Kitsap County will submit an application to the State Department of Health on Friday after the Board of Health and Board of Commissioners signed off on the move.
If approved by the state, Kitsap County will be able to move into Phase 3 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Safe Start” program, which allows for gatherings of no more than 50 people, the resumption of non-essential travel and restaurants and taverns to be open at 75 percent capacity with a table size no larger than ten.
The Board of Health and Board of Commissioners held back-to-back special meetings Friday morning to take up the issue. The Board of Health voted in favor 6-1 and the commissioners approved 3-0. The application was expected to be sent to the state by late morning or early afternoon Friday.
Kitsap County has seen an uptick in cases over the past few weeks with about 20 new positives this month, and while county officials did express some concern about the rise, the general consensus was that Kitsap is ready to move forward to Phase 3 because the residents have taken the virus seriously.
“I’m concerned by the increase in COVID cases reported in Kitsap County this month …. and I think we all know our work to slow the spread of the virus is far from over,” said Port Orchard Mayor Rob Putaansuu, the Board of Health chair.
Kitsap Public Health District received 2,300 comments from Kitsap residents over the past few days on the issue with 60 percent in favor of moving to phase 3, said KPHD Administratior Keith Grellner. 30 percent were opposed and 10 percent were not sure.
“The public is paying attention to this,” Grellner said.
Dr. Susan Turner, Kitsap Public Health Officer, reiterated that COVID-19 is still present in Kitsap County, and that the new cases generally have not been linked to specific events or groups of residents. Turner noted that, in the event of the state’s approval to move to phase 3, the county might need more than the minimum three weeks before considering a move to phase 4.
“We might need longer than three weeks to assess where we are before safely moving into any other phases,” Turner said.
Turner also agreed that residents and businesses appear to be taking COVID-19 seriously, as evidenced by the relatively low average of two to four new cases per day. Although the last new case was reported on June 14, there tends to be a lag in the data over a span of several days as new cases are reported by specimen collection date.
If a move to phase 3 is successful, county officials agreed that personal responsibility to keep proper social distance, wear masks when that distance cannot be maintained and continue with good hygiene habits will be crucial to keeping the county moving forward.
In discussion amongst the Board of Health, Bainbridge Councilmember Kol Medina was again the lone dissenting vote. As he said when the board approved the move to phase 2, Medina thought it was the right move for the county as a whole, but not for Bainbridge Island. Medina cited Bainbridge’s higher median age, greater tourism activity and the city’s relative lack of support for moving to the next phase.
“We literally have people come from all over the world to Bainbridge, and I think that puts us at a greater risk here,” Medina said.
Similarly, Bremerton Mayor Greg Wheeler said he supported moving forward, but “it is with trepidation” as his city’s demographics indicate residents there are more at-risk than others.
“I’m only going to support this because I believe our citizens are ready to step up and help all these folks I’ve just described,” Wheeler said.
Several other board members echoed those comments.
“One size does not fit all for the 39 counties in this state,” said Commissioner Ed Wolfe. “Kitsap County is a perfect example; residents have taken this seriously, taken COVID seriously and I think we’re prepared to move forward without trepidation.”
Once the Board of Health gave its approval, the Board of Commissioners met at 10 a.m. Friday morning for final approval and unanimously gave the go-ahead.
“Our success is dependent upon each and every one of us,” said County Commissioner Robert Gelder.