ducklings, craggy old tree stumps transformed into delightful small gardens. We reveled in the tranquility of the special place, untouched by the virus except for the lack of golfers,” they wrote.

In another letter, a neighbor added: “We have been walking on the golf paths regularly these past few weeks, and not being golfers ourselves, we had never even seen the full course until now. It’s truly breathtaking and we have enjoyed every minute we had access. I’m sure allowing pedestrians to enjoy the pathways did not come without a cost, but I hope the goodwill you fostered comes back to you through word of mouth or through neighbors like me, who will forever consider Wing Point Golf & Country Club a class act.”

Members get first shot

At Meadowmeer Golf & Country Club, David Tunkkari, general manager and head golf professional, said the club has adopted changes in play due to the limited amount of golfers we can get on the course compared to normal.

“This is compounded by the pent-up demand from our regular customers, in addition to the increased demand as golf is one of the few activities that is allowed,” Tunkkari explained.

“We hope to accommodate as many members and eventually public play as we can. The course is in fantastic shape due to the great weather and lack of activity,” he added.

The changes include allowing just nine holes for everyone unless the first tee is clear when players make the turn.

Also, the number of power carts will be limited, as only one person per cart will be allowed. Foursomes can play at the discretion of the club, and only if the players are from the same household. If not, no more than two players from separate households will be allowed per tee time.

In a message to members, the club noted that the golf leagues and tournaments will stay on hold until further notice.

Meadowmeer is a semi-private club, with members-only tee times during certain times of the week and public availability most of the time.

With the reopening, the course will be only to members due to the high demand for play, Tunkkari said.

He added that the club is offering 30 trial memberships for golfers who are not members, which will give public golfers a chance to play the course for six months at a reasonable price with no obligation to remain a member after that time.

Good to see you

It wasn’t Bainbridge Island’s famed mile-long parade, but it certainly went the distance in heart-warming waves, smiles and gratitude.

Families and friends of residents at Bainbridge Island Health & Rehabilitation, as well as members of the community and others, paraded past the nursing home last Friday in a celebration for not only the residents, but the staff at the center that has kept them safe during the pandemic.

A long line of vehicles drove through the parking lot for the afternoon parade to honk, wave and shout greetings to a group of residents who were brought outside the main doors of the facility on Madison Avenue to watch the procession.

The nursing home has not allowed visitors for more than a month, so the parade was a much-appreciated chance for reunification, although a rolling one.

Some of the vehicles were dressed up, parade-style, with big bouquets of balloons, shiny streamers and homemade signs.

Those watching the parade were kept a safe distance apart, with all wearing face masks. Staff from the center also stood by, waving and shouting thank-you’s to the passing cars.

“It went extremely well,” Adam Canary, administrator at Bainbridge Island Health & Rehab, said afterward. “The residents are still talking about it with joy.”

“The families were so happy to be able to put it on and get to see their loved ones,” Canary added.

Help for heroes

The Bainbridge Island Safeway has been taking $5 donations for flowers to be delivered to local nurses and medical care staff.

The fundraiser is in recognition of Nurses Appreciation Day, and a sign at the store says: “Show your love and appreciation to the nurses and hospital staff on the frontline of the current crisis.”

The flowers will be delivered to staff at Bainbridge Urgent Care (Virginia Mason and Franciscan) and Swedish Bainbridge Island Primary Care

One for the books

Local branches for Kitsap Regional Libraries will stay closed through May 31 at least, KRL Library Director Jill Jean said in an announcement Tuesday.

On Monday, Inslee unveiled the state’s “Safe Start” plan, a four-phase approach to reopening Washington’s economy as restrictions under his “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order are eased.

Jean noted that Inslee’s extension of his “Stay Home” order says public libraries can’t reopen until the third phase of the plan is in place.

“While this plan does not communicate a definitive timeline, it does provide an outline of what we can expect in the coming months and it sets the expectation that success in one phase is critical before we can move on to the next,” Jean wrote.

