Whatcom adds 560 COVID cases, 26 hospitalizations, 2 deaths, as Base Camp sees outbreak

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With high COVID-19 case counts continuing to roll in during a January surge, Whatcom County is fast approaching its 25,000th COVID-19 case of the pandemic.

The county saw another big tally on the Washington State Department of Health’s COVID-19 Data Dashboard Wednesday, Jan. 12, as 560 new cases, 26 COVID-related hospitalizations and two COVID-related deaths were reported.

The county had three new confirmed omicron cases reported in this week’s SARS-CoV-2 Sequencing Variants in Washington State report released Wednesday, bringing its pandemic total to 31 confirmed cases.

Additionally, Lighthouse Mission Ministries reported Wednesday that it is dealing with an outbreak of cases at its Base Camp homeless shelter.

Whatcom’s COVID case count

With the 560 new COVID-19 cases reported by the state Wednesday, Whatcom County has now had 24,912 total cases during the pandemic, stretching back to its first reported case on March 10, 2020.

Of the 560 cases reported by the state Wednesday, 351 were confirmed cases, resulting from a positive molecular test, and 209 were probable cases from a positive antigen test not confirmed by a molecular test. Whatcom has now had 22,633 confirmed cases and 2,279 probable cases during the pandemic.

Whatcom’s weekly infection rate jumped to a pandemic record 827 cases per 100,000 residents for the most recently completed epidemiological data from Dec. 28 to Jan. 3. That was up from 296 one week earlier (Dec. 21-27).

That means Whatcom’s current case rates are more than 2½ times higher than they were during the peak of the delta surge in late August and early September and nearly three times what they were during the peak of last year’s post-holiday surge.

Epidemiologically, Whatcom County has had 3,538 total cases (confirmed and probable combined) since Jan. 1, though data remains incomplete between Jan. 3 and Jan. 11 and is likely to increase. That means at least one in 65 Whatcom County residents has tested positive for COVID-19 during the first 11 days of 2022, according to analysis by The Bellingham Herald.

Whatcom’s COVID-related hospitalizations

The 26 COVID-related hospitalizations reported by the state Wednesday represent two day’s worth of data, as the state dashboard reported an “interruption” prevented an update on Tuesday, Jan. 11.

They push Whatcom’s pandemic total to 1,113 hospitalizations, including 100 since the Dec. 27 report.

The county’s weekly hospitalization rate stands at 15.4 COVID-related admissions per 100,000 residents for the most recently completed epidemiological data from Dec. 28 to Jan. 3. That is up from the 9.2 rate one week earlier (Dec. 21-27).

St. Joseph hospital in Bellingham reported it was treating 60 COVID-related patients on Thursday, Jan. 13, which was down from the pandemic record 64 it reported on Wednesday.

Because of its high patient count helping push capacity to and beyond 100%, the hospital has previously announced that it is rescheduling surgeries that can be postponed and has asked the residents who need medical attention for milder injuries or illness, such as mild burns or cuts, allergies, sprains, urinary tract infections or flu and cold symptoms, to seek treatment by primary care physicians, urgent care clinics and same-day clinics rather than going to the hospital.

Other hospitals in the region, such as those in Skagit County, have made similar moves.

As of the Whatcom County Health Department’s latest COVID-19 Data Report released Friday, Jan. 7, 366 of Whatcom County’s 446 COVID-related deaths (82%) since Aug. 22 were in unvaccinated or partially vaccinated residents, The Herald’s analysis shows.

Whatcom’s most recent deaths

The two deaths reported by the state Wednesday brought the county’s pandemic total to 213, including 28 reported in the past 24 days. Like the hospitalization data, the state’s death data represents two day’s worth of information after an “interruption” prevented an update on the dashboard Tuesday.

The deaths reported Wednesday were for people who first tested positive for COVID-19 on Oct. 23 and Dec. 26, The Herald’s analysis of the state’s epidemiological data found, bringing the county’s epidemiological death total for October to 19 and December to 20. There has been one death epidemiologically linked to 2022, so far.

Since Aug. 1, the beginning of the delta surge, there have been 100 epidemiological deaths, The Herald found, which is 47% of the county’s pandemic total.

With 14,499 total cases (confirmed and probable combined) in the county since Aug. 1, Whatcom has seen 0.7% 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 0.9%, according to the state’s data, and the statewide 1.0% rate for the pandemic.

No other information about the people whose deaths were reported Wednesday, such as their age, gender, vaccination status or hometown, was reported.

Through data reported by the Whatcom County Health Department on Tuesday, 87% of the first 211 COVID-related deaths in the county were in residents 60 and older, including 101 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 four 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. 7, 44 of Whatcom County’s 67 COVID-related deaths (66%) since Aug. 22 were in unvaccinated or partially vaccinated residents, The Herald’s analysis shows.

Whatcom variant update

Despite of the low number of confirmed omicron cases reported last week, Whatcom County Co-Health Officer Dr. Amy Harley said during an online briefing Tuesday, Jan. 11, that the variant is likely having a much larger impact on Whatcom’s recent case counts.

“We know that virtually all the cases in Whatcom County are likely to be omicron right now,” Harley said during the briefing. “There is an early marker that is visible on the PCR signal that is consistent with omicron, and that’s close to 90% in our county. So even though we don’t have the genotype, chances are that we’re close to that number in Whatcom County.”

