County health officials: Kitsap seeing big spike in COVID-19 cases

The news wasn’t good at Tuesday’s Kitsap Board of Health meeting, as county health officials laid out the latest data on the rise of local COVID-19 cases.

In July, the county added 422 new positive coronavirus cases and the percent positive tests rose sharply, especially in the past two weeks. Although the overall percentage of positive tests remains fairly low at 3.3 percent, in the past 30 days that number jumps to 5 percent. Boiling it down to the past week, the percent positive is near 9 percent.

The county, like the rest of the state, has seen a large increase in the number of young people testing positive — those aged 39 and below — which is responsible for the spike seen in July, KPHD Adminstrator Keith Grellner said. Younger people are less likely to have severe symptoms, making it easier for COVID-19 to spread aggressively.

The numbers presented by health officials were stark, and they were the basis for the letter sent to superintendents at the various Kitsap County school districts last week, which encouraged beginning the school year with remote learning rather than in-person instruction.

“[R]ight now, things are definitely in the wrong direction to open up schools in Kitsap County,” Grellner said.

School districts responded quickly, as Bainbridge Island, Bremerton, North Kitsap and Central Kitsap all announced that the school year would begin remotely. South Kitsap is still offering a hybrid model with some in-person instruction.

But the fact that schools are not reopening in the majority of the county should be a warning light for the community to keep their guard up, said Dr. Nathan “Gib” Morrow, Kitsap County’s new health officer, who took over this week after the retirement of Dr. Susan Turner.

“The inability to open schools in-person is a public health crisis in its own right,” Morrow said.

The COVID-19 situation in Kitsap has changed over time. As Snohomish and King counties were getting hit hardin March and April by the virus, Gov. Jay Inslee announced his stay-at-home order, which asked residents not to leave their home except for necessities. Kitsap still had some confirmed positive cases during this time, but they were isolated.

With warmer weather and people itching to get outdoors and enjoy the sunshine, contact tracers at KPHD showed spreading of the infection.

Cases have gone from a rate of below 25 per 100,000 after receiving the go-ahead to move to phase 2 of the governor’s “Safe Start” plan to above 75 per 100,000.

“Communities often become victims of their own success,” Morrow said. “If we let our guard down, this disease is going to crop back up.”

There was a small sliver of sunlight in an otherwise cloudy report Tuesday as officials said despite the increase, “Our hospitals continue to have capacity and surge capacity,” Grellner said. “And that is a comfort to know because that could change in a heartbeat.”