Earlier today, Dr. Ian Hoffman — Humboldt County’s health officer — took questions on the state of the pandemic. What of these reports that big box store employees and cannabis workers are getting vaccinated? Are we inching closer to moving out of the purple zone? What about reopening schools — any update?

All these questions and more. Video above, rough transcript below.


From the Lost Coast Outpost: Earlier in the week, a local woman reported on the Nextdoor app that her employer — Target — was told that hundreds of doses of vaccine became suddenly available on Friday, and that they were offered to Target employees. The woman said she got her shot at CVS because of this. Are you aware of this incident? If so, could you tell us how it came about, and how the decision was made to offer them to employees of that store?

The local partnership with CVS pharmacy is through the federal government and the Biden administration. The shipments come directly from the federal government to CVS, so public health locally is not involved. Also what we know about who they’re targeting for those clinics is based on their website and the information they have posted, which they’re targeting 65 years and older and Phase 1A healthcare workers again through that federal partnership program.

From the Lost Coast Outpost: Last week, Director Stephens stated in a media release: “No doses go to waste, so if you miss your appointment, your vaccine is given to someone else.” Who is it given to?

We hope that everyone shows up for their appointment. I think that’s a really important part of this question because we try to plan really meticulously these clinics. If someone doesn’t show up, we do have standby lists at least for public health and all the other partners are asked to create standby lists. Also lists of people who could come in at the last minute. Those are - we try as best we can to keep those within the tiers and age groups that are open currently. If it’s really an emergency situation, clinics are instructed to give it to anyone and not let those doses go to waste. So far in the county that we know of there’s only one vial that’s gone to waste and that was five doses and that was because of a freezer failure.

From the Lost Coast Outpost: Has the county considered creating a “standby” list for situations such as the ones above, or is the decision about whom to give the leftover vaccine left to individual vaccine providers? If the latter, is there any sort of transparency, or accountability, or oversight into whether those doses are distributed equitably, or to people in an appropriate tier?

I think we answered that in the last question..

From the Two Rivers Tribune: Humboldt County residents have not heard any more information on the variant strains since January; national news claim there are seven strains and more homegrown variants being identified, why has the county not provided more brief information in those regards?

We work closely with CZ Biohub in San Francisco to do our genomic sequencing and that’s been going on since last summer. We send periodically, when we have enough samples we send those down to get sequenced. That isn’t a daily thing like the testing, so it happens at different intervals and we haven’t had any updates since the last update was one of the reasons and if we do ever get updates that are of urgent regard we certainly will let everyone know. And we expect some updates in the near future on some of those samples that have been sent in the last few weeks.

From the Two Rivers Tribune: Is it too soon to project when the county may be considered to be reduced to a lower level in the Blueprint for a Healthy Economy table, and do you as a health official believe that we can maintain that status, why?

We received our current blueprint metric yesterday and things are looking better overall for the county. The case counts down, the test positivity rates down and we met the equity metric which is one of the key things for us to probably get out of the purple tier and into the red tier. So if things hold the way they’re looking for the last week for the current coming week with all of those things, we very likely will be in the red tier come next Tuesday when the next blueprint announcement comes out. I think we’re in a different place than we were the last time this happened in early January. At that time our case counts were very high overall. The case investigations were just becoming bigger and bigger each day that went by. We have noticed in the last few weeks that the number of investigations have gone down dramatically, so it feels like this time if we go into the red tier next week it’s going to stick.

From the North Coast Journal: You mentioned last week that Public Health will be doing outreach to the food and agricultural employment sectors as a means to interact more with local Spanish-speaking and Latinx populations. When will the outreach begin and for how long?

