Today’s media availability with Humboldt County Health Officer Dr. Teresa Frankovich is above; rough machine transcript below.


Would you like to start by addressing the community?

Well, I just wanted to say that we’re thinking about our fellow residents and people across the state obviously who are being impacted by fire and hoping everyone is managing to stay safe, making sure that they evacuate if instructed to do so, that if you’re in an area of concern that you reach out to friends and neighbors, make sure especially for those who may be sheltering in place, older individuals, make sure they’re getting the information they need and that they’re doing okay. We can do that by phone or knock on a door, but obviously we’re trying to still maintain those COVID prevention measures that we’ve been talking about.

I do know that again some people may be sheltering individuals in their home and you know we appreciate that we take care of each other. If there’s any way you’re able to do that and have people in a separate part of the home or in a separate building with your home, those are the safer options as opposed to being part of the same household, but if you are all in the same household, if you have the opportunity to distance, to use lots of good hand washing, cleaning frequently surfaces, you know it can all help in addition to masking in public, you know more combined spaces in your home to be able to try and decrease transmission.

We want everyone to stay as healthy as possible throughout this while still helping each other out so and if you do need additional information the Humboldt County Office of Emergency Services is coordinating the response to this, so you can reach out and we will list the number. 

The North Coast News asks, “How could current smoky air quality conditions impact COVID patients and what should they do to stay safe?”

Well, I worry about smoky air conditions impacting lots of people in our community, particularly those with chronic respiratory conditions and other health issues and certainly if COVID patients have respiratory symptoms as part of their illness, we want everyone to be careful and monitor themselves if they’re feeling increasing shortness of breath or if that their symptoms are worse they need to reach out to a health care provider and obviously in this instance, where we’re normally with COVID telling people to be outside as much as possible that’s obviously going to be challenging and so people are likely to be indoors more, and that’s fine, but again it’s particularly important that if you were going to visit with people or gather with people in a small number outside your home, safely or more safely, bringing people into your home is more of a risk. And so I think people just need to be mindful of that, if they keep taking more of their activities indoors right now, unless you’re actually sheltering someone who needs that shelter, that you really do try and just stay with your household unit as much as possible.

The North Coast News asks, “Wildfire smoke can irritate your lungs, cause inflammation, affect your immune system. Can it also make you more prone to catching COVID?”

I don’t think we have any data to date that tells us whether that’s the case. We don’t even know for instance with tobacco smoke exposure whether it actually increases your risk of getting COVID. We can certainly assume that if you do contract COVID and you’re having this respiratory symptoms already because of fire, that can make it more challenging. So, again, I think all those prevention measures we’ve been talking about are important to try and stay as healthy as possible while we’re facing the second challenge in terms of the fires occurring.

The North Coast News asks, “How is the recruitment process going for the new Health Officer, status update?”

Well, I actually am not involved in that process and so you probably need to check with the County Employee Services or Human Resources department, I would assume. 

The North Coast News asks, “What are your expectations in the coming weeks for COVID case numbers following Labor Day weekend given the increase many counties saw after Memorial Day weekend?”

Well, obviously we’re always concerned about this, there, you know both because people sometimes are doing more traveling during those times, visiting friends and family outside the area where the exposure risk may be even higher than it is locally, or bringing people in to visit who may introduce virus into the community, as well as the gatherings. So I’m hoping that people were smart and really thought about their friends and neighbors and limited activities that are you know risky, such as gatherings and travel But I guess we will be watching over the next two to three weeks to see what happens.

The Times-Standard asks, “were there any events, crowded beaches, large Labor Day barbecue, parties among college students over Labor Day weekend that sparked concern about the spread of COVID-19?”

So I’m not aware of individual events. I do know that there were certainly events over the weekend, but I don’t have a lot of details about any individual ones. Again you know all we can do is is really just ask local residents to be responsible to each other and the way that we’re able to move forward, the way that we’re able to keep our business community operating the way that we’re able to, have children attend schools and keep our health care system secure, we have all the tools to do that. We just have to choose to use them and I’m hopeful that people were embracing that over the weekend. 

The Times-Standard asks, “What advice is the JIC providing to residents about how to be safe during big holidays with Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas all coming up?”

So it’s a really good question, and actually we’re asking the state to provide some guidance first of all about Halloween because that’s you know coming up upon us in not too long. Obviously we’re trying to look at how to fashion all of our normal celebrations in a way that’s more consistent with COVID prevention. So just like we’ve been saying so far this year, for the most part that means really trying not to pull family in from other areas of the state or the country, really trying not to travel to those outside areas where you may introduce risk to those individuals and really trying to limit gatherings.

