In the Media
Train riders, rejoice. Amtrak Cascades announced July 1 it will restart train service to all stops north of Seattle, including Bellingham and Vancouver, British Columbia, in September. The reopening date of the 18-stop, 467-mile route was previously slated for December.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the U.S.-Canada border to close to all non-essential travel in May 2020, the Cascades route has only operated from Seattle to Eugene, Oregon. The current route only serves 12 of its 18 original stops, as Amtrak urges potential passengers to use its bus services to travel north of Seattle.
Starting in September, trains will once again pull into stations in Edmonds, Everett, Stanwood, Mount Vernon, Bellingham and Vancouver, B.C.
Whatcom County remained in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “medium” community COVID-19 risk level for a fourth straight week, while infection and hospitalizations rates in one region within the county would earn “high” rankings, where masking is recommended for everyone.
Despite a drop in the county’s COVID-related hospitalization rate last week, the CDC gave Whatcom the “medium” community level rating when new data was released Thursday, June 30, based on Whatcom’s infection rate moving back above 200 cases per 100,000 residents. That means masking is recommended for those who are at high risk of serious complications from COVID and those who could expose those at high risk. It marked the fifth time in the past six weeks that Whatcom has received the “medium” ranking.
Whatcom County’s weekly COVID-19 infection rate last week dropped below 200 for the first time since late April, and the state reduced the number of COVID-related deaths in the county by four.
Whatcom County now has had a total of 43,069 COVID cases during the pandemic, according to the latest report Friday, July 1, by the Washington State Department of Health COVID-19 Data Dashboard, including 37,707 confirmed cases and 5,362 probable cases, resulting from a positive antigen test not confirmed by a molecular test. The county’s 466 reported cases last week were up from the 435 reported by the state a week earlier.
But Whatcom’s weekly COVID-19 infection rate dropped to 191 new cases per 100,000 residents for the most recently completed epidemiological data from June 16 to June 22. That was down from the county’s rate of 208 one week earlier (June 9-15) and the lowest rate Whatcom County has seen since it stood at 183 for April 20-26.
St. Joseph’s hospital in Bellingham reported it was treating 14 COVID-related patients on Tuesday, July 5. Over the past week, the hospital’s daily snapshot has averaged 14.6 COVID-related patients per day, which is up from 10.4 one week earlier (June 21-27) and represents 5.8% of the hospital’s 252 inpatient beds.
Washington State Patrol on Friday launched a missing Indigenous person alert system, hoping to address the crisis of missing Indigenous people, often women.
The bill creating the first-in-the-nation alert system was signed into law in March by Gov. Jay Inslee.
According to the Government Accountability Office, the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women in the U.S. is unknown because of reporting problems, distrust of law enforcement and jurisdictional conflicts. However, according to research by the National Congress of American Indians, Native American women face murder rates almost three times those of white women — and up to 10 times the national average in certain locations.
The alert system adds a new designation of “Missing Indigenous Persons” to the existing alert systems in place, similar to Amber alerts for children and silver alerts for missing seniors.
This week the King County Council voted to change how we vote in King County.
Here’s a hint: they want election years to be divisible by two.
King County has approved a charter amendment that would move the generally non-partisan county elections from odd-numbered years to even-numbered years. This would allow them to coincide with bigger elections — like the vote for president or governor.
Voters will decide whether the amendment happens this November.
As Crosscut State Politics Reporter Joseph O’Sullivan explains, this would mean a larger turnout of voters.
In 2021’s county executive race between Dow Constantine and Joe Nguyen, the turnout was roughly 573,000 voters. In contrast, the prosecuting attorney’s election in 2018 had a turnout of 968,000 voters.
But that larger number means a wider diversity of voters as well, and those extra voters usually lean more progressive.
“If you have a younger, less affluent electorate participating in local elections, you'd assume that would open up space for issues that might not be heard as much in a low turnout electorate,” explained Western Washington University Political Science Professor Todd Donovan.
U.S. regulators told COVID-19 vaccine makers Thursday that any booster shots tweaked for the fall will have to add protection against the newest omicron relatives.
