Graph via County of Humboldt. | Click here to see it bigger.


The highly transmissible Delta variant of COVID-19 has sent communities across the United States, including Humboldt County, back to the darkest days of the pandemic, with case rates, hospitalizations and deaths skyrocketing over the past few weeks.

Most alarmingly, Delta has proved more capable than previous variants of causing “breakthrough” cases — that is, infecting people who’ve been fully vaccinated.

Still, provisional data released Friday by the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) show that during the most recent spike in cases, unvaccinated residents have accounted for two and a half times more cases than those who’ve been vaccinated. (The county’s population was split roughly 50-50 between vaxxed and unvaxxed during that time.) 

The data also show that during June and July, unvaccinated county residents who contracted COVID-19 were nearly four times more likely to require hospitalization than those who’d gotten their jab(s). Vaccinated residents had a hospitalization rate of 6.9 per 100,000 while the rate among unvaccinated residents was 26.9.

These data are presented in the agenda for Tuesday’s scheduled meeting of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, along with an update from Health Officer Dr. Ian Hoffman. 

That update, which you can read in full below, was written this past Thursday, one day before the county announced its highest-ever daily total of confirmed new cases — 100 of them — along with the death of a resident in their 40s, marking the county’s 56th COVID death. To date, no one who’s been fully vaccinated has died from COVID-19 in Humboldt County.

Here’s Hoffman’s update:

If there is one thing that the past few weeks have shown us, it is that we should always be prepared for rapid changes with COVID-19. The arrival of the Delta variant has dramatically changed the situation in our county. The rise in cases seen in many counties has now hit here, with 400% increases in cases in a matter of a few weeks. Along with this was a dramatic rise in hospitalizations, peaking at 25 hospitalizations for COVID-19 as of a few days ago.

We suspect this may go higher, and we are watching the situation in the hospitals closely. In previous surges the hospitalizations remained well under 20 beds. The hospital staff, clinic staff, public health staff, really everyone in health care, who have all been working tirelessly for 18 months to treat and prevent COVID-19 were dealt a devastating blow with this news. Many in the community are noticing more illness, voluntarily cancelling events due to concern, returning to safety measures that were taken during the last COVID-19 surges.

It was with this urgent necessity that Public Health decided, in consultation with many community leaders across our county, to reinstate the mask mandate effective 12:01 a.m. Saturday August 7th. We take this step to preserve the balance in our rural healthcare system that is already under a tremendous amount of strain, to ensure that we can keep businesses open, keep events ongoing safely, and to keep schools on track towards full reopening in just a few weeks.

We would like to share publicly data on the current surge from our Humboldt County Epidemiology Program. Please find attached a graph that shows the case rate for both unvaccinated and fully vaccinated populations in our county. You can see the steep rise of cases with this latest Delta surge, much larger than the two previous surges (winter surge with Epsilon, spring surge with Alpha). And you can see the stark difference in both cases and hospitalizations among the fully vaccinated in Humboldt County. Our local data is consistent with what is seen nationally with Delta variant. While we are seeing some breakthrough cases, we are also seeing a very large reduction in hospitalizations and death among the fully vaccinated, which reinforces the importance of getting vaccinated.

There have been many ups and downs in this pandemic. This is another one of those big pendulum swings, and given the course so far, it is unlikely to be the last one. The hospitals are preparing for potentially even more surge of cases in the coming weeks, as they have prepared in the past. Public Health is scaling up testing and investigations again, as we have several times throughout the pandemic to deal with surges. In the end, vaccination will remain the key tool to getting us out of the pandemic by preventing severe disease and death from COVID-19.

We urge everyone who is eligible to seek out vaccination. If you are unsure, please seek out a trusted source on vaccine information from your community.