It has been just over a year since COVID-19 flipped the world upside down and much progress has been made in PPE, testing and vaccine distribution thanks to Bainbridge organizations that have teamed up to keep the community safe.
Bainbridge Prepares and the Medical Reserve Corps have spearheaded the effort, joined by the city, fire department and BI Community Pharmacy. The partnership has supported the administration of over 15,00 vaccine doses to people from Kitsap and surrounding counties, according to the city. On the first weekend of April, the vaccine clinic at Commodore Options School administered 1,760 doses and over 2,000 doses for that week, which includes mobile clinics and the Senior Center.
April 2 was the last day of the Senior Center clinic for efficiency reasons as the maximum number there was just 200, said Dr. David Cowan of Virginia Mason-Bainbridge and founding director of the MRC.
“It worked very well, especially for the older crowd of people,” Cowan said. “It was nice to have a smaller footprint for them.”
With all the organizations combined, they are now up to 580 volunteers who have contributed over 8,400 volunteer hours.
“We have all been working dozens of hours on top of our full-time jobs,” Cowan said.
He added that Jared Moravec at BIFD, Anne Lesage at COBI and Loren Bast at Bainbridge Prepares have devoted 110% to COVID response, and they have been meeting at least a couple times a week on Zoom since March 2020.
Cowan said owners Mark and KC Tan of BI Community Pharmacy have been working up to 100 hours a week; running two businesses full time and coordinating the vaccine ordering, delivering, problem-solving and keeping up with the package insert information on all three vaccines.
About 10 years ago, Scott James came to Bainbridge and was interested in disaster preparation, before eventually founding Bainbridge Prepares. Cowan said James used to tour the country to look at best practices for different communities and wrote a book called Prepared Communities.
“He really has a knack for finding people that work well together,” Cowan said.
At that time, Kitsap County already had an MRC, but Cowan said it was limited in what it could provide in an emergency and wanted Bainbridge to look into developing its own.
“Here on Bainbridge, with the idea that we could be cut off from outside help for an extended period of time after say an earthquake, our feeling was we really need the capability of more like being able to stand up a field hospital,” he said.
In 2018, discussions began about a Bainbridge MRC, which needed a designation from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Cowan said he had to convince FEMA why two MRCs were needed in one county. Roughly a year later the Bainbridge MRC was sanctioned by FEMA.
As 2020, approached, Cowan and the MRC started recruiting members with a goal of having 100 by November of that year. In January of 2020, members of the MRC flew to Alabama to FEMA’s National Disaster Training Center for weeklong learning. Ironically, Cowan said the first topic discussed was pandemic flu.
While in Alabama, Cowan said he was listening to Seattle radio station KUOW. That is when he heard about the first COVID case identified in Snohomish County.
“I wonder what that’s going to mean,” he said he thought to himself. “It was all sort of just in time in terms of the pandemic. We were back maybe five weeks… before we were activated.”
One of the first duties Bainbridge Prepares and the MRC had was to source PPE for those who needed it in the community.
“When the pandemic started, obviously we all wanted to do something but we were quite limited in what we could do. At first, we focused primarily on sourcing PPE. A lot of crowdsourcing initially, we had people donating PPE. BI Prepares acted as the clearinghouse to redistribute it to personnel.”
By that fall, the organizations pivoted to providing testing with assistance from the city as that became more available. The testing site at City Hall produced only 17 positive COVID cases and 1,923 negative tests, a positive test rate of under 1%. The testing site has since closed due to low demand and to focus on vaccine distribution.
Early on in the pandemic, organizations initially reached out to the BI Community Pharmacy to see if it was even possible to hold a clinic when vaccines became available. After applying to have a clinic, the state reached out to the pharmacy in late December, saying they had 200 doses of vaccines for them the next day.
The first couple shipments of vaccines were given to healthcare workers in a vacant building in Winslow before setting up clinics at the Senior Center and then Commodore.
“Part of why we’ve been so successful is that we have the pieces in place. When it (vaccines) became available, we already had worked out a lot of the issues,” Cowan said.
Vaccination rates on Bainbridge are outpacing other parts of the county, according to data from the Kitsap Public Health District. As of April 5, more than 83 percent of BI residents 65 and older had initiated vaccination, while those 16 and older are at 53 percent. Cowan attributes that trend to the many highly educated and financially advantaged community members who live here, citing those who work from home can conveniently take an hour off to get vaccinated.
Cowan said it’s hard to say how much longer the Commodore clinic would be functioning but he hopes the local community will be all vaccinated by June at the current rate. For those who are hesitant to get the vaccine, Cowan said “yes, the vaccines have some risk but they pale in comparison to the risks of the COVID disease…Please get vaccinated.”
With his day job at Virginia Mason, Cowan said balancing the two roles has been “obviously challenging.” A typical week consists of conducting his day job at VM, managing the needs of his large panel of patients who still have illnesses, health crises, and those who need checkups. On weekends, he is at Commodore for at least one full day.
In the future, Cowan hopes that VM will intersect with the MRC for other short-term emergencies.
“My hope is that (VM) will agree to be the designated site for a disaster medical center and allow the MRC and COBI to use the facility to care for casualties in a more short-lived emergency such as an earthquake,” he said.
Reflecting on the past year, Cowan is thankful for the outpouring of support from everyone involved in the various organizations who are trying to keep the community safe, especially the leadership team and the over 500 volunteers of Bainbridge Prepares.
“There is just no way that we could have done what we have accomplished without every category of volunteer. I think if you look you will not find any community anywhere that has done more to fight the pandemic and be ready for the next challenge than this community,” he said.