In the Media
For much of the pandemic, the only silver lining to coming down with a case of COVID-19 was that you likely wouldn't catch it again for a while (though there isn't exactly a definitive answer on how long that period immunity typically lasts).
Increasingly, however, more people appear to be contracting the virus multiple times in relatively quick succession, as another omicron subvariant sweeps through the U.S.
The BA.5 variant is now the most dominant strain of COVID-19 in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And while it's hard to get an exact count — given how many people are taking rapid tests at home — there are indications that both reinfections and hospitalizations are increasing.
For example: Some 31,000 people across the U.S. are currently hospitalized with the virus, with admissions up 4.5% compared to a week ago. And data from New York state shows that reinfections started trending upwards again in late June.
So far there is no evidence that this variant causes more serious illness. And infectious disease experts say that even though new infections are on the rise, the impact of BA.5 is unlikely to be on the scale of the surge we saw last winter — in part because the country is better equipped to manage it.
For the first time since May the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rated Whatcom County at “low” community COVID-19 risk level, though one region within the county would have received a “high” rating and three others would have been “medium.”
The county’s rates of reported COVID-19 cases and its COVID-related hospitalizations both dropped to levels last week low enough for the CDC to give Whatcom the “low” community rating when new data was released Thursday, July 7, marking the first time since the week of May 22-28 that Whatcom County was in the lowest of the CDC’s three categories after four straight weeks at “medium.” But The Bellingham Herald’s analysis of the latest location data released Thursday by the Whatcom County Health Department showed that the region covered by the Mount Baker School District would receive a “high” rating if the CDC drilled down to that level. The CDC recommends every resident within counties that receive “high” rankings mask in public situations.
As of Thursday, July 7, St. Joseph hospital in Bellingham reported it was treating 15 COVID-related patients. That would give it an average of 14.1 COVID-related patients per day over the past week (July 1-7) — up from 12.1 one week earlier (June 24-30) but well within the CDC’s “low” guidelines with 5.6% of the hospital’s 252 inpatient beds filled by COVID patients.
The most transmissible variant of the coronavirus is threatening a fresh wave of infections in the United States, even among those who have recovered from the virus fairly recently.
The subvariant of omicron known as BA.5 is now dominant, according to federal estimates released Tuesday, and together with BA.4, another subvariant, it is fueling an outbreak of cases and hospitalizations.
Although the popularity of home testing means reported cases are a significant undercount of the true infection rate, the share of tests that come back positive is shooting upward and is now higher than during most other waves of the pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk from COVID-19 is increasing in much of the country.
“I think there’s an underappreciation of what it’s going to do to the country, and it already is exerting its effect,” said Eric Topol, a professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research, who has written about the subvariant.
BA.5 and BA.4, both subvariants of the omicron variant that swept the world during the winter, are the most capable versions of the virus yet at evading immunity from previous infections and vaccines.
The number of bald eagles seen around Deming in the last 50 years has sextupled, a trend that persists all along the Nooksack River.
Past studies in the area have shown only about 100 bald eagles in an 18-mile stretch of the Nooksack River, but that number has ballooned to nearly 600, according to a soon-to-be-published study.
The independent study, titled Spatiotemporal Responses of Wintering Bald Eagles to Changes in Salmon Carcass Availability in the Pacific Northwest, was conducted by Ethan Duvall, a graduate student at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. The study will be available through the Northwest Scientific Association.
Duvall spent two winters trekking along the Nooksack River, beginning the study during his time at Western Washington University. While hiking in the cold months, he counted the bald eagles in the area and monitored what they ate.
Duvall said there were clear connections between the availability of chum salmon remains and the response of bald eagles. One limiting factor is the amount of total salmon available, and in rivers like the Skagit, this could drive eagles to rivers with more stable salmon populations like the Nooksack.
But, this is not the most important factor. Duvall said a more "ubiquitous" concern was climate change and how that affects salmon migration and water flow.
A waterway in the San Juan Islands has officially been renamed to honor one of Washington’s first Indigenous elected officials.
The little-known strait of water — about a half-mile wide and 2 miles long between Orcas and Shaw islands — is now named Cayou Channel.
Previously, the channel was named Harney Channel, after Gen. William Harney, who almost started the “Pig War” and was also responsible for the slaying of Indigenous people and an enslaved woman.
Now, the channel honors Henry Cayou, who was an Orcas Island county commissioner for 29 years. Cayou was a commercial fisherman and lived his entire life on Orcas Island, from 1869 to 1959.
