Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – Following a week that saw 12 more COVID-19 hospitalizations and three more deaths, Senator Mike McGuire joined local health officials in urging residents to get vaccinated before the next coronavirus variant holds sway.
McGuire was with local officials at a June 30 virtual news conference to emphasize the importance of vaccination as the virus continues to diversify into newer and more transmissible strains.
With vaccination having begun six-and-a-half months ago, the virus has not yet evolved to meet immune pressure so even variants are effectively dealt with by it.
McGuire stressed that more vaccination needs to be done locally. “What we know is that we have to increase the vaccination rate, especially in Humboldt County, which is below where the state is at,” he said.
Forty-seven percent of the county’s population is fully-vaccinated, while the statewide rate is about 50 percent.
McGuire reported that the state has budgeted $357 million for “immunization grants” assisting public health departments in continuing fixed site and mobile vaccination. He suggested that the pandemic isn’t near a finish line.
“While we are seeing great improvement in COVID infection numbers, this is far from over,” he said. “Especially as we head into fall and winter, it is up to all of us to get as many folks vaccinated as possible.”
McGuire also reported that the state is “putting about $900 million on the table” for COVID testing as classroom learning returns to schools this fall.
The availability of vaccines has changed the scope of infection control. “Really, where we’re at in the pandemic is a place of personal choice,” said county Health Officer Dr. Ian Hoffman.
COVID risk is “pretty low” for fully-vaccinated people, he continued. That has led to the statewide lifting of public health mandates.
But Hoffman said the delta variant is gaining dominance over another known as the alpha variant, which is 50 percent more transmissible than the original coronavirus strain.
And the delta variant is 50 percent more infectious than the alpha strain. It has evolved into an even more effective strain known as delta-plus, which has adopted some of the evolutionary advantages of yet another variant known as beta.
Variants have not reduced vaccine efficacy enough to cause serious illness. But with the delta variant, the effectiveness of a single dose of a two-dose vaccination regime has been significantly reduced, to 35 percent.
So far the county has “only had a small handful” of delta-related cases, said Hoffman. But the alpha variant began locally with a small handful of cases several weeks ago and soon became dominant – until another variant, known as gamma, took hold.
In recent weeks, there’s been a 50/50 split between alpha and gamma, Hoffman said.
Most of the local delta cases were travel-related. But Los Angeles County is reporting 40 to 50 percent of its cases as delta-related and is urging even fully-vaccinated people to continue to wear masks.
Hoffman said “it’s only a matter of time” before delta becomes prevalent in Humboldt.
“And we will see it mostly in unvaccinated people,” he continued.
So far, the numbers of fully-vaccinated residents with detected infections are “extraordinarily low” and unvaccinated people are 80 times more likely to get infected, said Hoffman.
He added that the risk of hospitalization and death is “miniscule compared to if you’re unvaccinated.” There have been local hospitalizations of fully-vaccinated residents but Hoffman said it’s been “very, very few.”
As he’s done before, Hoffman urged residents not to delay getting vaccinated.
“The time is now,” he said. “The ‘wait and see’ is done, evidence is clear, so take your personal responsibility, make that choice and go out and get vaccinated.”
The state’s vaccination website, at myturn.ca.gov, includes a list of local vaccination sites and schedules.
With 53 more COVID-19 cases detected last week, the county’s total rose to 4,586. The county’s hospitalization total as of July 3 was 211. There were no new COVID-19 deaths last week.