Vaccination urged as variants lurk about reopening

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – As coronavirus variants take hold and the state readies for lifting restrictions, Humboldt County’s health officer is imploring residents to get vaccinated ASAP.

​A mixture of relief and urgency was expressed as Health Officer Dr. Ian Hoffman updated local COVID-19 status at the May 18 Board of Supervisors meeting.

​Hoffman described the pandemic as nearly ending but told supervisors that “we could get farther along with more participation and encouragement to get vaccinated.”

​The county now has more vaccine supply than demand. Urging residents to get their shots, Hoffman described the ways Humboldt’s Emergency Operations Center can help.

Dr. Ian P. Hoffman

​The center can book vaccine appointments by phone for those who lack Internet, help with transportation and even send vaccination teams to homebound residents.

​Hoffman advised those who have vaccine-related medical questions to pose them to their doctors. “Do not wait,” he said. “I urge you to do so now, before June 15 – before the remaining public health restrictions are lifted.”

​The combination of the more contagious UK variant “moving quickly through the unvaccinated population,” the likely arrival of “even more contagious variants,” the imminent end of protective measures and COVID-19 hospitalizations that are “likely to continue for the months to come” make vaccination a health priority.

​“Let us know what barriers you have,” Hoffman continued. “We want to remove those barriers before we remove the public health restrictions that are currently protecting the unvaccinated from COVID-19, which is circulating widely in our community.”

The county’s vaccination assistance phone number is 441-5000.

​Despite a bloom of cases and hospitalizations that Hoffman forecasted to continue into the summer, Hoffman said that “we are entering a new era of COVID-19” and are “the closest we’ve been yet” to the pandemic’s end.

​He noted “new scientific evidence” backing the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s advice that “fully vaccinated people can go anywhere and do anything without wearing a mask.”

​Based on hospitalization and other data, fully vaccinated people are believed to be safe from serious COVID-19 symptoms and even mild symptoms among them are rare, said Hoffman.

​“If you are fully-vaccinated, you can be nearly certain that this is nothing worse to fear than a cold or a flu,” he continued, adding that being vaccinated allows one to “go back to normal ways before the pandemic.”

​About 52,000 county residents or 38 percent of the county’s residents were fully-vaccinated as of the end of last week. Only 2,000 residents were vaccinated last week, a 1.5 percent increase from the previous week and the county announced that there’s a surplus of vaccine and no need to order more doses for this week.

​Hoffman believes the county’s steady rate of new COVID-19 cases will continue. There were 18 more confirmed on the day of the meeting and new hospitalizations are coming at a daily clip.

​Hoffman looked to the near future and said that after July, the combination of vaccine progress and previous infection will “leave less options for the virus to continue to infect.”  

​But he also warned of the advance of new and fit variants. A “handful” of cases related to the Brazilian P-1 variant have been detected locally and another that originated in India could also take hold.

​The advance of variants “could clog our already overburdened rural health care system for months to come,” Hoffman said.

​Variants have already had an effect, with younger unvaccinated people and even children getting hospitalized.

​ But California’s June 15 lifting of restrictions will apply to everything except the largest of gatherings.

​The state’s mask mandate will stay in place until then and during a news conference the day after the supervisors meeting, Hoffman said the CDC’s masking guidelines will probably be adopted by California and the county in mid-June.  

​He said at that point, the state will drop its restriction system, including capacity limits and the mask mandate. But he added that venues like businesses can decide for themselves “what restrictions they want to let go of and which ones do they want to keep.”

​Hoffman reported that there’s been “a slowdown in our vaccination effort” and a “large proportion of the population” is still unprotected.

​Restrictions have been “going away,” adding to the county’s COVID-19 risk and caseload.

​The news conference began with county Public Information Officer Meriah Miracle noting that the county has one of the worst case and testing positivity rate combinations in the state.

​The week ending May 21 saw 127 more COVID-19 cases confirmed, bringing the county’s total to 4,198.

​There were eight more hospitalization, bringing that total to 179 but no one died of COVID-19 last week and the death toll stood at 42.



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