Video of today’s media availability with Dr. Teresa Frankovich, Humboldt County’s health officer, above. Rough transcript below.
Good afternoon, thank you for being with us. Thank you. Would you like to start by addressing the community?
Yes, I do want to mention a couple of things at the outset here before we begin answering other questions.
A couple really important issues. One is if people in the community are concerned about what they’re seeing in terms of rising case counts per day, I want to make it clear I am also very concerned and the trend that we’re seeing is alarming and it is very likely to land us in the purple tier in short order. And I think that when we look at our local case counts we’ve more than tripled those in very recently and acceleration at this pace is exactly the thing we’ve been trying to avoid throughout. We’ve been luckier than most for a very long time, but again, I think we’re seeing the drivers of moving indoors in colder weather and the fact that we are seeing gathering and travel and those drivers are getting us in trouble. There’s just no doubt about it, and it’s important for people understand that our contact tracing has been a big part of helping us to contain, and we can do that robustly when we are getting a scattering of cases.
When we start to see very large numbers of cases coming in, as many other counties are experiencing, the type of contact tracing you do has to decrease, you cannot do as deep and expansive an investigation and that means cases will be unidentified in the community, increasing spread further. So it’s a partnership with the community and the response team to try and keep the transmission rate down, and I’m asking everyone to really join on board and stop the gathering. We have to stop the gathering or we are not going to see this slow, and in addition the travel, and the two of those mixed are particularly challenging.
The second point I want to make is that we know that when we reach out to positive cases sometimes people have been doing things that they know we have not been advising, and I think there’s some sometimes some hesitation on people’s part to give the full details of what they’ve been doing. I just want to emphasize that particularly as our case counts rise we don’t have the time to wait three or four days or five days to be able to get a full picture of what exposures might be. It means that there is spread in that interval and we can’t afford that right now.
So I again would like to ask our community members, if we reach out to you and we’re talking about with you about your case, please be forthright right at the beginning. Let us know what really happened and we’ll work with you to try and contain infection in your friends family and those others who may have been exposed.
The Times-Standard asks, “There have been reports nationwide of spikes in demand for COVID-19 testing as the holidays approach. What advice would you give people who think that testing negative on a single day in advance of a holiday gathering ensures the safety of themselves and their families?”
It’s a good question. What I would say is there really is not a safe way to have a gathering around a table eating with masks off indoors — there isn’t. There just isn’t.
And so I think people need to take that into consideration when they’re dealing with friends and family members, because again we are seeing this where a single gathering around a table leads to multiple infections in that group. You’re just very vulnerable. So I think if people are going to have even the three households gather, ideally that should be outdoors. I get it that that’s challenging here right now but it should be outdoors ideally. If you can’t be outdoors, you should be distanced, if you have to unmask you should clearly be distanced. For eating that means not all being around one table, it means people who are sick stay home, people who have been exposed potentially stay home, and again I just, and make the room as well ventilated as possible, so that we can decrease transmission. But the safest thing is simply not gathering.
In terms of testing a day before gathering, that’s great, you know you’re negative that day, it means nothing about what you are the next day. And so it does not ensure safety of those you’re gathering with.
The Times-Standard asks, “What are Humboldt County’s contingency plans to deal with the possibility of post-holiday COVID-19 surge?”
Well, we are looking at planning. We’ve been planning essentially around the possibility of a full surge, meaning where we’re seeing a lot of impact on healthcare capacity and all that we’ve been planning for that for a long time. In terms of a marked increase in cases afterwards, we will be again kind of robustly staffing as much as possible through the holiday and after the holiday.
We’ll also in our, for contact tracing, will also be trying to maximize testing availability and we’re asking the community of course to really follow the guidance that we really cannot be traveling and gathering. It just can’t happen right now. In the event that we do see an impact in our health care system, that we are getting overburdened with, you know, filling beds, that type of thing. We have been again planning with our Alternate Care Site and our partners around that and we would be talking about activating that site if it becomes necessary in order to serve as sort of a valve on the hospital to protect inside-the-wall capacity at the hospitals for the people who most acutely need it.
So I would say that kind of is the the thrust of what we do around planning as we go forward in this. The best case scenario is that we never need the Alternate Care Site.
The Times-Standard asks, “What are the most important lessons we’ve learned this year about the spread of the virus in Humboldt County?”
Well, I think there are some really good lessons learned. One is the effectiveness of facial coverings, something we did not know or have an appreciation for at the beginning of this pandemic, but we do now. It works. It is not a controversial issue at this point. From a scientific standpoint, people need to wear them.
Distancing: we know that closer is clearly more dangerous and one of the biggest things is, the indoor/outdoor distinction. You know there really has been very little linked to outdoor events in terms of large outbreaks. That’s not all, but when we look at even our in our cases locally, the things that have occurred outdoors have been less likely to spark an outbreak in cases than things that happen indoors, so that importance of being outdoors if you’re going to be with others is critically important.
The Times-Standard asks, “What long-term health effects of this pandemic will Humboldt County residents be dealing with in the months and years to come?”
It’s a really good question, again, and we don’t know, we simply don’t know. You know I’ve compared before, the fact that when you get influenza, if you recover from influenza typically you’re done. You know, we don’t tend to see long-term impact of influenza per se.
With COVID we really don’t know. We certainly know that there are people who are experiencing more long-term and chronic effects of this, we know there can be cardiac effects of this, so again it’s a reason why even people who are younger and healthier individuals we want to avoid infection because we don’t know how many of those individuals may have some sustained effects.
