Another Whatcom school returns to remote learning, as county surpasses 30,000 COVID cases

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As another Whatcom County school reported it was temporarily returning to remote learning Monday, Jan. 24, the county surpassed 30,000 total COVID-19 cases for the pandemic over the weekend and saw another COVID-related death.

The Mount Baker School District’s Acme Elementary is returning to remote learning from Tuesday, Jan. 25, through Friday, Jan. 28, according to a post by Acme Principal Erica Rasmussen on the district’s website.

“We have seen a recent surge in COVID cases at Acme,” Rasmussen wrote. “Today we were in consultation with the health department and arrived at the decision to have our entire school go remote for the remainder of this week (January 25-28, 2022). Starting tomorrow all Acme teachers will be teaching via Zoom.”

The Mount Baker School District’s COVID dashboard listed eight cases in its schools during the first week after returning from winter break, including one case at Acme Elementary, but the dashboard has not yet been updated with case information from the past two weeks.

Last week, Blaine School District Superintendent Christopher Granger announced that his entire district was returning to remote learning for this week’s classes.

“As we have been messaging, the rising rates of COVID in our community have stressed our system to the point where we have had to make the difficult decision to move to remote learning district wide next week,” Granger wrote in a letter on the district’s website Friday, Jan. 21.

“I assure you that we have been meeting with campus and district leaders consistently over the last few days and reviewing our staff and student absences, and it was a unanimous recommendation to move in this direction for a short period of time.”

Granger went on the say that the district saw 118 cases in its schools between Jan. 10 and Jan. 16 and it had already seen 55 cases last week (Jan. 17-23). Student absences in every school had climbed to more than 20%, Granger reported, and more than 75 staff members were out, leaving almost one-third of those vacancies filled by substitutes.

Granger said Blaine is planning to resume in-person learning Monday, Jan. 31, but will reevaluate conditions on Thursday or Friday of this week.

“In order for this pause in in-person learning to have the intended result, we ask that, to the best of your ability, you help by following the recommended precautions of social distancing and mask wearing,” Granger wrote.

Whatcom’s latest COVID-related death

The death reported Monday on the Washington State Department of Health COVID-19 Data Dashboard brought the county’s pandemic total to 224, including 23 reported since Jan. 1.

The death reported Monday was for a person who had first tested positive for COVID-19 on Dec. 31, The Bellingham Herald’s analysis of the state’s epidemiological data found, bringing the county’s epidemiological death total for December to 23.

Since Aug. 1, the beginning of the delta surge, there have been 112 epidemiological deaths, The Herald found, which is half of the county’s pandemic total. The county has seen 16 epidemiological deaths since Dec. 19, which was approximately when Whatcom began to see case counts climb steeply as the omicron variant took hold.

With 19,788 total cases (confirmed and probable combined) in the county since Aug. 1, Whatcom has seen 0.6% of cases during that time frame result in death, The Herald’s analysis showed. That is better than the county’s total pandemic death average of 0.7%.

No other information about the person whose death was reported Monday, such as their age, gender, vaccination status or hometown, was reported.

Through data reported by the Whatcom County Health Department on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 87% of the first 217 COVID-related deaths in the county were in residents 60 and older, including 104 deaths in residents 80 and older. Though the county has not seen any deaths of people younger than 30, the data shows, the deaths of five residents in their 30s and 13 residents in their 40s have been linked to COVID-19.

As of the Whatcom County Health Department’s latest COVID-19 Data Report released Friday, Jan. 21, 64% of Whatcom County’s 80 COVID-related deaths since Aug. 22, were in unvaccinated or partially vaccinated residents, The Herald’s analysis shows, including 68% of the 28 deaths since Dec. 19.

Other Whatcom numbers

The latest report on the state dashboard also shows Whatcom County has:

26,876 confirmed cases during the pandemic — up 1,049 from the last report.

3,326 additional probable COVID cases during the pandemic — up 238 from the last report — resulting from positive antigen tests not confirmed by a molecular test.

A weekly infection rate of 1,554 cases per 100,000 residents for the most recently completed epidemiological data Jan. 5-11 — up from 963 one week earlier (Dec. 29-Jan. 4).

With 8,817 total cases epidemiologically linked to January, one in 27 Whatcom County residents has tested positive for COVID in 2022. The total number of cases is likely higher, as the Whatcom County Health Department has said most at-home test results are not reported.

1,200 COVID-related hospitalizations during the pandemic — up eight from the last report.

St. Joseph hospital in Bellingham reported it was treating 64 patients with COVID-related symptoms on Tuesday, Jan. 25, which was up one from its last report.

A weekly COVID-related hospitalization rate of 27.2 patients per 100,000 residents for the most recently completed epidemiological hospitalization data from Jan. 5-11 — up from 18.9 from a week earlier (Dec. 29-Jan. 4).

1.8% of the 3,542 total COVID cases in the county Jan. 5-11 resulted in hospitalizations, The Herald’s analysis of state epidemiological data found, which was down from 2.0% of the 2,195 total cases a week earlier (Dec. 29-Jan. 4).

348,103 total tests (molecular and antigen combined). The state reported that an “unexpected delay” has once again pushed back the resumption of its reporting of testing data until approximately Feb. 28.

353,868 vaccinations administered during the pandemic — up 2,998 from the last report. The state reports 70.5% of Whatcom County’s total population has initiated vaccination and 64.6% has completed it. The state also reports Whatcom has administered 75,185 “additional doses,” which includes third doses for immunocompromised residents and booster doses, have been administered.

Additionally, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Data Tracker Tuesday listed Whatcom’s level of transmission as “High” — the highest of four categories. All of the 39 counties in Washington state and 99.8% of counties nationwide also were listed in the “High” transmission category.

The state Department of Health announced that it will begin updating its COVID-19 Data Dashboard on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only, beginning this week.

Whatcom schools COVID update

The COVID-19 dashboards on Whatcom County school district websites showed:

Bellingham Public Schools has reported 490 COVID-19 cases in its schools since the winter break, including 20 new cases listed Monday, all of which had a possible exposure window of Jan. 18-21: one new case at Bellingham High (10 total cases with same exposure window), one case at Columbia Elementary, two new cases at Fairhaven Middle School (five total cases), five new cases at Sehome High (25 total cases), eight cases at Silver Beach Elementary and three new cases at Whatcom Middle School (13 total cases).

Blaine School District reported 182 total COVID-19 cases in its schools since winter break and listed no new cases since Jan. 16.

Lynden School District reported 206 total COVID-19 cases in its schools since winter break and listed no new cases since Jan. 21.

Meridian School District reported 196 COVID-19 cases in its schools since winter break, including 90 new cases with a possible exposure window of Jan. 17-21: five cases in the Meridian Parent Partnership Program, 39 cases at Irene Reither Elementary, 13 cases at Meridian Middle School and 33 cases at Meridian High.

Mount Baker School District reported eight COVID-19 cases in its schools since the return from winter break and listed no new cases since Jan. 9.

Nooksack Valley School District reported 67 COVID-19 cases since returning from winter break and listed no new cases since Jan. 15.

Ferndale School District reported that as of Tuesday, 139 students or staff had a positive test reported to the Whatcom County Health Department in the past seven days — up 53 from the last report and the highest it has reported this year. Eighty-four of those people were on a school campus during their infectious period.

Western Washington University reported that it had 127 students and 15 employees test positive for COVID-19 Jan. 17-23, as its totals for the winter quarter increased to 621 students and 63 employees. During the 2021-22 school year, the school has reported 737 students and 76 employees have tested positive.

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