For the first time since mid-September, one of Whatcom County’s seven school district regions has a two-week COVID-19 infection rate lower than 200 cases per 100,000 residents. The region covered by Bellingham Public Schools had its infection rate dip below 200, according to the Whatcom County Health Department’s latest location data released on Tuesday, Nov. 30.
The Whatcom County Jail in downtown Bellingham has been dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak since last week that has sickened more than a dozen people, according to Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office Chief of Corrections Wendy Jones. On Tuesday, Nov. 23, jail staff were alerted that a person incarcerated in the downtown jail was reporting symptoms that could be the coronavirus, Jones told The Bellingham Herald Wednesday, Dec. 1. A rapid test was done and returned positive, she said.
President Joe Biden is set to kick off a more urgent campaign for Americans to get COVID-19 booster shots Thursday as he unveils his winter plans for combating the coronavirus and its omicron variant with enhanced availability of shots and vaccines but without major new restrictions.
The plan includes a requirement for private insurers to cover the cost of at-home COVID-19 tests and a tightening of testing requirements for people entering the U.S. regardless of their vaccination status. But as some other nations close their borders or reimpose lockdowns, officials said Biden was not moving to impose additional restrictions beyond his recommendation that Americans wear masks indoors in public settings.
While all eyes are on the new and little-understood omicron variant, the delta form of the coronavirus isn’t finished wreaking havoc in the U.S., sending record numbers of patients to the hospital in some states, especially in the Midwest and New England.
“Omicron is a spark that’s on the horizon. Delta variant is the fire that’s here today,” said Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the state Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Maine, where a record 334 people were in the hospital with COVID-19 as of midweek.
The rains in Whatcom County have stopped ... at least until Friday night ... and the National Weather Service has canceled the flood watch for the Nooksack River. But a number of Whatcom County roadways remain closed. State Route 9 from Vancouver Street to the U.S.-Canadian border in Sumas reopened Wednesday, Dec. 1, according to a tweet from the Washington State Department of Transportation. But the border crossing into Abbotsford, B.C., remains closed, the tweet reported.
This is the first time that the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the Greens, and the classically liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) have decided to join in a so-called ‘traffic-light coalition’ at the federal level.
The three parties are not necessarily natural partners as there are significant ideological differences between them: for example, the SPD and Greens disagree with the FDP on economic and fiscal policy; and the SPD and the FDP disagree with the Greens on elements of environmental policy. Significant compromises in these key policy areas were necessary to bridge the divides. Provided that all three parties successfully ratify the agreement, Olaf Scholz will be elected Chancellor during the week of 6 December.
Tri-City high school seniors planning to go to college next year should take note: You must be vaccinated against COVID-19 if you want to attend class in-person at just about every college and university in Washington state. So if going to college is part of your future plans, why wait to get the vaccine? Might as well get your shots early and do your part to help slow the spread of the disease — especially now that the omicron variant has emerged in other parts of the world and in the United States.
Last spring, Washington State University became the first of the state’s major public four-year schools to announce that it would require students, faculty and staff to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The University of Washington, Eastern Washington University, Central Washington University, Western Washington University, and The Evergreen State College followed suit. And you would be hard-pressed to find a private college or a community college in Washington state that isn’t doing the same.
In the wake of pandemic school closures, school districts in Washington state saw their enrollments decline by tens of thousands of students. The statewide drop, calculated between fall 2019 and fall 2020, was among the largest in the country.
New state data from this fall shows that school systems still have not recovered their losses, leaving open questions about when — and if — these students will return.
Between October 2019 and October 2020, 39,000 fewer students enrolled in public school, about a 3.5% drop. The numbers weren’t distributed evenly across grades — the most pronounced losses were among younger students; the number of kindergarten students plummeted by 14%. By this fall, the state’s enrollment had only grown by a thousand students.
At the same time, the state’s home-schooled population has ballooned, nearly doubling in size during the first full school year of the pandemic, 2020-21. Many fled citing the uncertainty and logistical problems that public schools faced.
A pandemic-weary world faces weeks of confusing uncertainty as countries restrict travel and take other steps to halt the newest potentially risky coronavirus mutant before anyone knows just how dangerous omicron really is.
Will it spread even faster than the already extra-contagious delta variant? Does it make people sicker? Does it evade vaccines’ protection or reinfect survivors? There are lots of guesses but little hard evidence as scientists race to find answers amid scrutiny from an anxious public.
Omicron raised alarm because of its sheer number of mutations, more than prior variants had. Possibly 30 are in a key place, the spike protein that lets the virus attach to human cells. Scientists have little data yet on whether omicron causes more severe disease than other variants. And while it already has been diagnosed in numerous countries just days after its discovery was announced, it’s also too soon to know how contagious it is.
The U.S. recorded its first confirmed case of the omicron variant Wednesday — a person in California who had been to South Africa — as scientists around the world raced to establish whether the new, mutant version of the coronavirus is more dangerous than previous ones.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States’ top infectious disease expert, made the announcement at the White House.
“We knew it was just a matter of time before the first case of omicron would be detected in the United States,” he said.
The infected person was identified as a traveler who had returned from South Africa on Nov. 22. The person, who was fully vaccinated but had not had a booster shot, tested positive on Monday and had mild symptoms that are improving, officials said. The person agreed to remain in quarantine, and all the individual’s close contacts have been reached and have tested negative.