In today’s media availability, Humboldt County Health Officer Dr. Teresa Frankovich discusses what the state’s new four-stage reopening framework means for the county, which is right on the verge of moving up into a higher level of restriction. Plus: Questions about testing, schools, homelessness and more.

Video above, rough machine transcript below.


Would you like to start by addressing the community?

So I did just want to talk a little bit about the governor’s announcement on Friday. We had, in Public Health … we had had some a few calls prior to the announcement but without any of the documentation and a lot of things were changing up until the very end. So really we got to see all the documents that the state released at the same time everyone else did and so we’ve been looking at those over the course of the weekend and early today as well. And we do think that it is it’s welcome for Humboldt and the again the idea of being able to have locally driven decisions is a good one and will help us in the long run, so we welcome that.

I think the framework is helpful in that it really rather than talking about things being open or closed per se talks about ways we can modify business settings so that they may remain open if at all possible and just use things like reduced capacity or a little change in venue to be able to have them open. So I think it’s going to help us I think moving forward, it’s just a big shift for all of us to move there.

I do want to point out though that there are a few businesses where who are a little bit more vulnerable to the change, in the sense that the as the governor noted as the website noted, you know, we look at both our positivity rate and our positivity percentage and then we also look at our now a seven day average positive cases per day with a seven day lag, so it’s a little different calculation than we’ve been using to look at this data before. We could have had a number up to four and be in or 3.9 and be in the orange level. A four would have put us in red, in the next level.

So we’re in a good spot to be an orange, but we don’t have a long way to go to be in the red and the businesses where I think that’s really important to pay attention to that are the ones that actually would need to cease operation if we move into the red. So for example bars, breweries and distilleries in the red tier as I understand it from the governor’s framework, would be closed, so also family entertainment centers would be outdoor only and so it’s going to be important for some of these entities to realize that, you know, the situation on the ground may change and that it would have a particular impact for them. Whereas another business might be able to simply reduce capacity a bit more, that would not be an option.

So I want businesses to be able to plan about pulling back staff and setting up and all of that. We will keep the community apprised of our numbers, the state will be looking at the numbers every Tuesday and releasing those and so you know we’ll try and help people plan as best we can. Our Joint Information Center has been looking at the state documents, those businesses that have already applied for opening under those guidances do not need to resubmit an entirely new application, but the JIC will be sort of reaching out to the approved businesses to make sure they have access to the newest information. For the most part this is going to lessen some restrictions, for instance dining can move indoors at a different, at a lower capacity, but for some it actually increases the restrictions. Fitness facilities, for instance, have to be at 25 percent occupancy, and that’s a change so it’s going to be really important for every business to go online.

Particularly I would recommend going to our Joint Information Center and getting the updated guidance for their sector so they make sure they’re compliant with this plan. If everyone is compliant with this and does all those other things that we’re looking for you know the masking and distancing, not gathering, then hopefully we can ride in this level or better and not have to move up, but I think it has to be on everyone’s radar going forward. 

The Redheaded Blackbelt asks, “Is there any news about how progress is coming along with a testing facility to replace OptumServe?”

Actually, the planning is going really well and I think later this week we’ll be putting out some information on our the behalf of Public Health, the EOC and our partners as well about progress and and what this is starting to look like for fall.

The Redheaded Blackbelt asks, “Will there be any kind of testing quota required for schools as they move forward through the school year or are schools left to monitor their individual testing needs?”

So, there are no requirements. There are some recommendations that the state guidance has made for schools and I believe go to testing about, you know, half of the staff every month, so every couple of months everyone would be tested. Obviously the state has not made a requirement in part because testing capacity is an issue across the state right now. We expect that to change and improve and I think it will become much more feasible but I do want to say that we do have capacity through our Optum site to be doing some testing and we have been, of school staff, and I think that’s it’s a good community measure. Obviously testing gives you only point-in-time results so it doesn’t really say anything about whether you’re positive or negative the following day, but at least it does provide a bit of assurance going into the school year. So it is available through Optum for us and hopefully we’ll have an even better option fairly soon for everyone.

The North Coast News asks, “Last week we got new guidance from the state that you said you believe is good news for Humboldt County, but some of our businesses may look a little different under these regulations. Can you explain how things will look different and when you plan to move forward with the new guidance?”

I think we pretty much addressed this in in my opening statement but I would say if I wasn’t clear that, you know, we are aligning with the state guidance and feel businesses are able to move forward as of today as the state indicated. Obviously some businesses are going to be needing to do some planning around this. It’s not instantaneous and so we recognize that and again with the caveats for those businesses that are a little bit more of a vulnerable status in terms of being able to open under the framework. 

The North Coast News asks, “According to the state’s new framework you said Humboldt is in Tier 3/Moderate status, saying, ‘While this would allow some businesses that were closed by the governor to reopen with safety modifications in place, other businesses would face additional, unanticipated restrictions.’ Can you talk about what those modifications and additional restrictions would be and who they would affect?”

Well, again, you know, I think we addressed this kind of in the opening. For example, more restrictive with the fitness facilities. Some of the businesses will be even again with restaurants moving forward they will be able to be open indoors but with reduced capacity and those reductions in capacity are seen elsewhere in the framework so again it’s just going to be really important for every business to go online and make sure that they’re really in accordance. I noticed some tricky things, for instance, family recreation, things like ball pits and things where you cannot be socially distanced are allowed under the lower tier but not in our moderate tier. So you have to really pay attention to what actual activities are allowed under your particular sector given our moderate status. 

The North Coast News asks, “Is America closing in on herd immunity as it relates to the coronavirus? What are the next steps needed to achieve it?”

So, I guess the answer to the first part of the question is no. You know we we really, I haven’t seen really good recent national data on overall positive serology tests at the national level but we know even after … for instance, in New York City, where they had extremely high burden of cases, the testing after that suggested maybe as much as 25 percent immunity in that immediate vicinity and when we’re talking about herd immunity to really improve our transmission rates, you’re talking generally about immunity levels that are much higher than that. And in our local data we were seeing some serology initially but there has not been as much testing for serology lately, so the last numbers we had were still under two percent for positive serology in our area. So we are, I would say, nowhere near herd immunity at this time.

What will get us there is really either vaccination or you know much more infection but frankly I’d prefer not to see infection and transmission at the level that we saw in New York City.

KMUD News asks, “Can you share an estimate on how many homeless community members have tested positive? If not can you share how many community members have had to be housed by the county for isolation due to their positive test results?”

Well, we don’t gather data by homeless or not homeless status in terms of our statistics, but what I can say is that we have housed individuals who are being tested for COVID and then for any follow-up isolation or quarantine but even just being tested we do while we’re waiting for those results to come back to provide housing so that people are protected and so I think since we began this we’ve housed approximately 100 individuals through our housing alternatives and the majority of those have been people without a residence.

The Two Rivers Tribune asks, “What will it mean to the county and a possible threat of being put on California’s county watch list if the week-long mass testing turns up a large number of positive cases?”

So, a couple things: I do want to point out that we have shifted now from using the county watch list or monitoring list now to the new framework with the four tiers that the governor outlined on Friday. So we still, obviously data feeds into that and our positivity percentage as well as our case rate will inform our position on that tiered system just like the county monitoring list.

So Hoopa residents are Humboldt County residents, obviously, and you know I’m optimistic because we’ve been seeing a decline in new cases there that the numbers will actually look good when we do this mass testing, but whatever they look like will they’ll be part of the epidemiology for Humboldt County and we’ll make our decisions going forward based on our numbers.