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As Whatcom schools report additional COVID cases, county sees increase of 59 Wednesday

The Bellingham Herald logoThe Bellingham Herald 1/22/2021 David Rasbach, The Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Wash.)

Jan. 21—Whatcom County saw 59 new confirmed COVID-19 cases reported by the Washington State Department of Health dashboard Wednesday, as it closed in on its 5,000th positive test during the pandemic.

Whatcom's death total remained unchanged, as the state did not report deaths Wednesday, once again citing processing issues and saying a full report of deaths will be made Thursday, Jan. 21.

Overall, Whatcom County has seen 4,939 confirmed cases and 56 related deaths during the pandemic, according to state data as of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 19. That means that 1.1% of the Whatcom residents who have tested positive for COVID during the pandemic have died.

Fifteen additional probable cases — an increase of one from Tuesday's report — have been reported in Whatcom County during the pandemic, resulting from positive antigen tests, but those cases were not confirmed by a molecular test.

Since Jan. 1, Whatcom County's reported case total has increased by 1,470 — already the largest month the county has seen during the pandemic by nearly 400 cases. Whatcom's seven-day average of reported cases did dip to 69.6 cases per day only three days after reaching a record high of 107.0.

On Tuesday, the state began releasing statewide and county-by-county data on vaccinations — metrics it says it plans to update on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays..

Wednesday's report said that as of 11:59 p.m. Monday, Jan. 18, Whatcom County had administered 7,212 vaccinations — an increase of 1,268 vaccinations from Tuesday's report, which was through 11:59 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 16. The state estimates that 3.32% of the county (or approximately 7,480 residents) have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 0.73% of the county (or approximately 1,645 residents) are fully vaccinated.

The state Department of Health data Wednesday also showed Whatcom County has had 250 hospitalizations during the pandemic, an increase of 14 from Tuesday's report, though the state previously said hospitalization data was incomplete on Monday and Tuesday, so Wednesday's increase was likely from several days.

The state reported that a total of 139,159 molecular tests have been administered in Whatcom County during the pandemic — an increase of 1,338 tests from Tuesday's report. The state cautioned that negative test results Nov. 21-30 and since Jan. 2 still are incomplete.

St. Joseph hospital in Bellingham, which is licensed and staffed for 241 beds, reported to The Bellingham Herald on Thursday it was treating 25 patients daily for COVID-19, a decrease of one from Wednesday's report and five fewer than the record 30 it reported Jan. 13. St. Joseph has banned visitors at the medical center until further notice while COVID-19 remains a public health threat.

Western Washington University's most recent on-campus student COVID testing data show Thursday that, since Sept. 15, WWU has tested 17,299 students, 55 of whom had positive tests — unchanged from Wednesday's report. The college has seen 17 new cases since the school resumed testing following the winter break.

The Lummi Tribal Health Center reported in a Facebook post 12 new cases Wednesday, bringing the total number of cases in the Lummi community during the pandemic to 239. The Lummi health department reported it has 54 active cases and one current hospitalization. During the pandemic, seven community members have been hospitalized, one has died and the health center has conducted 3,747 tests. Positive tests for the last two weeks are at 13.61%.

Birchwood sees third case

Birchwood Elementary in Bellingham has seen its third COVID-19 case, according to the Bellingham Public School's COVID dashboard. Only one case has been reported in the most recent incident, which was reported this week, and only selected contacts have had to return to remote learning. They are expected to return Feb. 1.

Brichwood Elementary had previous incidents reported the week of Nov. 16 and Nov. 30. Each of those also were limited to one confirmed case, but both required a full class return to remote learning.

Overall, Bellingham Public Schools has now reported nine separate incidents, each involving only one confirmed case. The district also is estimating that 1,600 students are participating in in-person learning and 875 staff members are working on site.

Lynden schools update

In addition to the four cases reported at Lynden Middle School, the Lynden School District's COVID-19 dashboard was updated late Wednesday to reflect four additional cases last week.

According to the dashboard, single cases were identified and investigated at Bernice Vossbeck Elementary, Isom Elementary, Lynden Academy and in the preschool during the week of Jan. 11-15. Of those four, only the case at the preschool required that a class return to remote learning — it is scheduled to return Jan. 27.

Overall, the Lynden School District has reported 14 separate incidents since the week of Oct. 12-16 for a total of 18 cases — seven incidents and 10 cases have occurred in 2021. Of those 14 incidents, half have required classes to be temporarily closed and students to return to remote learning.

Whatcom receives poor grade

As COVID-19 cases soar locally, Whatcom County received a D+ grade for its social distancing practices, according to the electronic data aggregator Unacast.

