First round of vaxxes given as surge continues

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – Humboldt’s COVID-19 surge peaked higher during its holiday week as a first round of vaccinations was given to hospital, long term care and emergency medical staffers.

​All 975 doses of the county’s initial vaccine allotment were administered between Dec. 15 and Dec. 23. 

According to a Dec. 22 county press release, the state’s Department of Health indicated that Humboldt “could continue to receive allocations of approximately 1,600 vaccine doses per week for the next few weeks but changes to this may still occur at the federal level.”

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​A vaccine made through a partnership with the Pfizer pharmaceutical corporation and the BioNTech biotechnology company was the first to be administered.

Last week also saw the local arrival of a second vaccine, made by the Moderna biotechnology company, which is “especially important for rural communities because it does not need to be frozen at extreme temperatures and once thawed can be stored in a refrigerator for up to 30 days,” according to a Dec. 23 county press release.

Both vaccines are administered in two doses, three and four weeks apart.

As of the end of Dec. 22, about 300 employees of Mad River Hospital had gotten their first doses of vaccine. St. Joseph Hospital expected to have 800 staff members vaccine-dosed by the end of that day and the Southern Humboldt Health Care District/Jerold Phelps Community Hospital had administered nearly 70 first doses.

The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines both work similarly, using synthesized messenger RNA or mRNA to get cells to produce coronavirus-like spike proteins. The immune system targets the spike proteins, priming it to respond again if coronavirus enters the body.

The emergence of vaccines is being described as a “light at the end of the tunnel” but pandemic darkness will prevail until sometime after this spring, when vaccines are expected to be generally available.

As in other places, the county is experiencing a record case rate spike. From Dec. 19 to Dec. 26, 197 new cases were confirmed, bringing the county’s total to 1,584.

Three more COVID-19 deaths occurred last week. The first was of an elderly resident of the Granada Rehabilitation and Wellness Center in Eureka.

Last week’s second death was of an elderly Humboldt resident who died while out of county and a third was of another elderly Granada resident, bringing the county’s coronavirus death total to 18. There have been eight deaths related to the Granada facility’s outbreak.

There were also three new hospitalizations and the total number was at 65 as of the end of last week.

The county isn’t experiencing a maxing out of ICU capacity as other areas of the state are. Additional state-imposed restrictions kick in if a region’s ICU bed availability falls below 15 percent but as of Dec.26, the northern region’s capacity was 33.9 percent and Humboldt’s was 53.6 percent.

That could change quickly. The current surge was predicted after Thanksgiving and holidays like Christmas and New Year’s Eve are magnets for the close contact indoor gatherings that spike the spread of COVID-19.

The recent ascent of infections prompted Michele Stephens, the county’s Public Health Director, to “to highlight the significant and extraordinary amount of cases that we’re getting lately, in the last  several weeks” in a Dec. 21 video statement.

She said the case climb is “not Granada-driven” and “we think that the Thanksgiving holiday is really what we’re starting to see in the rise in positive cases.”

Stephens implored residents “not to gather with loved ones that are outside of your household” during Christmas.

Acknowledging the painful but necessary impacts of social disconnection, she reflected on the experience of her own family.

“I have a seven-year-old  who’s doing distance learning -- he misses his  family, he misses his friends and he’s got a mom that’s working a lot,” she said, adding, “We all need to do our part as community members.”

​Stephens ended her statement by saying, “The worst present we can give to our family members right now is COVID-19.”

​As 2021 begins, the county will find out how much the holiday season drives up the spread of disease.







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