(From the July 29, 2020 edition.)
Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – Humboldt County’s COVID-19 case count has triggered a high risk Orange Alert and health officials are bracing for what’s been described as a steady surge of cases this fall and winter, coinciding with the flu season.
The county’s mass of cases hit 200 on July 22 and was at 205 as of July 24. The two weeks leading up that saw 39 new cases.
In a July 24 video, county Health Officer Teresa Frankovich said the escalating case count doesn’t land the county on the state’s monitoring list and the local testing positivity rate is significantly below the state’s trigger level.
But she warned that “the trend we are seeing is certainly concerning, with our increase in cases.”
Some county residents have celebrated the summer as they usually do, with outdoor and indoor parties, weddings and family gatherings. Frankovich said that “social gatherings and travel, and sometimes the combination of the two” have brought the county into a new phase of coronavirus spread.
“To bring the count down and to keep off the monitoring list, keep businesses open, start school and do all those things we want to do, we really need to all cooperate as a community and work to drop those numbers,” she said.
The Orange Alert designation brings the county to Level Three status, meaning there are “many cases with conditions for community spread, with many undetected cases likely.” Orange Alert means residents should “limit everyday activities to increase safety.”
The highest level is Level Four, a Red Alert whose response would be to “take strong measures to limit all contact.” At that point, formerly-ordered restrictions on business and other activities will be reinstated.
At Orange Alert, we are warned. “It’s very important we don’t creep up from there,” said Frankovich.
The county is still in an early phase of coronavirus spread, however. In a July 23 video presentation, Josh Ennis, the county’s deputy health officer, talked about what lies ahead.
“My opinion is that we can certainly expect to see a lot more cases in the fall and winter, and it is something we are concerned about as we know that is going to inevitably be right on top of the flu season,” he said. “Whether we’re able to get through it successfully or not does depend to some degree on how used to this new normal we get.”
Ennis added that it’s uncertain what kind of case curve Humboldt will experience. “We might just see cases go up and reach a steady state at some point,” he said. “The whole idea, though, is that we can push it further out and further down.”
Frankovich and Ennis reiterated the importance of safety measures – social distancing, wearing face coverings, hand washing and sanitizing, and avoiding travel and inter-household contacts.
Recently re-instated statewide restrictions include a prohibition against indoor restaurant dining and the closure of bars.
The county’s tribally-owned casinos aren’t subject to state health orders and in a July 20 video, a submitted media question noted unofficial reports of a confirmed case of COVID-19 at a casino with “several co-workers exposed.”
Asked for a response, Frankovich warned against group settings. “I just want to emphasize to people that if you go to a casino or any large gathering place with large numbers of people, I think that it’s wise to assume that you may have an exposure,” she said. “And the same thing if you go to a large family reunion.”
And “when you bring in family from out of the area to visit and stay at your home, you may have had an exposure -- and as we go forward, that likelihood will increase,” she continued.
As control of social behavior weakens, national health experts have expressed cautious optimism of vaccine development by the end of the year or early 2021.
But at a recent Board of Supervisors meeting, Frankovich agreed when Supervisor Rex Bohn said that “we may never have a vaccine on this.”
Commenting on that during the July 24 video, she said recent vaccine development efforts are “encouraging” and the emergence of one by 2021 is possible.
Supply will be an issue, however, and “unlike flu, we have not produced a vaccine against a coronavirus before – this is new and it takes a certain amount of time to be able to not only evaluate the safety of a vaccine but its effectiveness.”
She added, “We may have a vaccine before we know for certain that it will provide long term protection.”
Frankovich noted, however, that development of “a good therapeutic” can also “change this entirely.”