This afternoon, Dr. Teresa Frankovich, Humboldt County’s public health officer, took questions on the state of the pandemic locally — particularly on the news, yesterday, that Humboldt County has been placed in the lowest, least restrictive state tier.
Maybe the biggest takeaway: Yes, we’re in the lowest tier now, but we’re right on the edge and could quickly move back up.
Video above. Rough machine transcription of that video below.
The Times-Standard asks, “Can you outline specifically what the new state designation allows that was not permitted under the orange tier?”
Sure. So I mean it’s a relatively limited list but what it goes to, and we are putting this out today in our release as well, so that you know people will have access to the list, but basically in shopping centers, common areas may open, those were previously closed and there’s still reduced food capacity reduced capacity in food courts.
For museum, zoos and aquariums, there’s no capacity limit, before there was, places of worship was increased to 50 percent of maximum capacity without an upper on that number.
Movie theaters fifty percent of maximum capacity, again without specifying the upper limit on the number. Hotels and lodging, spa facilities can open and fitness centers are increased to 50 percent capacity. Gyms and fitness centers, sauna spas and steam rooms may open at 50 percent capacity — before it was 25 percent and not all of those other features were open.
Restaurants increased to 50 percent maximum and wineries 50 percent maximum capacity or 200 people indoors, whichever is fewer. Probably one of the bigger things here is that bars and breweries and distilleries may operate indoors at a 50 percent capacity. Previously they were limited to outdoor only.
And then family entertainment centers, this has increased to 50 percent maximum capacity. There is an ability to do some distanced activities, for instance bowling is allowed in that and climbing walls but some activities that are not naturally distanced like you know bounce houses and ball pits and a few other types of things, there really is no state guidance, indoor playground, it really doesn’t exist yet and so those activities are really not allowed at this time.
We need to receive state guidance and review that and then we will talk about what’s possible in our county on that end but and then the final thing is card rooms and satellite wage ring is increased to 50 percent maximum capacity. So I think those are the substantially the changes.
The Times-Standard asks, “What efforts have been made by Humboldt County to address poor and minority communities under the state’s new equity rules?” So we have been, we actually haven’t really changed our operations based on the new equity rules.
We’ve been really conducting ourselves the same way throughout, we’re just benefiting from that effort right now through the rules. So primarily we’ve been looking at this in terms of increasing testing access throughout the area and really trying to ensure that our outlying communities get some better access as opposed to having to come for instance to Eureka to be tested. Our testing task force in the EOC has worked really hard to be able to bring a non-mobile site like Optum mobile-ly to other areas of the county so that we can get some representation and testing done in those other areas. That’s been helpful.
And we also have just been really working aggressively in our contact tracing and really making sure that anyone involved in sort of peripherally in a case or for instance in a work environment where there have been cases can get testing so that we can limit transmission.
The Times-Standard asks, “Is there any timeline for approving local guidelines for performers and the arts?”
I have not seen anything around live arts at this time for from the state guidance so I have been in discussions that we’ve brought this up, so we’ll see what comes forward.
The Times-Standard asks, “What’s your medical opinion on how Humboldt County can best ‘dominate’ the virus? Does the virus respond to human emotions such as being ‘afraid of it?’”
I honestly I don’t have a response to that question.
The Redwood News asks, “The press release mentioned the state’s health equity metric and how it allowed the county to move into the yellow tier. Can you explain what exactly this metric is in detail and more importantly how and why it is possible for the county to move into the yellow tier when its case rate remains in the orange tier?”
Well, you know, it’s I actually … I get that it seems a little bit complicated but basically the idea behind this is that the state wanted to ensure that all portions of a community are served and that testing is done throughout a community and that prevention measures are implemented throughout a community and so they created this social equity metric to try and ensure that this is looked at at the county level.
So the metrics that are used are: They look both at your total case rate and they look at your positivity rate and if your positivity rate is low, under two, and there really isn’t a disparity in your positivity rate between the more sort of advantaged areas of your county and the more disadvantaged areas of your county, is how they phrased it, then that actually would place you in a position where the state would tolerate a little bit higher case rate as long as that positivity rate was low and it was pretty uniform across your county, and we’ve achieved that here locally.
The Redwood News asks, “Are you concerned that this news about the county moving into the least restrictive tier will influence the public to not be as cautious when it comes to COVID-19? What is your message to the community moving forward?”
Well, it’s always a concern and I think you know both we want to sort of celebrate the fact that we’re doing really well but recognize the fact that that can change with one large outbreak and so it’s important for people to recognize that in these indicators for us to move into this yellow tier, our case rate had to be below 2 and our positivity at 2 or below, and our positivity rate had to be below 2 percent and consistent across the county.
