Dr. Gib Morrow played the role of myth buster at Tuesday’s Kitsap Public Health District meeting.
He wanted to set the record straight after a number of inaccuracies were brought up during public comments.
Regarding a comment that cloth COVID-19 masks don’t work, Morrow admitted they are not as good as an M-95, medical or surgical mask, but they can be effective. “They should be washed each day,” he said, adding they do provide a level of control when breathing out and in.
He also addressed the concept of vaccine passports. He said while the KPHD discussed them, that idea has been rejected. “It is no longer on the table,” he said.
As to not attending schools without a vaccination, Morrow said that also is not true, and it would take a decision by the state Department of Health for that to happen.
And, unlike what some people might think, the Pfizer vaccine has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Earlier in the pandemic, the COVID drugs were OK’d only for emergency use.
Addressing a comment that hospitalization numbers are inflated, Morrow said while that might be happening elsewhere in the nation it isn’t happening here. “We error on the side of not including it if it’s a questionable call,” he said.
He added that no vaccine works 100% of the time, but the COVID ones have been proved to prevent severe health issues. He said 77% of people in the county ages 5 and older have been vaccinated.
Regarding the omicron variant of COVID, Morrow said it is far more contagious than previous versions but not as dangerous from a health standpoint. He said it causes only about one-third of the hospitalizations as the previous delta version because it stays in the upper airways and doesn’t infect the lungs. Because it is not as serious, the quarantine time now is only five days.
Still, just looking at the numbers, “We’re going to be in for a rough ride in January,” he said.
In Kitsap County, the number of cases per 100,000 people has increased to over 400, the highest rate yet, he said. The U.S. set a record for positive cases in one day at 267,000 on Dec. 28.
Morrow said those numbers may be “underestimates” because so many people now are testing at home, and possibly not reporting results to the state as requested. Another reason for low numbers is people have been unable to find at-home tests or get tested elsewhere.
“It’s not as easy as we would like it to be,” he said, adding there are “very, very, very” large volumes of people wanting to be tested, and there are supply chain challenges. The county’s health officer said if you can’t get tested just assume you are positive and isolate for five days until the symptoms go away.
Don’t go to the emergency room, he said, as the health care system is “exhausted” with many confirmed infections. “We want to avoid crisis management care” of choosing who gets to be treated, he said, adding they are trying to get people out of hospitals as quickly as possible. He mentioned that people age 65 and older are 13 more times to be hospitalized if not vaccinated. That rate is even higher for younger people.
Morrow pointed out that schools are doing a great job with testing. With high-risk sports, they are testing three times weekly and 24 hours before competitions. “They are doing phenomenal work keeping kids in the classroom,” he said.
In public comments prior to the meeting, a few people asked the district to get tougher regarding COVID.
William Giesecke said Kitsap County not requiring proof of vaccination when going to a restaurant or indoor venue is out of step with neighboring counties. He called the position “baffling.” “We are not more immune than persons in Seattle or Port Townsend,” he writes.
He shared a story about having lunch in Poulsbo, where customers were not checked regarding vaccines, and tables were not 6 feet apart. He said two men were seated just 3 feet from him. Besides staff, no one wore masks. “The profit margin wins until directed otherwise,” he writes, adding he will not return to that restaurant. Therefore, it will lose business because it’s not putting its customers at ease with safety measures.
Suzanne Perry shared a similar opinion. “I was just in Jefferson County and was required to show proof of vaccination to eat at a restaurant. Why are we not? Please step up for our public health.”
Cindy Allpress had the opposite point of view. She said any mandate would be unconstitutional and government overreach. She said it would encroach upon people’s right to privacy, only serving to expand the power of government and trample on individual rights.
Tuesday, Janell Hulst urged the county to continue its stance against vaccine passports. “The vaccine doesn’t stop you from spreading COVID,” she said, so it should not be needed to go places.
Susan Brooks-Young said scientists learn every day what works and what doesn’t regarding COVID. She said it would be “ridiculous” today to do what they thought was true in March of 2020. “It’s our job to be flexible,” she said, adding people need to do what’s best for the community, not just what they want personally.
Additionally, KPHD administrator Keith Grellner said they are working to expand testing sites from three to up to six days a week.
Also, Poulsbo mayor Becky Erickson said that city honored health care folks at a county COVID-testing site for working during last week’s snowstorm. “There are a whole bunch of unsung heroes in this county, and it’s important to recognize them,” she said.