Wolfe: A unified response to COVID-19 in Kitsap

Volunteers have also been key to the COVID-19 response

By Ed Wolfe

Kitsap County Commissioner and past chair of the Kitsap County Emergency Management Council

When the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Washington state on Jan. 21, Kitsap County and our Department of Emergency Management mobilized swiftly to respond to the deadly virus.

A Unified Command and Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was activated in early March in coordination with the Kitsap Public Health District as the coronavirus spread to Kitsap. Nearly nine months later, this unprecedented pandemic still impacts every aspect of our community and daily lives.

The EOC and its partnership of county government, local cities, tribes, fire districts, 911, law enforcement, military and medical services tirelessly continues its mission to safeguard residents and reduce impacts on our healthcare system, infrastructure and local economy.

Here is a short list of what the EOC has accomplished: the set-up of a supply staging area and non-congregate shelters, including quarantine and isolation capabilities at multiple locations; coordination of community-based testing; creation of an outbreak response task force; and distribution of tens of thousands of units of personal protection equipment.

The EOC also keeps the public informed of important COVID-19 information and resources through production of a daily bulletin, publication of a regularly updated recovery playbook and coordinates hundreds of volunteers active in the ongoing response to this emergency.

The EOC and Kitsap Public Health District ensure health care providers have adequate resources to respond to and treat those infected with coronavirus. Their dedicated staff keeps the public informed of the disease’s spread and communicates how to prevent spread of the illness, in close coordination with the Washington Department of Health.

The Kitsap County Board of Commissioners continues to manage county operations and services. In addition to the county’s annual $379 million budget, commissioners oversee Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding from the federal government. County commissioners have directed the distribution of over $2 million to small businesses, local chambers of commerce, low-income residents and nonprofit agencies to help cover the financial impacts of COVID-19.

Funding provides rent and mortgage relief, personal protection equipment and reimburses some operating costs. This is only a small portion of our community need, but commissioners are committed to distributing available funding quickly and efficiently to ensure the health and well-being of residents, keeping our businesses open and the economy strong.

Volunteers have been essential helpers

Volunteers have also been key to the COVID-19 response. The impact of their efforts was evident during last month’s outbreak at St. Michael Medical Center. The 55 volunteers from the Department of Emergency Management, Empact Northwest and the Bainbridge Island Medical Reserve Corps administered more than 2,300 COVID-19 tests in five days to staff and vendors of the medical center.

These invaluable volunteers played a vital role in the quick response to contain the outbreak and identify those exposed to COVID to prevent further illness. The outbreak could have been significantly greater if not for these selfless individuals.

The county’s quarantine and isolation center is also largely supported by volunteers — and more are needed. The center provides housing for individuals who’ve been exposed to or tested positive for COVID-19 to protect other members of their household from infection.

Volunteers, with support from site managers, provide basic needs to guests. Training, personal protective equipment and steps to minimize possible exposure are provided. To help, go to bit.ly/KitsapQIVolunteerInfo or email volunteer@kitsapem.org.

On behalf of county commissioners, thank you to the hundreds of dedicated staff and volunteers who’ve joined in our response to the pandemic and to the residents and businesses that follow guidance and safety precautions to get us through this challenging time.