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Tightknit community’s brush with coronavirus hits home for a Seattle reporter

Hometown roots helped city reporter David Kroman get connected to Kitsap County’s first COVID-19 patients on Bainbridge Island.

Tom and Marnie Malpass on a video call in their home

I grew up in the Puget Sound area, which has meant that as I report on the incredible toll coronavirus is taking on our region, I’m also reporting on what it means for my family and friends.

The intersection can be difficult at times. I spend my days knee-deep in bad news, and it’s hard to not let my mind wander to what this means for the people I love. 

But reporting on the place you grew up can also have its benefits. My sister lives on Bainbridge Island, my childhood home. Marooned at home like many of us, she’s kept a close eye on COVID-19 in her tightknit community. 

So when word spread that two people on Bainbridge Island had come down with the new illness, she alerted me. As it turned out, the family lived just down the road from her. Neither of us knew them, but we knew people who did. Through our small-town channels, I was soon in touch with Tom and Marnie Malpass, cases number 1 and 2 in Kitsap County

The Malpasses’ experience was, of course, terrifying for them and their neighbors. But it was also a window into the realities of COVID-19. For one, they had wildly different symptoms, a lesson in how life-threatening it can become and also how seriously we should take even mild symptoms. 

Their story was also one about testing — or a lack thereof. Both are well-connected medical professionals, but it took nearly two weeks for Marnie to get tested, despite ticking nearly every box for symptoms. And now that they’re home, they’re unable to get retested to know whether they can safely interact with their community. 

As this pandemic continues, their story will also be one about reentry. The two presume they will be immune from catching or spreading the virus again and are motivated to use that immunity to be helpful — volunteering in the community, even coming out of retirement to use their medical skills. 

As Tom told me, “We can still be a little bit useful.”

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