Police asked to help enforce reopening regs

Safety compliance sketchy in some high-risk settings

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – Enforcement of Humboldt County’s COVID-19 public health order is being called for as some businesses open without permission and the tourism season ramps up.

​Lack of safety precautions in social settings were highlighted during a coronavirus update at the June 23 Board of Supervisors meeting.

​Public Health Officer Teresa Frankovich said that higher-risk businesses like gyms and bars had, at the time of the meeting, not been cleared to apply for opening but “I’m well aware that there are a number of these that are operating.”

​She suggested that oversight of business activity is slipping beyond control. “My concern is that I have no way of knowing whether those that have opened have a plan in place, whether they’re adhering to any kind of safety measures for their employees or the public,” Frankovich said.

​She believes that given the eagerness for the return of social life, the county has to switch to a “harm reduction strategy” that allows more reopening sooner than planned – but with the controls set forth in the county’s certification process.

​Later that day, the county announced that bars and gyms had clearance to open if certified to do so.

​Board Chair Estelle Fennell said she’s heard “quite a few complaints” about businesses not following safety protocols.

Frankovich acknowledged that and said, “I’m really asking law enforcement to help us … I do feel we need some assistance in holding them accountable.”

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Hotels and lodging businesses were recently cleared for opening to tourists. Supervisor Steve Madrone’s district includes the tourist-oriented city of Trinidad and he warned that the cavalier conduct of visitors will trigger a new round of infections.

​“We are being over-run, literally, by hundreds and hundreds if not thousands of people that are coming into the community from out of Humboldt County to recreate,” he said. “They are not masking, they are not distancing, they are arrogant – people try to ask them to mask and they get in your face.”

​He added, “We’re going to see a major outbreak out of Trinidad, that’s the predication I would make given what I’m seeing – and there’s no law enforcement to be found.”

​Sheriff Billy Honsal acknowledged that Trinidad contracts with the county Sheriff’s Office for 40 hours a week of deputy patrol. But he suggested that controlling the behavior of visitors is a team effort that involves the community.

​“I do put this back on Trinidad, they have a duty to actually provide information to their community,” he said. “They thrive on tourism and are getting a lot of people coming in from out of town, so it’s on them as well, to educate the community and educate people coming in.”

​Honsal added that the deputies on patrol in Trinidad are “trying to inform people.”

​On overall enforcement, Honsal called attention to a limiting factor – violation of a public health order is a criminal misdemeanor, not an infraction, and becomes a court matter.

​And the court proceedings have been stalled due to COVID-19. Honsal said there’s hasn’t been a jury trial since the order was issued in mid-March and “we do reserve those citations for the most egregious violations of the order.”

​Honsal said the Sheriff’s Office will continue an “educational approach” and use of warnings instead of citations.

​As of June 27, the county had confirmed 129 cases of COVID-19. On June 24, nine cases were announced. There have been 15 hospitalizations, some involving ICU care and ventilators.

During a June 24 “media availability” video featuring Frankovich, a question submitted by the Redheaded Blackbelt news blog indicated that there is information linking the cluster of nine cases to a Southern Humboldt cannabis farm.

​Frankovich said cases related to workplaces aren’t specifically identified as such unless there’s a public safety issue. But she added that the risk of COVID-19 spreading on cannabis farms is “absolutely of concern for public health.”

​The next day, June 25, five more cases were confirmed. Prior to June 24, only 12 cases had been logged during the month.

​A media availability session with Deputy County Health Officer Josh Ennis included a question on how a “super spreader” group gathering event could affect the county. Ennis warned against gatherings, particularly indoor gatherings, describing them as prime grounds for spreading COVID-19.  

​“Humboldt County is very early in this, still,” he said. “This is far from over.”

​He added that if 100 people gather indoors with even a single infected person and without following precautions, half to two-thirds of the group could get infected.

Ennis said that would be “the start of a wildfire” that could “throw us onto an exponentially accelerated growth curve.”




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