In today’s media availability on the pandemic, Humboldt’s health officer, Dr. Ian Hoffman, took a multitude of questions from local reporters on the vaccination statistics, disparate vaccination rates in the Latinx community and numerous other aspects of the county’s management of the pandemic.
Video above, rough transcript below.
From the Times-Standard: Approximately how many people over the age of 75 has DHHS been able to vaccinate to date? How many total people in that age group are there in the county?
So Humboldt County has approximately 10,000 people over the age of 75 and based on the data that we’ve pulled from CARE, which is a state database, approximately 50 percent or about 5,000 of those have been vaccinated to date.
From the Times-Standard: Anecdotally our staff has heard of people 75 and older having difficulty navigating the online process, often due to a lack of internet access. Has DHHS received complaints from this group related to difficulties with the process?
Sure. Of course with this whole thing nationally, statewide, locally - it’s been very heavily dependent on people’s access to websites and internet and technology to schedule the appointment. So we have certainly received a few concerns. We’ve tried to address these by doing things like having people in the Joint Information Center be available to fill out those forms for anyone who can’t fill it out on their own. So anyone in that position if they need help filling out the interest form, would call 441-5000 and we have people in English and in Spanish who can help fill out those forms.
And the Times-Standard asks: are there other ways for people in the age group to sign up - which you just addressed. Are there other ways for them to be notified when an appointment is available?
Sure so once you’re on that list, when your turn comes up the JIC will reach out to people, either by email if they have a valid email address, or if they don’t they’ll call them. And we have a dedicated staff now who are reaching out to people who are in the priority groups who are on our list to alert them when an appointment comes available for them.
From the North Coast Journal: You told the Board of Supervisors in your report Tuesday the vaccination rate in the Latinx community is disproportionately low compared to the general population. What do you attribute this to and what is Public Health doing to address it?
We’re very aware of this situation and again not a situation that’s unique to Humboldt County, but something that’s been going on across the whole state. California we took the phases in tiers approach starting with phase 1a which is healthcare workers. We have to recognize that healthcare as an entity doesn’t always reflect the demographics of an entire society. Moving forward now we’re into different phases in tiers in that system. Those inequities should start to be balanced out and and we are making direct efforts to reach out to the Latinx community and through community groups, making the interest form available in Spanish, having Spanish speaking staff who can help them fill that out and we will be reaching out through, especially the food and agriculture group in phase 1b tier 1, where a lot of workers in our community are more proportionately Latinx.
From the North Coast News: Earlier this week you reported that only about 6% of Humboldt’s latino population were vaccinated against the virus, while 13% of the entire population was inoculated. What, if anything, is being done to boost rates of vaccination among that group? Are there any explanations as to why that demographic is being vaccinated at lower rates?
Hopefully that last question answer covered all of that.
From the North Coast Journal: We’ve noticed the Joint Information Center has been posting materials and videos in Spanish to its social media channels. What strategies are it and Public Health utilizing to make sure this information gets to members of the Spanish-speaking community locally who may not following the JIC’s mostly English feeds on social media or seek out information on county websites?
We do have a network within public health who meets regularly with the Spanish-speaking community here and the groups that represent them. We’ll continue to, as we make more outreach in the coming weeks and months to the Spanish-speaking Latinx community to utilize those networks through both the groups who represent them through their employers to make sure that we are getting them offers to come in for a vaccination and getting them information. I did a COVID Minute a little over a month ago in Spanish, hopefully that can get out there more. We’d like to do more of those, more specifically as we start to approach being able to offer more vaccine to that community.
From the North Coast Journal: The local Latinx community continues to be disproportionately impacted, accounting for 27 percent of COVID-19 cases while making up 12 percent of the population, and both officials and advocates have repeatedly pointed to a language barrier as a reason. What are you doing personally to use your fluency in Spanish to get public health information to the local Spanish-speaking population?
Yes. There are many reasons why the Latinx and Spanish-speaking community are disproportionately affected by this pandemic. Language is one of them, but there are lots of others there: the settings that they work in, the settings that they live in, their socioeconomic status. These all impact how this has affected the Latinx and Spanish speaking community throughout the pandemic. We are in the planning stages for food and agriculture, which is going to be a big place where we will be able to do a lot more outreach to the Spanish speaking population, so that is definitely coming and we’ll use all of the tools and resources we have to get the message out there. Personally, I can again speak to those groups, we can do videos in Spanish and we will continue to do those.
From Reporter Daniel Mintz: How many classroom teachers have been vaccinated and what percentage does that represent?
Through the data we’ve collected we think approximately over around 1,100 or more K-12. And it’s not just teachers, it’s K-12 educators, support staff, people who help the schools run, get the kids to school, bus drivers, people who are working the cafeterias, people who work in the offices.
So just over 1,100 of those have been seen for an appointment so far and that was at an estimate of about 3,100 that came from Humboldt County Office of Education. So roughly about a third of those so far have been vaccinated and that was from a few days ago, so it could be more now. And we keep offering more appointments to those groups as each week goes by .
From Reporter Daniel Mintz: At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, you said there is potential for another surge as big or even bigger than the one that just happened. Can you talk about what will drive this and is there an estimated timing of it for Humboldt County?
