Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – Despite the last week of 2020 setting another record for numbers of new coronavirus cases in Humboldt County, the state has loosened restrictions on business activity here.
The state’s move drew objections from county Health Officer Dr. Ian Hoffman. In a Dec. 29 press release announcing the state’s reassignment of the county from the purple risk tier to the lesser red tier, Hoffman strongly disagreed with the move.
“In many ways, the data doesn’t support this decision,” he said. “Our case rates are the highest they’ve ever been and our contact investigation teams are tracking more cases, not fewer.”
Hoffman added that “it’s unfortunate that we didn’t get to have a conversation with the state before this decision was handed down.”
From Dec. 25 to Dec. 31, the county confirmed 225 new cases of COVID-19. Also during the week, three more deaths of elderly residents of the Granada Rehabilitation and Wellness Center in Eureka occurred.
That brings the death total of an outbreak at the facility to 10. As of press time, the county’s total number of COVID-19 cases was at 1,764 with totals of 66 hospitalizations and 22 deaths.
The state based its decision on what’s known as the Health Equity Metric, which assesses availability of health services across demographic groups.
Moving from purple tier to red means that Humboldt is the only county in the state cleared for indoor gatherings at reduced capacities in movie theaters, restaurants, places of worship and fitness centers.
Bars remain closed under the red tier designation.
The county’s press release warned businesses to “move forward cautiously” because “if virus data worsens or intensive care unit capacity for the Northern California region dips below 15 percent, the state would require some sectors to move outdoors or cease operating altogether.”
In a Dec. 31 media availability video, Hoffman was asked why he doesn’t exercise the state’s allowance of local authority to set more restrictive conditions.
Doing so is a “very strong” measure, Hoffman replied, adding that “it’s one that there isn’t much enthusiasm for right now in our community.”
But he added that some community members are self-choosing to restrict their behavior.
“We need buy-in if anything’s going to change,” he said. “So regardless of the tier that we’re in, there are things that we can do to keep our community safe.”
Those include deciding against inter-household gatherings and not reopening indoor activity at businesses and places of worship, he continued.
The county is continuing an initial round of COVID-19 vaccinations for health care and skilled nursing facility workers. But a new and more contagious strain of coronavirus that’s circulating widely in the U.K. caused infections in several U.S. states, including California, last week.
Although initial indications are that the variant strain won’t interfere with vaccine efficacy, its emergence has concerning implications.
Heightened contagiousness could quicken the volume and pace of COVID-19 case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths.
General vaccine availability isn’t expected until this spring or summer. Future emergence of a vaccine-resistant variant strain is possible but the two vaccines currently in use employ new mRNA biotechnology allowing readjustment if necessary.