Health officials monitoring COVID-19 outbreak at Whatcom County nursing facility

WHATCOM COUNTY, Wash. — The Whatcom County Health Department said it has identified 19 confirmed COVID-19 cases in an ongoing outbreak among staff and residents at a Bellingham nursing facility.

Health Department officials said they have been responding to the outbreak at Avamere Bellingham Healthcare and Rehabilitation since being notified of the cases on April 24.

Officials said six of the cases are among people who have been fully vaccinated. They are being called vaccine breakthrough cases, which are said to be rare but expected, “especially among older people and those who are immunocompromised.”

Two people were hospitalized, and another person, a man in his 80s, diagnosed with COVID-19, died, according to a release.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of any one of our residents to this virulent enemy. As a skilled nursing facility providing compassionate patient-centered care, we are also a family humbled by this virus, fiercely dedicated to protecting and caring for our staff and our most vulnerable population,” Dr. Elizabeth Burns, Chief Medical Officer of the Avamere Family of Companies. “The loss of any resident, no matter what the reason, is nothing short of devastating - our thoughts and prayers are with the family members and loved ones who have been impacted.”

“Vaccines are very effective, but no vaccine is 100% effective, and they are less so with greater age or when the immune system is weak,” says Dr. Greg Stern, Whatcom County Health Officer. “Higher levels of COVID-19 in the community increase the risk of exposure to the virus, and with more cases in the community, we also anticipate more breakthrough cases.”

Officials said despite the breakthrough cases, the vaccines have been successful in preventing the spread of the virus in healthcare facilities.