So this has already started. There’s a group called the Promotores network which is really a lot of different groups who work with the Spanish-speaking population in Humboldt County. It includes providers like Open Door, Paso a Paso, other organizations like Centro de Pueblo, LatinoNet and also Humboldt Area Foundation among others who work through that network in the Promotores group. So public health goes to those discussions and has been working on identifying what are the obstacles and barriers and what could be done to improve our ability to reach both reach the Latinx population and also deal with any concerns around vaccine hesitancy. The timeline is ongoing. It’s really - the vaccine efforts can go on for a long time, so we will continue that conversation and try to keep that door open. And also in terms of opening up more broadly for the vaccine effort that really comes down to vaccine availability. So as I said last week, if someone has an opportunity to get a vaccine now because they’re in an open tier based on their age or their occupation, we definitely encourage people to do that and when there’s enough vaccine we hope to hold more specific events for the Latino community and more specific outreach.

From the North Coast Journal: Will it be public health or a community organization be in charge of the outreach?

I think we covered that one.

From the North Coast Journal: Can you give us a few examples of how the outreach will work? Will public health solely be focusing on getting information to agriculture workers or will it be more of a “promotor” situation where Public Health will have workers available to answer any questions about access to healthcare coverage, COVID-19 testing, and vaccines?

Yeah, I think we covered most of that in the original question.

From the North Coast Journal: What does Public Health see as the goal for the outreach?

The goal for the outreach is again to really deal with any issues that might arise that could be barriers to getting certain populations in. And this isn’t only just with the Latinx population, this is a lot of different populations in Humboldt County. So what kind of barriers are there, both from a vaccine hesitancy point of view, to timing, people having time off of work, people who have to travel very long distances, people who are worried about the kinds of documentation that they might have to show; all of those are the sorts of things that we’re working with our local partners to try to come up with solutions and and make it easier for people to get vaccines.

From the North Coast Journal: Will the outreach be evaluated for effectiveness?

Yes. We constantly are trying to evaluate any public health program. We will do that with this as well. We’ve been watching certain penetration levels in different groups already through the CARE data - that’s the state database - and seeing how much penetration we get into certain age groups or certain populations in Humboldt County, which is one of the ways we know that we could be doing better with the Latinx community.

From the Redwood News: With Covid-19 variants appearing in Humboldt County, will wearing two masks improve the protection against Covid-19 and the variants? If we wear two masks, what types of masks should we wear? Are cloth masks still recommended or as effective as surgical masks at this point of the pandemic?

Two masks are certainly going to be better than one regardless of the type of mask it is. They double up the layers, they also create a tighter fit. Other things can be done to tighten the fit like putting a loop, an extra loop in the ear loop so that it tightens it up. A cloth mask or a surgical mask is better than a cloth mask, so if you have access to a surgical mask that you could put underneath your cloth mask it would improve the efficacy, but certainly two cloth masks are going to be better than than just one.

From the Redwood News: The California Department of Public Health says that when it comes to eligibility for a covid vaccine, cannabis industry employees are included in phase 1a for medicinal cannabis and phase 1b for growing, production, storage, and distribution. Considering the large cannabis industry here on the North Coast, can you explain what this means for us locally and where cannabis industry workers fit into the County’s vaccination plan?

We are following CDPH guidelines, so they fit in just as you said phase 1a for medicinal cannabis and phase 1b for growing production and storage and distribution. We haven’t yet reached out to food and agriculture and opened up to vaccination of that group yet because there hasn’t been enough supply, but again just like all the other groups in food and agriculture, cannabis industry is one that we’re start preparing for and we’ll be doing outreach in the future to to figure out ways to get folks in that industry and for vaccine.

From the North Coast News: Some high schools are opened to in-person instruction, with safety measures in place, like Fortuna High School, since they opened when the county was in a less restrictive tier. Other high schools, like Eureka High School, are not open because they remained closed when given the opportunity to reopen when the county was in a less restrictive tier. How is the decision to allow schools to remain open that already were open, but not allow any more to open? What kinds of factors are included for the state to decide this? Are things like transmission rates, case counts, or school population considered? Do you think this is a consistent way of monitoring the reopening of schools? And do you think it makes a significant difference in keeping students and teachers safe across the county?

