COVID tier-hopping never seems to end

Humboldt is back in the red tier – for now.

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – ​​The receding and resurging behavior of coronavirus continues as the county’s health officer warns that restrictions may intensify again.

​Late last month, the county’s state-assigned COVID-19 risk status was downgraded from the purple or widespread risk category to the red or substantial risk tier.

​At the time, Health Officer Dr. Ian Hoffman reported that local case rates and testing positivity rates had dipped, landing the county “solidly” into the red tier.

​The red tier status has allowed restaurants, movie theaters, gyms and other businesses to increase indoor capacities or re-open.

​But during a March 2 media availability video, Hoffman expressed some doubt about easing up on restrictions. The county’s tier status is being eyed with caution.

“We are watching it very closely because we have noticed that the case rate has increased over the past week and not continued to decrease like it was over the preceding weeks,” Hoffman said. “You know it’s always a good reminder for us to keep in mind that there could be more cases coming down the line if we are loosening up too quickly.” 

The state re-evaluates each county’s tier designation weekly and Hoffman said “we look forward to hearing more about that and how it could affect us here in Humboldt County.”

He emphasized the importance of continuing to wear masks, practice distancing and avoid gatherings.

Hoffman’s contraindication on lifting restrictions was somewhat contradicted the next day, as the county clarified its stance on attendance of youth sports events and challenged the state’s blanket approach to restrictions.

A March 3 county press release states that local public health officials “continue to press the state of California” for specifics on its updated youth sports guidance. The vagueness stems from the state’s events attendance allowance for “age-appropriate supervision.”

​“Given the lack of a specific definition of that term, public health officials will not impose any restrictions on the number of immediate family members that can attend games or practices,” the county says in the press release.

​The release also includes a quote from Public Health Director Michele Stephens that suggests dissonance between state and local rule-making.

“Humboldt County remains fully supportive of common sense rules and regulations that prevent the spread of COVID-19 but will not endorse a statewide approach that doesn’t truly take into account our local conditions and further harms small businesses that are the backbone of our community,” she said.

Amid last week’s confusing messaging, the county announced an initial milestone in its vaccination quest – 10,435 residents have been fully vaccinated, representing 7.7 percent of the total population and 9.3 percent of those who are vaccine-eligible.

More than 15 percent of residents have gotten at least one dose of vaccine and nearly one out of every three residents over the age of 75 have been fully vaccinated.  

Another vaccine milestone is the federal emergency authorization of a new one from the Johnson & Johnson corporation. Unlike currently-used vaccines, it only requires a single dose and a lesser degree of refrigeration.

Hoffman said the state is getting 400,000 doses of the newly-authorized vaccine and in a March 4 video, county Vaccine Task Force Member Lindsey Mendez said it will “most likely” be available locally this week.

New vaccine developments are being matched by new developments in viral evolution as coronavirus variants continue to emerge and spread. Another surge is predicted and if it happens, further spread could spur more viral diversity, threatening vaccine efficacy as the virus adapts to immune pressure.

In the March 3 video, Hoffman commented on the unpredictability of the pandemic, saying, “Things are fast moving and knowledge changes -- sometimes what we know one day might not be the same as what we know the next day.”

​Eighty-seven new COVID-19 cases were confirmed last week, bringing the county’s pandemic total to 3,266. There were two additional hospitalizations, representing a decline from the previous week and bringing that total to 135.

​No new deaths were reported last week and the county’s total number stood at 33.

On March 5, the state responded to a court settlement by updating its youth and adult sports guidance again.

The guidance “now allows all sports, regardless of level of contact, to resume practice and competition if players and teams follow COVID-19 safety protocols required of collegiate athletics,” according a county press release.



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