A bit of news in today’s media questions for Dr. Ian Hoffman, Humboldt County’s health officer — in response to a question from the Times-Standard, Hoffman says that the county has decided that it will expand age-based vaccine eligibility along with the rest of the state — 50 and over will be eligible on Thursday, and everyone over 16 starting April 15.
In the past, Humboldt has been slower to expand eligibility than other areas of the state, while at the same time — as Hoffman acknowledges elsewhere today — local vaccine providers have often had their own ideas about who should be vaccinated first, often at odds with the guidelines Public Health has announced.
Expect delays, Hoffman warned — with expanded eligibility there will likely be a rush on vaccine appointments.
All that, plus: A mini-surge in cases elsewhere, those pesky variants, vaccinating the homeless and … people from out of county? Plus: A meta-question on the Media Availabilities themselves, and much more.
Video above, rough transcript below.
We’re here with Humboldt County Health Officer Dr. Ian Hoffman for the Tuesday, March 30th media availability. Thank you for being here with us.
From Redwood News: Some places across the country have had issues with anti-vaxxers trying to sabotage Covid-19 vaccination clinics, specifically by scheduling appointments then not showing up and leaving large numbers of vaccine doses unused or wasted. Are there any concerns about an anti-vax movement locally? If there is, what is Public Health doing to combat that? Has Public Health witnessed any sort of incidents like this at local clinics? If so, what’s being done to prevent that from happening?
So far we have not seen anything like this locally. I think all of our clinics have gone really smoothly, they have a lot of broad support in the community. So we’re hopeful going forward we won’t have to deal with any issues like that. Thank you.
From Redwood News: Has any more information been released about the person in their 30’s that died from Covid-19 in October of 2020? The youngest death on the county dashboard is in the 50’s. Why was the individual taken off the list and nothing said? Why was the person not included in the most recent audit?
That person was actually found to be an out-of-state resident and so it was removed awhile back and I don’t know anything else on that case.
From Redwood News: In Monday’s weekly roundup of Covid-19 data, a number of cases were removed from the county dashboard. Specifically, 3 cases were removed from the 50-year-old age group, and 2 cases were removed from the 80+ age group. Are these removed cases a part of last week’s audit?
We’re constantly going through the data and looking for duplicates finding cases that were actually not Humboldt County residents they were from a different jurisdiction and so that happens on a daily basis and sometimes more are found than others. Those updates happen every single day so that’s what you were seeing with those and it wasn’t anything related to anything we don’t do on a regular basis.
From Redwood News: With the deaths that have been reported in the last few weeks, is there any concern about the recent increase in deaths per cases? Is there a concern that the mortality rate of the virus has increased rapidly recently?
So yes. I think there are concerns around the recent deaths and hospitalizations that we’ve been seeing with our lower caserates. I don’t think it’s related to a variant of concern that might be more deadly. More than likely what we’re seeing is just that our case rates are actually lower because people aren’t getting tested and so if we’re testing more, we’d probably be picking up a lot more cases. So I think that’s really what we’re seeing with this over the last couple weeks is the drop in testing reflecting a lower case rate, but yet there’s still virus circulating out there in the community.
From North Coast News: A joint World Health Organization-China study on the origins of COVID-19 says that transmission of the virus from bats to humans through another animal is the most likely scenario and that a lab leak is “extremely unlikely,” according to a draft copy obtained by The Associated Press. What is your position on this information? Thank you in advance for your response.
Yeah it’s not really a local public health issue. So local public health doesn’t have an official response to that, but I do think the science is sound behind that study and don’t think there’s any reason to be speculative that something else was going on.
From North Coast News: When will we get back to normal interviews with public health instead of media availability? We understand that, due to the sheer number of media requests and necessary safety precautions, this may not be possible again anytime soon. But when will you consider doing live press conferences (on Zoom, for example), so reporters may actively ask questions? Thank you in advance for your response.
Yes we have done a few of the live pressers. Certainly we’d like to do more. It is a busy day today. I think there are plans to move towards another live press conference sometime in the month of April, but right now we’re just really focused on getting vaccines out there, getting people vaccinated and continuing to slowly unfurl all of the the regulations that we’ve had in place to keep us safe over the course of the pandemic as we get more vaccinations and we see case counts coming down. So look forward to that in the next month.
From North Coast News: Does the county have any plans to work with businesses to communicate to the public that employees have been vaccinated against COVID-19, perhaps similarly to the “covid compliant” signs in business windows now? Is it a priority for public health to communicate this information to the public?
