Unvaccinated at higher risk as reopening proceeds

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – ​The county’s health officer has said that after June 15, when coronavirus restrictions are lifted statewide, unvaccinated people will be even more vulnerable to COVID-19 and protection will shift from a public health response to personal action.

​Local status of the global pandemic was updated at a May 25 news conference which began with a sobering report from county Public Information Officer Meriah Miracle.

​The county has the state’s highest COVID-19 test positivity rate at seven percent as well as the state’s highest case rate of 12.2 cases per 100,000 residents, she said. That’s based on state monitoring, which lags a week.

​COVID-19 hospitalizations have been averaging about one per day but Health Officer Dr. Ian Hoffman said there’s confidence that surges of serious illness won’t happen and “that’s why we’re opening up society again.”

​The state has set June 15 as a grand reopening of sorts, with all restrictions lifted except for the largest of gatherings. Hoffman urged those who haven’t been vaccinated to do so before then.

​“Those protections that have been protecting us are going to go away,” he said. “So we’re shifting from a public health response of protecting the entire public to a personal responsibility of each individual needing to take the responsibility for their own health.”

​County Supervisor Mike Wilson joined the conference to promote vaccination. “We really need to move toward a higher percentage of our population to be vaccinated if we really want to be safe and not have the impasse that we’ve been seeing,” he said.

​He added, “Our numbers are not good and we’re moving into a place where they’re going to become even more dangerous – for unvaccinated people.”

Wilson said the county’s worst-in-the-state COVID-19 conditions are causing “real stress in the community.”  

​Despite that, the county will reopen with the rest of the state as restrictions are seen as being too impactful to continue. “We don’t want to lock down society for any longer, we know the importance of getting back to normal,” Hoffman said. “So the only tool we have left is vaccination.”

​He “put out a call to Humboldt County” to reach a goal of getting 75 percent of the population vaccinated by June 15.

​“We have three more weeks to go and we have plenty of vaccine in Humboldt County,” said Hoffman.

​But throughout most of May, the county’s vaccination rate inched up by only one to two percent per week.

​As of May 30, about 40 percent of county residents were fully-vaccinated. About 48 percent had gotten one shot of the Pfizer or Moderna two-dose vaccines.

​The state’s vaccination rate was at 51 percent. To boost it, lures are being dangled.

​On May 27, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) launched its Vax for the Win campaign, which offers lottery and sweepstakes prizes and $50 gift cards to those who get vaccinated.

​Explaining lack of vaccination as the reason for Humboldt’s poor disease containment, Hoffman said he doesn’t expect it to change “anytime in the coming months unless we see a dramatic change in our vaccination rate.”

​Hoffman has total confidence in vaccines. He once said that annual booster shots are likely but asked during the news conference if people will need them, he said vaccine protection “appears to be much more long-lasting than we originally thought.”

​But Pfizer and Moderna scientists and CEOs have said their data is showing that third shots will be needed eight to 12 months after being fully-vaccinated.

​And the virus is behaving in unprecedented ways. During a May 27 virtual conference with investors, Moderna’s CEO said the virus is mutating rapidly and while the company’s vaccine is effective against the variants now circulating in the U.S., newly-emerging strains are “less susceptible to neutralization by our current vaccine.”

​A Moderna scientist warned that variants are now “emerging constantly, in real time.”

​The week ending on May 29 saw 89 more COVID-19 cases confirmed, a reduction from previous weeks.

​But that’s because of reduced testing, as the county’s test positivity rate for the week was over 13 percent, which is exponentially higher than the statewide rate.

​The week’s case tally brought the county’s total number to 4,285.

​The week also saw seven more hospitalizations, bringing the county’s total to 186. There was one COVID-19 death during week, of an elderly resident, bringing the death total to 43.


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