A lot has changed around opening schools over the course of even the last month or so. The state has really ramped up its efforts to get schools open so there are a lot of new rules and regulations around the schools reopening. I think that the point in time when we were trying to limit reopening for schools that hadn’t already been open was also during case count surging and the surge statewide and so if it didn’t feel like the right time to be opening up schools that didn’t have that experience with setting up the kinds of things that need to happen like having a classroom that’s safe for kids to return to. We’re at a really different point now. We’re likely going into the red tier next week. Many schools are now looking at reopening that have not been open to this point. If we go into the red tier next week there are no more restrictions on opening any of those schools. And some of the new guidelines for K-6 do allow schools that were not open previously to open in the purple tier if case counts are lower. So I think we’re going to see a really big change in the coming weeks and months as more schools are able to open and hopefully decide to open. I think that the guidelines that are put forth by CDPH are good and have been shown to keep kids safe across the state. Many counties have been open throughout the pandemic for their schools and have had no transmission in those schools.

From the North Coast News: Are you concerned about businesses becoming fed up with a year of pandemic restrictions and staying open in defiance?

It’s certainly always a concern that public health has that these are very difficult things to follow and have had a massive impact on our economy. We certainly want to work with businesses to remain open to the safest degree that they can. I think that going forward being in a different place in the pandemic, we could see some changes from the state along the lines of what is allowed in the coming months.

From KMUD News: When will the vaccine become available for cannabis industry workers and others who qualify under food and agriculture?

As we mentioned earlier, the food and agriculture, we’re underway looking at that group and, but I don’t think it’s going to be open broadly for food and agriculture for at least a month or more.

From KMUD News: The New York Post recently released an article titled “California is letting medical Marijuana workers get COVID vaccine ahead of teachers.” Is this headline true locally? What can you share about this topic?

We’re open for teachers to get vaccinated currently and that’s now across the board. So all K-12 teachers anyone who works in a school is a support staff or volunteers there - and that also includes licensed child care facilities and anyone who works in those. So we have not opened up to marijuana workers more broadly and as far as the medical marijuana group, that has recently come down from CDPH and I don’t know that we’ve done any specific outreach to the medical marijuana industry here in Humboldt County.

From KMUD News: If a community member received their first dose with Pfizer and their second was a Moderna, will that be effective protection against the virus? Is there anything they should do?

Well what the CDC says is that you are covered, we don’t want this situation to happen it’s certainly not recommended. It should be reported to the CDC as an error and there’s a reporting system that the providers have to report anything like this through. As far as anything someone should do there if that happens to them specifically, you’re likely covered, but they do want to track this at a federal level so that we can gather data on it for the future.

From the Redheaded Blackbelt: The case numbers of those with COVID have been dropping. Can you tell us if the number of people getting tested for COVID has also dropped? For instance, can you give us an idea of how many tests were done yesterday when there were zero positive cases?

Yeah, the testing is definitely dropping. We know that it’s happening here locally, it’s happening statewide, it’s happening nationally. There are many reasons for that and some of which we’re just guessing at, but I think the main one is that we’re thinking is likely going on as people are getting tired of the pandemic. We have the capacity to still test broadly and I think it’s important that we continue to do so. Given the variants that are out there, that they could come back, there could be another surge in the coming months, continuing to get tested is extremely important. The zero positive cases was likely because of the holiday weekend and labs were closed and many medical practices were closed. I think more importantly pay attention to the sort of average case count over a period of time and if we look at our case positivity or case count per 100 000 it was as high as 26 back a month ago and now it’s down to under 10. So it’s really come a long way and that’s really what we pay attention to is that average case per hundred thousand that gives us the sense of the day-to-day.

From the Redheaded Blackbelt: Several readers have asked us about an outbreak at Timber Ridge Care Home in Eureka, Is it true? And if so, can you tell those readers why an outbreak at other nursing homes such as Grenada in December was announced to the community and this isn’t. Is there a number or percentage of those ill that leads to an announcement?

