Health officer: masks still a good idea

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – ​As the state mulls new federal guidelines on masking, the county’s health officer continues to recommend it as long as “pockets of unvaccinated people” remain in the county.

​Dr. Ian Hoffman, Humboldt’s health officer, offered a mix of good and bad news during a May 12 news conference on the local status of vaccination and COVID-19.

Vaccination continues to progress – but so does coronavirus. “We’ve seen an increase in COVID activity in our community the last few weeks and I just want to remind everyone that COVID is still here and circulating among us,” Hoffman said.

Dr. Ian P. Hoffman

In response, the county is dispatching mobile units to vaccinate people who have geographical and other barriers. About 36 percent of the county’s population has been fully vaccinated.

Vaccination is “way at the top of the list” of measures to protect against COVID-19 and Hoffman said his department will also continue to recommend masking, distancing and avoiding gatherings.

Confusion about masking ensued following last week’s new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on masking. Released the day after the news conference, the agency now says that fully vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks, indoors or outdoors.

But the federal guidance defers to state laws and as of press time, the state continued to require mask-wearing indoors and in crowded outdoor settings.

​The state is eyeing June 15 as the day to completely reopen but Hoffman said he hasn’t heard anything about lifting mask requirements by that date or after.

He said recent cases often stem from gatherings where people are unvaccinated and not taking precautions like masking.  

And COVID-19 investigators are “meeting resistance against contact tracing across the board.” He added that “there’s some fear and some fatigue.”

Asked about enforcement of COVID-19 protocols, Hoffman suggested that there is none by the county. He said events and businesses that violate restriction rules face “potential backlash from the community,” “bad press” and maybe lawsuits from people who become ill.

A more transmissible, more lethal coronavirus variant called B.1.1.7 or the UK variant is related to more than 40 of last week’s cases, he said, and is now the dominant strain in Humboldt.

The county’s hospitalization rate had stabilized the week of the news conference but Hoffman said he doesn’t believe the county is “out of the woods yet” due to the vaccination barriers.

The county is preparing for a milestone in the vaccination effort, however – the eligibility of residents ages 12 to 15 years.

With the UK variant causing more disease, the county is meeting the state’s case count standard for increasing restrictions. The week ending on May 14 saw the county’s testing positivity rate rising to 7.40 percent, which also meets a trigger standard for more restrictions.

But the state recently rejiggered its risk metrics to make restriction more difficult to effect and now case counts, testing positivity rates, hospital capacity and statewide availability of vaccines in underserved communities are all figured into risk calculations.

While Hoffman doubts that hospital capacity will be challenged, he said hospitalizations will continue until vaccination covers a wider swath of the population.

Hoffman also announced that genomic sequencing – the means of identifying coronavirus variants -- will soon be available through the county’s public health lab.

Expected later this month or in early June, local availability will allow local officials to get the results of sequencing faster.

Last week saw confirmation of another 137 COVID-19 cases, bringing the county’s total count to 4,072.

After six more hospitalizations, the county’s total was at 171.  

There were three more deaths last week, of people in their 50s, 60s and 70s. That total was at 42 as of May 14.  

 







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