Still working full time-plus while county officials search for her successor, Humboldt County Health Officer Dr. Teresa Frankovich sat down once again to answer questions from local media — plus a few, this time around, from the San Jose Mercury News.
Here’s a transcript of the Q-&-A:
The North Coast Journal asks, “State guidance for institutions of higher education states that decisions about the resumption of athletics should be made in collaboration with local public health officials. Can you detail what communications Humboldt State University and San Jose State University have had with you or Public Health staff about plans to relocate SJSU football to the North Coast and whether Public Health was included in the decision making process?”
Public Health was not a part of the decision-making process. I have not been contacted by San Jose State University. However, I was contacted yesterday by the Emergency Preparedness Coordinator for Humboldt State University to let me know about the plan to move forward. And I’ve since had some exchanges … just questions and clarification. They have provided a plan that San Jose State had created in their facility, and so we are reviewing that plan.
The North Coast Journal asks, “Santa Clara County Public Health officials have so far declined to approve San Jose State University’s plans to resume full contact football practices and games and expressed concerns about the team’s ongoing teams going outside the county to circumvent a process that was put in place to ensure the safety of its players and staff. Do you share these concerns and have you seen SJSU’s return to football proposal?”
Santa Clara County, as I understand it, actually has an order in place which prohibits contact sports. Now locally … youth sports guidance right now also prohibits contact sports [for] kids in our community. In the decision and release of the college athletic guidance from CDPH — the initial one and this one — it does open the door to contact sport participation in these older individuals, older students.
So I think Santa Clara County is sitting in a little different position than we are as we do not have that broad order against contact sports. They also, I believe, are in a higher tier in terms of their transmission within Santa Clara County. So I understand their issues there in terms of allowing this and the need for certain things to be changed before it would be possible there.
On our end, at this point, I think we need to focus on essentially making sure that this move is one that is seamless in Humboldt County, that it has minimal impact on our county, and by supporting the effort to build good safety plans around this, to ensure that adequate testing is being done, assisting with contact investigations and just monitoring the progress of all this, I think will help to assure that the athletes themselves, students at HSU, faculty and our community broadly will not be impacted.
The North Coast Journal asks, “Will Public Health have a role in testing SJSU football players and staff either by collecting or processing samples or contact investigations if there are positive tests? If so, what will that role be?”
My understanding is that the team and/or HSU will be responsible for the testing that will be required and we’re reviewing the testing requirements that are in various resource documents right now. And we will be involved in contact investigations because that is actually a central role for Public Health in this pandemic.
HSU to date has been assisting when HSU students become ill or test positive and so they have made clear that they will continue that process.
The North Coast Journal asks, “There has been a lot of frustration in the local community and elsewhere that many youth sports remain prohibited or significantly limited. Do you feel like there are equity issues at play when major collegiate football conferences decide to return to play with various institutions making extraordinary efforts to make that happen, while local high schools and youth leagues cannot?”
Well, I guess the short answer to that is yes. I certainly think that professional sports teams and colleges and universities probably have a little bit more clout in some of these arenas than do local sports in k-12 schools for example.
The North Coast Journal asks, “State guidelines outline a number of risk factors associated with the return of athletics, including the number of people in a location at one time, the distance or physical contact between people, length of time at a location and the touching of shared objects, among other things. Where would you place football on a risk scale when it comes to COVID-19 transmission?”
One of the reasons that the that sports overall — in terms of K through 12 and up — have been deferred until further along in this pandemic is because of concerns about close contact over an extended period of time and certainly among athletes who are breathing heavily working hard at that time and are really generally speaking not able to be masked.
And so there are certainly concerns there, and I place it further on the continuum of risk of exposure than I would some other sports — singles tennis or golf for example. So yes, it does certainly carry a higher risk with these more intensely contact sports.
The Redheaded Blackbelt asks, “Do you see this as increasing the danger of catching COVID in our community? Why or why not?”
Well, I’m hopeful that with safety plans in place, good adherence to those plans, and with testing provided by the team [and] good contact tracing investigation, any cases will be contained as we’ve been working to do throughout this pandemic in Humboldt County.
