UPDATE/CLARIFICATION/CORRECTION: Humboldt County Health Officer Dr. Teresa Frankovich offered some more information on this topic, explaining how our county has higher COVID-19 numbers in part because we’re testing people at a higher rate than most other counties. See the one-minute video here

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On a per capita basis, Humboldt County has been hit harder by the COVID-19 outbreak than more than two thirds of California counties. And judging by the trajectory of confirmed cases to date, we’re nowhere near the peak. 

Humboldt County saw its first confirmed case of the respiratory disease back on Feb. 21, and for nearly a month after that — long enough for the patient to fully recover — that one case was all we had.

But then on Friday, March 20, we got a second confirmed case. The following Tuesday we got three more, and from there the positive diagnoses have been skyrocketing, as you can see in the chart below.

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It’s worth remembering that this is in no way a comprehensive account of the number of COVID-19 cases we have in Humboldt County. As with the rest of the country, there has been a shortage of available tests, and limits to our health care industry’s capacity to run them. 

And as the director of the CDC recently cautioned, as many as 25 percent of the people infected with the novel coronavirus may not show symptoms, though such people are still contagious.

Since these problems exist nationwide, it’s worth taking a closer look at the numbers. As of March 31, Humboldt County had 27 confirmed cases of COVID-19, which works out to a rate of just under 20 cases per 100,000 people.

Among the 35 California counties with a population of at least 100,000, Humboldt ranks 11th on the list of most cases per capita.

Santa Clara County has seen the worst outbreak in the state with more than 950 confirmed cases to date and 32 deaths. They top the state’s per-capita list at 45.54 cases per 100,000 people, followed by San Francisco County (45.26), San Mateo County (39.9), Marin County (38.8) and Los Angeles County (29.36).*

But Humboldt County residents have some added risk factors when it comes to our health. For example, we have higher-than-average rates of both chronic respiratory disease and cardiovascular disease, conditions that make people much more vulnerable to dying from COVID-19. 

While the outbreak has been alarming and disruptive here in Humboldt County and across the state, California is actually faring much better than many other parts of the country. As CalMatters reported earlier today, “Some evidence now suggests that California’s early decision to adopt aggressive social distancing policies may be helping to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus compared to other key states.”

Even the worst-off regions of California — like the sparsely populated Mono County, which had 13 cases among only 14,000-odd people through yesterday — are faring much better than states such as New York, Michigan, Washington, Florida and Illinois, where the pandemic is stretching health care resources past the breaking point.

The national rate of COVID-19 infection currently stands at about 57 per 100,000. New York state has a rate of 380 per 100,000.

This pandemic is expected to get much worse before it gets better — both locally and nationally. As of this writing, the United State has more than 213,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 — by far the most of any country in the world — and we’ve suffered nearly 5,000 deaths, according to the latest data from the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The number of dead is projected to reach between 100,000 and 200,000.

While local officials, hospital staff and community members continue to work toward increasing our health care capacity, the fact remains that Humboldt County has a limited number of hospital beds, ventilators and other resources. Experts agree that social distancing remains our best opportunity to flatten the curve.

The video below, shared yesterday by the Humboldt County Joint Information Center, offers a good explainer on the exponential growth capacity of this disease.

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*Sources: COVID-19 cases | Population