COVID spread has ‘taken off’

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – ​Coronavirus is now doing in Humboldt County what it has done in many other places in the state, the country and the world – accelerating sharply.

​The county’s daily number of confirmed COVID-19 cases was often in the single digits and sometimes at zero during October, allowing a loosening of restrictions on business and social activity.

But as of press time, cases were spectacularly trending upward, with 88 confirmed during the first 13 days of November.

​“Right now, across the state as well as our own county, we’re seeing unprecedented growth,” said Deputy Health Officer Dr. Josh Ennis in a Nov. 13 media availability video. “The volume is of concern but even more than that is the acceleration – how quickly that volume has taken off.”

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​Ennis said it is “very likely” that the state will move the county out of its current “minimal” risk ranking category and into a higher tier that re-instates restrictions, including on gathering-oriented activities and businesses like restaurants and bars. ​

​Under a recently-adopted system, the state makes the call on when restrictions are imposed and there’s a lag time between coronavirus acceleration and the state’s response.

​The former system was county-based and allowed for quicker response. “If we had our original alert level system, we likely would move well in advance of the state requiring that movement because three weeks late, it is really too late to be intervening,” Ennis said.

​‘So Different’

Further commenting on the “dramatic uptick of cases,” Ennis described the nature of COVID-19 spread as being different than what the county has seen previously.

​“It’s so different this time around because more than half the cases are due to travel or community transmission and each one of those represents a new case that has no relation to any of the ongoing investigations,” he said. “That to me is much more concerning than anything we’ve seen in the past.”

He added that with the current pace of spread, arguing in favor of keeping the county in the least restrictive risk category “does not have legs to stand upon.”

​With more cases comes the potential for more hospitalizations. Last week saw two more, bringing the county’s total number to 39 to date. Hospitalizations follow case increases by two to three weeks.

​Ennis said the county’s health care system is now “well within the ability to continue to care for the sick” but lingering case growth “could start to threaten the health care system capacity.”

​Scattered spread

In a press release announcing that there had been a combined total of 29 case confirmations for Nov. 11 and Nov. 12, Ennis warned that COVID-19 is circulating more broadly.

​Coronavirus can be deadly but a significant number of infected people show no symptoms. This challenges the ability to flag its presence.

“The safest course of action is to assume anyone you interact with could have the virus and follow prevention measures,” Ennis said in the release.

Ennis began a Nov. 10 media availability video by discussing the implications of the spike in cases.

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“The vast majority of these cases appear to be travel-related and in many of them, out of state travel, specifically to places that have much higher rates of disease,” he said. “So what we’re looking at now is many smaller clusters or cases that are seemingly unrelated and so the cases are scattered throughout.”

Previous episodes of spread were more focused and “related to a couple big clusters we were chasing for some time,” Ennis continued.

He described a “big area” of infection risk and how to reduce it. “It’s in gatherings and trying to keep the cohorts stable, trying to minimize the number of people who are brought together,” he said.  “And this is especially important as we go into the colder months and the holiday season, to be really mindful of this and keep our businesses open.”

Stay home

Cases are surging statewide and on Nov. 13, the California Department of Public Health issued a travel advisory that “strongly discourages non-essential travel,” according to a county press release. ​

Oregon and Washington have also issued travel advisories.

​The county’s total number of confirmed cases to date rose to 658 on Nov. 13.

​Humboldt’s testing positivity rate is also up. During October, the rate was stable at about 1.5 percent but as of the week ending on Nov. 13, it had increased to 2.6 percent.

​The state ranks counties on four risk levels. During the weeks with modest case increases, the county was moved from a moderate risk level to minimal risk, which lifted restrictions on bars, restaurants and some social activities.

​The testing positivity rate maximum for the minimal risk level is two percent and the maximum weekly case rate per 1,000 residents is one per day. If both exceed those thresholds for a period of two weeks, the county moves into a higher, more restrictive tier.





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