Coronavirus cancels culture

Jack Durham
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – In an effort to stem the world-wide coronavirus pandemic, Humboldt County has gone into lock-down, with most meetings canceled, schools closed and events postponed.

Residents have been advised to isolate themselves as much as possible, avoid groups and wash their hands often and vigorously.

A local emergency was declared last week by Humboldt County health officials and on Sunday, Gov. Gavin Newsom asked that all bars and pubs close their doors and that restaurants reduce their occupancy to allow for more “social distancing.”

As of Monday afternoon, March 16, there were no reports of people in Humboldt County with active cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. However, there were at least a couple people who had traveled out of the county and reported that they had been exposed to someone with the virus. The most prominent is Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson, who is now self-quarantined.

‘Strange times’

Wilson serves on the California Coastal Commission, which met last week in Santa Cruz. On Saturday, March 14, Wilson learned that the chair of the commission,  Steve Padilla from Chula Vista, had tested positive for COVID-19.

Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson.

“I don’t have any particular memory of close contact with Steve, I was hand sanitizing like a fiend and the likelihood of contracting the virus from this potential exposure is low,” Wilson wrote on Facebook. “Currently, I feel healthy and do not have any symptoms. Even so, I have chosen to self quarantine.”

Wilson  said he contacted health officials for advice and was now working from home.

“These are strange times and our community will be relying on each other in ways we may never have expected. I’m sure we will live up to the task!” Wilson wrote.

Wilson’s situation underscores the uncertainty of these times – it’s unclear who, if anyone, is infected with the virus, which can be spread by people who  are infected but show no symptoms.

Evolving response

Although the virus has killed more than 6,000 people since its outbreak in Wuhan, China in December 2019, as early as last week Humboldters were planning a busy social schedule, with concerts, a St. Patrick’s Day celebration, theater performances, lectures and more.

The virus, meanwhile, was spreading throughout the nation, a ticking time-bomb that threatens to overwhelm the nation’s health care system.   

Then, on Wednesday, March 11, Humboldt County Health Officer Teresa Frankovich declared a Local Health Emergency in response to the outbreak.

Sign photos by Matt Filar | Union

And so began a cascade of cancellations.

The Humboldt Folklife Society and the Humboldt Unitarian Universalist were among the first organizations to come to grips with the crisis, as they announced the cancellation of their St. Patrick’s Day celebration at the Arcata Vets Hall planned for March 13. 

Other organizations were determined that the show must go one, even after the emergency declaration. Initially, Humboldt State banned events with more than 150 people. Later in the week, the university banned all “non-essential” events of any size.

The response from local elementary and high schools was similar. The McKinleyville Union School District announced that it had hired additional janitorial staff, and was focused on keeping its campuses clean. Classes would continue.

But by Sunday, the MUSD had joined almost every other school district in Humboldt and declared that all classes are canceled for the time being.

Arcata Mainstreet canceled its Arts! Arcata event planned for March 13. CenterArts and the Humboldt State Music Department canceled all of their shows. Local community theater productions were halted. Even Godwit Days, planned for mid-April, was postponed until the fall. 

Toilet paper, crackers

As residents prepared for a prolonged period of “social distancing,” they stocked up on supplies. The CDC has indicated that people may need to social distance themselves for eight weeks.

At the Safeway at the Uniontown Shopping Center in Arcata, toilet paper was in short supply on Sunday afternoon, with only a few rolls on the mostly-empty shelves. A clerk said the store planned to close early that evening so employees could restock the shelves.

Other parts of the store that were noticeably plundered were the dry beans section and the crackers, Triscuits and Wheat Thins in particular – the snacks of choice during a pandemic.

Many supermarkets were sold out of hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes.  At Costco in Eureka on Friday, March 13, there were only a half a dozen bags of dry dog food left. A clerk said that more was on the way, but it was unknown when the dog food would arrive.

Virus testing

Last week’s emergency declaration by the county will also support the Humboldt County Public Health Laboratory, which is now able to begin on-site COVID-19 testing locally,l according to a press release.

Although testing capacity at public health labs remains limited at this time, Public Health Lab Manager Jeremy Corrigan said in a press release, “It is our understanding that some commercial labs are beginning to offer testing as well, which would increase testing availability for our community.”

The release stated “Currently, Humboldt County has no known cases of COVID-19. The individual who was previously confirmed to have contracted the virus has recovered and was released from isolation on Feb. 28, after meeting all conditions for clearance required by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A close contact of the individual was released from isolation March 2.”



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