The Times-Standard asks, “What are Dr. Frankovich’s thoughts on additional folks coming to Humboldt State, i.e dorms being used for firefighters and 135 team members and staff from San Jose? Are there concerns about additional people from out of the area staying locally amid the pandemic? Are the people who are using HSU facilities from out of the area asked to quarantine, and is that tracked by the county?”
We do need to acknowledge that we have lots of people moving in and out of our county, ranging from evacuees to family travelers to tourism and travel for all kinds of reason. We certainly have asked that travel be limited because we understand that it introduces risk into the community, but that being said, we certainly still see quite a bit of movement in and out.
The people who are arriving from San Jose State, I’m expecting that they will abide by all of the safety precautions that we are asking from all of our residents here. In their plan, they are proposing to test before they come here and to test again shortly after they arrive and I think that will be helpful.
At this time I did not see anything in the plan about an initial quarantine period. However, I do know that the individuals will be housed in a dormitory that is separate from the rest of the student population, so that should help the situation as well.
The Times-Standard asks, “Are there any factors that tie the deaths from COVID-19 and Humboldt County together? Were there commonalities? Will the names of the deceased be released to the media at any point similar to the first four deaths?”
In terms of the deaths that we’ve had to date, I think the commonality would be that individuals have been, I believe, in their 60s and older, and we certainly know that older individuals are higher risk for serious complications of COVID, so that’s not particularly surprising.
I don’t recall Public Health releasing the names of any of the deceased individuals. However, that information may have become public afterwards so no, I don’t envision Public Health releasing names.
The Lost Coast Outpost asks, “Has Public Health reviewed training plans, lodging/accommodations plans, or any other plans associated with the San Jose State football team’s temporary relocation to Humboldt County for practice?”
What I have in hand right now is San Jose’s initial plan, which I think must have been crafted over the summer because it includes training plans beginning in July. So I have that in hand and I have had some exchanges with the emergency preparedness coordinator at HSU, who has conveyed information about lodging for individuals and those housing plans for isolation quarantine.
The Lost Coast Outpost asks, “At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting you mentioned that the state is looking at wild cards that might allow some counties like ours to move into a less restrictive tier. Can you elaborate?”
Sure. It’s a good piece of news for Humboldt, this metric. The state wanted to ensure that people across the breadth of the community are having access to testing, that we don’t have pockets of underserved individuals in our community.
The way they’re constructing this metric is they look at the census tract in our county with the highest positivity rate and the lowest and they want to ensure that there’s very little difference between those two census tracts. And in our case the data we have in hand currently suggests that we’re doing very well on that that. There’s very little difference across our county in terms of that access or positivity rates.
So I expect that we will be able to benefit from this metric in the sense of moving into a yellow tier, unless we see an outbreak or a large cluster of cases in the very near future, I think we’ll know more next week.
The San Jose Mercury News asks, “Did Humboldt County approve the university’s agreement to play host to SJSU’s football team?”
Well, again Public Health wasn’t involved in the conversation.
The San Jose Mercury News asks, “Did Humboldt County officials place any specific restrictions on the activities of the football team on the field or off the field?”
Again, because we just received the plan yesterday and are reviewing that as well as the new state guidance CDPH just released last night — a new revised guidance on college athletics that we’re reviewing — there is also a Pac-12 plan in place for activity. And so we’re really having to review all of those documents right now and look at what is covered in there, what is not and what makes sense for Humboldt.
The San Jose Mercury News asks, “The county has had PSA messaging all summer about limiting outside visitors coming to the county. Why is this exception being granted?”
Again, Public Health was not part of this decision at the time.
The San Jose Mercury News asks, “How will the county monitor the football team to ensure it acts within county-wide guidelines regarding the novel coronavirus and what would the sanctions be if the team was found to violate said guidelines?”
I do know from looking at the plan submitted that there is language in there about activities that are considered higher risk — for instance, parties — and that individuals who participate in high-risk activities may be required to quarantine for seven days.
There could be something additional there that I’m not recalling at the moment. Again we are in the position right now of trying to develop any additional guidance that we think might be needed. But the the onus for the behavior of the players is on the players themselves, and obviously the university itself to enforce behavior … that we require in Humboldt County, such as use of facial coverings. And that is required throughout the state as well as social distancing and all of those other preventive measures that we talk about.