In today’s media availability, Humboldt County Health Officer Dr. Teresa Frankovich took questions on bus drivers not wearing masks, social gatherings, antibody tests, vaccine development and whether Humboldt is on the verge of being put on the state watch list. Plus much more.

Below: The questions asked and a rough summary of Dr. Frankovich’s answers, with timestamps corresponding to the video above.


(0:00) Some local bus drivers are being allowed to take off their facial coverings while driving due to potential visibility impacts and safety concerns. Does this pose a concern from Public Health’s standpoint given the number of people who could potentially be exposed to an unmasked driver in a given day?

Dr. Frankovich says: “Obviously we want drivers to be safe in their driving. That’s very important.”

A tip, though: There are lots of different masks out there, and some of them might work better for particular people. Dr. Frankovich strongly encourages drivers to seek out masks that work for them.

(1:30) In recent weeks, you and Deputy Health Officer Josh Ennis have said repeatedly that social gatherings and travel have been largely responsible for local spread of the virus. As we submit this, we’ve seen three dozen new cases confirmed over the past 10 days. Has this pattern held and are most of these new cases linked to social gatherings and/or travel?

“A big driver of our local cases is related to both travel and gatherings, and sometimes the two of them combined,” Dr. Frankovich says. For instance: A person can travel out of the area, contract the virus, and then attend a social gathering. The original person is put down as a travel-related cases, and the others are put down in the “close contact” category.

(2:55) Are this week’s cases at all connected to the wedding/large gathering that took place in Petrolia 2 weeks ago? Does Public Health believe that the gathering is part of the reason we’ve seen an increase in cases lately?

No one particular gathering has been a driver, Dr. Frankovich says, but gatherings overall have been. She reminds people that even though a young person might attend a function without too much fear of getting seriously ill, they could become a carrier of the virus and pass it on to people who are at far greater risk.

(3:45) Given surging rates of infections and hospitalizations in other parts of the state and some counties’ inability to conduct sufficient contact tracing, some legislators and health experts have called on the governor to issue another statewide shutdown. Do you feel the state has crossed the threshold to where this may be necessary to contain the virus or do you think counties should be allowed to continue to exercise local control where conditions warrant?

“At this point, I would say I would hate to see us put all the way back into shelter-in-place,” Dr. Frankovich says. “Locally, our conditions don’t merit that right now.”

(5:10) National health experts have expressed optimism about the development of an effective coronavirus vaccine by the end of this year or early 2021. But at a recent Board of Supervisors meeting, Supervisor Rex Bohn said there may never be a vaccine for COVID-19 and you agreed that’s a possibility. How realistic do you think it is to expect to have an effective vaccine with lasting protection against COVID-19 in the near future?

“What we’re seeing to date is encouraging,” Dr. Frankovich says. “Is it possible we will have an effective vaccine in early 2021? I think it’s possible. I think if we do, the supply of that vaccine is going to be an issue.”

There are very promising trials underway right now, she says, but the bottom line is: We have never produced a vaccine against a coronavirus before. And it takes a good amount of time to make sure that a potential vaccine is both safe and effective.

Also: Though vaccine would be key to ending the pandemic, an effective way to treat people who do come down with the virus – to keep them alive and healthy – would also be a “game-changer.” She says she’s hopeful that a treatment might become available in the near-term.

(7:15) Can you give an update on PPE available in the county for healthcare workers and medical staff? Is additional PPE being sent out to nursing homes and assisted living facilities too?

The county tries to help other local entities keep their PPE stock up, Dr. Frankovich says, but most of those entities are also securing their own supplies. They county will help suppliers, and will also step in to supply agencies on an emergency basis.

(8:30) Previously we reported on free antibody testing to detect previous exposure to COVID 19 that was made available at one local clinic. Are antibody tests reliable, and will they become readily available to the general public?

The technology is pretty good now, Dr. Frankovich says, but the utility of the test can be a problem. “We really don’t know what it means if we detect an antibody – whether it’s giving you protection or not, if it does for how long, and what level of antibody you need to be protected.”

Our immune system is more than just antibodies. A person can come down with the virus, get well, and still have antibodies in their blood. The level of those antibodies may dwindle to undetectable levels, but that person might still be protected from serious disease by other aspects of the immune system.

At the end of the next question, Dr. Frankovich adds: Antibody test may be available through your doctor. She’s not aware of any locally available free antibody testing.

(9:45) Do you know, are COVID-19 particles destroyed via refrigeration or contact with the sun?

Dr. Frankovich says that she is not aware of either of those things being an effective means to destroy COVID-19. Sanitizer, hand-washing, masking, social distancing – those are the ways we know to stop the spread of the virus.

(10:30) Should people still seek non-emergency medical care and go to routine medical appointments at this time?


“Certainly we’re seeing an increase in cases and I know that’s a concern, but I think that as we move forward through the COVID landscape, we’re going to see that increase rather than decrease substantially,” Dr. Frankovich says. “I think that’s certainly the trend. So I think that if you need some routine health care maintenance done, I think it’s an important time to just get in and do it.”

(11:20) How close is Humboldt to being on the monitoring list, are we at all close?

There are a few factors that go into placement on the monitoring list. Health care capacity is one, and we’re fine on that front right now.

The factor that’s closest to putting us on the list right now, Dr. Frankovich says, is our case rate. One thing that’ll put a county there is a rate of 25 diagnosed cases per 100,000 population over a period of 14 days – we’re right around there, and have exceeded it at times – combined with a positive test rate of 8 percent or greater, which we are well below.

That positive test rate is keeping us off the list, but the increase in cases is concerning.