The North Coast Journal asks, “While the state has changed its time frames under its reopening blueprint to be more responsive to immediate conditions, does that change the requirement that a county meet the criteria for a lower risk tier for three consecutive weeks before being moved into that tier?”
Well, the short answer is we don’t know yet. Again, in recent discussions with the state there isn’t a significant expectation that anyone’s going to be moving into a less restrictive tier in the near future. That would be quite surprising.
I think it is very possible that intervals may be changed because of this going forward, but I don’t know yet.
The North Coast Journal asks, “Given COVID-19’s incubation period, do you expect local case numbers to increase, remain consistent or decline over the coming two weeks?”
I expect them to increase, I would be surprised if locally we saw a decrease. I think we are still in a position where we could contain this and help to stabilize, particularly, again, if people’s activities over the holidays don’t push this forward, but my expectation is we’re going to see an increase in activity.
The North Coast Journal asks, “You mentioned during Tuesday’s supervisors meeting that you believe part of the reason young demographics locally represent a large percentage of new cases is because they are more likely to be frontline workers. Does the county have any data regarding what percentage of community transmission cases or known contact cases are employed in front line positions?”
You know, we really don’t track the data that way, so I’m really not able to give specific percentages on this. What I can tell you is some of the examples of this have been, for instance, in agricultural settings, where we have a relatively young workforce and working in close contact often, and we are seeing you know infections in that setting.
You know, it’s more anecdotal from our standpoint as we look at sort of the histories on the cases that are coming in, and I think nationally data suggests that as well — that not only are younger people more part of that essential frontline workforce, but a lot of vulnerable communities and communities of color are part of that frontline essential workforce, and it is part of the reason that we’re seeing a disproportionate impact in those communities.
The Redwood News asks, “Earlier this week you were asked about any cases tied to gatherings specifically on Halloween or voting in person/gatherings for Election Day. With more cases and time to trace our existing cases are you able to give more of an update on whether any cases are tied to these two types of gatherings? Why do you think there may be more cases tied to one than the other?”
I think that for the voting — for instance, on Election Day — what we know about significant contact is it’s usually again unmasked within six feet for 15 minutes or more, so by nature I think the voting on-site is going to be far less of an exposure than activities such as gathering, which are typically — we’re seeing at least now — indoors, often unmasked and not distanced.
The Redwood News asks, “You mentioned that the demand for testing has increased recently. At this point in the pandemic, can you talk about how limited accessibility to testing would impact our case count, amount of virus circulating in the community? Is anything being done to increase testing and make sure those community members that are wanting to get tested can do so safely and in a timely manner?”
Absolutely right. Testing is an underpinning of response in this and so we’ve been working for a very long time at trying to continually bolster our capacity locally. We’re doing that a number of ways. Our internal lab is testing at a higher rate than they have ever done, and there are days I believe where we’re testing as many as 250, 260 samples. When you consider that when the pandemic started the lab was doing 30 samples — actually at the very beginning there wasn’t local testing available, we had to send it out to the CDC — but we started it kind of that 30 specimens a day. So it’s been a dramatic increase in what we’ve done internally.
We’re also working with Optum. The state has now guaranteed Optum through the end of April, which is great. Optum is now feeding specimens to the state lab at Valencia instead of to a commercial lab. They’re just getting ramped up. Their expectation, as they’ve said publicly, is to get 150,000 or so tests per day run, but they’re not there yet, and there’s you know obviously some stumbles and issues when you first get a system up and running. But the expectation is that we’ll be able to have very reasonable turnaround times with that. We’ve also asked for some additional expansion of Optum locally and so I think we’ll be talking about that next week, about what that’ll look like and that increased capacity will be hugely helpful.
And then, again, we’re really working on our regional lab asset as well, that we’ve referenced before, and we’ll talk more about that as well when we have a go live date. So again I agree completely with the question, it’s incredibly important and we’re building it quickly. Again it’s helpful if we can sort of calm this acceleration so that we get all these pieces up and in place so that we can address the increasing need.
The Lost Coast Outpost asks, “You mentioned that the state’s CalREDIE system assigns or attributes cases to an infected person’s legal place of residency regardless of where that person contracted the virus. What happens when an infected person is from out of state or from out of the country?”
What happens is that when we have, for instance, someone visiting our area who is from another state, another county, we may test them here, they may become part of a case investigation while they’re here, but that case is reported in their county of residence. So I can certainly tell you that we are following cases here that are really not reported out as local cases, so they don’t count in our tally for Humboldt County cases.
And by the same token if we have our county residents traveling elsewhere, getting tested and are positive, they get reported back into our system, it’s just the way the system is set up for consistency.
The Lost Coast Outpost asks, “Given that the state assigns cases in this way, is the county obliged for its own purposes to keep a separate ledger of cases acquired here or cases that the local medical system is handling in order to have some idea of the spread of the virus and the local population? Are the discrepancies significant?”
I would say that in this instance it’s probably not a significant difference. We do keep a log of cases and we either put them in our case count or don’t put them in, depending on the county of residence. It’s a relatively small proportion, actually a quite small proportion of our total cases, so it doesn’t have a big impact on our numbers, but of course this movement between counties or states is a driver of infection.
So we do have that data, we do follow those cases, but you know, again, we do not count them in our daily numbers as they’re non-residents.