Before answering questions in today’s media availability video, Humboldt County Public Health Officer Dr. Teresa Frankovich spoke about where the county stands in its reopening process. 

“I know, it’s been a crazy thing lately, the pace of this,” she says. The county hasn’t gotten a lot of lead time on announcements from Governor Gavin Newsom, adding to the confusion, she says. Newsom is gradually turning more autonomy over to individual counties, “and I think that that is a great approach,” Frankovich says.

She clarifies, however, that the governor giving clearance to counties to open certain businesses does not constitute an endorsement of opening them all at once. The county’s approach is based on monitoring of local conditions and adhering to the established framework.

“We’ve sped up our pace compared to what we originally had planned at the outset of this pandemic,” Frankovich says, “but we’re monitoring very carefully.”

It’s been about two weeks since the county began allowing retail stores to reopen, and as of today, certified restaurants have begun offering dine-in service. 

Below are the questions posed to Frankovich and summaries of her responses:

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On Thursday Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick announced that he will no longer enforce his county’s shelter orders. How difficult do you think it will be there for the pubic health officer to minimize risk of transmission if the public knows they will not face consequences for disobeying the order? (2:34)

Frankovich says she found that announcement disappointing. The focus has been on education, she says, “because we believe that most people, given good information about safety and about what is needed going forward, will use that information and do what’s needed going forward.” As for the situation in Sonoma County, she says, “It’s certainly not optimal.”

With the increasing partisan divide over government health orders, do you feel that the Humboldt County Public Health branch has the full backing of Sheriff Honsal? (3:44)

Frankovich says she’s appreciated the sheriff’s support. They’ve met extensively, and she said she counts on his complete support.

With the local case count continuing to grow, and in light of our third COVID-related death, have you considered slowing our reopening? (4:21)

Yesterday’s confirmed death highlights how the virus is particularly problematic for people who are older and more fragile, Frankovich says, though she adds that mortality is only one of factors county officials consider when deciding how to proceed. “I think that we are in a position to move forward,” she says, though it’s important to do so safely while monitoring data.

Now that local restaurants are being cleared to resume dine-in service, do you personally plan to eat at any of them? Would you advise your own family members that doing so is safe? (5:20)

“I certainly miss dining out in Humboldt County restaurants,” she says. “Personally, I’m 60 — my husband is 70 — so we will likely be eating at home for the most part,” she says, though she suspects there will be occasions when they go out. She says there’s very good guidance for restaurants, but she encourages people who are older or have underlying conditions to consider whether they want to risk going out. 

What public health guidance have you given to Alder Bay, site of three COVID-related deaths? (6:54)

“We have worked extensively with Alder Bay,” she says, ensuring they have PPE and additional staff onboard and trained. Testing there is ongoing. The county is working extensively with other assisted living facilities, as well as skilled nursing facilities.

Is it true that there are multiple strains of the virus? (8:26)

Yes, though she’s seen no evidence that any specific strain is more virulent than another. Luckily, the testing the county uses is designed to capture the common pieces of genetic material in all strains.

Can you provide specific graphs showing what the infection trajectory looks like with the current level of county restrictions? (9:14)

“I don’t have a model for where we are right now,” Frankovich says. “It’s very difficult for us to have modeling that tells us what opening retail does or opening a restaurant … just because there are a whole lot of variables.” Public health is mostly looking at current trend lines and “trigger features.”

The county is seeing a pattern of peaks and valleys, she says. Clusters of cases emerge, the county quarantines and isolates the infected, “and the we gradually see a decrease until the next cluster emerges.” None of those clusters qualify a surge, “but I anticipate that we’re going to see a lot of this going forward,” she says, mimicking the graphs with a wavelike motion of her hand.