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Friday, January 22, 2021

COVID-19 cases surge across Whatcom County as holidays grow closer

Cases nearly tripled since last month

This graph shows the sharp increase in COVID-19 cases in Whatcom County in recent weeks. Photo from Whatcom County COVID-19 data website

By Henry Stewart-Wood

Whatcom County recorded its highest-ever rate of positive COVID-19 tests the week before Gov. Inslee’s lockdown was instituted, according to the county website.

“Considering the current escalation of cases and the fact that we do not yet have a vaccine for COVID-19, the safest recourse is not to meet or gather for the holidays,” said Amy Cloud, a member of the Whatcom Unified Command, a group of agencies working on COVID-19 matters. 

During the week ending Nov. 14, a record number of COVID-19 tests came back positive,  according to the county’s COVID-19 data website.

Although the data is incomplete for the most recent weeks, current complete data on the website shows that between Nov. 4 and Nov. 17, the rate of COVID-19 cases was 143 per 100,000 people. 

This is a sharp increase in cases compared to Oct. 22 through Nov. 4, when the county had a COVID-19 positivity rate of 55 cases per 100,000 people. 

However, the current rise in cases is distributed fairly evenly across age groups, said Amy Hockenberry, statistics lead for the Whatcom County Health Department.

“The rise in cases is not concentrated in a population that we would expect to require acute care,” Hockenberry said. “Also, with the age distribution, we are seeing confirmed cases who either are asymptomatic or experience mild symptoms which also require little to no medical attention.”

Despite a wider distribution of cases, 85% of the county’s hospital beds are occupied, exceeding the goal of 80%, according to the county’s COVID-19 website. 

Through several testing sites including the Community Testing Program, the county has the capacity to administer upward of 700 tests a day, said Lynn Pittinger, who leads the county’s testing program. 

An average of 305 tests are administered each day in Whatcom County, according to the county’s COVID-19 website

People experiencing homelessness often have underlying health conditions that make them at higher risk for COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The shutdown of businesses led to a rise in unemployment, which created financial hardships for many people, according to the Washington Employment Security Department

Whatcom County has a framework in place to assist people who are experiencing homelessness or are struggling to get by during the pandemic, said Ann Beck, human services supervisor at the Whatcom County Health Department. 

“The county partnered with other community agencies to offer rental and mortgage assistance to those who had income affected by COVID,” Beck said. “That program recently wrapped up, and we were able to get over $450,000 out to over 150 households in Whatcom County.”

The City of Bellingham opened up showers at Civic Field for people to use during the pandemic, Beck said. The county is one of the funders of the Lighthouse Mission’s Base Camp facility, the largest drop-in homeless shelter in Bellingham, Beck said. 

To ensure hospitals in the county aren’t overwhelmed, the county is working with PeaceHealth’s St. Joseph Hospital to ensure healthcare workers have the resources they need, Cloud said. 

Keep up to date on the latest COVID-19 data for Whatcom County here.

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