The concern is for the variants of which there are several globally right now. We know that there have been a few cases of those across California, none locally here yet, but certainly the state health officers are watching this very closely and concerned that if these variants spread more widely in the coming weeks or months that we could see another surge. So this is really the time for us to double down on our efforts for wearing a mask; using the opportunity to really increase your mask efficacy. Making sure it’s a tight fitting mask, that it’s a double layer or even double masking with a surgical mask and another mask on top of it if possible, distancing and as we have noted the whole from the beginning that gatherings are a really big source of spread. So avoiding those gatherings and obviously hand washing as well. All those things are going to help if we do those, just like they would with the coronaviruses that have been around so far. If the variants make their way here and start to spread those are the same things that are going to help us drive down the rates and decrease the spread.
From Reporter Daniel Mintz: Recently you said ‘negative impact of variants on vaccine efficacy is speculation.’Has your thinking on that changed any?
Yeah, since the last time we had this question there’s been a lot more studies that have come out and data gathered. So certainly if we’re watching the global and national news we’ve noticed that there is concern for an impact. It’s not that they’re completely - that they don’t work anymore, they are still highly efficacious even against most of these variants, it’s just that the efficacy is decreased from the incredible efficacy of 95%. We still don’t have great numbers on that so I think that it’s still early to make too many conclusions about it. Locally we’re going to keep focusing on trying to decrease the spread of this disease through all the things I just mentioned in the last question, through our contact tracing and then through the tool of the vaccine getting it out there as broadly and widely as possible and as quickly as possible.
From the North Coast News: Cases of the seasonal flu are down in the state of California according to CDPH data. Is Humboldt County seeing the same trend? What do our numbers look like? What do you believe contributes to this?
Yes, the trend is here too. We’ve had very few cases of flu. Much, much, much lower than we would see in any typical year. I think what contributes to this is all the things that contribute to the decreased spread of COVID; wearing a mask, avoiding gatherings, washing hands. The things that we do to avoid COVID are the same things that we do to avoid the flu.
From the North Coast Journal: Prior to yesterday’s announcement expanding vaccine eligibility, what’s your best estimate as to what percentage of those eligible had been vaccinated locally?
So I think I mentioned about 50 of the 75 year olds about a third well in the teacher group we were targeting first in person teachers and we knew that those had all been targeted already so we opened it up to the rest of that group. I think first responders who are in that group are very few left of those in phase 1a, still some coming through for sure, but not not that many. The door always stays open, it never closes. So anyone who’s in a priority group that has been open, it’s always open for them. Really the decision, the way we decide when to open up more is when we see sort of things slowing down. We don’t want to have a gap in our ability to fill those appointments because every appointment that isn’t filled, is a lost opportunity to put a shot in an arm that day. So we want to make sure those fill. It’s a fine line, we want to also target the vulnerable populations and the populations that we are trying to get through the line, but if that line starts to slow down too much we see a gap so we have to open it up a little bit wider and it is a fine balance.
From the North Coast Journal: From your comments to the Board on Tuesday, it seems the county is expanding vaccination eligibility while thousands of people previously eligible still have not received a first vaccine dose. How is the county ensuring that distribution remains equitable across all socioeconomic groups and that people without primary care providers or medical homes aren’t getting crowded out of appointments and left behind?
So part of that I think was answered in the last question. In terms of how it’s staying equitable and people without a medical home we are working through the interest group or the interest form rather to try to gather some of that information directly from people. Also working with our medical community to identify people who haven’t had an opportunity yet, who don’t maybe have insurance even. So that’s an ongoing project that we’re working on to identify people and and do outreach directly to them.
From the North Coast Journal: You mentioned some demographic data regarding vaccine distribution locally at the board meeting. Will this data be added to the county’s COVID-19 dashboard and is vaccine distribution also being tracked by zip code similar to the state’s health equity metric?
The short answer is we’re looking at that internally right now. Whenever we have data we want to make sure that it’s really accurate and clean before we put it out on a website, a public-facing website. So we are using it internally to sort of guide our decisions. As we make sure that it is accurate and the data that we want to represent Humboldt County, there are discussions of creating a vaccine dashboard like that. The state is also creating their own vaccine dashboard which currently has the number of vaccines given for Humboldt County residents. They’re also talking about an equity, race and ethnicity dashboard that will show some of that data, but again all of that takes time and we have to make sure that what we put out there is accurate and not reflecting an inaccurate picture. So it will be coming.
From the Times-Standard: As COVID-19 affects younger age groups, what would a return to Red and Orange tiers look like for prep sports? Are the Humboldt-Del Norte League and county health authorities planning for these tiers?
So the second part of that question is yes, they are. Everyone is really excited to get kids back outside and playing sports. Some are already happening right now in the purple tier. If you’d like more information on which sports are in which tier, it is an exhaustive list so i’m not going to go over now, but you can find it on the CDPH website under the youth sports guidance.
From the Times-Standard: An argument sometimes seen on the parent-led group Let Them Play CA is that because the infection rates among school-age individuals is relatively low in states where team sports have been allowed, that these may return here in California. With cases in the 10-19 group growing most in the region, would you advise against the return of team sports?
I think that the guidance that we have right now is good guidance and so if it’s followed correctly, I think it will definitely reduce the risk of spreading among those sports in those teens.
From the Times-Standard: Do you expect a future increase in COVID cases related to upcoming Valentine’s Day celebrations involving day trips, dining out or couples gathering? Any extra precautions ahead of any Valentines Day celebrations?
I think that any holiday has the potential for spread. So we encourage everyone to continue to use the same precautions. The statewide travel ban or sorry travel advisory is still in effect. Distancing and gathering outside of your household is discouraged because that is the primary way that we’re seeing the spread of COVID-19.