Health officer says social mingling ‘not safe’

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – As California deals with surges of coronavirus, Humboldt County’s public health officer has warned that business openings could be reeled back if residents let their guards down and resume their pre-virus social lives.

​In a June 30 video release, Dr. Teresa Frankovich, the county’s health officer, talked about recent “exponential growth” of COVID-19 cases in parts of the state and how it could happen locally.

​Statewide, 19 counties have been directed to scale back their business activities. Previously, bars, restaurants, movie theaters, zoos and museums and recreational facilities had been cleared for opening but the Governor’s Office has re-instated restrictions on them in the affected counties.

​Humboldt is not on the list of counties whose recent case growth rates exceed the state’s standards. But Frankovich warned that it could be if residents aren’t vigilant.

​“I think there are huge lessons to be learned here,” she said, adding that she’s concerned about focusing solely on obviously risky social environments like bars.

​“I think it’s important for people to recognize that it is, in fact, our day to day behavior that is putting us at risk,” Frankovich continued. “It is people gathering between households, it’s those networks of friends and neighbors, and after a long time of shelter in place, people want to socialize.”

Health Officer Dr. Teresa Frankovich

​Doing so “starts to feel safe” but “I think we just need to accept the fact that it is not safe,” said Frankovich. “The more you mix with other households, the more the virus is going to circulate and it’s going to compromise our ability to move forward.”

The county has proceeded with reopening a variety of businesses and activities. The newest sector cleared for opening pending county certifications is movie theaters. But Frankovich suggested she’s prepared to scale back business activity if coronavirus spread picks up.

“I want to be able to keep businesses open but frankly, we’re going to have to walk things back if it doesn’t change,” she said, emphasizing that masking is “absolutely essential” to protect each other from what’s believed to be the virus’ main means of transmission – exhaled droplets.

“(Masking) is not meant to protect you specifically but if everyone is wearing them, it will protect you,” said Frankovich. “I can’t emphasize enough that this is our time of personal responsibility – either we accept that this virus is a problem and has potential to make a lot of us very sick or we ignore it at our own peril.”

Answering a submitted media question on the impact of air travel, Frankovich said it’s a concern but “focusing on flying specifically is problematic” because “the vast majority of people travelling in and out of our county are doing so by vehicles.”

She added that the “drivers of travel-acquired infections in our community have been our own residents, leaving and coming back to the area.”

That is of particular concern in the context of the summer season and the July 4 holiday.

During a July 2 video presentation, Deputy County Health Officer Josh Ennis said that people will want to socialize during the holiday weekend but “more than ever, with increased disease circulation throughout the state, this is the time when we need to exercise more caution -- this is really one of the most important times.”

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Ennis recommended a COVID-era version of partying. “The safest thing to do is try to develop your own little celebration that stays at home,” he said. “That is the safest thing to do – the more you bring people together, the more opportunity you introduce for having disease circulate around.”

Some county residents will travel, however, and Ennis urged avoidance of “the kinds of activities that place you at higher risk” along with prevention measures like hand washing, masking and distancing.

Humboldt’s total case count has risen unevenly but steadily, at times trickling and sometimes lurching from one or two cases to several cases per day.

Three more cases were confirmed on June 30 and two more were logged on July 2, bringing the county’s total to 138 cases. On July 3, six more cases were confirmed to bring the total to 144 cases.  

There have been 16 hospitalizations and a coronavirus outbreak in a Eureka nursing home led to four deaths.


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