In a special meeting this morning, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors ratified the recent order from Health Officer Dr. Ian Hoffman to re-institute a universal masking mandate
countywide inside county facilities.
The board also reversed its July 20 decision to resume in-person meetings starting next week, opting to continue meeting via Zoom. Both decisions were motivated by the alarming increase in COVID-19 cases over the past couple of weeks.
The meeting was delayed by about 50 minutes due to technical problems, and once it got going, board chair and Fourth District Supervisor Virginia Bass sounded hoarse, though she explained she only sounds that way because she’s been talking to people a lot lately.
Hoffman said local conditions are changing rapidly. “The Delta variant of the Coronavirus has shown itself to be much more contagious,” he said. “And I think when we couple that with … a moderate vaccination rate and a fair amount of of openness and not very much masking going on in the community, we’re seeing very widespread [contagion] right now.”
Case rates have more than quadrupled over the past two weeks and hospitals are filling up, Hoffman added. He said he’s hopeful that the mask mandate and a reduction in public gatherings will help drive case rates back downward.
Second District Supervisor Michelle Bushnell asked Hoffman to address questions about why the countywide mask mandate won’t take effect until Saturday. Hoffman said the delayed onset was intended to give businesses a chance to prepare with signage and have masks on hand for customers.
Fifth District Supervisor Steve Madrone said the masking order is “the right thing to do,” though he noted that some people have medical reasons for being unable to wear masks and suggested the county should make accommodations for them.
First District Supervisor Rex Bohn, who revealed this morning that he has tested positive for COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated, pushed back against criticism of the renewed mask mandates, saying, “[I]t’s amazing, with the internet everybody’s a lawyer.”
He said public health officers are tasked with protecting the public health of the areas they serve and he believes Hoffman is doing just that. “Hospitals are pushed to the edge,” he said. “Management are freaking out. Like it or not, I appreciate [Hoffman] stepping forward because I don’t think he’s invested heavily in any mask corporation. I think he’s looking out for the health of Humboldt County.”
The mask mandate might help the county avoid having to shut down again, he said, adding, “And, not to get off-topic, get the damn vaccine.”
Bass also voiced frustration, saying that she’s been dealing with a family member in the hospital and that getting the vaccine is the responsible thing to do. “Just to remind people, we didn’t need to be this way,” she said, apparently referring to the surge in cases.
In late June, the board implemented a policy allowing county staff to self-attest to their vaccination status and go mask-free if they’ve fully vaccinated. Today, Bass said bitterly, “Let’s just say self-attestation was a failure. … I’m mad. I don’t get mad but I’m mad right now about people who think this is a joke.”
Bushnell, who has previously declined to say whether or not she’s been vaccinated, asked to respond to Bass’s statements.
“Even people that are vaccinated — as we are aware — are getting the virus,” she said. “So, while you said self-attestation wasn’t working … I’m not willing to make that blanket statement. What I’m willing to say is breakthrough is happening.”
While breakthrough cases are becoming more common with the Delta variant, data collected by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that fully vaccinated people have dramatically reduced rates of infections, hospitalizations and deaths, compared to unvaccinated people. In California, one in every 992 vaccinated people were infected with COVID, compared to one in 11 unvaccinated people. And among those infected, the unvaccinated were 142 times more likely to need hospitalization, NBC News reports.
The motions to resume virtual meetings and ratify the mask mandate passed unanimously, with Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson absent.
CORRECTION: This post has been corrected to reflect that the board ratified the policy pertaining to county facilities, not the county as a whole. As the public health officer, Hoffman has sole authority to implement the countywide masking order.