Three Kitsap residents being tested for COVID-19

Local health district seeking additional funding to prepare for coronavirus response

As the Kitsap Public Health District awaits the results of testing for three possible cases of COVID-19 in Kitsap County, the number of confirmed cases in Washington continues to rise.

There haven’t yet been any confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Kitsap County as of Tuesday, according to the health district. However, public health officials have confirmed COVID-19 is spreading in Washington state and Kitsap residents should be prepared for a community spread in the county, citing a “rapidly changing situation.” KPHD is currently awaiting test results for three possible cases of COVID-19 from Kitsap residents, the results of which are expected in the next 48 to 72 hours.

Kitsap Public Health District officials stated at their board meeting Tuesday morning that additional funding is needed to sufficiently address any potential cases that may appear in the county.

As of Feb. 26, KPHD has expended more than 725 hours of staff time and over $53,000 to respond to COVID-19. A recent health district memo stated that “this work is exceeding the capacity of our agency and means that many of the regular, day-to-day work and responsibilities of those employees involved in the response are being suspended or canceled.”

KPHD administrator Keith Grellner addressed these concerns at the board meeting.

“We’re going to have to start making some very difficult decisions,” he said. “All of this work so far is coming out of our public health flex monies. We keep hearing things at the federal level and state level that funding may be coming, but I can tell you as of this morning there’s been no note saying, ‘How much do you need, what do you want to ask for.’ We’re using monies that we’re pulling from other work. We’re prepared to do that.”

The mayors of Kitsap County’s municipalities, who are also on the KPHD board, responded to the health district’s funding concerns by stating they would make the COVID-19 outbreak one of their top priorities.

“This is absolutely necessary work, there’s no doubt about it,” Port Orchard Mayor Rob Putaansuu said. “We have to figure out how to pay for it.”

Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson said there will likely be state funds available to assist the health district since Gov. Inslee issued a state of emergency for the COVID-19 outbreak over the weekend. Bremerton Mayor Greg Wheeler also stated that the City of Bremerton would make this issue a top priority.

“We know people are concerned with the spread of COVID-19 in our region and we are taking the risk to our community very seriously,” KPHD health officer Dr. Susan Turner said. “We ask that community members stay calm, stay informed and take steps to protect their health and the health of those around them.”

Nine victims of the virus have died as of Tuesday afternoon in King and Snohomish counties and a total of 27 confirmed cases have been detected, according to state health officials. Public Health Seattle & King County issued an emergency declaration in response to the outbreak Monday. No other deaths from the virus have been reported in any other state.

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus. Common symptoms include fever, cough and difficulty breathing. According to the health district, most people with COVID-19 have experienced mild illness similar to a cold, but some groups, including older adults and people with underlying health conditions, are at a higher risk of severe illness.

According to the health district, the transmission of the disease is thought to occur mostly from person-to-person via respiratory droplets among close contacts. There is currently not a vaccine or treatment available for COVID-19 and the incubation period for someone with the virus is 2 to 14 days. KPHD advises people to take these simple steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses:

  • Wash your hands frequently
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Cough and sneeze into a bent elbow or tissue, then throw away the tissue
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Stay home when you or a family member is sick
  • Clean and disinfect frequently used objects and surfaces

People with mild symptoms are advised to stay home and rest while those who are severely ill or at high risk of severe illness should stay home and call their health care provider. The health district recommends healthy people not wear masks to prevent respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19, but rather leave them for people who are sick when seeking medical care and for health care providers.

“It is important that supplies of masks and other personal protective equipment remain available for health care providers who are evaluating and treating ill people.”

Looking ahead, public health officials believe COVID-19 will continue to spread in Washington and Kitsap residents should make plans in case additional prevention strategies are recommended including telecommuting, avoiding large gatherings and closure of schools and other institutions.

Since Feb. 4, KPHD has activated an Incident Command System and team in efforts to efficiently coordinate COVID-19 preparedness. The focus of the work up until Feb. 27 included:

  • Supervising the self-monitoring of travelers returning to the United States from China or other affected countries in compliance with a federal unfunded mandate to do so
  • Conducting disease investigation interviews with these travelers to identify other contacts that the District may have to reach out to and supervise
  • Messaging and updating the medical community about the evaluation of potential COVID-19 cases and use of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Managing the large volume of quickly changing information, and relaying relevant changes to key community partners
  • Developing a communication strategy with key partners and implementing that strategy
  • Reviewing and updating our pandemic flu plans and other associated policies and procedures.

As of Feb. 27, the district is pivoting its focus and planning efforts to preparing for a possible widespread outbreak of COVID-19 in Kitsap County. Initial plans call for putting more concerted efforts on public communications in order to understand their role in preventing and controlling an outbreak and to prepare for quarantines, isolations, school and business closings, and self-care in the event that healthcare systems are overwhelmed, according to the memo.

Additional guidance can be found at doh.wa.gov/coronavirus.

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