COVID test shortage from state forces Bellingham school district to adjust prioritization

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Due to an expected shortage of COVID-19 tests being provided to school districts across Washington state, Bellingham Public Schools announced it will be forced to make changes to the way it prioritizes utilizing the tests that it has.

“Unfortunately, the state Department of Health has notified us that there are insufficient COVID-19 tests for schools across the state, and this shortage is expected to impact all schools over the next 2-3 weeks,” an email sent by Bellingham Public Schools Tuesday, Jan. 25, to families stated. “We are disappointed with this news, which comes at a challenging time with the Omicron surge and new government programs for free at-home tests.”

As a result of the shortage, the email said the school district’s tests will be prioritized to test unvaccinated close contacts participating in the district’s Test to Stay program, staff and students experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and students participating in extracurricular activities, such as athletics and performing arts.

Despite those changes, the district warned that “We may need to make difficult decisions in the coming weeks regarding athletics, such as delaying the start of seasons.”

The Bellingham Herald has asked the district how much of a reduction in testing supplies are expected over the next two weeks and whether the district will be relying on new testing supplies it will receive from the state or its supplies.

The district’s email Tuesday also said that it will be prioritizing contact tracing for higher-risk settings, such as athletics and classrooms where physical distancing may not be possible.

The district will continue to host vaccination clinics, including one scheduled for 5- to 11-year-olds on Thursday, Feb. 27, at Cordata Elementary, according to the email.

The district also said that it will be following Whatcom County Health Department guidance and asking unvaccinated students who live with someone who has tested positive to remain home until all COVID-positive people in the household have completed their five-day isolation period. Students will then be allowed to return under the Test to Stay program.

Whatcom’s latest COVID data

St. Joseph hospital in Bellingham reported Wednesday, Jan. 26, that it was treating 59 patients with COVID-related symptoms. That is down five from the hospital’s last report and the first time it reported fewer than 60 COVID-related patients since it had 55 on Jan. 14.

Starting this week, the Washington State Department of Health COVID-19 Data Dashboard only will be updated on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

Monday’s latest report on the state dashboard showed Whatcom County has:

30,202 total COVID-19 cases during the pandemic. Of those, 29% (8,817 cases) have been epidemiologically linked to January.

1,200 COVID-related hospitalizations during the pandemic. Of those, 12% (148 hospitalizations) have been epidemiologically linked to January.

224 COVID-related deaths during the pandemic. Of those, 4% (nine deaths) have been epidemiologically linked to January.

353,868 vaccinations administered during the pandemic. 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 Wednesday listed Whatcom’s level of transmission as “High” — the highest of four categories. All of the 39 counties in Washington state and all but seven counties nationwide also were listed in the “High” transmission category.

Whatcom schools COVID update

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

Bellingham Public Schools has reported 512 COVID-19 cases in its schools since the winter break, including 22 new cases listed Tuesday. Fourteen of those cases had a possible exposure window of Jan. 18-21: one new case at Cordata Elementary (six total cases with the same exposure window), three new cases at Northern Heights Elementary (nine total cases), one new case at Parkview Elementary (three total cases), five new cases at Squalicum High (30 total cases) and four new cases at Whatcom Middle School (17 total cases). The other eight cases had a possible exposure window of Jan. 24-28: two cases at Bellingham High, one case at Northern Heights Elementary, one case at Sehome High and four cases at Squalicum High.

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 and listed no new cases since Jan. 21.

Mount Baker School District reported 10 COVID-19 cases in its schools since the return from winter break, including two new cases at Mount Baker High with a possible exposure window of Jan. 3-9 (four total cases with the same exposure window).

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, 137 students or staff had a positive test reported to the Whatcom County Health Department in the past seven days — down two from the last report. Sixty-seven of those people were on a school campus during their infectious period.

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