Pandemic ‘in a different place’

Members of Mad River Community Hospital's vaccination team prepare syringes with the Pfizer vaccine at Saturday's clinic at Pacific Union School. Matt Filar | Union

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT  – ​Humboldt’s public health officer has told the Board of Supervisors that the county will probably be re-assigned into a lesser COVID-19 risk tier soon.

​In an update to supervisors at their March 23 meeting, Public Health Officer Dr. Ian Hoffman said that “with continued focus on slow reopening” the county is on track to meet the state’s orange or moderate COVID-19 risk tier standards “sometime in April.”

​The county is now in the red or substantial risk tier. Between March 16 and March 23, most days saw confirmations of between 11 and 15 new COVID-19 cases.

​But that’s down from wintertime peaks and Hoffman said ICU bed availability is no longer an issue. “We’re really in a different place in the pandemic right now,” he said.

​Last week saw the start of a new phase of vaccination, with food and agriculture workers becoming eligible. Outreach to that sector is now ongoing, focusing on larger businesses that “have higher risks and have seen outbreaks,” said Hoffman.

​Reporting on vaccination progress, Hoffman said Humboldt has gotten a “slight increase” of vaccine supply in recent weeks and is averaging over 5,000 doses per week.

​The increase is expected to continue through April into May, when the federal government’s distribution to states is set to expand.

​“It could be as soon as May that there is no more line and people will not have to wait any longer for the vaccine,” Hoffman said.  

​The supply ramp-up began last week. On March 25, the county announced that its vaccine allocation for this week is almost 7,000 doses.

​Earlier that day, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that vaccine eligibility will significantly expand in April.

​Beginning April 1, state residents ages 50 and older will be eligible and residents ages 16 and up will be eligible starting April 15.

​A county press release also noted that Newsom advised continued patience, as “even with expanded vaccine supplies, it is expected to take several months for willing Californians to be vaccinated.” 

​As of March 24, the county had administered almost 50,000 vaccine doses with about 19,000 residents or 14 percent of the county’s population fully vaccinated. Two of the three vaccines approved for emergency use require two doses spaced several weeks apart.

​In the week leading to the supervisors meeting, the county’s testing positivity rate was 2.9 percent, which is higher than the state average.

​Case numbers dropped from there, however, and as of March 27 the positivity rate was 2.3 percent. Last week saw confirmation of 40 new cases.

​Risk remains, however, as coronavirus variants could trigger another surge.

A California strain that has been ramping up in Humboldt has been added to the U.S. Center for Disease Control’s list of Variants of Concern or those that have increased infection abilities and resistance to antibodies.

Hoffman’s update to supervisors included an acknowledgement that “there are a lot of unknowns” and his optimism had a caveat.

​“We still need to be cautious,” he said. “We need to be cautious about opening sports, travel, schools, businesses and events – we’ve seen lots of changes in all of those in the past weeks because we are coming to terms with what we can tolerate as a society and what is safe for society.”

​As of March 27, the county’s total COVID-19 case count was 3,448. The county’s hospitalization rate has been stable with a total of 134 but last week saw three COVID-19 deaths, of two elderly persons and a middle-aged person.

​To date, 35 county residents have died of COVID-19.

​Between public health lab testing, contact tracing investigations, setting up alternate care sites and running an emergency operations center, the county’s cost of pandemic response has reached $11.7 million, according to a March 26 press release.


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