Rate drop lags, cases plateau, more doses arrive

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

​HUMBOLDT – As the state tells counties to submit vaccination expansion plans, Humboldt has been described as a county whose COVID-19 testing positivity rate is “lagging” others.

​A renowned infectious disease specialist commented on Humboldt’s situation during a March 18 “coronavirus response” town hall forum hosted by Senator Mike McGuire.

Dr. Timothy Brewer

​The region-wide forum’s panel included Dr. Timothy Brewer of the Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, who reported that California’s COVID-19 testing positivity rate has dropped to two percent. “So we’re doing much better than we were two short months ago,” he said.  

​“That having been said, in the northern counties, like Humboldt County, you’re running at about 2.9 percent and Sonoma’s at about 2.4 percent positivity,” he continued. “So while you’re better off than where you were in January, you are lagging a little bit behind the rest of  the state – so we still need to be aware that coronavirus is in our community.”

​In a media availability video on the day of the forum, Dr. Ian Hoffman, Humboldt’s health officer, said the county was “just below the threshold” of moving into a more restrictive COVID-19 risk tier the previous week.

​Although he had expressed “cautious optimism” during an update to the Board of Supervisors that week, he acknowledged during the video that case counts, while dipping from a winter surge, “Haven’t continued to come down – we’ve plateaued.”

​Coronavirus variants are emerging and two in California – including one that’s ramping up in Humboldt, have been added to the U.S. Center for Disease Control’s list of Variants of Concern or those that have worrisome mutations.

More doses on the way ​

​Starting the town hall, McGuire announced that “longer term, the outlook for vaccines looks incredibility promising – I say that as a person who believes in under-promising and over-delivering.”

​He said the federal government is asking all regions in California to prepare for an influx of 4 million vaccine doses per week into the state.

​All jurisdictions will submit vaccination expansion plans by the end of this month. A statewide push to “greatly expand vaccination operations” will follow, McGuire said.

​The expansion will start in May and continue into June, he continued, adding that “we’re looking at a significant expansion.”

​The “shorter-term outlook” is not as promising. McGuire said that over the next three weeks, the flow of vaccines into the state will “remain fairly flat,” with about 1.8 million vaccines expected each week.

California’s vaccination pace has picked up, however. McGuire said that in the 2.5 months leading to March, 10 million vaccine doses were administered. In the two weeks prior to the forum, three million shots were given.

​Despite the improvement, McGuire added, “We know that we must do better and I can promise you we will.”

​​​             Single-system shift

Also on the panel, Lori Nezhura of the state’s Office of Emergency Services said the state is preparing for increased vaccine supply by contracting with third-party providers for operation of “geographically diverse mega-sites” and mobile clinics.

​The shift into a “single system” includes a state-level appointment website, myturn.ca.gov.

​During a question and answer session, McGuire said many of the forum’s online audience of 2,700 people were asking about when residents aged 50 to 64 will be eligible for vaccination.

​McGuire said that’s expected in May and Nezhura agreed. “You heard it, I heard it -- our president did say that he’s going to encourage states, starting May 1, to vaccinate everyone,” she said.

​Although she qualified that it’s “hard to say” whether there will be enough vaccine supply do it, Nezhura  said dropping age limits is being “actively discussed” and is underway in some counties.

​“But in the next month – and definitely two – we will undoubtedly see that age limit come down,” she continued.  

​The county confirmed 64 new COVID-19 cases last week but total hospitalizations remained at 135. There was one new death, of an elderly person, bringing that total to 35.





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