Today, like many days, Dr. Teresa Frankovich — Humboldt County’s Public Health Officer — took questions from local reporters on the county’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today’s questions were submitted before Gov. Newsom announced that he would order all bars, indoor dining, movie theaters and a variety of other business categories to close statewide (and additional sectors to close in particular counties), so these questions do not deal with that announcement.
Instead, they talk about last weekend’s spate of weddings, COVID in the marijuana industry, the state’s inmate release program and the very bad state of coronavirus testing in Humboldt County right now.
Video above. Questions and summaries of Dr. Frankovich’s answers below.
1. With 26 new cases confirmed just this month, how close is Humboldt County today to the threshold for being on the state’s watch list?
There are a few factors that are used to determine whether or not a county goes on that list, Dr. Frankovich says – the number of cases per capita, the rate of people testing positive, hospital capacity. Our hospital capacity is fine.
New cases and the testing percentage have risen in Humboldt County lately, and that’s been of concern. But to be on the watch list, she said, a county has to have confirmed 25 new cases per 100,000 population over two weeks and a positive test rate of 8 percent during that time. We’re still well under that benchmark – though recent trends are concerning.
2. With more and more places opening up and people going back to work, can you talk a little bit about what employers are required to do when a case if reported at their workplace. Are they required to notify all employees or just those in direct contact? Does the entire place need to be shut down for cleaning, etc.
Every case is a little bit different, Dr. Frankovich says. If an employee tests positive, they’re talking to the employer and the employee to determine which other employees the person infected may have been in close contact with. After that, it can go in a lot of different directions.
All businesses are doing enhanced cleaning, just as a matter of staying open. If there’s a confirmed case associated with the premises, that is probably enhanced even further. But they don’t necessarily close to do that.
3. With local COVID-19 cases going up, why is the call center run by the JIC reducing its hours? What message is the county sending to the community about how big of an issue COVID-19 is when it cuts back on access to having questions answered?
Dr. Frankovich says that the county’s trying to use its resources wisely. Right now, judging from the call volume, there’s not as much need for extended hours. In the future that could change, and they could ramp back up again.
“That’s really how the EOC is constructed – to contract and expand as needed,” she says.
4. Over the past months the media has followed the unfold of the coronavirus, it seems as though news updates have become redundant, how has Humboldt County pushed to receive advanced and diverse data pertaining to effects of the virus in all minorities?
Frankovich notes that the county has been putting race and ethnicity data about rates of infection on the county coronavirus dashboard, and has been commenting on the disproportionate burden we’re seeing in the Latino community – which is concerning.
Other, more long-term data – about outcomes, for instance – is in the hands of care providers, rather than the Public Health department. Public Health researches that data as it’s complied on the national level – and, again, is very concerned about the disproportionate impact the pandemic is having on people of color.
5. Do you research these demographics?
6. In order to address the disparity in COVID cases among our Latino and Hispanic community, for the purpose of making health and safety information readily available to those folks, has the JIC or DHHS made use of any Spanish speaking staff members for the purpose of formatting information, or hired a translator to produce information in Spanish, and have you considered providing these media Q&A videos translated for that community? Do you have any suggestions on how media can help get information to that community?
This has been a goal and a priority in the Joint Information Center, Dr. Frankovich says.. Many of their materials, including an FAQ on the website, are produced and available in Spanish. The JIC always has a Spanish-speaking staff member available to answer questions. We have Spanish-speakers on staff in Public Health to interview people. They’ve produced some videos in Spanish.
However, it’s always a challenge, and she welcomes assistance from the media (or, it sounds like, just about anyone).
7. Has the JIC/DHHS been successful in adding local staff to the Othman Serve COVID-19 testing site at Redwood Acres, and for how much longer do you foresee that resource being available to Humboldt County residents?
OptumServe is contracted by the state to be at Redwood Acres until Aug. 31. What happens after that is unclear, Dr. Frankovich says, and out of the county’s hands. However, the county has been “actively exploring” other options that will give us a sustainable facility with better turnaround times.
8. At a free testing site in Southern Humboldt, the turn around time for COVID19 test results are 8 to 10 days. One community member has reportedly had a complete 14-day quarantine period before getting their test results back.
That’s what they’re hearing from OptumServe, Dr. Frankovich says – 8 to 10 days. “It’s a huge concern. It’s of very little utility to us – certainly in terms of our contact investigations – if we cannot get a turnaround that’s quicker than that.”
It’s a national challenge rather than a local one, she says.
9. What is causing this delay and should asymptomatic people still obtain a test?
“We are still asking people to do that,” says Dr. Frankovich.
10. Can you share an estimate of how many positive cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed (residents and non-residents) that are linked to the ‘cannabis community’?
A “substantial number” of cases are tied to the cannabis-related industries, Dr. Frankovich says, and there are also a number of secondary cases with contacts to those individuals. It’s not surprising, as workplace-related cases a pretty common, nationwide.
She says they’ve been working to reach out to that community to assure them that Public Health is not concerned about the legality of a particular grow, or cannabis-related business – they’re just looking to help those businesses follow best practices and keep their workers safe.
11. You mentioned last week that Public Health and the Joint Information Center fielded calls about planned gatherings, are you able to confirm whether or not a wedding with hundreds of people took place this weekend in Petrolia? And if it did, what are some of Public Health’s biggest concerns moving forward? Do you think we’ll see a spike in cases because of it?
“These gatherings are of huge concern to us,” says Dr. Frankovich. Gatherings are a big source of the spike in cases that we’ve seen recently – and it’s not just us. This is happening across the state.
While she expresses sympathy who want things to get to normal, Frankovich is firm: “Gatherings of hundreds of people are clearly, vastly outside the state and local orders, and are frankly illegal.”
12. Also last week, you had expressed concern about several large weddings that were scheduled to be held over the weekend. Did those weddings go forward? Was the county able to have any impact on their safety procedures? How CAN people hold a wedding in Humboldt County these days, under the current local and state restrictions?
Weddings are not an easy thing to do right now, Dr. Frankovich says. The ideal thing is to have no gatherings with people outside your household unit. The second-best thing – though technically still not permitted — is to have a very small number of people, socially distanced, gather strictly outdoors.
13. Why is the right to protest in a large gathering allowed – but not large gatherings for weddings and funerals?
Protests are constitutionally protected. Dr. Frankovich says, while weddings and funerals are not. But there are exceptions made for funerals these days, under certain circumstances – 12 people, with social distancing.
14. What enforcement actions do police have at their disposal if the weddings mentioned last week proceed after being warned?
Dr. Frankovich defers this question to the Sheriff.
15. Last week Sheriff Honsal voiced concern about inmates being released to Humboldt County from state prisons without any quarantine procedures. Can you explain how Public Health is working with the county’s Probation Department to line up temporary housing for these people? What’s being done to ensure they don’t pose an infection risk to the larger community?
It’s tough, Dr. Frankovich says, because the prison system is making up this system on the fly. But they’ve been very good about reaching out to Public Health for feedback.
As it is, the county is notified if someone is released into the community if they’ve tested positive or if they are coming from a facility where there has been an outbreak. If people need isolation and/or quarantine, they’ve been working with the Probation Department to find housing, if needed.