Statewide, 1,586 confirmed omicron cases have been reported, according to the report, which is up nearly 98% from the 802 cases reported last week.

The state’s latest variant report showed the other five variant cases confirmed in Whatcom County last week were delta variant — the only other “variant of concern” being monitored by the state. Whatcom has had 2,033 confirmed delta cases since the first case was reported July 6. Those 2,033 cases represent 16% of the 12,802 total cases reported in the county since July 6.

Whatcom County has at least one case of seven of the eight “variants being monitored” by the state. But beyond the delta, alpha (476 total cases) and gamma (255 total cases), Whatcom has seen fewer than 50 cases of every other variant.

Whatcom’s 2,867 total variant cases represent 18% of the 15,848 confirmed cases in the county since the first variant was reported Feb. 23.

Statewide, the report said that 4.5% of all confirmed molecular COVID-19 cases were sequenced during the month of December and 60,228 specimens (9.7% of all confirmed cases) have been sequenced since January 2021, meaning variant counts are likely much higher.

Statewide, the Department of Health found there have been 10,527 vaccine “breakthrough” cases involving the delta variant, which represents 29% of the 36,072 confirmed delta variant cases in the state. There have been 795 Omicron “breakthrough” cases, which represents 50% of the confirmed cases in the state.

Also, the state reported that 4% of confirmed delta and 0.3% of confirmed omicron cases have resulted in hospitalization, while 1.1% of delta cases and 0.1% of omicron cases have resulted in death.

Other Whatcom numbers

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

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.

339,913 vaccinations administered during the pandemic — up 1,206 from the last report. The state reports 69.8% of Whatcom County’s total population has initiated vaccination and 64.0% has completed it. Whatcom County also surpassed 80% of all residents 12 and older initiating vaccination in Wednesday’s report.

63,541 “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 Thursday listed Whatcom’s level of transmission as “High” — the highest of four categories. All of the 39 counties in Washington state and 99% of counties nationwide also were listed in the “High” transmission category.

Base Camp COVID outbreak

Lighthouse Mission Ministries is managing a COVID-19 outbreak at the Base Camp homeless shelter along with help from the Whatcom County Health Department, according to a news release Wednesday.

Base Camp guests who have tested positive have been transferred to the Isolation and Quarantine facility on Byron Street, a secondary isolation facility at Civic Stadium or have been assigned to an isolation dorm for asymptomatic guests at Base Camp, according to the release. The second isolation facility at Civic Stadium was opened by the health department Tuesday after the Byron Street facility had been operating at 100% capacity in recent weeks.

“Our top priority is guest and staff safety. We’re grateful for the resources coming together at this important time, and for expanded isolation and quarantine capacity,” Lighthouse Mission President and CEO Hans Erchinger-Davis said in the release. “With continued testing, we’ll hopefully tamp out this outbreak as quickly as possible.”

Erchinger-Davis told The Herald that approximately 30 Base Camp guests tested positive for COVID-19 during a mass testing event on Dec. 24. Another 26 guests tested positive during a second mass test on Tuesday, Erchinger-Davis told The Herald.

Erichinger-Davis and his staff have had no reports of any Base Camp guests being admitted to the hospital with COVID-related symptoms from the recent outbreak, he told The Herald.

Regular COVID testing and safety measures are continuing at Base Camp, Agape Home and the Ascent Program, Erchinger-Davis said in the release, but the number of guests at Base Camp has dropped to between 162 to 183 because guests are staying at the isolation and quarantine facilities.

Whatcom schools COVID update

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

Bellingham Public Schools has reported 186 cases in its schools since the winter break, including 53 new cases listed Wednesday. Of those new cases 18 had a possible exposure window of Jan. 3-7: three new cases at Alderwood Elementary, one new case at Carl Cozier Elementary, one new case at Kulshan Middle School, 12 new cases at Squalicum High and one new case at Wade King Elementary. Each school already had other cases reported with the same exposure window. The other 35 new cases had a possible exposure window of Jan. 10-14: 13 cases at Bellingham High, one case at Carl Cozier Elementary, two cases at Columbia Elementary, one new case at Fairhaven Middle School, one case at Northern Heights Elementary, one case at Roosevelt Elementary, two cases at Sehome High, three cases at Shuksan Middle School, three new cases at Silver Beach Elementary, six cases at Squalicum High, one case at Wade King Elementary and one new case at Whatcom Middle School. Fairhaven, Silver Beach and Whatcom all had previous cases reported in the same exposure window.

Blaine School District has reported 225 total COVID-19 cases in its schools this school year, but it hasn’t listed any cases since the return from winter break.

Lynden School District has reported 293 total COVID-19 cases in its schools this school year, but it hasn’t reported any cases since Dec. 17.

Meridian School District has previously reported 36 COVID-19 cases in its schools since the return from winter break, but listed no new cases since Jan. 7.

Mount Baker School District has reported 63 COVID-19 cases in its schools this school year, but it hasn’t reported any cases since the return from winter break.

Nooksack Valley School District has reported 44 COVID-19 cases in its schools since Oct. 31, but it hasn’t reported any cases since Dec. 18.

Ferndale School District reported 78 students or staff had a positive test reported to the Whatcom County Health Department in the past seven days — up 20 from the last report. Forty of those people were on a school campus during their infectious period.

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