COVID-19 Deaths in Whatcom County

On March 22nd, a COVID-19 case was announced at the Shuksan Long Term Care Center in Bellingham’s York Neighborhood and by March 25th the first of 11 residents had died, having tested positive for COVID-19. Shuksan followed in the footsteps of the outbreak at the Life Care Center, a long term care center (LTC) in Kirkland, which recorded its first death on February 25th. Shuksan was not alone. By July 21st, the Washington Department of Health reported 5,075 cases and 830 deaths in LTCs scattered across the state.

Using a slightly earlier version of the data set found in this report (which reported 815 deaths in LTCs attributed to COVID-19), a total of 28 LTC deaths and eight non-LTC deaths were reported for Whatcom County. This yields, respectively, an LTC COVID-19 death rate of 2,014 deaths per 100,000 LTC residents and a non-LTC COVID-19 death rate of 3.53 per 100,000 people not in LTCs. The slightly earlier data set is useful because it contains both LTC and non-LTC deaths for all of Washington’s 39 counties, which allows us to see where Whatcom County stands in terms of its death rates.

In terms of its 2,014 LTC death rate, Whatcom County ranks 6th among the state’s 39 counties. Skagit County ranks slightly below Whatcom County, coming in at 8th highest in the state with an LTC death rate of 1,295 per 100,000 LTC residents. Island County comes in slightly higher, at 4th, with an LTC death rate of 3,435 per 100,000 LTC residents. San Juan County is one of 22 counties with zero LTC COVID-19 deaths reported. (Wahkiakum County, one of these 22 counties, also reported zero LTC residents).

The three counties with the highest LTC death rates form a cluster in eastern Washington: Benton (6,136), Yakima (4,131) and Franklin (4,114). The counties with the 4th to 9th highest rates form a western Washington cluster. King County comes in 5th, with an LTC death rate of 3,399, which places it between Island (4th) and Whatcom (6th). Snohomish (7th) is between Whatcom (6th) and Skagit (8th) with 1,595 LTC deaths per 100,000 LTC residents. Pierce is 9th, just behind Skagit with an LTC death rate of 993 per 100,000 LTC residents. Overall, the state’s LTC death rate is 1,624 per 100,000 LTC residents.

Overall, the state reported 588 non-LTC deaths in this data set, which yields a death rate of 7.73 per 100,000 people not in LTCs on or about July 21st. With its non-LTC rate of 3.53, Whatcom ranks 15th highest among the state’s 39 counties. The highest non-LTC death rates are found in a cluster of four eastern Washington Counties: Yakima (40.97), Franklin (26.96), Klickitat (13.21), and Benton (12.71). Snohomish (10.43) and King (9.74) round out the six counties with the highest non-LTC death rates. Fifteen counties reported zero non-LTC deaths.

Organized alphabetically by county
Organized alphabetically by county

It should not come as a surprise that the counties with the highest LTC death rates also are among the highest with the non-LTC death rates. Community spread comes with outbreaks in LTCs, food processing plants, and prisons. Benton, Franklin and Yakima counties show this. Given that Klickitat County has reported zero deaths among its 56 LTC residents, but is third in the state with its non-LTC death rate (13.21), these residents are at a high level of risk.

So far, Whatcom is faring reasonably well. However, with over 1,399 LTC residents and an agricultural sector containing berries, care needs to be taken (masks, social distancing, leaving home only as needed) to avoid repeating what has happened in Benton, Franklin, and Yakima counties where there are nearly 3,300 LTC residents and an agricultural sector that includes soft fruit such as cherries, which like berries, requires a lot of hand labor. In the last month, over 270 new COVID-19 cases have been reported in Whatcom County. Newly reported deaths will follow. The opening of WWU will be another challenge for Whatcom County.

The data used in this report are found in the table shown above.

Attached Files

About David A. Swanson

Posting Citizen Journalist • Member since Mar 31, 2020

David A. Swanson is Edward A. Dickson Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University of California Riverside. He served as a member of the U. S. Census Bureau’s Scientific Advisory Committee [...]

Comments by Readers

Michael Riordan

Jul 27, 2020

Yikes!

Until this year, I was wondering what Whatcom County LTC facility would be the best place to spend my final years — of course, still writing for NW Citizen, as much as possible or relevant.

Now I think I’ll just stay in (relatively) disease-free San Juan County. And keep writing for NWC.

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Ray Kamada

Jul 27, 2020

Like the author’s earlier estimate, the CDC figures about 10x as many actual as confirmed covid cases. Another simple method is to divide the mean “infection fatality rate” of about 0.6%, based on many studies, into the 150k Americans who’ve died, according to worldometer stats. This yields about 25 million cases. Atop that, if you believe the CDC’s estimate of a 30% deaths undercount, this implies that about 32.5 million people have been infected, compared to the 4.3 million confirmed cases, or 7.6x as many actual as confirmed covid cases. I suspect that any cursory examination of stats and other evidence from the southern states will suggest an undercount larger than 30%. But no matter; these are merely ballpark figures at best. More reliable estimates, based on “excess seasonal deaths”, will come later.

Anyway, applied to the 800+ confirmed cases in Whatcom County, this implies maybe 8,000+ actual cases over the 5 months or 150 days of significant case loads.

Note that most were never hospitalized, with various studies also suggesting neary half being asymptomatic. Thus, assuming at most 20 days of active viral shedding, this suggests a continuous stream of typically ~1,000 contagious individuals at any point in time, within a county population of over 200,000, or that maybe every 200th person we come within fleeting proximity of is actually contagious.

As careful as I am while shopping and hiking, I myself probably exceed 200 such fleeting proximities per month. But, since transmission via fleeting contact is quite rare, considerably less than 1%, I feel fairly safe regarding casual public exposure, especially if all parties are masked. That is, if transmission via fleeting proximity were even a 1% risk, every supermarket, checkout clerk would have caught it by now and that simply hasn’t happened.
 
However, the bigger risk is prolonged, unmasked dialog indoors, as you may repeatedly inhale more and more virus from an actively shedding conversation partner. I doubt there’s any precise figure, but I’ve read that a typical threshold for infection is inhaling 1,000 virions. And I’ve also read that a typical cough may spray 100 million SARS-COV-2 particles, a single sneeze - 200 million. So, while it really doesn’t take much, dispersive, highly turbulent outdoor air is your friend; recirculating, low turbulence, indoor air isn’t.
 
Otoh, driving by Bloedel Donovan Park yesterday, I witnessed at least a hundred, unmasked teenagers frolicking along that tiny beach - a potential superspreader event in the making. What are their parents thinking?
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