California’s new four-tiered, color-coded system is based on how prevalent COVID-19 is in each county and the extent of community spread. | Image via Humboldt County Joint Information Center.


Under California’s new four-tiered, color-coded system for managing the COVID-19 pandemic, Humboldt is one of just nine counties statewide to be classified in the orange-hued tier, indicating moderate spread of the coronavirus. Just two counties — sparsely populated Modoc and Alpine — fall into the yellow tier, with minimal spread. 

The rest of the state is awash in substantial or widespread prevalence of the virus, and at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Humboldt County Health Officer Dr. Teresa Frankovich said that while we continue to do relatively well here in Humboldt County, it wouldn’t take much to push us from Orange into Red, triggering more restrictions on local businesses.

“Our case rate is the thing we really need to be watching,” Frankovich said. Averaging eight new cases per day, or 60 per week, could push us into the next level, and we’ve been close to that mark recently. In fact, our rate of new COVID-19 cases between Aug. 17 and Aug. 23 was high enough to put us in the red, Frankovich told the supervisors.

The “Blueprint for a Safer Economy,” unveiled by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday, divides each county into four tiers based on two criteria: seven-day COVID-19 case rate and seven-day test positivity rate. (Both measures have a seven-day lag time.) 

For now, we remain in the moderate category — or, as Second District Supervisor Estelle Fennell put it (in a possible homage to S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders), while the governor’s map of California is “a sea of purple,” here in Humboldt “we’re gold. And I’d like us to stay gold.”

Frankovich said the state’s new tiered approach to regulations is good news for Humboldt as it allows some degree of local control while allowing businesses to expand and contract operations, rather than going straight from open to closed. For example, in our current tier, restaurants can provide indoor dining at 50 percent capacity or 200 people (whichever is fewer), and if we were to get elevated into the red “substantial” tier, restaurants would need to reduce capacity to 25 percent or 100 people.

Fourth District Supervisor Virginia Bass said she’s been hearing about weddings and other large gatherings of people in violation of state and local health orders. 

“It’s a huge issue,” Frankovich said, explaining that social gatherings have proven to be a big driver of local infections. “There was a recent gathering of about 40 people and we have multiple cases related to that,” she said. “If I can make a plea on one thing it’s to stay in your household unit.” And if you do gather, make sure it’s in groups of no more than four to six. “And outdoors is safer than in,” she added.

Humboldt County Sheriff Billy Honsal said his office has received about eight complaints about large gatherings over the past two weeks. “We will be making proactive phone calls,” he said. Sheriff’s deputies have already made calls to inform people that their planned events go against public health guidelines. “So far they’ve done a good job trying to mitigate those,” Honsal said.

The supervisors also discussed the new state guidance for youth sports. Frankovich said the county’s Joint Information Center has received 15 applications from groups hoping to play some organized youth sports. Ten have been approved and JIC employees are working on the other five.

First District Supervisor Rex Bohn said that under the guidelines, which require kids to stay at least six feet apart, it looks like the only two sports they could possibly play are tennis and golf. “It’s gonna be really easy to steal second base if you have to stay six feet apart,” he said.

Frankovich agreed but said youth groups can always do strength training and drills. The guidance says kids shouldn’t even share equipment, she noted, adding, “It would be nice to throw balls.” County staff is seeking further guidance from the state about the rules.

Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson suggested that kids adopt more of a Calvinball approach. “Rules of sport are just constructs that are created over time,” he said. “We don’t even know where they came from. … Now’s the time to adapt. This is the creativity that’s required in our society to manage this.”

Personnel from the county’s Emergency Operations Center, including Frankovich and Honsal, are now providing COVID-19 updates every other week, so the next one will happen at the Sept. 15 meeting.