We were at two for our case rate — if we had been at 2.1 we would not be in yellow and so it is very easy if we move if we have a substantial increase in our cases, and we have an increased case rate for two weeks, we could move into the orange tier, in fact we would move into the orange tier. So we really need everybody to stay on board with what they’ve been doing because it’s working and in addition from the Public Health end, our pledge is we’re going to keep it up in terms of our testing and our contact investigations, but we need the public to continue doing all the things they’ve been doing to try and help the situation.
The Lost Coast Outpost asks, “While the state moved Humboldt County into its tier four, indicating minimal risk, the county’s own dashboard still has us at level two, indicating moderate risk. Why the discrepancy?”
Well, you’ll be happy to see that today we moved it down to tier one to one, and it actually we just, it’s our disease status indicator and we just brought that one down too. You know we have, we use specific metrics internally as we monitor what’s going on with cases, we look at many factors and they’re not identical to what the state looks like, so it’s not always going to align perfectly, but yes we are down to one.
The Lost Coast Outpost asks, “Both the state and the county use a color-coded system of four tiers or levels to denote COVID-19 transmission risk. However the two systems have discrepancies that seem likely to cause confusion. In the county system for example, a high number correlates with higher risk, while the state system is the opposite. Also similar colors mean entirely different things in each system. We realize that the local system predates the one now being used by the state, but has the county considered altering or eliminating its numbers and color structure to reduce confusion?”
So the simple answer is: Yes, we recognize this. Obviously we were using a different colored framework and, you know, the questioner is right, it vastly predated what the state put out. So we’ve actually been looking at trying to make the language and the the system aligned so it makes sense for the community. So I just ask for a pause. We’re hoping to have that out within this coming, within a week, so possibly as early as the end of this week.
The North Coast Journal asks, “You note in today’s press release that the state has essentially granted Humboldt County an exception under its health equity metric to move from the orange tier to yellow even though local numbers would keep the county in the orange tier. Have you received any indication from the state how much latitude this metric gives Humboldt County or how high local numbers could go without bouncing us back into the orange tier?”
So, yes, I have discussed this with the state and I think they’re going to be putting out some written guidance on this. But essentially increase above two, where we are now in our case rate, would move us into the orange tier is my current understanding. So again we just met this metric at two and so it really is important that we’re able to do all the containment and mitigation measures that we’ve been talking about.
The North Coast Journal asks, “The press release notes a host of eased restrictions but does not mention live performances. Can you speak to other live performances of any type, whether stand-up comedy, karaoke, live music, are permitted at this time?”
So, again, we addressed this a little bit ago but at this time I’m not aware of any guidance allowing for live performance in a gathering space. So again it’s a topic of discussion and we’ll keep everyone posted.
The North Coast News asks, “Humboldt was able to move into the yellow tier because it met the equity metric. Were any specific actions taken to reduce the rates of cases among low-income and minority communities, or was the decrease a coincidence? If so please explain what was done to lower the rate among such communities?”
So we’ve talked about this a little bit but I would say a couple of things.
One is it’s important to recognize that overall our positivity is low and so if you’re our positivity rate for the whole county is 1.5, there’s you know you know we’re not seeing the the high levels of disease transmission that are being seen in some other parts of the state, making this more challenging so right out of the gate that that’s helpful to us.
That being said, if our overall county rate was 1.5 percent but we had areas of our county that were sitting at 3 or 4 percent, that’s problematic. And I would say that the things we’ve done to address this are again really trying to do some outreach and testing so that we make sure we’re providing access throughout the community.
We’ve also been incredibly proactive when we see any sort of cluster of cases, for instance in an agricultural setting, we’ve really worked hard to bring testing to that entity or to increase access for those individuals so that we can make sure that people are getting tested who may be at risk. And I think that’s really helped to contain some of the transmission in for instance some of our essential workforce in our county.
The North Coast News asks, “Since the county is right on the line between yellow and orange for some metrics, would you suggest businesses like bars, breweries and wineries that aren’t serving food to hold off in-person operations in case the county moves back to the orange tier in two weeks?”
Well, I think every business is going to be you know to approach this differently. I would say that if, I’m certainly aware of concerns about investing in inventory and infrastructure and additional staffing and all those pieces that may go along with adding, for instance, indoor operations to an outdoor operation, and I do think that business owners need to really put some thought into that because right now with our margin so small, if we were sitting well below two on our case rate I’d feel more confident but as we’re right there again it does not take much to push us above that number.
And so I think it’s not unreasonable for people to sit back perhaps you know for a week or two and see where things are going but again it’s obviously every business owner’s option on whether they want to proceed.