In the Media

Tuesday, April 26, 2022 - 10:30am - The Bellingham Herald

COVID-19 case rates in Whatcom County schools more than tripled the week after Spring Break compared to rates before the break, and they have continued to climb.

Though the Mount Baker School District has not yet updated its COVID-19 dashboard with data from the week of April 10-16, the six other school districts in the county reported a total 80 COVID cases that week. Based on student enrollment, that works out to approximately 4.0 cases per 1,000 students, The Bellingham Herald’s analysis found. That’s the highest rate county schools have seen since they averaged 4.9 cases per 1,000 students the week of Feb. 13-19.

The week before Spring Break (March 27 to April 2), all seven school districts reported 26 total cases, or approximately 1.2 per 1,000 students. There have been 98 cases reported so far last week, with just the Bellingham and Ferndale school districts reporting, which works out to a rate of 9.5 cases per 1,000 students in those two districts.

After seeing its number of COVID-related patients increase to a high of seven on Thursday, April 21, St. Joseph’s hospital in Bellingham reported that number has steadily decreased and stood at four patients as of Monday morning, April 25.

 

Tuesday, April 26, 2022 - 10:26am - Cascadia Daily News

The sun was out and the mood upbeat April 21 in Boundary Bay Brewery’s beer garden, where Bellingham city and business leaders introduced a new “safety ambassador” program that launches on Monday.

Ambassadors from Streetplus, a national safety and hospitality company, will patrol downtown streets seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The city and Downtown Bellingham Partnership unveiled the program Thursday evening in response to concerns among business owners that the downtown had become less safe and less welcoming to their customers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On top of that, a staff shortage prompted the Bellingham Police Department to eliminate all special units, including bicycle and motorcycle patrols, the anti-crime team, the drug investigations unit and the behavioral health officer — leaving downtown businesses feeling even more vulnerable.

Ambassadors will coordinate with the Opportunity Council's Homeless Outreach Team to get services to homeless people who want them.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022 - 10:10am - Associated Press

UC Berkeley sophomore Terrell Thompson slept in his car for nearly two weeks at the start of the school year last fall, living out of a suitcase stashed in the trunk and texting dozens of landlords a day in a desperate search for a place to live.

The high-achieving student from a low-income household in Sacramento, California, was majoring in business administration at one of the most prestigious universities in the world. Yet, Thompson folded his 6-foot frame into the back seat of his Honda Accord at night, wondering how he would ever find a home in the exorbitantly expensive San Francisco Bay Area city.

College students across the U.S. are looking for housing for the 2022-23 school year and if 2021 was any indication, it won’t be easy. Students at colleges from California to Florida were denied on-campus housing last fall and found themselves sitting out the year at home or living in motel rooms or vehicles as surging rents and decades of failing to build sufficient student housing came to a head.

Nationally, 43% of students at four-year universities experienced housing insecurity in 2020, up from 35% in 2019, according to an annual survey conducted by The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice at Temple University. Students reported being unable to pay utilities, rent or mortgage, living in overcrowded units, or moving in with others due to financial difficulties.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022 - 10:06am - Associated Press

President Joe Biden’s administration is taking steps to expand availability of the life-saving COVID-19 antiviral treatment Paxlovid, as it seeks to reassure doctors that there is ample supply for people at high risk of severe illness or death from the virus.

Paxlovid, produced by Pfizer, was first approved in December. Supply of the regimen was initially very limited, but as COVID-19 cases across the country have fallen and manufacturing has increased it is now far more abundant. The White House is now moving to raise awareness of the pill and taking steps to make it easier to access.

The White House said Tuesday it is stepping up outreach to doctors, letting them know they shouldn’t think twice about prescribing the pill to eligible patients. It is also announcing that the drug will now be distributed directly to pharmacies, in addition to existing distribution channels run by states. That is expected to boost the number of sites from 20,000 to more than 30,000 next week and eventually to 40,000 locations.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022 - 9:54am - Seattle Times

King County has moved from a “low” community COVID-19 level to “medium,” per federal guidance, as infection rates increase, the county’s top health officer said Monday.

Despite the movement upward within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention community levels, there are no plans to reintroduce past mitigation requirements, such as an indoor masking mandate or vaccine checks.

Case rates have slowly been ticking up in the county since the end of March, after statewide mask mandates came to an end and as omicron’s infectious subvariant, BA. 2, took hold. As of Monday, King County saw a 19% increase in cases compared to the prior week and was averaging a seven-day rate of about 214 new infections per 100,000 people, county health officer Dr. Jeff Duchin said during a news conference.

“This was not unanticipated as the more contagious BA. 2 variant spread both locally and nationally,” Duchin said. “… The CDC medium risk category is not a magic threshold meaning the COVID-19 pandemic locally is suddenly or fundamentally different, or that we’re approaching a crisis level. But it does tell us that COVID-19 infection risk is increasing for individuals and the community.”

“We should see this yellow traffic light as a ‘slow down’ and use this opportunity to lower our risk and the risk for those around us, and to think more about how we’ll manage the ongoing challenge of COVID-19 sustainably over the long term,” he said.