The Food and Drug Administration said the original vaccines would be used for anyone still getting their first series of shots. But with immunity waning and the super-contagious omicron family of variants getting better at dodging protection, the FDA decided boosters intended for fall needed an update.
The recipe: Combination shots that add protection against the omicron relatives named BA.4 and BA.5 to the original vaccine. Those mutants together now account for just over half of new U.S. infections.
It’s still a gamble as there’s no way to know if an omicron relative still will be a threat as cold weather approaches or if a newer mutant will take its place. And the current Pfizer and Moderna vaccines still offer strong protection against COVID-19′s worst outcomes as long as people have gotten already recommended boosters.
After it lost people two years ago, only one city within Washington state saw a larger population increase than Bellingham last year, according to new estimates released Wednesday by the Office of Financial Management.
Whatcom County, also, was among the fastest growing in the state. Bellingham grew by an estimated 4,050 people between April 1, 2021, and April 1, 2022, the state reported, surging 4.5% to 93,910 people. That comes a year after the state estimated the city’s population dropped by 1,622 people (1.8%) in its 2021 estimates. The only city to grow more than Bellingham last year? Seattle, which saw its estimate climb by 20,100 people, but that only represented a 2.7% growth.
A big part of the reason for Bellingham’s growth, according to an OFM news release Wednesday, June 29, announcing the release of the 2022 estimates, was the return of Western Washington University students to campus after COVID-19 forced them to return home in the spring of 2020. Bellingham still grew by 2.7% (2,428 people) in the two years since the 2020 estimates, which represents the sixth-highest growth rate during that period among the state’s cities with populations of at least 75,000 people.
Canada’s inflation rate has hit 7.7%, which will undoubtedly spur more sharp interest rate increases by the Bank of Canada in coming months.
For its part, the federal government seems willing to stand aside and not provoke a conflict with the central bank — even if higher interest rates help trigger a recession.
At the same time, there’s a growing recognition that fiscal policy — including government borrowing and spending — influences current inflation and expectations about future inflation.
Belatedly, even the Trudeau government seems to recognize this dynamic.
In a recent speech, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland highlighted the government’s commitment to reduce federal spending growth, which, combined with a tax revenue windfall thanks partly to inflation, is reducing Ottawa’s projected budget deficit.
Certainly, if Ottawa reduces spending growth while taking in more tax revenue, the growth of “total demand” (essentially, the demand for all goods and services in the economy) should slow, which in turn should reduce demand-side pressures on future inflation.
Guest opinion written by WWU Professor Emeritus in the College of Business and Economics Steven Globerman.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruling Thursday to curb the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate power plant greenhouse gas emissions means that — at least for now — such efforts will be undertaken by state governments.
Gov. Jay Inslee slammed the court’s decision in news conference, condemning it as a “stunning reversal of environmental law” that “took a wrecking ball to the ability of the federal government to restrain pollution.”
Inslee said Washington must redouble its efforts to fight climate change and reduce pollution in the absence of federal action.
“We are sounding the alarm and we’re proud of what we’ve done, but this decision makes it clear that we’ll have to accelerate our efforts when it comes to climate change and pollution,” he said.
In Washington, state laws now in place seek to phase out the use of fossil fuels in power production, increase the use of low or zero-carbon motor fuels and develop a cap-and-invest program to reduce greenhouse gas pollution over time.
The number of new coronavirus cases rose by 18% in the last week, with more than 4.1 million cases reported globally, according to the World Health Organization.
The U.N. health agency said in its latest weekly report on the pandemic that the worldwide number of deaths remained relatively similar to the week before, at about 8,500. COVID-related deaths increased in three regions: the Middle East, Southeast Asia and the Americas.
The biggest weekly rise in new COVID-19 cases was seen in the Middle East, where they increased by 47%, according to the report released late Wednesday. Infections rose by about 32% in Europe and Southeast Asia, and by about 14% in the Americas, WHO said.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said cases were on the rise in 110 countries, mostly driven by the omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5.
“This pandemic is changing, but it’s not over,” Tedros said this week during a press briefing. He said the ability to track COVID-19′s genetic evolution was “under threat” as countries relaxed surveillance and genetic sequencing efforts, warning that would make it more difficult to catch emerging and potentially dangerous new variants.