We wouldn’t be looking to share anyone’s private health information, but we do share this information at a community-wide level just like we do for things like testing or positive cases. And that goes for all communicable diseases that we track in public health. So we’ll continue to publish vaccination rates as they apply to our whole county and also show the vaccines by zip code and broken down by race and ethnicity, age all those things. But we would never be looking to publish it by a specific location or a business because that’s really a privacy issue.
From North Coast News: Would you encourage businesses to create incentives for employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19?
It’s an interesting question and definitely have heard of places incentivizing with gift cards or using other things like trying to create a culture where it’s more acceptable to get a vaccine. I mean I think that what it comes down to is that yes we want as many people to get vaccinated as are comfortable getting the vaccine. We definitely don’t want anyone to feel coerced or forced into getting a vaccine. And so some people might see some of those tactics as coercive, offering money or offering gift cards. I think that the bottom line is that we really want to make sure that our residents of Humboldt County who want to get vaccinated have an opportunity to do so. So one of the probably the biggest incentives that a business could give to their employees to get vaccinated is when they’re offered an appointment for a vaccine is to make sure that they get paid time off to go to that vaccine appointment because for a lot of these workers it is really difficult for them to find time. The clinics are often during the week they’re during work hours. We encourage any employer who wants their employees to get vaccinated to support them and give them that time off and not make any barriers to getting to a vaccine appointment.
From North Coast News: How concerned are you about the health safety risks that may be posed by employees at businesses opting not to get vaccinated when offered, but continuing to interact with the public? Do you anticipate vaccine hesitancy in workplaces getting in the way of restrictions loosening?
So there wouldn’t be any restrictions on a particular workplace based on vaccination rates, but we are looking at statewide vaccination rates being tied to loosening restrictions. So I think that’s something that we’ll see coming down the line later on. We already saw it with the move to the 2 million mark in the lowest quartile HPI moving where the cutoff was for purple. The next goal is to get to 4 million vaccines in the lowest quartile HPI which will move the the mark for all the rest of the tiers. I think we’ll see more of that kind of policy in the future, but again it’s going to be tied to general populations vaccination rates and not necessarily to individuals vaccination.
From Reporter Daniel Mintz: The CDC director has talked of her “recurring feeling of impending doom” related to loosening restrictions as variants and numbers of U.S. cases ramp up. But you have recently expressed some optimism, do you still believe the pandemic is at a turning point?
I think we’re at a really important point in the pandemic and I think we have to be cautiously optimistic. We all have seen the power of these vaccines and we are also seeing the overwhelming desire to get back to normal life. We’re sort of at that precipice between those two things we need to get more vaccine out and we need to reopen slowly.
So I think the best thing that all of us can do right now is take caution and to be happy with a lot of the things that have changed in the last month in terms of the reopening and to slow down and not push too hard for even more reopening. I think what we’re seeing across the country and lots of states is worrisome. California has not taken that approach obviously and so we feel strongly that these measures that will be protective, will continue to protect us.
I think the other thing just to mention in regards to this is travel. CDC and CDPH still recommend that we do not travel for any non-essential reasons. We know that there are planes that are packed with folks going on spring break and these are personal choices obviously, but these are the kinds of things that could lead us to lose ground. So just want to encourage everyone to consider your travel plans in the coming weeks and really consider staying close to home while we continue the vaccination effort and get closer to being able to really open up because it would be - I think the sentiment right now in in public health is that we are concerned that we might be losing ground by things going too fast with just not enough vaccine out there yet, not enough people vaccinated and just people going back to loosening the restrictions too fast.
From Reporter Daniel Mintz: The variant with the L452R mutation is now categorized as a Variant of Concern. How concerned should we be about this and is there an update on its detection rate in Humboldt?
The L452r was moved to a variant of concern just over a week ago and the reason for that had entirely to do with the lack of efficacy and some of the medications to treat COVID-19 with that particular variant. So it does not appear to be that much more transmissible or deadly and those are not the reasons like they are for the other variants of concern like the UK variant, South African variant and the Brazilian variant. So it really is just that one specific thing that moved it.
So I think overall like the sentiment in public health and the statewide sentiment is that it wasn’t really a major shock to us. It doesn’t change very much for most people with regard to this variant and it is the variant that we’re seeing predominantly across the state. We still have only seen 18 of those here in Humboldt County. We continue to get a few of those each time we get sequencing samples back from Biohub. So far there haven’t been any other major variants of concern found here in Humboldt County.
From KMUD News: Is it unethical for a vaccine provider to open up their vaccine eligibility to anyone 16 years or older before the expansion statewide of eligibility?