Monday, April 25, 2022 - 12:30pm - Associated Press

COVID-19 vaccinations are at a critical juncture as companies test whether new approaches like combination shots or nasal drops can keep up with a mutating coronavirus — even though it’s not clear if changes are needed.

Already there’s public confusion about who should get a second booster now and who can wait. There’s also debate about whether pretty much everyone might need an extra dose in the fall.

“I’m very concerned about booster fatigue” causing a loss of confidence in vaccines that still offer very strong protection against COVID-19’s worst outcomes, said Dr. Beth Bell of the University of Washington, an adviser to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Despite success in preventing serious illness and death, there’s growing pressure to develop vaccines better at fending off milder infections, too — as well as options to counter scary variants.

Monday, April 25, 2022 - 12:29pm - Seattle Times

Unvaccinated children aged five to 11 traveling with a fully vaccinated adult will no longer need a COVID-19 test to enter Canada beginning Monday, the federal government said.

Pre-entry tests will still be needed for partially vaccinated or unvaccinated travelers over the age of 12 who are eligible to travel to Canada.

Children under five years of age don’t currently require a COVID-19 test to enter Canada.

Government officials announced several other small changes to ease restrictions for international travelers taking effect on Monday.

Fully vaccinated travelers, and children under 12 accompanying them, will no longer need to provide their quarantine plans when they enter the country.

Vaccinated people arriving in Canada won’t need to wear a mask for 14 days, keep a list of contacts or report COVID-19 symptoms.

Monday, April 25, 2022 - 12:20pm - Seattle Times

In 2019, Washington created one of the most generous college financial aid programs in the country. Compared with a program it replaced, the Washington College Grant allowed many more students to qualify for free or subsidized tuition. No longer would eligible students be denied aid because of caps tied to limited funds.

By all rights, the state’s colleges should have seen a rush of applicants. Instead, enrollment plummeted.

Community and technical colleges experienced a combined 24% drop between fall 2019 and fall 2021. Public four-year institutions saw a collective drop in undergraduates of nearly 7% during that time period, with some schools’ losses double or even triple that. Roughly 60,000 fewer students, in all, enrolled.

What happened, of course, was COVID-19, though education leaders are still untangling the reasons the pandemic kept students away. As colleges scramble for ways to boost their numbers, they are facing hard truths about higher education in this state — namely, lukewarm enthusiasm and a gender gap that has women outnumbering men at virtually every institution. 

There’s not a clear understanding of what’s behind Washington’s lackluster college attendance, nor the gender gap. “The challenge around men is something that the entire higher education community is trying to figure out,” said Jan Yoshiwara, executive director of the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.

Theories abound, tapping into the state’s blue-collar roots, notions of masculinity and changing ideas about college in the internet age. That’s apart from oft-heard complaints about the spiraling college costs and student debt, and a conservative critique of campuses as bastions of snowflake liberalism.

The Washington Roundtable, a business group, is launching a study to get to the bottom of what’s going on, said its vice president, Neil Strege.

Monday, April 25, 2022 - 12:16pm - Seattle Times

Last month, the Legislature passed a bill that took lessons from Seattle Promise. That program, which sent 1,100 young people to college last fall, has staffers embedded in high schools, “and their only job is to get people to sign up,” noted state Rep. Drew Hansen, a Democrat from Bainbridge Island.

House Bill 1835, which Hansen sponsored, instructs the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges to put outreach workers in high schools located in parts of the state with the lowest rates of completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as the FAFSA. These outreach workers will encourage more students to fill out this application, and also the state version for students who can’t fill out the FAFSA due to their immigration status.

Many students can’t attend college if they don’t get financial aid. Yet, Washington ranked 48th among states nationwide in the share of high school seniors who completed the FAFSA as of July last year, with 46% having done so. Even fewer students are on track to complete the application this year.

The potential benefits have never been better. Legislators this year made the state’s already generous financial aid program, the Washington College Grant, even more so.

They raised the income threshold to qualify for free tuition from 55% to 60% of the median for families (meaning a student in a family of four earning $64,500 a year wouldn’t have to pay for college), and also stipulated that qualifying students would get $500 a year for books and supplies. Partial tuition scholarships are available to students whose families earn up to the median income, or $107,000 for a family of four.

Monday, April 25, 2022 - 11:26am - KUOW

Devoting your life to something that is disappearing can be tough.

Portland State University professor Andrew Fountain has been researching the dwindling glaciers of the American West since the 1980s. He said for years, he studied their retreat dispassionately — as an interesting phenomenon to try to understand. Then last year, he had an epiphany.

“It dawned on me that, ‘wait a minute, in 20 or 30 years, everything that I've studied is useless because there are no glaciers,’” Fountain said.

The Olympic Peninsula has lost 45% of its glacier coverage since 1980, according to a new study by Fountain and coauthors from Washington state and British Columbia.

The peninsula’s remaining 250 glaciers, which covered about two square miles at last estimate, should be gone in another 50 years as humanity’s pollution continues to overheat the planet, the study found.

Western Washington University glaciologist Douglas Clark, who was not involved in the new study in the Journal of Geophysical Research Earth Surface, called its findings “particularly stark.”

“That essentially all glaciers in an entire mountain range, the Olympics, will be gone by 2070 should disturb even the most ardent climate contrarian,” Clark said by email.