COVID variants complicate planning

SIGNS OF THE TIMES Protesters urging a return to in-classroom learning gathered in front of McKinleyville High School Feb. 9. They held signs stating “Open our schools” and “If We Can Shop the Malls We Can Fills the Halls.” Also that evening, the Northern Humboldt Union High School District Board of Trustees held a meeting and discussed a return to in-person learning. The first step in that process is getting teachers and staff vaccinated against COVID-19. Vaccination clinics were held last weekend and will be held this coming weekend at Arcata High School. In three weeks, a second round of vaccinations will be held. Two weeks after that, in-person learning can take place if Humboldt drops back down to the red tier. Late last week, surveys were sent out the parents to determine how many students will return to school. Remote learning will remain an option for students with safety concerns. Based on the results of the survey, the district will develop a plan for classes. Students will likely remain in pods and take classes together in small groups. Matt Filar | Union

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – ​COVID-19 cases are down statewide and Humboldt County is expected to follow that trend but its public health officer advises to be on guard for the pandemic’s next phase – another big surge.

​The county’s COVID-19 situation was updated at the February 9 Board of Supervisors meeting, where Health Officer Dr. Ian Hoffman talked about the status of vaccination and the potential for another wave of disease.

​The increasing presence of mutated and more robust strains of the virus – known as variants – is being noted in the U.S. and in the state, and Hoffman said that “we should fully suspect that those will eventually make their way into Humboldt County.”

​He urged vigilance in advance of what’s expected to be another intense episode of viral spread.

​“With the variants coming and potential for another surge, it’s extremely important right now to continue doing all the things we’ve been doing all along – the distancing, the masking, avoiding gatherings and washing our hands,” he said. “The next few months is a really fragile time.”

​He added, “We do have the potential for another surge to be as big or bigger than the last surge.”

​​​​   Variants versus vaccines

​A strain known as B.1.1.7 or the UK variant is spreading in the U.S. and in California and is expected to be the driver of the next surge. The strain is believed to be more transmissible and possibly more deadly.

A UK sampling report found that the variant strain has also adopted the same antibody-resistance mutation seen in other variant strains, such as one that originated in South Africa.

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That variant has just begun to spread in California and another, known as L452R, has caused large outbreaks in the San Jose area and has been detected in Humboldt County.

Vaccine effectiveness against the variants is partially diminished but is believed to be adequate. That may change as spread ramps up and vaccination is seen as a hedge against severe illness and viral evolution.

​“We’re going to race to get the vaccine out there as quickly as we can and as broadly as we can to try to mitigate that,” Hoffman said.

Taking shots

​Vaccination rollout is proceeding as quickly as can be managed. Hoffman updated supervisors on the progress of the county’s efforts, telling them that as of February 8, a total of 18,208 vaccine doses had been administered in Humboldt County.

​Vaccines currently in use require two doses spaced several weeks apart and Hoffman said that of the total, about 15,000 are first doses. About 13 percent of county residents have gotten at least one dose, he continued.

​By Feb. 10, the county had announced that a total of 21, 230 doses had been administered.

Hoffman said about 50 percent of residents ages 75 years and older have been vaccinated.

​On Feb. 11, the county announced that its vaccine allocation for this week is 3,550 doses.

​Vaccination eligibility is also expanding. People ages 70 and older are now eligible as vaccination of health care workers, emergency services workers, teachers and school support staff, and child care providers continues.

​​​​     The ‘Biggest gap’

​Hoffman added that there is “definitely good inroads in our native community” but vaccination rates in Latino communities is the “biggest gap,” with a six percent vaccination rate compared to 13 percent overall.

​There are also location gaps, he continued, with the “vast majority” of vaccination happening in more populated areas of the county.

​During the supervisors update, Public Health Director Michele Stephens said operational agreements for mobile outreach and staffing “in the far reaches of the county” are in the works.

​The county’s current surge of COVID-19 cases is believed to be plateauing.

From Feb. 5 and 11, 102 new cases were confirmed. Data for Feb. 12 was unavailable due to a holiday.

​The total number of county cases as of Feb. 11 was 3,009.

​Also last week, there was one more COVID-19 death, of a person in their 60s, bringing the county’s total to 32. There were six more hospitalizations, bringing the total to date to 124.

​The county’s ICU bed availability dipped to 14.3 percent but regional availability was at 36 percent.

 




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