So when we’ve talked about this many times throughout this that opening up eligibility is really a balancing act between wanting to make sure that we get everyone through who’s in the line, but also make sure that we don’t have appointments go unfilled because any appointment that day is a shot that didn’t get into an arm that day. We also know that different areas around the country and around the state or even within our own county are going to have different acceptance rates of vaccines. So to expect that every place across the state or even across our county are going to be at the same place at the same time, I think it’s becoming much more evident that that’s not the case.
We work really closely with providers to try to make sure we’re meeting the needs of the community and moving the line through while balancing keeping appointments filled. We also have changing goals that might change how we act in different parts of the state and the county. So this drive to vaccinate in the lowest quartile HPI means that in those zip codes - in those areas across the county, across the state - we might need to relax some of the qualifications for getting a vaccine to make sure that we get more vaccines into that community. So all of these things are taken into account and balance when we’re making these decisions about opening up or being more restrictive with the vaccination tiers.
From KMUD News: How are providers being held accountable with vaccine distribution? Are there repercussions for those not following guidelines?
We work really closely with all of our providers here in Humboldt County. We meet with them often daily through our team. If we ever have any concerns, we let them know about them and work with them and really it’s a collaborative effort. So if we ever had an issue where we had to, we could stop giving vaccine to a certain provider, but of course we want to keep these relationships going. We want to have all of our providers getting vaccine and getting it out to the residents of Humboldt County and I think that’s really the goal is for all of us to work together collaboratively to make sure that we get the vaccine out there as quickly as possible and as safely as possible.
From KMUD News: Will the county/state be allotted more weekly doses to meet the need as criteria expands, and how will the public be able to make an appointment? Will the county’s portal still be effective?
We have seen small increases over the last couple of weeks in the number of vaccines coming into Humboldt County. We still haven’t seen really big increases. There are projections at the state and federal level that that will be coming sometime in April or early part of May. We continue to use the interest form on Humboldt County Public Health or Humboldt County’s website and we are beginning the transition to MyTurn through public health. So some of those appointments should be coming up in the next few weeks that people could book through MyTurn as well. And then we continue to work with all the providers, the pharmacies, the local offices and practices that are vaccinating to design the clinics to get to the right populations.
From KMUD News: National media outlets claim that the roll out of vaccines in California has been the slowest in the country. Why is that and will that change?
I can’t really speak to why that would be at the state level. I think that would be really a question for the state leadership. What I can say is in Humboldt County we’ve not really struggled to get the vaccine out that we’ve been given. I think that all throughout the process we talked about how we’re building the ship as we sail it and we’re going to build capacity as we got more vaccine. And that’s exactly how it has gone throughout the last four months. We started off with the small vaccination clinics in the hospitals in the clinics. We grew those out as the eligibility expanded and as we got more vaccine throughout the month of January and February. And now we’re poised to really double these efforts if needed in the coming month if we do get a lot more vaccine. So, we’ve done really well with the vaccine we’ve been given here in Humboldt County.
From the Times-Standard: Butte County announced yesterday it is opening up all residents 16+ to receive a vaccine well ahead of the state deadline. Humboldt County has been delaying opening up vaccine eligibility to groups the state has said are eligible, a move primarily attributed to the availability of the vaccines. Is there any chance Humboldt County will open up vaccine eligibility before April 15 to age 16 and up, or will it be delayed past that date?
I don’t foresee it coming up sooner than April 15th, but we have decided to open up with the rest of the state. So April 1st will be 50+. April 15th will be 16+. I think what we’re going to see is the same as what we’ve seen all along, which is that whenever we open up a new eligibility tier there is unlikely to be enough vaccine for everyone in that tier to get vaccinated right away. So it’ll be a process of moving through. And just going back to Butte County and other places that might be opening up sooner, different populations in different places. We’ve had this all along where we had a very large - for being a rural county, we had a large health care population and so it took us longer to get through that than some other counties that had a very small healthcare population. We had a very large education population and it took a while to get through that. So the population sizes of each of the groups differ in each county and also vaccine uptake differs. So we’ve had great responses to the vaccine in Humboldt County. The demand is much higher here than it might be in some other counties. So all of those factors go into why a county might be opening up their eligibility at different times.
From the Times-Standard: Is there any timeline that Humboldt County could move into orange and yellow tiers if things continue with current trends?
