Still working beyond full-time as the county searches for her replacement, Humboldt County Health Officer Dr. Teresa Frankovich today sat down once again to answer media questions. 

Below you’ll find a list of questions and a computer-generated transcription of her responses. 

The North Coast News asks, “Do you believe regular testing of school employees and or students should be done and who would be responsible for the cost?”

Well, people may be aware that the that CDPH did put out guidance with their school document about recommending some surveillance testing. At that time they were recommending testing about 50 [members] of school staff every month, so 100 every two months.

Testing of this sort it has become a little controversial and I think the reasoning for that is because, you can imagine, if an employee is being tested once every two months, the odds that you’re going to catch them at the moment they have an infection is lower than if you’re testing either more frequently or specific to symptoms or exposures.

All that being said, I think there is some value to doing surveillance testing and we do have the capacity to do that and we can do that free of charge. So we have certainly made the schools aware of that and we’ve helped through our Optum site to bring testing to some places so that staff could be tested.

There is no requirement to do so at this time. But I certainly believe that as we develop our own collection system and our own testing strategy locally, our capacity will only increase and I’m hoping that the schools will avail themselves of that, just like I’m encouraging everyone in our community to get tested on a regular basis so we have that information. And if we do detect someone positive, we can respond to that promptly. 

The North Coast News asks, “After contact tracing was done, which age group, 0 to 9 or 10 through 19, appeared to show a higher rate of virus spread, and can you talk about each group’s symptoms and recovery?”

So, that’s an interesting question. I would say just offhand that in the majority of our pediatric cases, the child has not been the initial case. So most typically there has been an adult contact who has been positive and the child has subsequently been exposed and become infected and is detected typically through case investigation.

Children, as we all know, have tended to be more likely to be asymptomatic or have very few symptoms relative to older individuals. And so if it were not for those case investigations we might not identify some of these cases at all because the children wouldn’t necessarily come to medical attention. So we have had no hospitalizations to date in an individual under the age of 20.

KMUD asks, “Dr. Frankovich, can you share an update on testing?”

Well, we’re continuing to work with our North Coast Testing partnership on developing this regional test strategy. Things are going really well. Again, what we’re planning is to establish our own collection entity for both Humboldt County and also in Del Norte ensuring that we’re serving our Tribal partners, as well.

We are pulling that framework together at the same time that the laboratory piece is being put together, as well. We have been receiving the Perkin-Elmer equipment into the laboratory setting at UIHS. I think we’re waiting for the last couple of pieces and putting all the other instruments set up together.

I’m sure people can imagine, it’s a pretty complicated process — both that we have to put the laboratory testing capacity in place, the collection capacity and then we also have to have the information system to support it. So we have to have a platform where people are able to schedule their appointment, and where they’re able to access their results, and in a timely way and to be able to get the other information that they need.

So basically the team’s been meeting frequently to put all of this together and we’re still looking to have this operational this Fall.

KMUD News asks, “Is there any information you can share on the recent deaths in Humboldt County related to COVID-19?”

Well, I think we put the information out at the time that these were individuals over the age of 65 and that’s really the information we have to share at this time.

KMUD News asks, “Are you concerned about a Coronavirus outbreak among firefighters?”

Well, I’m always concerned when we pull people together, and in any venue, and certainly when we’re pulling together firefighters from many different areas, both other states as well as within the state. So, yes, it’s a concern.

At the same time I know that CalFIRE and other entities have really worked hard on protocols about how to do this as safely as possible, both in terms of how firefighters are lodged, how they are managed if they become ill and how we can expedite testing to help out in that scenario. So I think we’re operating as safely as possible under the circumstances.

The Two Rivers Tribune asks, “By crunching numbers and the county begins to understand the impacts the virus has delivered to Humboldt County, what would you say our overall report grade would be?”

Well, I think we’re doing really well. That being said, we’re in the Orange Tier and that’s compared to many of our counties in California. From that standpoint we’re doing very well. Those in the Red and the Purple Tier obviously are having to be more restrictive in what they can do and they’re dealing with a lot more in terms of outbreak in case numbers. So I feel fortunate in that.

At the same time, I would like us to be in the less restrictive tier. I’d like us to be in Yellow. I think it’s important to let people know … every week on Tuesday the state is going to release data on what tier you would fall in based on that week. And so our numbers actually for this reporting period, which ended on the 12th of September, so the state data lags behind, that would put us at a case rate of 4.3 per 100 000, which would actually have put us in the Red Tier by that metric.

In order to actually move into the Red Tier, you have to be there for at least two weeks. Fortunately for us, our data for last week, the week ending the 19th, looks better, at least right now. Additional test results do get added into the state reporting system over time, so we’re never completely certain until the report date. But right now, it looks good.

So I don’t expect that we’ll be moving into the Red Tier anytime soon. But I do think we need all need to note that and take the appropriate steps, which is: if we want to maintain where we are or even, best case, improve, we have to embrace all those measures that we’ve been talking about so that we can really keep our business community vibrant and so that we’re able to have children in school.

The Two Rivers Tribune asks, “Numbers continue to slowly climb. What do you feel is the biggest threat of transmission as people know more now than in the beginning how to protect themselves and others?”

Well, I think we we are learning as we go and I think that the evidence has really been accumulating about the importance and the effectiveness of the use of facial coverings. And I regret that at the beginning we didn’t understand that well, and we weren’t embracing that or encouraging it.

And I think that did make it difficult for people because I still hear people saying: well, at the beginning everyone said - don’t use them. And I just want to point out that we’re learning about this virus in real time. We are watching what happens, and in the best scientific manner, we’re actually trying things, watching what successes people have had with different measures, and then implementing the things that make the most sense. That’s what we do.

And I think what we’ve learned is that the use of facial coverings actually is really helpful. So I’m really encouraged by seeing the number of people that have really embraced that here, and I think we can do better on that front, and I think that will help us. I also think, travel and gatherings … it’s a driver of infection in the state, and I think that we really need to, as much as the social piece of this is challenging, we really need to try and reduce that gathering.

Because those really do impact what’s happening in our community. We spoke previously about a large gathering of about 50 people, and I think I had mentioned at the time, we reported it that we had about 22 subsequent cases related to that case. That number is now over 30. And so it just speaks to the issue that you can’t predict in advance which gatherings are going to turn out to be that sort of super spreader kind of event. And so the safest thing is not to hold them at all.

And I would encourage people, if they really are going to get together with others, that again, it’s a small group. Again, talking maybe six people, not 20 people, and that it’s outdoors, and that people are distanced and that they are not sharing food. So pulling people together — a small group in your backyard, outdoors, distanced is obviously much safer than having people inside your home, sharing a meal around a table where it is much more likely you’re going to spread infection. If anyone attending is ill and doesn’t know it.