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Whatcom County COVID transmission rate highest in Washington state

Nurse Jeanie Backus speaks about COVID-19 vaccinations at a Veterans Affairs long-term care facility on Dec. 17, 2020 in Vancouver, Washington. (Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

Whatcom County, situated near the Canadian border, is the state’s current COVID-19 hotspot. The county is seeing a transmission rate higher than anywhere else in Washington.

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Erica Lautenbach, director of the Whatcom County Health Department, expects this month’s COVID-19 cases to be triple that of December, which had been the county’s worst month ever. Since Dec. 30, cases have risen rapidly in the county, and this week’s seven-day average is twice as high as last week’s.

“The rates that we’re seeing are unlike anything we’ve ever experienced in the past, and unlike the surge we saw following the Thanksgiving holiday. And unlike anything we’re seeing anywhere else in the state,” Lautenbach said.

While she told KIRO Radio there are no known super-spreader events or highly transmissible virus locations in the county, she did say the majority of the cases that have been able to be traced were connected to unsafe socializing.

“For those that we know, that have a source, 80% of our cases come from social events and household activities,” she said.

Lautenbach says cases are rising in all age groups and Whatcom County is in “uncharted and dangerous territory.” She’s asking everyone to cancel all non-essential activities and social plans.

The health department worries that the virus will spread even faster with employees returning to their workplaces after holiday vacations. To limit further spread, the department has asked people to take extra and immediate precautions.

“The steps we need to take are familiar by now, and if we all act immediately, we can stop this viral surge in its tracks,” Lautenbach said in a release.

These measures include wearing a mask around others who aren’t from the same household, avoiding gatherings, washing or sanitizing hands frequently, and staying home when experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or after spending time around others with symptoms. Anyone experiencing symptoms — such as a fever, cough, or shortness of breath — should be tested immediately and should stay home from work or school.

“We’ve said it before and we’re saying it again, but this time much more urgently,” Lautenbach said in the release. “Now, perhaps more than ever, the actions you take today can save your life and the lives of others. Cancel your plans this weekend.”

KIRO Radio’s Diane Duthweiler contributed to this report.

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