Today Dr. Ian Hoffman, Humboldt County health officer, took a number of questions on the state of the pandemic from local reporters. Today’s media availability was focused mostly on various aspects of the vaccination program currently underway, and how it might be scaled up in the near future.

Video above, rough transcript below.


From Reporter Daniel Mintz: “Last summer and fall, researchers reported that minimal SARS-CoV-2 diversity suggested that vaccination could be broadly protective. Now that the virus is diversifying, including a variant strain in South Africa that has potential for vaccine resistance, how confident should we be about the viability of vaccinating ourselves out of the pandemic?”

It’s a great question.

I’m still confident and we are moving forward with this vaccine process and our plan is to continue to vaccinate all of Humboldt County over the course of this year.

From the Redheaded Blackbelt: “Will the dashboard eventually enumerate vaccines on hand, vaccines given and some form of showing people with the first dose as well as those who have the complete two doses needed?”

Great question.

We are working really hard here in Public Health to figure out what kind of data we can get up that’s accurate and reliable.

We should have something either late this week or early next week that’ll enumerate some of the different questions here, and then also we do have a link now to the CDPH website which has some of those things for Humboldt County including the number of vaccines that have been allocated to Humboldt County as well as the number of doses that have been given out in the whole region.

From the Redheaded Blackbelt: “School staff is in the phase 1B of getting COVID vaccinations and children down to age 16 have been approved for vaccinations, but do we have a sense of when younger children vaccinations might be approved?”

It’s not really a question for a local level and I have no information on that other than what’s in the media currently.

From the Redheaded Blackbelt: “Is there a plan to offer regular testing for COVID in school children or any options Public Health is considering to get young students to in-person classes?”

Yeah so the governor came out with a plan this week which is posted online.

We’ve been reviewing that with our partners in education in the county, including well before that plan with many ideas of how we can get kids back in in classrooms. There will be support for testing we’re working with the local leaders around what kind of testing can be available and as always our commitment is to try to get kids back in school as quickly and safely as possible. Thank you.

From the Redheaded Blackbelt: “Considering the current trend in cases locally and the strain on contact tracers with the volume of cases, will Humboldt County, as do other counties such as Trinity County, identify locations with connection to COVID with a date and time frame in order to locate additional cases resulting from the particular exposure?”

We don’t have any plan right now to do that.

We don’t feel that would be helpful given our situation in Humboldt County. The vast majority of the spread in Humboldt County is through a known contact, so a household member or a friend, there could be some minimal spread in other places and there has been have been workplace settings and we work with those workplaces to identify the the folks and get things out, but I don’t think there’s any reason to publicly call out these places in that way, that, it wouldn’t be helpful to our investigations.

From the Redheaded Blackbelt: “The California Health and Human Services open data shows zero deaths at Granada as of January 1 but we know there have been at least 12 residents lost to COVID from Granada. Can you explain how this data is gathered and then how it is provided to the state and why the data doesn’t reflect the information correctly?”

I don’t know how that data gets to the state but I think what this highlights is that there is a lag in the data, usually from the local level to the state level, much in the same way as is reflected in our discussion around the tiers.

From the North Coast News: “Some health experts are recommending that more people get at least one round of the vaccine as opposed to fewer people getting both rounds due to the new more contagious strain from the UK entering the U.S. Would this change the vaccine’s efficacy since it’s a different method than the clinical trials? Do you agree with this method?”

I do not agree with that method and we will continue to follow a two-dose recommendation here in Humboldt County as well as in California.

There is strong evidence to support that approach and until there’s uh evidence to support otherwise or recommendations I would not recommend we change that locally.

From the North Coast News: “What do you do when you’re in the tier that’s having the vaccine administered to it? Should you be reaching out to your primary care physician or wait for them to reach out to you? Is it covered by insurance like the flu vaccine for most insurances?”

Yeah great question, so we’re currently in phase 1A still which is about 10,000 people in Humboldt County and that is being done by invitation only as I’ve mentioned through large hospital systems or through clinical networks and we are now working on getting in folks who are not part of a bigger hospital system through multiple avenues over the course of the next week.

There’s no cost of the vaccine, the vaccine is being provided for free, insurances can be billed and asked for reimbursement for it if someone has insurance, but you cannot charge someone if they have no insurance.

Going forward, phase 1B is going to be a much larger group and a much more diverse group of folks, so that might look different.

We’re working those details out this week and hope to have a plan in the coming week or two to release to the public how phase 1B will be started.

From KMUD News: “Have all Southern Humboldt first responders and health care providers received their first doses of the vaccine?”

I believe so, we worked closely with Southern Humboldt to get the vaccine down to Jerald Phelps and Redwood Rural.

The first responders are not yet up, so I think when that question, you’re talking about medics, and we did work with the local folks down there to make sure that the medics were invited and and even some of the first responders who do transportation of patients who are not medical providers, so if you haven’t been contacted in you’re a medic or a medical provider provider who’s a first responder, please do reach out to those folks locally, they have a vaccine for you.

