In today’s media availability, Humboldt County Health Officer Dr. Teresa Frankovich took questions on community transmission, Halloween, kids returning to school and much more.

Video above, rough machine transcript below.


Would you like to start by addressing the community?

Sure, I just wanted to mention that Halloween is coming this weekend, so just want to remind people that we have put out lots of guidance that’s available on our website and also on social media that talks about some safe alternatives for Halloween. Obviously the idea this year is not to be going home to home and mixing households but there are many other ways we can celebrate as a community, so take a look and think of some things you can do with your children, in your household or with at most two additional households, to celebrate the holiday.

The Lost Coast Outpost asks, “What does it mean when you classify a case as being acquired through community transmission? Does it simply mean that you are unable to determine where the person contracted the virus or does contact tracing go beyond that? Do you attempt to determine where in the community the person may have become infected? If so what sorts of situations have commonly led to a person acquiring the virus through community transmission?”

So community transmission really does mean that we’ve looked at the case and through our case investigation, we have not identified a source of the infection, so when we do our case investigations, we do look at things like travel, we look for connections to existing cases so that we can determine if there are contact to a case, we also look at where they’ve been and what they’ve been doing, and see if there are any tie-ins to cases that this person may not know about, but that we know about, that they may have intersected with, and when we come up with nothing, no direct contact with a known case that we can discern, that’s when we identify it as community transmission. Community transmission is important to follow because when we have, certainly when we have an individual who is a positive, for instance we have someone who travels to another part of the state where there’s a lot of COVID, they come back, they’ve picked up an infection, there’s a certain expectation that we’re going to have some context of that individual who may become positive. When we see cases emerge in people who have seemed to have no particular risk behavior, and have had no travel etcetera, and they are positive, it suggests that there is additional COVID circulating in the community that we just haven’t picked up.

The Lost Coast Outpost asks, “The ZIP code data that was recently added to the dashboard appears to be problematic. For instance it showed an increase last week of nine cases in the Hoopa area ZIP code, a period of time in which the tribe has counted no new cases. In several other zip codes the number of confirmed cases actually dropped over the course of a week, which of course is not possible. Can you talk about where you get this data and why such irregularities might occur?”

Sure. We pull this data from CalREDIE, which is the state reporting system, so in our day-to-day reporting when we’re talking about our cases and isolation and quarantine and all those things, we’re using our internal data monitoring that is up to date. CalREDIE, there’s often a lag as cases enter that system, there are sometimes duplications in that system that have to get de-duplicated, there are sometimes people mis-assigned by their residents in that data that then over time get reassigned to the correct area, so it really isn’t a fine-tuned tool to give you day-to-day reporting on those. Over time things get corrected in that system and it balances out, but we recognize when we provide that ZIP code data, that it’s to give a general idea about where we’re seeing cases, but really is not meant to be a sort of day-to-day or week-to-week way to measure specifics within a certain area.

The Redheaded Blackbelt asks, “In one recent study from Imperial College London, which involved more than 365,000 participants, have shown that antibody percentages have decreased over a period of several weeks by over 25 percent in that group. If this is accurate, what, if any, are the implications you see for an effective vaccine?”

Well I think it’s important to remember that our immunity is not based solely on antibodies, that we have other cellular immunity that is not antibody based that can help protect us from infections, and so the jury’s really still out and how much additional immunity we develop with an infection, also again with mild infections, do we get very little residual immunity, with bigger infections do we get longer term immunity? These are questions that are going to get going to get sorted out as we move through the pandemic. You know reinfections to date have been relatively uncommon but we are now far enough in the pandemic that we are likely to start seeing some reinfections. In terms of vaccine what it means is that we may have if we do develop an effective vaccine, it may be one that is going to need booster doses, it may need an annual dose like we do with flu vaccine, and its long-term effectiveness over period may not be as high as some other vaccines we have, but all of it really isn’t unknown right now.

The Redheaded Blackbelt asks, “Regarding the potential lack of long-term immunity from antibodies, can you explain what the implications would be for controlling community spread, and the alternative, how would how would this lack of immunity affect a policy or a strategy of herd immunity?”

