St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka. | File photo.


It’s been one week since California dropped its indoor mask mandate for vaccinated individuals in favor of a more flexible approach to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, but that does not mean the pandemic is over. While case positivity rates and hospitalizations have plummeted across the state, the local tally remains relatively high.

Humboldt County Public Health reported 52 new cases of the virus this afternoon, in addition to two new hospitalizations and one death. The California Health and Human Services Agency confirmed 23 COVID hospitalizations in the county on Tuesday.

COVID-19 hospitalized patients in Humboldt County | California Department of Public Health

“Between December and January we were seeing between 12 and 20 cases on average at St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka and anywhere from zero to six at Redwood Memorial in Fortuna,” said Dr. Roberta Luskin-Hawk, chief executive for Providence in Humboldt County. “…We’re actually down to 11 at St. Joe’s today with only one of them in ICU. However, a couple of days ago we had 20 patients along with one patient in Fortuna so it’s very fluid right now.” 

It’s difficult to say whether the state’s decision to ditch the mask mandate has impacted COVID case rates and hospitalizations, but what is clear is the omicron variant of the coronavirus has caused fewer hospitalizations and shorter stays, Luskin-Hawk said.

“With omicron, many more people get it because it’s so highly contagious, but … those who do get it are at a much lower risk for hospitalization and death,” she said. “The virus is less aggressive and we’ve actually had some interventions to try to reduce those risks, like our monoclonal antibody clinic, to support people who are at the highest risk of hospitalization or death.”

Out of the 11 individuals currently hospitalized at St. Joseph Hospital, four are incidental.

“They’re coming in with something else and happen to have COVID at the same time,” Luskin-Hawk explained. “COVID is not what’s causing their hospitalization. I would be venturing a guess, but I think it’s probably between 20 and 40 percent of people who have incidental COVID. For example, we had a patient in our childbirth center who tested positive but they were just coming in to have a baby. We just have to take the appropriate precautions.”

Although the indoor mask mandate has expired for the vaccinated, Luskin-Hawk emphasized the increased protection masking offers, especially for immunocompromised folks.

“I feel there is still a role we can play in taking care of our community by continuing to wear a mask indoors, especially in more crowded settings or with larger numbers of people that are not your normal contacts,” she said. “…We’re worried about people who have may have gotten vaccinated but their immune system is so weak that they’re not adequately protected. Typically, that’s people over 75 years old or those with underlying medical conditions, as well as very young children and people who have not chosen to get vaccinated.”

“To the extent that everyone gets vaccinated and boosted as it’s available, that will allow us to open up society more and that’s a really important aspect of having a vibrant community,” she added.