Wednesday’s media availability video from Humboldt County Health Officer Dr. Teresa Frankovich starts with a bevy of questions about the OptumServe test site at Redwood Acres, which, as we reported earlier today, was not accepting appointment reservations today. 

As per usual, we’ve summarized the questions from local media, along with Frankovich’s answers, below.

(0:00) The OptumServe website is not accepting reservations, though staff say they’re operational. Is that site operated by onsite staff? How is scheduling handled there and at the field locations Optum visits periodically in Willow Creek and Southern Humboldt?

“Optum is becoming increasingly challenging … both for residents and for us, working with it,” Frankovich says. The state contracted with the company on behalf of counties. Turnaround times have increased to six to eight days, “which is clearly not acceptable,” she adds. The company only releases appointment slots two weeks in advance. Humboldt and other counties are trying to get the company to change the system.

Anyone who’s systematic should contact their health care provider or, if they don’t have one, the county’s Joint Information Center at 441.5000. Meanwhile, the public health lab has ordered additional equipment in an effort to increase testing capacity. 

(2:34) Last week the OptumServe website was down due to a staffing problem, according to a staffer at the site. Can you elaborate on what that issue was?

That was related to staff illness, Frankovich says. 

(3:12) Can you talk about how appointments being booked solid will impact results? Where else can people get tested? And what is Public Health doing to improve access to testing?

This was largely answered already. The site in Willow Creek is operated by Verily out of Trinity County, Frankovich explains. 

(4:06) How are things working out with the OptumServe site?

Again, largely answered already, but Frankovich says the county has learned lessons from the company’s local operations, which she describes as having been “a perfect gift for us for quite a long time now.” But all large testing labs across the country are straining under increased demand and supply shortages. 

(5:22) The current state of affairs would seem to take our testing capability back to the days before OptumServe, when people needed to have medical reasons to be tested. We don’t have surveillance capability anymore.

Frankovich says we do have surveillance capability; it’s just delayed. But the long turnaround time has major implications, including on the county’s ability to conduct contact investigations. 

(6:14) There have been several questions about the disproportionately high rates of COVID-19 infections among minorities. Has Public Health explored the reasons for this?

Locally and throughout the state there is a disproportionate disease burden on Latinos and other communities of color, Frankovich says. Factors may include access to health care, language barriers and the higher proportion of such residents who work in front-line service jobs without health care and benefits. 

(7:46) A few weeks ago you said, “[W]e might have to walk things backwards if the virus continues to increase as it has.” Has that been discussed any further?

Every day, Frankovich says. Local and state officials are constantly tracking data to see if course-correction is called for. Rapid increases in cases and hospitalizations can trigger increased restrictions.

(9:17) Can you confirm that people who don’t live in Humboldt but maybe got tested here — or are living here part-time — are not being included in our case count? If so, how many people have tested positive here without being included in that count?

Until recently it’s just been “a handful of cases,” Frankovich says. But there has been an increase in recent days because of family gatherings and visitors to the area. In fact, the county is reporting today that six out-of-county residents tested positive here in Humboldt County.

(10:36) With the spike in local cases, is the county yet considering rolling back some of the 2,100 businesses that have been allowed to reopen?

“Right now we certainly do not fit the bill in terms of the state’s guidance on rolling those things back,” Frankovich says. 

(11:32) What does the shortage in testing capability mean now that we are more or less reopened?

Robust testing capacity is important, so Optum’s troubles are problematic, Frankovich says. The county’s Public Health lab is not facing a shortage in supplies, but other clinics are. “We are having to be really prudent about how we prioritize testing,” she says. 

(12:56) We’ve received word that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) plans to release a number of inmates who’ve been exposed to COVID-19 back into Humboldt County this month. What is the county doing to ensure the safety of them and the community?

The established process is to notify local Public Health officials of anyone returning to the community who has tested positive or been possibly exposed. Public Health works with Probation and Parole do make sure those people have a place to stay for their required 14-day quarantine.

(13:57) You mentioned at yesterday’s board meeting that more than 100 people are under quarantine due to possible COVID-19 exposure. How many contact investigators does the county currently have? And is there a fear that caseloads can eclipse contact capabilities in the near future?

The county has nearly 60 people either fully trained or close to it, Frankovich says, though each case can involve dozens of contacts, and the work involved in reaching out to the expanding web of contacts “becomes an enormous undertaking.” The county’s doing fine right now, “but we will never be in a position to manage outbreaks in large-scale events” involving hundreds of people, she says. “Even gatherings of 10 to 20 people can engender multiple additional cases and hours and hours of contact investigation time.” 

The goal is not to prevent anyone and everyone from becoming ill but rather to minimize the speed of our caseload increase to preserve the integrity of the local health care system, she says.