I think we’re still looking at weeks before potential move to the orange tier and I think we also have to keep a close eye on the national trends. What we’re seeing nationally right now is a 15% increase over the past week of cases. We’ve seen some of that happening locally too with uptick in cases in Del Norte County, uptick in cases in Southern Oregon. So we’re keeping a close eye on things but for now it looks like we’re going to be pretty solid in the red for the next few weeks.
From the Times-Standard: Can Dr. Hoffman provide any updates on the presence of COVID-19 variants in Humboldt County? What percentage of cases contain variants? Can you provide exact numbers of cases found with different variants?
I think we covered that pretty well in the last question, thank you.
From the Times-Standard: How is Humboldt County addressing the vaccine needs of people who are homebound?
This is a great question and something we’re working really hard to try to find a solution for. Right now, again we’re still trying to work through the populations that we have, but we are working with organizations and providers who work with homebound patients to try to get those vaccines out there. We have been hoping to get more Johnson and Johnson which will make it a lot easier and that it’s a single shot and there won’t have to be two visits made to a homebound patient. Those are some of the factors that go into it and so we’re hopeful as Johnson and Johnson expands and we can expand the network of providers who might be able to go to a homebound patient to give a shot that we can start to get some of those folks vaccinated.
From the Redheaded Blackbelt: With the vaccine distribution about to be opened to out-of-county residents who are eligible, does county Public Health expect any level of vaccine tourism?
We’re being told by the folks at MyTurn that we will be able to restrict it to our geographic area. So I think that issue that was a concern early on in the days of MyTurn has not been as much of an issue in the past few weeks. We’re going to be adopting MyTurn over the coming weeks. They’re putting in the necessary safeguards to make sure that we can vaccinate people who are in our general area. It doesn’t have to necessarily be all Humboldt County. Obviously there might be people from Northern Mendocino or from Trinity County or Del Norte County who need to travel to one of our sites to get it. So we don’t want to be too restrictive, but we want it to be for our general area and we don’t want people coming up from San Francisco or Los Angeles just to get a vaccine, but there’s a balance. We also recognize there might be people here who work here who live in Los Angeles who would be eligible and should get their vaccine here. So there’s a balance there, but we’re confident that some of those things have been worked out and that won’t be a problem going forward.
From the Redheaded Blackbelt: Is the vaccination level factored into the tier designations for counties or regions? If so, how? Is there a level of community vaccination as a percentage that would move Humboldt into the next less-restrictive tier?
That is not currently part of the blueprint. There are discussions about how maybe we could move that into the blueprint metric, but nothing else to share on that right now.
From the Redheaded Blackbelt: Are law enforcement officers able to get the vaccine in the same tier as first responders/ frontline medical workers? Have any LEO declined to receive the shot so far?
Law enforcement has been open along with all the first responders since January. So any law enforcement officers who have not been vaccinated at this point, we’d definitely encourage you to reach out and get a vaccine. And I can’t speak to individual choices for someone to decide not to get vaccinated.
From the North Coast Journal: In calling for additional volunteers to help with vaccination clinics this week, the county indicated it expects supply allocations to ramp up in the coming weeks. Can you elaborate on how quickly you expect allocations to increase and by how much?
Statewide or the federal government is projecting that the vaccine supply will double in the next four to six weeks. That’s a pretty huge increase. We have been hearing this for a little while though, so we’ve been preparing for this and we hopefully will be prepared if and when that does come. I think that is really a major part of why the state and federal governments are pushing for this open eligibility for everyone, just expecting that we will have a lot more vaccine in the coming month. We’re hopeful and we’re ready when that does arrive.
And then our last question: From the North Coast Journal: With so many new people becoming eligible in the coming weeks, what direction has Public Health given local providers to ensure residents at the greatest risk of critical disease outcomes or infection are moved to the front of the line?
So we’ve sent out communications to all the providers that we really want to make sure the focus is on the age-based populations and the 16-64 population with high-risk medical conditions - those are really most appropriately taken care of in clinics. We’re focusing public health on the work sector, workforce sector and also some of the age sector for our vaccination clinics.
We’ll keep working through those and when we get to April 15th, depending on how far we’ve made it through some of those lines, I think that the focus is still always going to be to try to fill clinics with people who are higher risk and higher tiers before you fill it with younger folks who have lower risk. So that message has been out there from the beginning. When there’s very scarce resources we’re in 75 plus age groups, but we might only be focusing on people with high risk conditions in that 75 plus. And then as there was more vaccine, we would expand that to everyone. So that’s still always going to be the sort of way that we move through this is that you always keep focus on those high-risk folks first and then open it up to lower if we can’t fill the clinics with those people.