That’s again a really good question. I think we there obviously again, the hope is that we have some additional immunity that’s not just antibody based, the hope is that if we have a vaccine we’ll have a vaccine that will provide some effective protection for long enough, that for instance an annual dose might not might be needed rather than something more frequent, which just is not viable. So I agree, the question comes up about herd immunity, it may be that it will be difficult to achieve that without having multiple doses over time to sustain some immunity in our community. But again we’ll be seeing that as we move forward. 

The Times-Standard asks, “Do you have any suggestions or guidance for those who may want to celebrate or protest election results next week?”

Our encouragement always is that we’re using our safety guidelines, so we want people not to be gathering ideally, we want people if they’re in public spaces to be distanced, we want them to use facial coverings, and to be careful. 

The Times-Standard asks, “What are your thoughts on the Eureka City School’s plan to return children to the classroom? Is this approved by the local health department? Would a change in Humboldt County’s tier in the state system change the opinion of returning to school?”

Well just to be clear the the school doesn’t need to apply to us for an approval to open. The tier that we’re in, the yellow tier, clearly allows for schools to be open and frankly I’m encouraged that they’re doing so. I think you know all of us would love to see kids in school, I get that there are issues in some schools, it’s just not a viable option because of concerns about how to structure the environment or other issues that they face. But I think it’s the ideal learning environment for children and I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to keep kids in school rather than having them distance learning for prolonged periods of time and I think that really is partly dependent on all of us and how we navigate through this pandemic to keep our case counts low because if you do end up in some really high like in a purple tier, it doesn’t necessarily mean that schools need to close to on-site learning, but it’s clearly makes it much more difficult to navigate, if we’re seeing lots of cases and we’re having to quarantine lots of exposed individuals it makes it difficult to operate. So again I just encourage all of us to really adhere to everything we’ve been doing that’s gotten us here so that they’re in a position to open as they have. 

The Times-Standard asks, “It was mentioned during this week’s Supervisors meeting that the county is considering selling the Redwood Acres overflow hospital beds with the second wave of COVID-19 coming, what are your thoughts on the move?”

The Redwood Acres hospital beds, as I understand it, are a state asset, they are not something that we purchased, they are something we received, and that we would, if unused, would return as an asset and so we’re not contemplating selling those at this time, and while the ACS or alternate care site is still in place, we will ongoing review the need to have that, but I think all of us going into the flu season feel a lot more comfortable knowing we have that asset considering the remoteness of our location and the fact that things are going to be a bit unpredictable in the in the next few months as we encounter both COVID and flu.

The Redwood News asks, “On Tuesday the JIC mentioned that partial guidance for live performances was released by the CDPH. Can you talk about how this guidance will apply to Humboldt County and when the community can expect these new guidelines to go into effect?”

The guidance basically has two parts and again it’s very limited right now. We are expecting more to come out, but one part basically says that if you’re with a group of three households or less, including the people who are playing music or performing in some way, and the people watching, so it’s just a total of those three households, you don’t need approval for that. If you want to have an event that is a live event of some sort that involves larger numbers of people, then there are some rules in place to do so, and you need to get approval from the local public health department. So for instance if you want to have an outdoor concert with up to 100 people in a yellow tier there are guidelines about what that has to look like in terms of the performers and masking and distancing, how attendance is handled, all of those things. So right now we’ll be looking on those individually, if those events are being planned, and approving them on a case-by-case basis. As more robust guidance comes forward then we’ll be able to perhaps streamline that a little bit more and do that as we’ve done other approvals. And when does it go into effect, that guidance? Oh basically people can do this, they can submit these now, to us to review.

The Redwood News asks, “What advice would you have given Humboldt State University and San Jose State University regarding the SJSU football team coming to Humboldt County for training camp while SJSU football practiced in Humboldt County? Did the team adhere to guidance and regulations?”

I’m sorry, I really don’t have anything to add informationally.

Reporter Ryan Hutson asks, “Are you aware of the recent events taking place in Old Town Eureka, at the Siren Song Tavern, which caused concern for capacity violations and masking ordinance compliance violations? Can you explain how those issues have been addressed?”

