Despite uptick, Inslee cuts back on restrictions

Even though COVID-19 cases are going up in Kitsap and other counties, Gov. Jay Inslee said at a news conference Tuesday that he is relaxing some of his coronavirus restrictions.

Meanwhile, at a Kitsap Board of Health meeting also Tuesday it was reported that the county avoided a Labor Day spike in COVID cases, although the number of infections has trended back up.

In a related matter, the building and restaurant at Meadowmeer Golf and Country Club will close for an unknown amount of time due to an employee testing positive for COVID. The golf course itself will remain open.

David Tunkkari, head pro, said the employee hadn’t worked for seven days, but “out of an abundance of caution we have decided to close the grill and pro shop until we can get all our employees tested and the grill deep cleaned.”

As for Inslee, changes he announced include:

•Outdoor sports, including youth sports: soccer, softball, tennis, flag football and lacrosse. No spectators.

•Movie theaters and libraries can fill 25 percent of their seating capacity. People must wear masks and keep a social distance of 6 feet.

•Restaurants can now serve up to six people at a table, even outside your family.

•Bars will be able to serve drinks until 11 p.m.

•Real estate will be able to have Open Houses with 10 or less people.

At the health board meeting, it was said that disease activity has trended down in Kitsap since the end of July, and reached a low of 29 new cases per 100,000 residents over a 14-day period just a couple of weeks ago. But it has since increased — data through Sept. 29 indicates that number is up to 39 cases per 100,000. Officials said that number is expected to go up again in the next report.

Because of multiple outbreaks at congregate and long-term care facilities, including the 73 reported at St. Michael’s Medical Center in Bremerton in August, residents in the 80 or older age range now have the highest rate of infection countywide.

Although the statewide pauses of moving to different phases under the governor’s “Safe Start” program is still in effect, Kitsap County still falls short of the criteria it would need to move to the next phase, particularly in the area of testing.

Kitsap Public Health administrator Keith Grellner said that KPHD case investigators and contact tracers are still hearing reports of people who were close contacts of confirmed cases having difficulty getting tested. Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson also said she’s heard from constituents that they were having issues getting tested.

Health Officer Dr. Gib Morrow agreed that anyone who is a close contact of a confirmed case should get tested, as should anyone with COVID-like symptoms or someone who works in a high-risk setting or is a member of a group of people considered vulnerable.

Kitsap County is also working on a community-based testing program. Early on in the pandemic, the county had a drive-up test site in Bremerton, but it was closed in late April.

Jessica Guidry, of KPHD’s Regional Healthcare Preparedness Network, said the site will provide saliva and nasal-swab testing and will not require a doctor’s visit or health insurance.

One more unpleasant data point from the report was the number of close contacts per positive case. Grellner indicated that each positive case now has an average of 4.3 close contacts due to the congregate living facility outbreaks and a wide range of events and social gatherings.

Any major spike could ultimately scuttle plans to reopen schools to the youngest students; several school districts are working on plans to do so.

“Between people letting their guard down and people not believing this is a serious issue, it’s affecting our community as a whole,” Grellner said.