- In Testy Email Exchange, County Health Officer Urges HSU President Not to Bring Students Back for Onsite Instruction
In today’s media availability, Dr. Teresa Frankovich — Humboldt County’s health officer — talks a lot about what Humboldt State’s fall plans mean for the county.
Video above. Machine transcript below.
The North Coast Journal asks… What is your understanding of Humboldt State University’s plans to return students to on-campus housing (ie. how many students over what period of time and will they be tested and quarantined)?
Sure. So I’ve obviously I’ve been talking to with Humboldt State quite a bit in in recent days. My current understanding is that um they have they have really worked on planning to reduce capacity in their dorm situation so I believe they’re they’re housing less than half of the normal number of students that they would um they have done that so that they can have single rooms for students which helps in terms of decreasing transmission and they actually have set aside housing um that is dedicated as isolation rooms should students become ill, so I think that’s helpful as well.
The number of students … the I think the last number I heard was about a little over 750 students coming back to that setting, although they said that the numbers actually tend to decline somewhat along the way closer to the beginning of a start date so I’m not sure what that number is actually going to look like but I would suspect it would be less rather than more. I’m sorry, in terms of tested and quarantined we actually are requiring that students coming in to the dorm setting be tested and we’re working on that piece, they are also quarantined for the the 14 days that we typically do.
One thing that complicates it for university students is that the better we’re able to cohort them as they come in the more we’re able to stick to that 14 days. So we’ll see, some kids may actually end up being quarantined for a little longer period of time.
The North Coast Journal asks… What if any concerns does Public Health have about the university’s plans to return students to on-campus housing with the goal of resuming some in-person instruction Sept. 8?
Well, I mean, obviously HSU is a really integral part of our community and we all benefit from having the university here and its student population. You know that being said, of course we have been concerned locally about our epidemiology in terms of our increasing case rates and some of the clusters of cases that we have seen.
We also have concerns in terms of our testing capacity, we all are I think pretty aware that Optum and the long delays have made that really not as useful as we would like and so you know while we have been building our internal capacity hugely and we expect to do very well with that, in fact we will have really an ability to test we think even in the next week or so about up to 300 people per day. So that’s much improved compared to where we started with and that will help us to be able to address them opening.
That being said, we do have concerns and you know I’ve I’ve discussed those concerns with Humboldt State University. They are planning to move forward and so you know we plan to basically support them in whatever way we can and we will do that with assistance in some of the planning pieces now with some of the um testing as well as contact tracing should cases occur. So you know we’ll be we’ll be partners through this COVID season as we are with many entities in our community.
The North Coast Journal asks… This isn’t really a question but I wanted to follow up on the records request I submitted to DHHS media yesterday seeking copies of correspondence between Dr. Frankovich and HSU President Tom Jackson Jr. Under the California Public Records Act, records that are readily available and unquestionably matters of public record — like recent emails between two public officials discussing issues in the public interest — are to be made available “promptly” without administrative delay (California Government Code section 6253). As such, I respectfully request that you expedite release of the requested correspondence.
I don’t know California Government Code section 6253, frankly, but I’m sure someone in media probably does so the question should be addressed there.
The Lost Coast Outpost asks… Humboldt State University is returning from the summer break soon, and that means that at least several hundred and probably thousands of people will be moving back into the county, many or most of them from areas with higher rates of infection than our own. What steps are Public Health and the university taking to minimize risk to the student community and to the county as a whole?
So to the question about moving into the county I’m it’s certainly true we’ve been we’ve been stating this over and over to our local residents, discouraging travel out of the area and discouraging them from bringing their family members into the area because of the increased risk that we’re seeing in other parts of the state relative to our local county.
So it is certainly a concern and the steps that we’re taking to mitigate that are things like doing the required testing for students returning. Also the plans the university has put in place for the dormitories, using single rooms and having isolation rooms available, using quarantine when the students come back are all going to be important parts of that plan.
I know they have been working on making the classroom setting for students better in terms of incorporating all those things like distancing and such that we’ve been talking about for a long time. I think that it would be great to ask the university for details on their plan and they could inform this question. In terms of steps otherwise the what I would say to in general we’re asking students coming in to do what every other community member will do and in fact these students will be welcomed members of our community when they arrive.
Students like everyone else are caught in this moment of COVID and it is not their fault and they are really looking to obtain an education and I want our community to be welcoming to those students and we are asking those students um to use facial coverings because it is required by order the state and local, to distance and to not gather and to do all those other things that we’re asking everyone else to do to keep us all safe.