You know we recognize the fact that this is difficult to do for a long time and that some people are socializing a bit outside their household. My ask for people is that they really do try and limit that and use you know outdoors as much as possible, small groups, four to six people. You know when we start to gather larger groups together the likelihood that someone in that group is COVID positive and may not know it increases and your risk therefore increases as well. So we really, you know, we really want to make sure that people are trying to use all of those tools and as we go through the holidays we’ll be advising people more on this. We are doing having some local meetings about Halloween and what that could look like here and we’ll be putting more information out about that as they develop. 

The Redheaded Blackbelt asks, “When a new Health Officer takes the helm will there be an opportunity for that person to reassess the amount and type of information the public is allowed to have, specifically related to current case count and current hospitalization rates?”

Well, sure, I mean a new Health Officer has the opportunity to reformulate many things about what we do and certainly just over the course of the event I would say that you know we have changed significantly from what we started out being able to report and what we’re reporting now, and so I think you know as this whole thing evolves that’s likely to change regardless of who’s at the helm.

I do want to point out again though that if people are interested in sort of the hospitalization numbers in that, we’re not reproducing them, but they, we are linking on our website, on our dashboard to the state site that has all of that data. So it’s basically very easy for people to see that in real time and then we’re not reproducing those numbers in addition to that.

The Redheaded Blackbelt asks, “Will Humboldt County be able to offer the new COVID saliva test, which is able to return reliable results in 30 minutes or so, the rapid point of care test that is being made available in the Bay Area? If so, when and how will this change the testing landscape, and if not, why not?”

Well, again, it is sort of the wild west in testing right now. There are so many new tests flooding the market and it becomes a real challenge to actually vet the individual tests and their performance and what is the appropriate venue to use those tests. For instance, you might use a test that’s less sensitive in some screening situations, but you don’t want to use that for instance in testing largely asymptomatic people or in a very high-risk setting like a skilled nursing facility. So the tools you use may change over time with this pandemic.

Basically the trade-off is often that you you doing a quick test gives you less sensitivity, meaning you may not pick up the virus if it’s present, particularly in low numbers, and this is certainly something that we see with, for instance, the rapid saliva tests where the sensitivity seems to be lower overall and so the trade-off is you are likelier, you are likely to catch people who have a lot of virus on board in their respiratory passages, their throat, nose, but you won’t catch the people who have not a lot of active virus present. The argument for using the saliva test is that you’re probably going to be more likely to transmit to someone else if you’ve got a big viral load, so it at least captures those individuals, but it’s a constant trade-off.

Our goal here actually is to have really robust, high quality, highly sensitive testing available to everybody in in good time, you know being able to get that result within a day or two ideally. And if we have that, then there’s probably not as much role for trying to do some of the the point of care rapid tests. Even these, for instance saliva tests, are typically tests that do have to be run by a lab or done with lab personnel there rather than something at home.

So again I guess all I can say is that it’s likely to change over time, what we adapt and use, it depends on the situation when we’re dealing with vast numbers of cases at once, being able to do some basic screening may be you know, what we’re able to do and what makes sense. Right now what makes sense for us is to try and do our high quality testing and we’ll see how this pilot in the Bay Area works out.

The Redheaded Blackbelt asks, “Are you aware of any potential super spreader events that have taken place locally over Labor Day weekend?”

I’m not aware of any specific events right now but I would say that really the way these events are often identified is after the fact. So when we begin to get cases and identify where people have been and what they’ve been doing, that’s how we identify a party or gathering or some type of event, and then as the case numbers build we understand that to be a super spreader event. So, in our instance, it would be something we’d likely identify after the fact as opposed to, for instance a very large planned event that we know about well in advance — Sturgis comes to mind — where you could anticipate that it was going to be a big spreader event.

The Lost Coast Outpost asks, “Do the common facial coverings people are wearing these days protect them from the health hazards of smoke inhalation?”

Well, unfortunately, I don’t expect people’s cloth masks to provide that level of protection, it’s typically a higher-grade mask that actually can do that such as an N95. Thank you.

The Lost Coast Outpost asks, “Humboldt County now has close to 400 residents who have recovered from COVID-19. Are they able to donate plasma locally?

We’re not collecting plasma locally, from area cases, although that’s always a potential down the road. However the blood bank here is able to access convalescent plasma readily within 24 hours for local residents who need it right now. 

Thank you.

Thanks so much. I did just want to mention that we do now, because we are dealing with both the pandemic as well as the fire situation, there really are two separate Information Centers that are operating and so if people have questions that are COVID-related, as they know they can call 441-5000 for that information. If it’s a fire-related question, then 268- 2500 is the number to call to get additional information.