PORT ORCHARD — In an open letter to Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee, the three-member Kitsap County Board of Commissioners on Friday voiced concerns over the “apparent change in direction and lack of communication and clarity” of the state’s plan to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
Commissioners Charlotte Garrido, Rob Gelder and Ed Wolfe referenced a letter written by members of the Washington State Association of Counties to newly installed state Secretary of Health Umair A. Shah and Inslee about Washington state’s pandemic response.
In that letter, officials wrote: “The recent development and rollout of ‘Healthy Washington — Roadmap to Recover’ is illustrative of our frustration and disappointment regarding the absence of a collaborative planning and decision-making process.”
The officials said the plan hasn’t gained statewide support since it hasn’t established buy-in or have developed proper metrics for the plan without “consultation or meaningful engagement” with local public health agencies, they wrote.
“Unfortunately, this plan has created confusion, divisiveness, and, in some instances, undermined our public health work.”
Meanwhile, Inslee announced on Monday a massive effort to speed up the vaccination process, including revising the current phase to include people 65 and older. Previous guidelines for phase 1b implementation called for people 70 and older, as well as those 50 and older in multigenerational households, to be vaccinated. According to the governor, about 80 percent of the COVID-19 deaths in this state are among those 65 and older.
Letter criticizes lack of local input
The collection of public officials who signed the letter also stated that the recovery plan was presented to local health jurisdictions in two one-hour meetings that did not include advance details.
In the commissioners’ letter to Inslee, Garrido, Gelder and Wolfe criticized the decision made to primarily use community health providers for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout without proper engagement with the local public health agencies’ input.
“We have known for months that a vaccine is in development and requires a plan for distribution,” the commissioners stated in the letter to the governor.
“… From our vantage point, if the vaccination plan was under development and required providers to opt-in, why didn’t the Department of Health proactively recruit providers mid last year? It appears the recruitment did not begin until the vaccines were on the way to our state. And then, the responsibility fell to local public health.”
The commissioners stated that the tiered vaccination plan is confusing residents who were deemed “essential” personnel throughout the pandemic but don’t yet find themselves on the list to be vaccinated. They said that after nearly eight months into a four-phased plan for reopening, the new “Roadmap to Recovery” has just two phases.
“This new plan leaves the average citizen doubting there will ever be an end to the pandemic and a resumption of their lives in earnest,” their letter stated.
The Kitsap officials also cited the devastating impact the pandemic has had on local business owners, particularly those who own restaurants. They argued that the plan leaves plenty of questions unanswered, including whether to have indoor dining, limit that service or if they need to shut down operations.
“It is difficult to expect people to continue being vigilant when they do not experience the why, the logic or the consistency behind the decision making,” the commissioners wrote.
Kitsap County is currently in Phase 1a of vaccination in which frontline workers in healthcare settings, first responders and long-term-care facility staff and residents are first in line to be vaccinated.
The state Department of Health announced on Jan. 6 guidance for Phase 1b of vaccination, which it says could begin late this month.