We work very closely with our skilled nursing facilities and our long-term care facilities. There are mandates from the state for testing and so anytime there’s a positive test in any of those facilities it results in what we call response testing where we test much more broadly and more frequently. The decision to make public any of those positive tests that are caught in a round of surveillance testing, that then leads to response testing that might catch other positives, is really up to that individual facility. So, when for instance we had the outbreak at Granada, we did work with them to discuss making that public. There’s no specific percentage or trigger, it’s more of a discussion with those individual facilities when the right time is to and how they would want public health to take the lead on that.

From the Redheaded Blackbelt: While vaccine appointments are taking place, what efforts are being made to collect demographic data similar to the testing data, such as ethnicity, age, zip code, gender, etc., in order to better track the equitable distribution of the vaccine rollout?

All that data is collected in the CARE system, which is a state based system for tracking vaccines. While early on in the vaccine effort there were definitely lags and delays in that data, it is much much better now. So we’ve been tracking that locally for the last few weeks and feeling that it is getting much better and as mentioned, we’ll be putting that up soon on the website and we will continue to use that internally to look at penetration into certain populations geographically and based on race and ethnicity.

From the Times-Standard: As the one-year anniversary of COVID-19 in Humboldt County approaches, are there any more details about the first case of COVID-19 reported in the county: What date was it confirmed? How did come to Humboldt County? Can Public Health explain the initial response to COVID-19 and how the virus spread once it was detected in the county?

Public health does not provide case-specific transformation information and that continues to be the case. The way that the virus was first detected is - this is the same story as it was everywhere - it came in with individuals who were traveling and it spread among the community over time. I think in Humboldt County, that really didn’t start happening in really large amounts until like the rest of California this last surge in December and January. Before that there were certainly cases and pockets where it would come in, but it wasn’t broad-scale community transmission until the winter months. Hopefully as we go into the spring and the trends that we’re seeing statewide and nationally hold here that we’ll see really a reduction in the spread. And then if that holds true, along with the vaccine things could look really different by the end of the summer and going into the next fall.

From the Times-Standard: When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, panic swept the nation and misinformation ran rampant. Can you talk about how things have changed in the last year, from when COVID-19 was initially detected in Humboldt County to now?

Yeah we’ve all certainly learned a lot about pandemics and viruses and how they spread in the past year. I think that the response to this continues to evolve over time and our understanding of the vaccine and how it plays into that response will continue to evolve over the coming months and allow us to see at what point we can start to roll back some of these measures that have been in place for almost a year now. I think going forward, what we can look forward to in the pandemic response is when and where to roll back each of the measures that were put into place nearly a year ago.

From the Times-Standard: Target and other big box stores appear to be getting supplies of vaccines and are vaccinating some of their workers. Can you detail which retailers are receiving vaccines, how many they’re receiving and who those are to be administered to?

Again, CVS is getting it directly from the federal government, but we don’t have any more information about how many there are other than what’s on their website who they should be administering those to. Everyone else in the county gets it through public health with a small amount going to St. Joseph’s Hospital from Providence Saint Joseph’s larger network, called a multi-county entity. So anyone else in Humboldt County is who’s vaccinating is working directly with public health and should be following the public health guidelines of who’s to be vaccinated currently.

From the Times-Standard: Which populations, regardless of prioritization, are receiving vaccinations right now? What percentage of different sectors, such as teachers, cannabis workers and retail workers, have received at least one dose?

I don’t have specifics on some of the sectors. It’s not as easy to get that information. In terms of population we know that for the 75+ population, who was the original age based target, we’re approaching about 60% of those who’ve had at least one dose. In certain race and ethnicity groups like Native American, Native Alaskan groups, it was approaching about 17% of those have received at least one vaccine. In terms of going back to the worker groups, we really just know based on the feedback we’re getting from those groups when we feel like enough of those have been offered an appointment to move on to other groups. And that’s through a close working relationship with the organizations or employers who have worked with us to get those invitations out to each group.