Every year, health officials encourage people to get flu shots.
But this year it’s even more important, Dr. Gib Morrow, health officer for the Kitsap Public Health District, told its board Nov. 1.
He said after effects of the pandemic mean the flu is spreading more easily this year. Respiratory illnesses at the University of Washington lab, for example, are way up — more than double the usual number.
“We’ve never seen it go up the way it is now,” he said. “We need to wave the warning flag to get the flu shot. It’s more important than ever.”
It’s essential especially for children, he added. Shots took a hit the past few years during COVID and haven’t caught back up yet. Pediatrics report a national surge of unprescedented volumes. “We have an unvaccinated group of kids,” he said.
As for COVID, it’s “looking endemic,” he added. There will be spikes, but numbers have been basically flat for awhile. The state of emergency expired recently, but there will be few changes. Rules at places like schools will be simplified, he said.
He said Monkeypox is on the decline. There were five cases in Kitsap, but vaccines were readily available to those who needed them, keeping cases in control. Morrow talked of an Ebola outbreak in Uganda, with four people in the state, none in Kitsap, being monitored because they had traveled there.
KPHD administrator Keith Grellner said they have healthy reserves thanks to many years of tight budgeting. During COVID the district lost many longtime employees and replaced them with less-experienced ones, which led to cost savings. Also, COVID and more state funding added to the coffers.
The balanced draft budget for the next year is over $18.87 million. Up to $2 million in reserves could be used if needed.
Staff allocated for COVID work will drop from 32 to five, but staffing in the Community Health Division will increase by 23. Administration would be increased by six. Among the new hires is an equity director. Many of the former COVID workers have the skillsets for the new positions, Grellner added.
The budget also reinstates a death review process for children, which has not been in place for six years. “It’s a critical need,” Grellner said, adding the district has received special funding for it.
Costs to jurisdictions belonging to the KPHD will not change, he added.
John Kiess, KPHD environmental health director, said fees remained flat the past few years due to COVID. The only increase was for the Consumer Price Index, which was around 2 percent. But this year the CPI is 9 percent. To avoid such a shocking increase in the future, he recommends averaging the CPI increases at 6 percent.
Looking ahead, fees are not paying costs so they should be raised to cover that gap, he said. That’s especially true regarding restaurants. They didn’t raise the cost during two years of COVID for them because of the challenge restaurants already were having.
However, he said some efficiencies have been found so that fees for drinking water and sewer can actually be lowered.
Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson said she likes the flexbility of the new fee structure and the goal to break even. “Government should never be a profit center,” she said, adding regulations should never inhibit business. “But we need safety in place.”
Also, Grellner said the last time the district did a strategic plan was in 2011. It ended last year, but a new one was not developed because of COVID. “Now that we’re back to normal we need a strategic plan for the next decade,” he said, adding board members can have input through a survey .