From KMUD News: “Is the county currently administering both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and if so, how does one choose between the two? Do you think other vaccines will also be available?”

Yeah so we’ve been receiving both vaccines, mostly the hospitals have been receiving the Pfizer vaccine because of the storage issues, and outpatient settings have been receiving the Moderna vaccine.

The vaccine, other vaccines coming available, there are many, many trials, there are a few that are looking more promising, I don’t think it’s going to be in the next weeks or months, it could be you know later in the spring or summer before we get another approved vaccine, but again that’s really a more of a national discussion than a local discussion.

Also from KMUD News: “At what point in 2021 do you believe the vaccine will be made available for all members of the public? At that point will life return to normal?”

Yeah this, the big question, I mean we do hope that this vaccine campaign will allow us to get back to normal life and and what that looks like and sort of what, how that comes down is still a big question.

Right now, we’re getting about one to 2,000 vaccines a week in Humboldt County so as I mentioned we have about 10,000 phase 1A folks to get through, so you can do that math pretty easily, it’s going to take a little while.

If we were getting five to six times that amount, we could easily build up enough infrastructure in Humboldt County to vaccinate more people and potentially get through the entire population throughout the rest of this year.

So it’s it’s really a supply issue, it’s not a delivery issue, we will build a bigger delivery system if more supply comes to us.

From the Times-Standard: “What is the county’s plan to get as many of us through this year as possible, alive and kicking?”

Well I think we’re all going to keep doing what we’ve been doing.

Here at Public Health we’re going to keep doing our contact tracing, we’re going to keep offering robust lab services and testing services, we’re going to keep working with our leaders to make policies that make sense to protect ourselves and as a community, we’re going to keep following the guidelines and masking and distancing and as time goes on and we get more vaccine and we feel confident that we can open up society, we will do it as as that comes.

From the Times-Standard: “How are county health officials countering anti-vaccination rhetoric?”

So we’ve been doing a lot of public forums, we started those in really November, and throughout December we’ve been ramping those up and moving from both the medical community and outreach to specific medical providers and groups, medical groups, and then also with community groups.

So those will continue uh in the coming weeks and months as we continue to roll out the the vaccine to larger populations.

From the Times-Standard: “What’s the contingency plan if cooling equipment for vaccines fails?”

Well everyone should know we have extraordinarily robust backup system for our cooler, our freezer at St. Joseph’s, it has multiple alarms, there’s multiple backup generators, it would require an epic failure for it to fail.

I don’t know the specifics of what happened in Mendocino County, but if we were in a situation like that here in Humboldt County, you know, we would have to have a call to action and and do a mass vaccination just as they did because we would not want those doses to go to waste.

From the Times-Standard: “It took about three weeks to administer 3,600 vaccines. At that rate, it would be more than two years before the entire county is vaccinated. What is the county’s goal date for vaccinating all Humboldt County residents and how does it reach that goal?”

Yeah I think I alluded to this earlier, this is a supply issue, not a delivery issue.

So we’ve been delivering the amount of vaccine that’s been coming in, we’re only getting about one to 2,000 doses per week on average, so if and when we get more vaccine we would scale up to meet those demands.

And yes, if we only get one to 2,000 doses a week if it’s going to take us a long time, so we’re waiting, we’re hopeful that at some point the manufacturers of this vaccine will be able to provide us with more than than that.

From the North Coast Journal: “Does the hospitalization data on the county’s website include any hospitalized patients who may be technically COVID recovered under CDC guidelines but are still hospitalized with COVID-19 related illness? Do you have an estimate of how many COVID-19 recovered patients are currently hospitalized locally?”

No that is not data that we have and I think you would have to talk to the local hospitals to gather that sort of information.

From the North Coast Journal: “With the state order requiring hospitals to accept transfer patients from overwhelmed areas, does it make sense to you that the Northern California region remains exempt from the state’s stay-at-home order because the cumulative available capacity of its roughly 120 ICU beds remains above 15 percent?”

So I don’t believe that we should be doing anything differently than the state’s orders. I think that you know if we triggered the regional ICU capacity we should go under the regional stay at home, and as I stated previously I really don’t think this new order is going to affect our hospital system here anytime in the near future.

From the North Coast Journal: “You have now repeatedly said local data does not support Humboldt County remaining in the state’s red risk tier but have not used your authority to issue a health order imposing restrictions that would align it with the state’s purple risk tier. Why haven’t you taken that step?”

Yeah my answer remains unchanged. It is a very blunt tool and one that there is very little appetite for locally.

We’ve met with many of the leaders and we’ve agreed to put out a strong, unified message that we’re confident that our numbers are solid here, that they still look purple. I can tell you that today, in review of the numbers, they continue to look purple and I feel as each day goes on, more confident that next week we will be moved back into the purple tier.

So we will continue to use our forum to educate the public and ask them to to follow those guidelines and make the decision that’s safest for Humboldt County.