Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – With COVID case rates and testing positivity percentages dropping, the county has moved into a lower risk tier that allows some restrictions to be eased.
On Feb. 24, 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.
Like the rest of the state and the nation, the county is coming down from the peak of the pandemic’s most intense infection surge. At the February 23 Board of Supervisors meeting, county Public Health Officer Dr. Ian Hoffman reported that local case rates and testing positivity rates have dipped, landing the county “solidly” into the red tier.
Hoffman differentiated the current tier downgrade from a similar and short-lived one last January, when the county “just barely” qualified.
“This time the numbers look much more solid and our case rates are much, much lower and the test positivity range is more solidly in the red tier,” he told supervisors.
Being in the red allows indoor dining and movie theater attendance at 25 percent capacity and indoor gyms can re-open at 10 percent of capacity.
The indoor capacity of retail businesses increases to 50 percent but religious services remain capped at 25 percent capacity.
Bars, live music and sports events remain under closure and non-essential office work continues to be done remotely.
Hoffman warned against complacency, however. He advised people to continue to take precautions and avoid indoor gatherings as much as possible so the county can “continue to gain momentum on lower case rates in the coming weeks and months.”
On vaccination progress, Hoffman said that it was temporarily interrupted the previous week, when severe winter weather nationwide prevented shipment deliveries.
But last week the county resumed vaccinating priority groups – health care workers, people ages 70 and older, and teachers and school support staff.
Fourteen percent of the county’s residents have gotten at least one vaccine shot, Hoffman said.
Vaccines currently in use require two shots spaced several weeks apart but a one-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson gained federal emergency use authorization late in the week.
Hoffman said nearly 60 percent of the residents who’ve been vaccinated are over 75 years old and vaccination by ZIP code is evenly distributed at about 10 to 15 percent per area.
On Feb. 25, the county announced that this week’s vaccine allocation will be 4,740 doses. About 1.400 doses will be administered at “large scale vaccination clinics.”
The county is also preparing for a milestone in the effort – Blue Shield of California has contracted with the state to take over vaccine allocation and will set up more large-scale clinics, Hoffman said.
A “big announcement” from the state has also been made, he continued, with the release of guidance for youth and adult sports. Testing requirements and wearing of face masks and distancing when not on sports fields are included in it.
Hoffman said that no spectators are allowed but “adults who are needed to supervise their young athletes” are allowed to attend events in limited numbers.
A COVID-19 death of a person in their 80s was announced the afternoon of the meeting, bringing the county’s total to date to 33 deaths. Last week also saw the confirmation of 114 new COVID-19 cases. As of Feb. 26, The county’s total number of cases was at 3,180 with 133 total hospitalizations.
Hoffman said county hospitalization rates continue to rise but that reflects “the tail end” of a tapering surge, as COVID-19 symptoms can take weeks or even months to become severe.
During the board’s Feb. 9 meeting, Hoffman had warned of an “as big or even bigger” surge ahead due to the increasing emergence of mutated and more robust strains of the virus, known as variants.
There is concern that new variants could spread more effectively and resist vaccines. But Hoffman capped last week’s update with a rallying cry of sorts, advising continued caution and envisioning an eventual end to the pandemic.
“Let’s take it slowly, not to lose ground that we’ve gained, and we’ll make it to the finish line together,” he said.