Yes I’m aware, there of you know, concerns that have been raised about Siren Song operations also some concerns about other entities, such as the Arcata Theater Lounge, and you know from our perspective a lot of this does go to the issue of live performances indoors, which currently are not allowed under existing orders. And I completely understand the frustrations and urge to move forward on this but they’re simply not allowed at this time. The process now in our county is that we do receive complaints, we forward those complaints to the local law enforcement or code enforcement, depending on the nature of the complaint, we also do have the capacity to at least inform the Alcoholic Beverage Control units and they have enforcement capabilities as well.

Reporter Ryan Hutson asks, “What can you say in regards to the idea that community spread of COVID-19 in Humboldt County is hypothetical as opposed to a reality and what evidence can you articulate for us today that evidences this in our community?

It’s … I’m somewhat surprised by the question. We have to date about over 560 cases of COVID diagnosed in our community. We’ve had 37 hospitalizations related to COVID and we’ve had a number of deaths. And so I don’t think there’s any question that COVID is hypothetical. If the question is about community transmission, we clearly have you know, we document that on an ongoing basis in our daily reports. So I think when we again look both at our local numbers and we look at national numbers we look at over what is 8.8 million cases nationally and over 200,000 deaths, I think it’s pretty clear this isn’t a hypothetical situation.

Reporter Ryan Hutson asks, “In order to keep Humboldt County in the state’s minimal restrictions tier, is a policy of enforcement rather than education being considered in terms of compliance for the EOC and Public Health/Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office going into the winter months where people will be indoors, congregating for holidays, etcetera?”

You know I think education is always a piece of this, however I would point out that you know, we’ve provided a lot of information to the community and to the business community, specifically. We have, there’s copious state guidance documents, our JIC has been a really great source of information for people who have questions about operations and so when we do get complaints now about things happening we do forward those to the local jurisdictions for enforcement actions as appropriate. I think in that process people receive additional education but I do think it is important that people follow the guidelines, and it’s incredibly important for our safety, for all of us going forward, and frankly our economic recovery in this area and ability to have children in school, all of those things are dependent on that. I think it’s also important though to make a distinction that in terms of enforcement actions, things like people gathering indoors and you know small family gatherings and things like that are really not something that are is enforceable on an individual household level, and so we really do depend on people’s personal responsibility in that respect and we’ve been doing a great job here in Humboldt for the most part.

Reporter Ryan Hutson asks, “If a county business was never closed down entirely for the pandemic, keeping essential workers in operation, is a business of that nature required to have submitted a reopening plan for the county to approve, or are such businesses exempt from this planning process due to the fact that they never were closed?”

Well when we actually moved to this process of reopening and doing the approval process as state guidances were released, we did ask for the essential businesses who were operating to submit a plan for approval, even though they had already had procedures in place, so that was included as part of our process.

Reporter Ryan Hutson asks, “Additionally please explain what mitigation measures are currently expected of a business that remained open throughout the pandemic and if local businesses are able to opt out of county compliance measures like infection controls measures and a place of public business in favor of CDC guidelines.”

Well, we all appreciate the CDC guidance that’s available but we operate under state and local orders here, and so the requirement is that businesses do need to follow those, and again there is copious guidance for businesses by sector about what’s required for them to be operational and do so under the current orders, both again locally and at the state level. There is not an opt out.

The North Coast News asks, “Humboldt County elections officials say there’s been record turnout already this year. Are you encouraged by this or is there still concern about people convening at the polls on election day? What advice do you have for voters who want to stay safe from the pandemic?”

Well I mean yes I am encouraged by this, I’m really encouraged that people are voting, I think it’s incredibly important and I applaud that. I think we have multiple options now to be to vote including the polling places as well as mail-in as well as ballot drop boxes and I think people need to do what they feel most comfortable with. I do know that the polling places have received guidance from the state on how to construct a safe polling place. I do know that for the most part people’s time spent in a polling place is relatively brief, if they are using facial coverings, if they’re using hand sanitizer and it’s a brief encounter, I think it is a safe environment for people to visit, but again people who are high risk or have other concerns you know all options are available.