COVID-19 infection rates dropped in all seven Whatcom County school district regions — in fact, there were triple-digit decreases in all but one region — as the county continues to emerge from the latest surge in cases. The region covered by the Nooksack Valley School District was the only region in the county to have a two-week infection rate (or the number of new cases per 100,000 residents) higher than 300, according to the latest location data released by the Whatcom County Health Department on Tuesday, Oct. 12. It was also the only region not to see its rate decrease by more than 100 from last week’s report.
So with all regions of the county apparently recovering from the latest surge, which were hit hardest? Data analysis by The Bellingham Herald showed that the Bellingham region’s case rate during the surge was nearly half the rest of the county’s.
On the day that news broke that vaccinated visitors from Canada and Mexico would be able to cross the land borders into the U.S. beginning in November, 46 more Whatcom County residents tested positive for COVID-19. The county has now seen 14,238 confirmed COVID cases during the pandemic, according to the Washington State Department of Health’s COVID-19 Data Dashboard on Tuesday, Oct. 12. An additional 1,139 probable cases, resulting from a positive antigen test not confirmed by a molecular test, have been reported in Whatcom — unchanged from the previous report.
The state also reports the county has a two-week infection rate of 412 cases per 100,000 residents, based on the most recently completed epidemiological data from Sept. 20 to Oct. 3. That is down from a rate of 421 one week earlier (Sept. 13-26).
While many area lawmakers hailed news Tuesday, Oct. 12, that the U.S. plans to loosen its border restrictions and allow vaccinated Canadians to cross at land points of entry, they say their work to support communities most impacted by the 19-month-long closure to non-essential travel is not done. “For nineteen long months, our border communities have lived in a state of hardship and frustration, waiting month-to-month for news that the northern border would reopen and they could begin to move past this crisis,” U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., said in a statement emailed to The Bellingham Herald. “In that time, families have moved elsewhere, businesses have closed, and some communities are unrecognizable from where they started during this crisis."
Starting at a date next month yet to be announced, visitors from Canada and Mexico who are vaccinated will be able to drive into the U.S. through border crossings that have been closed to travel deemed non-essential since March 21, 2020, since the start of the COVD-19 pandemic. Since then, the border restrictions have been extended a month at a time.
With many Americans who got Pfizer vaccinations already rolling up their sleeves for a booster shot, millions of others who received the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine wait anxiously to learn when it’s their turn.
Federal regulators begin tackling that question this week.
On Thursday and Friday, the Food and Drug Administration convenes its independent advisers for the first stage in the process of deciding whether extra doses of the two vaccines should be dispensed and, if so, who should get them and when. The final go-ahead is not expected for at least another week.
After the FDA advisers give their recommendation, the agency itself will make a decision on whether to authorize boosters. Then next week, a panel convened by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will offer more specifics on who should get them. Its decision is subject to approval by the CDC director.
Whatcom County saw its smallest weekend increase of reported new confirmed COVID-19 cases in seven weeks Monday, Oct. 11, but the total still reached triple digits for a 10th-straight week. Whatcom’s confirmed case count increased by 154 over the weekend, according to the Washington State Department of Health’s COVID-19 Data Dashboard, and now sits at a pandemic total of 14,192 confirmed cases. The 154 cases was the smallest weekend increase the county has seen since it had 143 cases reported on Aug. 23, and Whatcom has averaged 192 new cases in weekend reports the past 10 Mondays (since Aug. 9).
In celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, communities across Washington state came together to honor Native peoples, their diverse histories and cultures on Monday, Oct. 11. Streamed live from the Lummi Nation Wex’liem Community Building near Bellingham, Children of the Setting Sun Productions hosted a virtual gathering via Zoom and Facebook.
Other Indigenous Peoples’ Day events included a virtual event featuring Matika Wilbur of the Swinomish and Tulalip Tribes, who spoke about her work on Project 562, a documentary dedicated to changing the way we see Native America. The event — “Changing Who We Are” — was hosted by Northwest Indian College, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community Education Department, Lhaq’temish Foundation, Western Washington University, Whatcom Community College, Bellingham Technical College, Bellingham Public Schools and the city of Bellingham via Zoom.
A Food and Drug Administration review released Tuesday found that a booster shot of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine enhanced virus-fighting antibodies in people who had received the standard two-dose regimen at least six months earlier.
The document, like a previous review of evidence for a booster of Pfizer-BioNTech, struck an ambivalent tone about whether boosters are needed now.
FDA reviewers noted that a half-dose booster shot of the Moderna vaccine topped off the level of antibodies, the most easily measurable barometer of immunity. But they also pointed out that the utility of a booster will depend on factors that are unclear at this moment – such as whether the protection of initial vaccination has dropped substantially.
Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated Whatcom County residents were 3½ times more likely to contract COVID-19 during the final week of September than those who were fully vaccinated, according to analysis of data released by the Whatcom County Health Department. During the week of Sept. 26 through Oct. 2, there were a total 466 COVID cases, 22 hospitalizations and eight deaths reported, according to the health department’s latest data report released Friday, Oct 8. Of those 332 cases (71%), 18 hospitalizations (82%) and five deaths (62%) were in unvaccinated or partially vaccinated residents, according to the health department.
Bellingham is considering changes to the hours for street parking downtown — doubling the hourly price, increasing the price of tickets and adding pay stations in the Fairhaven shopping district. Hourly parking fees would rise from 75 cents an hour to $1.50 an hour, according to information about the proposal at the Engage Bellingham website that the city uses for public comment. Current paid parking hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday, and the proposed new hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
The vast majority of Washington’s hospital workers have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, with a week left before the state’s immunization deadline, according to the most recent statewide survey of hospitals and health systems.
As of Monday morning, 88% of hospital workers had showed proof of vaccination, the Washington State Hospital Association reported. The results include data from 94% of the state’s hospitals, collected after Oct. 4. The survey includes all staff members of Washington state hospitals — both inpatient and outpatient services — and doesn’t cover independent physicians’ offices, dentist offices, military hospitals and a few other types of health care facilities.
All health care workers must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 or face “nondisciplinary dismissal” for failure to meet job requirements, Gov. Jay Inslee announced in August.