Whatcom sees 614 COVID cases and a death, as this school district returns to remote learning

·6 min read

As Whatcom County had 614 new COVID-19 cases and one COVID-related death reported by the state on Friday, Jan. 21, and the Blaine School District reported via Facebook that all students in the district — pre-K through 12th grade — will return to remote learning next week.

Monday, Jan. 24, was already a previously scheduled teacher workday, according to a Facebook post Friday announcing the move, but classes will not be held in classrooms Tuesday, Jan. 25, through Friday, Jan. 28.

“As everyone is now well aware, our county is seeing an unprecedented number of COVID-19 cases due to the spread of the Omicron variant, and our schools are being heavily impacted by this. Last week the number of positive cases on our campuses nearly doubled, with a current reported number of 118,” Superintendent Christopher Granger wrote in a Thursday, Jan. 20, letter before Friday’s announcement.

In that letter, Granger announced that six classrooms at Blaine Primary School, eight classrooms at Blaine Elementary and all middle school students (grades 6 through 8) were moving to remote learning due to the high numbers of cases seen in schools.

Thursday’s moves came after 23% of the district’s students, or 455 students, were absent Thursday, along with 23% (or 78) staff members.

“Our staff members are doing literally everything they possibly can to keep our buildings operating, but I fear a breaking point is very near,” Granger wrote Thursday.

With 182 cases reported by the Blaine School District in the first two weeks after winter break, the district has averaged 78.3 cases per 1,000 students in 2022, according to analysis by The Bellingham Herald — the highest mark among the five Whatcom County school districts that have reported the number of cases this year (the Ferndale School District reports COVID cases in a different way, while the Lynden School District has not updated its dashboard since last fall).

Whatcom expands testing capacity

The Whatcom County Health Department and Northwest Laboratory have expanded testing capacity, according to a health department news release Friday.

New slots will be limited to people with COVID-19 symptoms or who have been close contacts to confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to the release. They can be booked by calling 360-778-6075 between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. There is no voicemail available.

“We’re grateful to Northwest Laboratory for their diligent efforts to increase their testing capacity,” Whatcom County Health Department Communicable Disease and Epidemiology Manager Cindy Hollinsworth said in the release. “These new appointment slots will help us get more people tested in a shorter timeframe, which has been a challenge during the Omicron surge.”

Free at-home tests can also be obtained by mail:

From the federal government (four tests) by going to covidtests.gov or calling 1-800-232-0233.

From the Washington State Department of Health (five tests) by going to sayyescovidhometest.org or calling 1-800-525-0127

Latest Whatcom death

The death reported Friday on the Washington State Department of Health COVID-19 Data Dashboard brought the county’s pandemic total to 223, including 22 reported since Jan. 1.

The death reported Friday was for a person who first tested positive for COVID-19 on Jan. 10, The Herald’s analysis of the state’s epidemiological data found, bringing the county’s epidemiological death total for January to nine.

Since Aug. 1, the beginning of the delta surge, there have been 111 epidemiological deaths, The Herald found, which is nearly half of the county’s pandemic total.

With 18,501 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 0.8%.

No other information about the person whose death was reported Friday, 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. 14, 64% of Whatcom County’s 73 COVID-related deaths since Aug. 22, were in unvaccinated or partially vaccinated residents, The Herald’s analysis shows.

Other Whatcom numbers

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

25,827 confirmed cases during the pandemic — up 428 from the last report.

3,088 additional probable COVID cases during the pandemic — up 186 from the last report — resulting from positive antigen tests not confirmed by a molecular test.

A weekly infection rate of 1,423 cases per 100,000 residents for the most recently completed epidemiological data Jan. 2-8 — up from 612 one week earlier (Dec. 26-Jan. 1).

With 7,530 total cases epidemiologically linked to January, one in 31 Whatcom County residents has tested positive for COVID in 2022.

1,192 COVID-related hospitalizations during the pandemic — up three from the last report.

St. Joseph hospital in Bellingham reported it was treating 67 patients with COVID-related symptoms on Friday, which was down three from its last report.

A weekly COVID-related hospitalization rate of 22.8 patients per 100,000 residents for the most recently completed epidemiological hospitalization data from Jan. 2-8 — up from 17.1 from a week earlier (Dec. 26-Jan. 1).

1.6% of the 3,245 total COVID cases in the county Jan. 2-8 resulted in hospitalization, The Herald’s analysis of state epidemiological data found, which was down from 2.8% of the 1,395 total cases a week earlier (Dec. 26 to Jan. 1).

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.

350,870 vaccinations administered during the pandemic — up 1,726 from the last report. The state reports 70.3% of Whatcom County’s total population has initiated vaccination and 64.5% has completed it. The state also reports Whatcom has administered 72,863 “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 Friday listed Whatcom’s level of transmission as “High” — the highest of four categories. All of the 39 counties in Washington state and 99.5% of counties nationwide also were listed in the “High” transmission category.

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