Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – Humboldt County has moved into a less restrictive COVID-19 risk ranking – but only barely.
The county announced the new scenario in an Oct. 7 press release. Formerly ranked by the state in an orange or Moderate Risk category, the county is now at the yellow Minimal Risk level. The change is based on the county’s case rate per 100,000 people and its testing positivity rate.
Those are at two per 100,000 and 1.5 percent. And in an Oct. 7 media availability video, Health Officer Dr. Teresa Frankovich said the case rate puts the county right on the line between yellow and orange.
“We want to sort of celebrate the fact that we’re doing really well but recognize the fact that that can change with one large outbreak,” she said.
To move into the yellow tier, counties must have case rates below two per 100,000 and positivity rates below two percent. “We were at two for our case rate – if we were at 2.1, we would not be in yellow,” said Frankovich.
An increase in cases for a two-week period will return the county to the higher, moderate risk tier. “So we really need everybody to stay on board with what they’ve been doing, because it’s working,” Frankovich said, adding that “from the Public Health end, our pledge is, we’re going to keep it up in terms of our testing and contact investigations.”
The change in risk ranking lifts some restrictions on business and activities. Common areas in shopping centers can open with reduced capacity in food courts and capacity limits are lifted for zoos and museums.
Indoor attendance at places of worship, movie theaters, restaurants, wineries and family entertainment centers such as bowling alleys is increased to 50 percent of capacity.
Bars, breweries and distilleries can now operate indoors with modifications and at 50 percent of capacity. Gyms and fitness centers, including those in hotels, can also operate at 50 percent of capacity.
The state has yet to issue guidelines on indoor recreation, so ice and roller skating rinks, bounce houses and ball pits are not allowed to operate, nor are performing arts and music venues.
With the county being just barely in the yellow tier, Frankovich was asked what her advice is for businesses such as bars making investments for a reopening that might be temporary.
“I do think that business owners need to put some thought into that because right now our margin is so small and if we were sitting well below two on our case rate, I’d feel more confident,” she said. “But since we’re right there, it does not take much to push us above that number,”
It’s “not unreasonable” for business owners to wait a week or two to “see where things are going” before expanding their scope of services, she continued.
The state’s ranking system includes a “social equity metric” based on a county’s consistency of testing and preventive measures throughout different communities. Frankovich said the county has met the state’s equity standards.
“If there really isn’t a disparity in your positivity rate between the more advantaged areas of your county and the disadvantaged areas of your county, then that actually would place you in a position where the state would tolerate a little bit higher case rate,” she said.
The equity standards were met through “increasing testing access throughout the area and really trying to ensure that our outlying communities get some better access as opposed to having to come for instance to Eureka to be tested.”
Frankovich added that the county has been “working aggressively” in contact tracing to reduce disease transmission in all areas of the county.
In an Oct. 8 video, Deputy Health officer Dr. Josh Ennis described the equity metric as being applied to “geographic locations within counties, broken down by census tracts” and given ratings based on various factors, including social, economic, transportation and health care conditions.
On Oct. 9, the state released guidelines for “limited gatherings” of up to three households. They must be held outdoors and can be held in parks and other public spaces.
The state reminds that “the smaller the number of people, the safer.”
Another COVID-19-related development was seen at the October 6 Board of Supervisors meeting with approval of an additional $600,000 in federal CARES Act funding to local businesses, special districts and non-profit agencies.
The additional funding will supplement financial assistance programs for expenses involved in drafting reopening plans and supplies, equipment and staff training related to preventing disease transmission.
Business Rental and mortgage assistance and eviction prevention are also eligible for the county’s Small Business Restart and Recovery grant programs. Applications for grants ranging from $500 to $12,000 are now being accepted.