COVID resurgence sparks ‘gnarly’ divisions

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – ​​​County supervisors have urged residents to resist fear and division as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations hit all-time peaks.

​The social and emotional impacts of the county’s latest and most intense coronavirus surge were discussed as the Board of Supervisors fielded a COVID-19 update at its August 10 meeting.

​County Health Officer Dr. Ian Hoffman said local emergence of a super-contagious coronavirus strain known as the Delta variant has “dramatically changed the situation in our county,” with a 400 percent caseload increase in recent weeks.

​He added that a “dramatic rise” in hospitalizations has coincided with the case quake.

​The new surge follows a statewide “reopening” on June 15. Almost all public health restrictions were lifted and what was presumed to be a summer of events, gatherings and social activity kicked off.

​Delta has foiled many of those plans and on Aug. 7, a county mandate on universal masking took effect.

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​Many events have been cancelled and a plan to hold supervisors meetings in-person has been reeled back as case counts crest.

​The fallout of the startling and disappointing turn of events was apparent as last week’s virtual board meeting proceeded.

​During its public comment session, one caller said his questioning about vaccines at a county vaccination booth led to a confrontation that nearly resulted in him being pepper-sprayed.

​Another caller described herself as a nurse who supports homeopathic alternatives to vaccines. She said “people are acting very hysterically right now” and have called the police on her for getting too close to them.

​A caller who is a vaccine skeptic objected to “constantly being told that I am a Trumper or a Republican or I’m ignorant because I don’t want to take an experimental drug.”

​“What a conundrum,” said Supervisor Steve Madrone, who divulged his fully-vaccinated status but added that “there are people who have reasons for not getting vaccinations.”

​“Somehow or another I think we need to be creating an approach that is inclusive,” he continued. “Right now, what we’re getting is a lot of us and them.”

​That includes “people accusing each other and getting gnarly – it’s just nasty,” said Madrone.

​Supervisor Michelle Bushnell noted on a communal sense of fear.

“I want to recognize that we’re kind of going backwards and that’s scary for a lot of people,” she said. “People in our communities are scared and nervous, and I really want our communities, and our state, to pull together.”

​She added, “Division is not where we need to be right now.”

​But Supervisor Rex Bohn, who is vaccinated but in quarantine after getting COVID-19, told his colleagues that “I don’t think the community is as fractured as you think.”

​He said he’s “taken a pretty strong stance” in support of vaccinations and “I haven’t lost any friends about it” despite knowing some people who disagree with him.

​Earlier in the meeting, Hoffman told supervisors that COVID-19 hospitalizations – which he has previously described as a trigger for reinstating restrictions -- have reached a pandemic peak.

​“We suspect that this may go higher and we’re watching the situation in the hospitals very closely,” he said.

​Between Aug. 7 and Aug. 13, the county confirmed 461 more COVID-19 cases, which breaks the previous week’s record of 387 cases.

​There were 31 more hospitalizations last week, including one person between 10 and 20 years old. Also hospitalized were several people in their 30s and 40s. Additional residents were treated at out-of-area facilities.

​There were two deaths last week, of elderly residents.

​As of Aug. 13, 33 people were being treated for COVID-19 in local hospitals, a record level.

​The county’s percentage of fully-vaccinated residents is crawling upward but was static at 51 percent as of the end of last week.

​Vaccines are preventing hospitalizations and deaths but can no longer be counted on to prevent infections and further transmission.

Hoffman has said that 25 percent of the county’s COVID-19 cases were among the vaccinated during July.

As of the week ending on Aug. 7, about 34 percent of cases were of vaccinated residents.

That’s probably a lowballed estimate because vaccinated people are more likely to be asymptomatic or have slight symptoms and not seek testing.

​As of the end of last week, the county’s case total was 5,970, with to-date totals of 279 hospitalizations and 58 deaths.




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