Jean also noted that the library system is still at work, with online offerings and a staff that is working to reinvent how services and programs are offered during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Since the closure, we have had teams of staff dedicated to working on designing our own phased plan, which will safely guide us as we restore access to library buildings and collections – just as soon as we are able,” she added.

“While this plan will need to remain flexible, we anticipate the first phase will see staff returning to our buildings to establish appropriate procedures for accepting and disinfecting returned materials. In the next phase, we plan to offer curbside pickup and then progress to opening buildings for limited services with a variety of safety precautions in place.”

The music returns

The online and experimental return of Seabold Second Saturdays last month on Zoom session was such a success that organizers of the monthly show will present the usual Seabold Music Open Stage once again this weekend on Saturday, May 9.

David Hager, in an email to the Seabold community, said the concert will be held “more or less as usual.”

“Hank and Claire were to be the Featured Performers this time, and they may be able to join us for a bit. Crossing fingers,” he added.

Those who want to join in can watch at

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/7491667939?pwd=M2M5R2YwZStvb2RmTWZmNUZmZzBSdz09

(Meeting ID: 749 166 7939; Password: 56520).

Now hear this

Gather round, kids.

Online learning at Captain Johnston Blakely Elementary will explore the joy of reading as students and their families take part in All School Read from Friday, May 5 through Friday, May 22.

The school will crack the cover of “8 Class Pets + 1 Squirrel divided by 1 Dog = Chaos,” and students, families and staff will come together to enjoy the novel by Vivian Vande Velde.

The staff at Blakely will read chapters from the book, starting Friday with Chapter 1, “TWITCH (school yard squirrel).”

Families can details on the All School Read by watching a video at

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1OljxbRPrRJayo9IrTYKnSOi5M2Xnam5v/view.

What comes Fourth?

Yankee Doodle Dandy or Yankee Doodle Downer?

The answer is still up in the air.

A decision about whether this year’s Grand Old Fourth of July celebration will be held in downtown Winslow this year — or canceled due to COVID-19 — is still pending, according to the Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce.

The Bainbridge chamber has been producing the Independence Day blowout, which sees thousands of islanders and visitors pack the town’s main drag for the big parade (as well as adjacent streets filled with vendor booths), since 1967.

Mickey Molnaire, director of marketing and tourism for the Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber has been mulling the prospect’s for this year’s celebration, the island’s biggest annual event.

A decision isn’t expected soon.

“I think they will wait until later this month,” said Mickey Molnaire, director of marketing and tourism for the Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce.

If the event is a go, it will be the 53rd of the chamber-produced event.

If the celebration isn’t held at all, that may be a first as well.

“To my knowledge it has never been completely cancelled before, although it has been rained out on several occasions,” Molnaire said.

The grand to-do has gone big-time since its start.

“When I moved to the island in 1985, the entire event was centered on Winslow Way. Kiwanis volunteers used to erect 2×4 booth structures on both sides of the street and rent them to island organizations and other vendors,” Molnaire recalled. “The parade followed its current route, but went down the middle of Winslow Way between the booths. When COBI was formed in the early 1990s, the new police department was alarmed at the safety risks involved with that, and the street fair was moved down to Bjune and Brien.”

Molnaire said that Vicki Rauh, who worked at the Bainbridge chamber for 33 years, said that in the “old days” — in the late ’70s — the parade was so short it went around twice.

In recent and normal years, the parade boasts roughly 100 entries, and 100 antique and classic cars.

There’s also about 100 street fair vendors, and estimated attendance averages between 25,000 and 30,000 people depending on the weather and the day of the week when Independence Day falls.

Weekend days tend to have better attendance, Molnaire added.

Before World War II, the island’s biggest event was the Strawberry Festival, and not the Fourth of July celebration.

Welcome back

Most of the parking areas at Bainbridge park facilities were reopened Friday, May 1.

Officials with the Bainbridge Island Metro Park & Recreation District said the move was made in tandem with the easing of restrictions from the governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy.”

Last week, prohibitions on outdoor recreational — including the day use of public lands and activities such as fishing — were loosened.

