Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – The month of August was the pandemic’s worst for Humboldt County, with 2001 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 98 hospitalizations and 22 deaths.
The high case rate and the virus’s expansion into younger age groups continued into early September, whose hospitalizations included a child under 10 years old and young adults.
To contain the bloom of disease, county health and education professionals urged unvaccinated residents to not to celebrate Labor Day weekend with travelling and group activities.
Steadily mounting pressure on health care capacity and the importance of continuing in-person schooling drove the urgent advice.
In a September 1 bulletin, county Health Officer Dr. Ian Hoffman asked unvaccinated residents, including children, to stay home over the long weekend due to “record hospitalizations in our county and the urgent need to help reduce exposures to COVID-19 in our schools.”
Past holiday gatherings have accelerated the spread of COVID-19. With the ultra-contagious Delta coronavirus strain dominant in the county and the nation, Hoffman warned of a post-Labor Day spike.
“The last thing we want to see in our community is another spike in cases like we saw following the winter holidays,” he said.
Also included in the county’s announcement were statements from Dr. Roberta Luskin-Hawk, CEO of St. Joseph Health, and Humboldt County Superintendent of Schools Chris Hartley.
Luskin-Hawk noted the “high transmissibility of the Delta variant” and described vaccination as “the safest way to protect against the spread of the virus.”
The school year’s start includes a return to classroom teaching but there’s concern that it will be short-lived. “We are walking a fragile line and need to do our collective best to minimize the spread of COVID-19 in our community,” said Hartley.
In a Sept. 3 COVID-19 update, county Public Health Director Sofia Pereira urged residents to get vaccinated to protect children who aren’t yet eligible to do so.
“Keeping our kids safe takes every single one of us,” she said, adding that mask-wearing, avoiding gatherings and vaccination “give us the best chance to keep kids healthy and learning in school.”
Vaccination doesn’t completely prevent infection and transmission but the county’s update included a finding that “severe outcomes from COVID-19 are considerably higher among unvaccinated individuals.”
The county’s first case of a vaccinated resident was confirmed in February. One fully vaccinated Humboldt County resident has died from COVID-19 since then.
The county’s update added that “during that same period, 45 unvaccinated residents have died from the virus” and “in that time, 31 fully vaccinated residents have been hospitalized compared to 197 unvaccinated residents.”
But vaccine protection has limited staying power and additional doses and booster shots are already in the offing.
The county has advised that “health officials advise immunocompromised individuals who received mRNA vaccine Moderna or Pfizer to get an additional dose of the same vaccine 28 days or more after their second dose.”
As noted by the county, there’s a difference between additional doses and booster doses, which will be distributed this fall and at this point are recommended eight months after full vaccination “pending further review of data.”
Booster doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are expected to be recommended as well, again pending data analysis.
Though the county is preparing for distribution of booster doses, “Policies on boosters are still being discussed at the federal and state levels and have not been approved.”
Nor is eight months a definitive timespan, as some robust studies have found that mRNA vaccine protection wanes as soon as four months after second shots.
Maintaining vaccine protection could be challenging as variants continue to ascend and become dominant, replacing strains that recede after peaking.
Newly-emerged strains circulating in South America and South Africa have combinations of mutations showing resistance to immune system pressure in laboratory-based studies and are being watched with concern by national and international public health agencies.
From Aug.30 to Sept. 5, the county confirmed 463 COVID-19 cases. There were 26 hospitalizations across a range of age groups and five deaths, of middle-aged and elderly residents.
As of the end of last week, the county had confirmed to-date totals of 7,337 COVID-19 cases, 344 hospitalizations and 75 deaths.
About 53 percent of the county’s population had been fully vaccinated.