Humboldt County Health Officer Dr. Teresa Frankovich goes mask-free in today’s media availability video. She explains up-front that people complained of being unable to understand her. “[W]e want to make sure the information is accessible to everyone,” she explains, adding that her interviewers are distanced and masked.

Here’s the Q-and-A:

(0:52) The Times-Standard asks, “When does Humboldt County project the next peak in cases to occur? With nearly 50 new cases in the first four reporting days of this month, how close is the county to elevating the risk level to four?

The new case count is concerning and the positivity rate is definitely increasing, Frankovich says. However, we have not hit the threshold for level four yet. The factors include a constellation of measures, including contact tracing and testing capability, epidemiological data and the state of our health care system. 

“So I don’t know,” she says. “I’m hoping we can avoid it.”

(1:57) The Times-Standard asks, “With more than 40 percent of cases in Humboldt County affecting those who are younger than 29 years of age, how is it considered safe to allow schools to meet in person? It strikes many as odd that school district boards meet via Zoom over safety concerns but are okay sending hundreds of students back to in-person teaching.”

School board meetings function well via Zoom, but most children do better in a school setting with onsite instruction, Frankovich says. There’s no completely safe option, so it’s a matter of balancing risk and benefit within the community. There’s more benefit to students having in-person instruction than there is for other types of social gatherings, she says.

(3:33) Redwood News asks, “Looking at the county dashboard as of this morning there are currently 32 cases under investigation. This number has seen more growth than other transmission types this week. Can you talk about why there is such a large number under investigation? What issues or roadblocks are you seeing during your contact tracing investigations [that] makes it more difficult to determine the form of transmission?”

Sometimes it takes a little bit of work to determine how a new case intersects with a previous one, especially when there is a bunch of new cases, Frankovich explains. 

(4:36) Redwood news asks, “You’ve talked about Hoopa’s recent cases and how they are included in our county data but not necessarily the same day Hoopa received the results. You receive copies of the results then vet them. Can you talk about what this vetting process looks like? How much of a delay is there between the day Hoopa gets the positive test result and the day that it is counted and added to Humboldt County’s data?

The point-of-care test used in Hoopa has its limitations, Frankovich says. The county has often retested them at its own lab, which has higher-level equipment. That’s not always necessary, she adds, but it’s an important component of maintaining an accurate count. 

(6:31) Redwood news asks, “Can you confirm Humboldt County has not received any additional funding to hire contact tracers? If so, how are you staffing that team? How has it grown since the beginning of the pandemic? Do you need more people? Is this hindering contact tracing investigations?

It’s a continuous work-in-progress, Frankovich says. “We’re sort of constantly refashioning our teams.” There is funding coming into the county to support pandemic response, she adds, and the county is assigning staff and volunteers where needed. 

The county may start recruiting new contact tracers “because we’re clearly seeing that some of these cases are complicated there’s multiple contacts and we really need to have lots of boots on the ground doing the work,” she says.

(8:51) The North Coast News asks, “The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance that allows the issuing of citations for businesses not complying with health orders related to coronavirus citations will range from $100s for a people and up to $10,000 for businesses who do not follow local and state health orders. Is this something that could happen in Humboldt? Who can make that decision and who would be tasked with enforcement?

The county’s response has leaned toward education rather than enforcement, Frankovich says. “We feel like businesses have suffered a lot in this pandemic and they are important to the families that live and work in this community,” she adds, saying most people do want to comply. “And that’s helpful.”

Still, officials have been working on a codified response that advances from warnings through citations. 

(10:29) The North Coast News asks, “There is a lot of talk about mass voting by mail. Do you think main-in voting is the safer option rather than gathering at the polls?

If polls are constructed in a safe manner — one that allows for masking ans social distancing — that may be an option, Frankovich says after encouraging everyone to vote. If that’s not possible then mail-in is the safer option. 

(11:30) The North Coast News asks, “What do you think about the possibility of Oregon closing the border and restricting travel from California and Oregon to limit spread?

Isolating ourselves like an island is “a tempting idea,” Frankovich says. “Practically speaking, I don’t see it happening — for multiple reasons,” she adds. But we can encourage local residents and outsiders alike not to travel.