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.
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.