President Biden signed an executive order Friday that takes incremental steps to preserve abortion access — but he underscored that it would take political change to restore the rights removed when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
At least nine states have banned abortion so far — including Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin. A dozen more states are expected to prohibit or restrict the procedure in the coming weeks.
"I'm asking the Justice Department that, much like they did in the Civil Rights era, to do everything in their power to protect these women seeking to invoke their rights," Biden said at the White House on Friday.
The executive order pledges to ensure the safety of abortion patients and providers, including setting up mobile clinics near the borders of states restricting abortion access. It also seeks to convene private, pro bono lawyers to offer support to people crossing state lines to get an abortion.
Another part of the order directs the secretary of Health and Human Services to issue a report in the next 30 days outlining additional actions to protect medication abortion, expand access on emergency contraception and IUDs, and increase public education around reproductive rights.
Nearly 300,000 children under 5 have received COVID-19 shots in the two weeks since they became available, a slower pace than for older groups. But the White House says that was expected for the eligible U.S. population of about 18 million kids.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was to publish initial data on shots for the age group later Thursday, reflecting doses administered since regulators authorized them on June 18. The first vaccinations didn’t begin until several days later because the doses had to be shipped to doctors’ offices and pharmacies.
U.S. officials had long predicted that the pace of vaccinating the youngest kids would be slower than for older groups. They expect most shots to take place at pediatricians’ offices.
Many parents may be more comfortable getting the vaccine for their kids at their regular doctors, White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha told The Associated Press last month. He predicted the pace of vaccination would be far slower than it was for older populations.
Western Washington University's Department of Theatre and Dance and Bellingham TheatreWorks are producing the fun-for-all-ages jukebox musical hit “Pump Boys and Dinettes” this summer. Performances will be in the Port of Bellingham’s Fishermen’s Pavilion in Zuanich Point Park beginning Friday, July 8.
Under the direction of Western Theatre Arts alumna Billie Wildrick, the playful country-western musical is set in a dockside diner, highlighting the uniqueness of Bellingham’s maritime heritage, while using the environment of the pavilion to reinforce the setting of the play.
Wildrick leads an ensemble of local and regional performers and musicians — including other Western alumni Lauren Brigolin, Ian Bivins, Marie Wildfield and Kharma Stambaugh, and a cadre of current Western students.
Arrive early to get beer, wine or non-alcoholic drinks from Boundary Bay Brewery’s on-site bar, grab a seat and enjoy some pre-show music while taking in the view. Doors open at 6:50 p.m.; the show starts at 7:30 p.m.
Surprise! Pie will be served at intermission. Masks will be optional during these performances. Western students get in free on opening night with student ID. Performances continue every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through July. Tickets are available online or at the door. Contact Bellingham TheatreWorks for more details at bellinghamtheatreworks.org.
This fall, the community can expect three new members to join the Seattle School Board during public meetings, all much younger than the average board member. In fact, they have yet to graduate from high school.
For the first time, Seattle Public Schools will have students sitting on the board as nonvoting members beginning in September. It’s part of an ongoing effort to include student voices in the decision-making process. The three high schoolers were introduced to the board in late June, and they’ll serve during the next school year.
Although student board members won’t be able to vote, they can ask questions of the staff and share their ideas on agenda items.
“For me, I’ve been in SPS since kindergarten and had quite the journey through thick and thin,” said Luna Crone-Baron, a student board member and an incoming junior at The Center School. “I was excited and wanted to take this on — and I felt I needed to take this on because I saw an absolute need for this kind of position.”
All youth under 18 can now ride free on Skagit Transit.
The Youth Ride Free Program launched on June 20 and is described as a program to help youth “get to work to educational programs, to the libraries and museums,” applying to the transit system’s fixed-route and paratransit services.
In March, the Washington Legislature approved a transportation package titled Move Ahead Washington. Part of the package is a $3 billion transit package to roll out over the next 16 years. But the transit support grants embedded in the $3 billion package have strings attached — only agencies who make youth transit free by Oct. 1 will have access to the support grants.
Brad Windler, the planning and outreach supervisor at Skagit Transit, said the transit agency is expecting to see $1.3 million annually in support grants.
Right now, youth just need to tell the bus driver their age to qualify. In August, those 15 and older will need to use Skagit Transit’s fare system Umo. Youth can pick up a free Umo Youth card at the Skagit Station customer service office or mail in an application.