Bainbridge park officials stressed that team sports and public gatherings are still not allowed at local parks. Sports courts, playgrounds, and shelters will stay closed.

A limited number of restrooms will be open at Bainbridge parks.

Online offerings

It’s simply black-and-white, to start.

The Bainbridge Island Metro Park & Recreation District has started what it’s calling “The Great Covid Coloring Book Challenge.”

Starting this week, Bainbridge parks has been offering instructional videos and promotional materials on the new program, which encourages all island artists to create coloring book pages that will be made into a “zine.”

The finished book will be available online and as art resources/activities/gifts, the park district said, once the community is able to convene again.

Other upcoming art activities include “Online Sketchbooking” classes.

“We’re getting our instructor comfortable with the Zoom platform and helping with instructional video recordings to support her in her first virtual teaching experience,” noted Allie Smith from Bainbridge parks.

Smith said there was also talk with three other employee art instructors about starting online classes in the next few weeks.

The park district is also offering multiple yoga sessions for all ages, as well as women’s and teen’s self-defense.

For active adults, a 30-minute “Funtastic Fitness” video has been recorded, and with the park district’s outgoing college intern Deleine Chavez.

Smith said the video is in final editing and will be available as a link “for sheltering seniors who want a carefully designed, low-impact fitness class they can do safely at homes at their convenience.”

Online language classes for active adults began last week, and six students are learning intermediate-level conversational Spanish via lessons on Zoom that instructor Will Perkins is giving from his home.

Other things in the works include a mask-making tutorial video and sewing stations; home pottery workshops; youth LEGO challenge builds; ukulele and guitar lessons; and an “In The Bag” craft/camp project kits that the park district is assembling for pick-up.

‘Truly staggering’

More than 1.4 million new claims for unemployment benefits have been filed in Washington state, according to the latest statistics from the Washington State Employment Security Department.

ESD officials announced late last week that 1,455,908 total claims for unemployment benefits were filed for the week of April 19 to April 25.

In Kitsap County, the number of new jobless claims totaled 4,266 for the week of April 19 to April 25, an increase of 1,888 new claims over the previous week’s total of 2,378.

Initial claims for regular unemployment benefits increased by 67 percent statewide, officials said, and total initial claims increased by 453.3 percent over the previous week.

The rise marks an increase of almost 10,000 percent over the same week last year.

The huge uptick is due to the first week of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims and applications for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance is for self-employed workers and independent contractors, and state officials said 190,948 PUA claims were filed in the initial week.

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation initial claims totaled 168,165 in Washington.

New claims for regular unemployment insurance totaled 137,605 for the week of April 19-April 25, and continued ongoing weekly claims from Washingtonians who have lost their jobs totaled 959,190.

Officials said that since the week ending March 7 — when COVID-19 job losses began — 787,533 people individuals have filed for unemployment insurance and the state has paid out nearly $1.5 billion in benefits to Washingtonians.

“The tsunami of claims we have been preparing for is reflected in this week’s data, as it shows the hundreds of thousands of workers applying for expanded benefits under the federal CARES Act since we updated our system to accept those applications on April 18,” said Employment Security Commissioner Suzi LeVine.

The increase in unemployment claims in unprecedented.

“This is, by far, the largest week of unemployment benefits delivered in our state’s history,” Levine said. “We have received more initial claims in the past seven weeks than the previous three and a half years combined — it is a truly staggering amount of people affected by this crisis. I am so sorry that we haven’t been able to provide everyone with relief when they need it and we are working night and day to make sure that we do.

“We want to remind people; the money won’t run out and you won’t miss out. You will be paid all the benefits for which you are eligible.”

Claims from people working in the healthcare and social assistance industry filed the highest number of new claims during the week of April 19-April 25, with 11,061 initial claims, up from 1,927 the previous week.

The next most-impacted industry was retail trade, where jobless workers filed 10,397 claims during April 19 through April 25. That was an increase of 912 claims from previous week.

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