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Wade Zick tells of running quarantine camp

Recently Wade Zick, managing director at Pilgrim Firs Camp and Conference Center, shared his experienced running and living on-site daily at Pilgrim Firs since it has become a COVID-19 quarantine camp.

Ambulance is parked at Pilgrim Firs. Photo courtesy of Wade Zick

Pilgrim Firs, 90 wooded acres located three miles from Port Orchard, is one of two quarantine and isolation centers set up by Kitsap County in March 2020 for people exposed to or testing positive for COVID-19.  It opened on April 13 and accepts patients referred by health care providers or public health officials in the county.

A bulletin of the Kitsap County Emergency Operations Center describes the program.

The center provides the county a way to slow the spread of COVID-19 by providing a safe place for people who are sick or exposed to stay apart from others.  It protects the community and keeps hospital beds available for those who need them most, said Kitsap public health district administrator Keith Grellner.

He explained the difference between isolation and quarantine.  Isolation is for people exhibiting symptoms or testing positive.  Quarantine is for people who are well but may have been exposed.  Some need alternative housing to protect family and others fro infection.

At Pilgrim Firs, separate cabins keep those in isolation apart from those in quarantine. Those using the temporary center are those most likely to have been exposed, like first responders and health care workers.

A team of health, social services and emergency management personnel make the centers supportive, safe and secure.  Medical support is available on site, but patients care for themselves.  Necessities are provided, so patients don’t need to leave the grounds. Anyone who does is not readmitted.  Staff and security personnel are on site 24 hours.

That’s the setting in which Wade has been working.

“First, it’s pretty weird. Second, it can be scary. Third, it is super frustrating. Lastly, it is boring,” he summed up.

It’s weird that just a few hundred yards away on-site is someone positive with COVID with their infant. It’s not like they come over for conversation or to have coffee in the morning in the dining hall.

Guests are in their housing, especially if not feeling well, or walking on the trails.

“It’s weird seeing ambulances on site with frequency bringing and dropping off guests. It’s weird seeing the county volunteers in full PPE in our golf carts around camp,” Wade said. “It’s weird that in many ways, we have adjusted to living on site where people are positive or awaiting, with tons of anxiety, their COVID test or results.”

It can be scary. COVID is present in a daily way and not simply through the county count of positives or because of wearing an inconvenient mask at the store.

“I don’t get to live in denial of COVID being really nasty, because I’m in fear of it every day as it lives near us,” he said. “I don’t get to interact with others and not remember I live at a COVID site—even though I’m extremely safe.

“It’s just plain scary. I see the number of 188,000+ dead and don’t think about the preconditions or age that may have contributed,” Wade said.  “I see our guests and I am scared for them being added to that count because you never know.”

It’s frustrating as he goes out into the wider world and sees many folks who have decided it’s not really a big deal.

“They wear masks under their nose and some not at all. They decide being within six feet of me is perfectly fine for them, but don’t realize it’s not okay with me,” he said.

“I get frustrated when people complain about economic impacts and dismiss the reality of people being really sick and dying. I get frustrated when churches and schools decide to gather in person rather than be safer and utilize technology. I get frustrated when our politicians don’t talk about how bad this really is for people—even those who are not positive.”

He is also frustrated when he walks around and knows Pilgrim Firs has guests because some people did not take precautions seriously.

Wade is also quite bored because of the whole thing.

“I want camps back of 140 hippie guitar players, rather than nine COVID guests. I want folks to chat with in the dining hall rather than someone who I wave at across the field. I want something more exciting than packing a toiletry kit or a welcome snack bag for a new guest.

“I am bored of a virus that scares me and that has changed everything I am doing and all the financials surrounding it. I am bored of no vacations and having few friends over with lots of weird restrictions,” Wade continued.

“I’m bored of people who decide talking about race is more about one’s political affiliation then a pivotal historical moment, where our shared experience of humanity becomes more equal,” he asserted.

“I’m bored of staying home rather than risking being one of our COVID guests, yet, I mostly stay home,” he said.

So, for the last almost six months, he has run and lived at a COVID camp and is just sharing his thoughts.

He knows his life is probably like many and not at all like most.

“Please know I believe my privilege in running the COVID camp is immense,” Wade said, clarifying that his sharing was not meant to be complaining.

“I have much to be grateful for but also am in a weird space and thought sharing might be interesting to someone,” he said.  “Maybe it’s mostly cathartic for myself, however.

In any case, he closed with a message of love and advice: “Wear a damn mask. Stay six feet away from others. Don’t become one of my guests!”

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Pacific Northwest Conference United Church News © Fall 2020


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