The Lost Coast Outpost asks… Do you think local testing capacity can handle hundreds of students arriving from potentially high-virus areas?
I would say that we are work we are working very hard to do that and to be able to test students repeatedly when it is going to certainly be an increase to our local testing demand and but we will do our best to meet the need.
The North Coast News asks… Why does it take so long to get a test, and how does that impact potential spread in the community?
Well again if people are symptomatic I want to emphasize that they really should be talking to their health care provider or calling Public Health so we can test them and get that test done quickly so that we can identify cases as early as possible. In general we’re asking people to use the Optum test site which is the site with the delay to use that primarily for surveillance so people who are not ill but want to be tested. We do find some positives in that setting and but obviously most are negative and we work with those positives when we get them. I would say the turnaround times are improving. We had seen some times that were you know eight, nine, ten days occasionally even a little bit more. I think on the last report I saw the the median turnaround time was about 110 hours which was an improvement and it’s not ideal. You know for my purposes and for acting on them I’d like it back within you know 72 hours that would be great but I do like the fact that is improving and as I mentioned we are building an alternate strategy to have up this Fall.
The North Coast News asks… Earlier this week we learned that the JIC has asked the state for more information about youth sports guidance. What specifics do you need, and what would be the safest way to reopen youth sports locally?
So the specific questions that we wanted more clarification on actually was just cohort size. when they refer to that, how, what is ideal for that? Is that you know 10 or 12 people? Is that 30 people? What does that look like? In the context of school physical education programs that will likely be classroom size and you know the activities will have to be done in ways that allow for the distancing that’s required by this document. We’re also looking at the adult, is there a requirement for adult supervision with this, guidance on shared food and drink, in general the school guidances have advised non-use of water fountains and using students using their own water bottles, that type of thing auto water refill stations but we’re just looking for some specifics there. And then also clarification on scrimmages, what may be allowed in that way. In general the guidance as we’ve stated previously really outlines that sporting events that gather individuals are not allowed, if there is a sport that does not allow six feet distancing by its nature then it cannot be played in that way, however you can do the conditioning and training that might be needed for that sport, and that if you are doing high exertion activities that should be done without a mask, they have to be done outdoors and distanced, and we do want to make sure that if they’re high exertion activities kids are able to do those without a mask on, so it really needs to be outdoors. Indoor activity should be lower exertion and and kids should be wearing um facial coverings when they do them and I think that covers most of the points that are in the guidance document and of course adult amateur sports are not allowed right now.
KMUD News asks… Do you know when a simple, saliva-sample based coronavirus test will become available here in Humboldt?
You know I don’t know there certainly have been some problems with sensitivity and specificity with some of those tests that have been developed. What we are looking for that I think is good news for folks is that as we craft our new test strategy for the county we are looking at collecting swabs using nasal swabs or anterior nasal swabs, meaning these are basically a large Q-tip that you put in the front part of your nose you can self-collect it on a site with someone observing you collect so it is much simpler, it’s very quick, it’s not uncomfortable in any way and so I think that will actually make it you know much easier for people, it makes it easier for collection design and so I think it will serve the community well.
KMUD News asks… Has Humboldt County altered its treatment for COVID-19 patients? What are the current treatments and care measures being taken for Humboldt County residents who are in hospital?
So we’re using many of the things people are have been hearing about, so local hospitals are able to use Remdesivir for treatment, convalescent plasma for treatment, hospitals are also some are using Dexamethasone, that’s a commonly available medication, so those are those are just a few of the things that we’re using locally in treating our patients.
The Times-Standard asks…. Under the county’s alert system, can you specify precisely what constitutes the following triggers? - Nearly full ability to safely care for cases. Is there a percentage? - Few health care worker infections. How many is few?
So there I would say in general there’s no single trigger number for any of these indicators. So when we look at ability to care safely for cases we’re looking at things like ICU bed capacity, regular hospital bed capacity, ventilator capacity in our system, health care worker availability, are there staffing shortages?
So again, there’s no one single number that drives it, we look at a constellation of things to inform that variable. And the same thing when we’re looking at healthcare worker infections, we may look at things like you know less than three, and then up a gradation from that, but it also depends where are those healthcare worker infections, are we seeing them in hospital workers that seem to have acquired them at work? Are we seeing them in, for instance, an individual working in a skilled nursing facility or assisted living, is it someone working in a dental office? So where those health care worker infections occur may impact whether how we assess the risk level.
So I guess that’s the best answer I can give right now is that we try and look at a broad number of factors so that we really when we’re sort of stating what that alert level is it’s really as fully informed as possible about the true status in our county.