Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – After what Humboldt County’s health officer calls “a long and difficult year with COVID-19,” a statewide reopening begins this week and the Board of Supervisors has been briefed on how things will change.
The board got a COVID-19 update at its June 8 meeting and Health Officer Dr. Ian Hoffman described what will happen this week, when most restrictions are lifted on June 15.
Masking recommendations align with those of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For fully vaccinated people, facial coverings are no longer considered essential in most indoor and outdoor settings.
Unvaccinated people should keep their masks on indoors and in crowded outdoor settings.
State workplace regulation revisions were proposed but rescinded last week and as of press time, masking requirements within work settings remained in place. But the revisions will be re-evaluated this week.
Businesses may still require masks after June 15 because “it will not be possible to know who is vaccinated and who is unvaccinated,” said Hoffman.
Masks must still be worn when using public transportation and in health care settings and schools, he continued.
Hoffman added that physical distancing requirements and capacity limits will be lifted unless businesses, workplaces and other venues decide to maintain them.
He said standards are different for vaccinated residents.
They don’t need to get tested if they’ve been exposed to COVID-19 unless their jobs require it or they have symptoms.
“Youth settings” will continue with restrictions and masking because there isn’t a vaccine for children under 12 years old, said Hoffman. But schools are set to fully re-open this fall “with no reduced schedules and no reduced capacity.”
There was discussion on vaccination progress and lack of it.
Hoffman said the county’s vaccination rate has been climbing -- “albeit slowly” -- but the Northern California region has the state’s lowest levels of vaccination and natural immunity resistance.
“We’ll eventually get to a place where there are not enough people left for the virus to infect because our vaccination rates will be high enough but we are not there yet,” he continued.
Supervisor Mike Wilson noted the steady occurrence of COVID-19 hospitalizations. “This is a serious and deadly and preventable disease and the best prevention is vaccination – by far,” he said.
Recounting Humboldt’s pandemic history of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, Hoffman described vaccines as a safe hedge against them. “Of 70,000 people who’ve been vaccinated, none have gone to the hospital and none have died from that vaccine,” he said. “So I think those numbers speak really loudly and speak for themselves.”
Hoffman said residents under 30 years old “definitely” have the lowest vaccination rates in the county.
Supervisor Rex Bohn suggested that health officials “double down” and promote vaccination to younger people.
The lifting of restrictions comes as local COVID-19 cases taper down from a surge that peaked last April. It was driven by the emergence of a coronavirus variant once known as the UK variant, now dubbed the Alpha variant.
During a June 9 news conference, Hoffman reported that the county is seeing a “shift” to another variant, this one originating in Brazil and named the Gamma variant.
During the month of May, the county’s monitoring detected a 50-50 split between the Alpha and Gamma variants in local cases. The Gamma strain could become dominant this month, Hoffman said.
One local case has been linked to yet another variant which originated in India and is called the Delta variant. But the case was linked to international travel and dates back to last month, with no additional cases detected since.
Variant strains “might change the way the virus interacts with medications” and may be more contagious. “Some of them are being monitored for potential that they could escape through the vaccine response more easily,” Hoffman continued.
It’s also possible that variants could evade test detection.
How close are we to the end of the pandemic? During the news conference, Hoffman could only say that he’s “hopeful.”
But he added, “There’s no guarantee – I think how these things will go depends on the behavior of all of us in the county.”
He believes another significant surge is “not likely” if unvaccinated people continue to wear masks in public. But if they don’t, “I think we could very likely see a large surge in cases come June 15.”
The week ending on June 11 saw confirmation of 66 more COVID-19 cases, bringing the county’s total to 4,415. The county’s hospitalization total rose to 195 after five people were hospitalized during the week.
There was another death, of a resident in their 50s, bringing the death total to 46.
About 42 percent of the county’s population had been fully vaccinated.