Unacast, which uses location information from mobile phones to inform business and advertising strategies, also has been tracking how Americans have been observing social-distancing guidelines since the start of the new coronavirus pandemic.

Similar data is used by #WANotify to let Washington residents know if they've been near a person who has tested positive for COVID-19.

Phone data from Dec. 27 through Jan. 1 gave Whatcom County a D for 25% to 40% reduction in average mobility based on distance traveled and an F for less than 55% reduction in non-essential visits.

That's tempered with a B for an 82% to 94% decrease in encounters density compared to the national baseline.

Nearby Skagit and Island counties received D+ grades, and Snohomish County got a D-, according to Unacast. San Juan County got an A, but some data was missing so its overall score was incomplete.

—Robert Mittendorf, rmittendorf@bhamherald.com

Whatcom's risk assessment

The state's Risk Assessment Dashboard was last updated Wednesday evening for data as of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 19. With a shift to "Healthy Washington" goals to resume business activities, the state was more specific on reporting dates for some metrics. The dashboard does not update on the weekends.

Whatcom County was missing the marks on two key metrics:

— Whatcom is missing the target rate of fewer than 25 new cases per 100,000 residents Dec. 28-Jan. 10 with a rate of 442.5 — an increase from 418.6 reported Tuesday.

— Whatcom had an average COVID-19 molecular testing rate per 100,000 people Jan. 3-9 of 335.7. No goal was stated for this metric, however, the overall statewide number was 286.2 and it was an increase from Whatcom's average of 335.7 reported Tuesday.

— Whatcom is missing the target of less than 2.0% of individuals testing positive for COVID-19 Jan. 3-9 with a rate of 6.9% — an increase from the 6.2% reported Tuesday.

The latest Healthcare System Readiness risk assessment dashboard, updated Wednesday evening for data through Tuesday, shows for the North region, which combines Whatcom, Skagit, Snohomish, San Juan and Island counties:

— Occupied beds: 1,025 of the region's 1,197 adult hospital beds (85.6%) were occupied, missing the state's goal of 80% or less and an increase of 24 occupied beds from data Tuesday.

— COVID occupied beds: 161 of the region's 1,197 adult hospital beds (13.5%) were occupied by COVID patients, missing the state's goal of 10% or less and a decrease of five occupied beds from data Tuesday.

— Occupied ICU beds: 95 of the region's 138 adult ICU beds (68.8%) were occupied. The state does not have a goal for this metric, but it was an increase of seven beds being used from data Tuesday.

— COVID occupied ICU beds: 28 of the region's 138 adult ICU beds (20.3%) were occupied by COVID patients. The state does not have a goal for this metric, but it was unchanged from data Tuesday.

Numbers elsewhere

New coronavirus cases and deaths according to Johns Hopkins University Thursday morning:

— The U.S. has more than 24.4 million reported cases, the most of any nation, and more than 406,000 deaths.

— Worldwide, there are more than 97.0 million reported cases and 2.0 million deaths.

Washington state reported these numbers from the Department of Health Wednesday afternoon:

— 281,258 confirmed cases, an increase of 1,837 from reported cases on Tuesday.

— 12,759 probable cases, an increase of 191 from Tuesday's data.

— 16,848 coronavirus-related hospitalizations, an increase of 206 from data Tuesday.

— 4,297,306 total molecular tests, an increase of 31,758 from Tuesday's data.

— 3,940 deaths related to COVID-19 were reported, which is unchanged from Tuesday's data due to state data processing issues.

— 335,836 vaccinations given, an increase of 41,450 from Tuesday's data. The state has averaged administering 15,500 doses of vaccines the past seven days — approximately a third of the Department of Health's stated goal of 45,000. The state estimates that 3.74% of the state residents have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 0.67% percent of residents are fully vaccinated.

— So far, 608,325 doses have been delivered to Washington state providers and 88,725 doses have been delivered for the CDC's long-term care program, and of the total 697,050 doses delivers, 48.18% have been given. Vaccination data should next be updated Friday.

Washington state actions

In the "Healthy Washington" plan introduced by Gov. Jay Inslee Jan. 5, business resumption is tied to targets by health system regions. Whatcom is tied to Skagit, San Juan and Island counties in the plan.

The state will run analyses each Friday to determine whether regions will move backward or forward in phases the following Monday, officials said.

All regions began in Phase 1 on Jan. 11 and continue into a second week in Phase 1. It allows live entertainment with ticketed groups of up to 10 people and very limited fitness activities such as appointment-based training in gyms.

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