Times Standard (Eureka)
COUNTY SHIFTS TO ORANGE TIER
Humboldt: Hoffman warns pandemic’s end ‘not near enough’
During an update on the local conditions surrounding COVID-19 on Tuesday, Humboldt County Public Health Officer Dr. Ian Hoffman told the Board of Supervisors changes to the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy have turned our red tier metrics orange. The change to a new less-restrictive tier was set to take place early this morning. Hoffman said Humboldt County’s case rate fell from 4.5 per 100,000 last week to 3.5 per 100,000 this week with a 2% test positivity rate and an equity metric of less than 1%.
“Because it was above the four per 100,000 cutoff for orange tier, it would have given us a red tier metrics for last week but we would have gained an orange metric for this week, which would have put us closer to the orange tier,” Hoffman said.
“Given that the new Blueprint cutoff is retroactive over the last several weeks, they will be looking back at last week’s metrics and will be reclassifying it as an orange tier.”
The shift to the orange tier means bowling alleys and indoor family recreation centers can open to 25% capacity with some restrictions. Indoor restaurants can open to 50% capacity indoors. Indoor gyms can move to 25% capacity and indoor pools can reopen with reduced capacity as well. Retail businesses no longer have indoor capacity limits.
First District Supervisor Rex Bohn and 2nd District Supervisor Michelle Bushnell asked Hoffman to clarify a couple of points regarding loosened restrictions for the orange tier, such as rodeos and car shows.
Hoffman said both events are currently allowed under the California Department of Public Health’s updated guidelines for indoor and outdoor events including youth and adult sports, graduation ceremonies, rodeos and races among others. Once vaccine eligibility opens up to all adult Californians on April 15, Hoffman said there will be loosened restrictions for people who get tested before an event and people who have been fully vaccinated.
“So what does this look like? Let’s think about a Crabs game, which Crabs games will be happening this year,” Hoffman said. “So, maybe a game with no vaccination status or testing in place currently in the orange tier would be looking at a 33% capacity for spectators. On another day, if all the fans had proof of vaccination or a negative test, the capacity would increase to 67% for that game.”
This summer, community members can also look forward to sleepaway camps for kids, music festivals, endurance races and food festivals, Hoffman said.
“Private events will be allowed such as conferences, meetings, receptions, weddings, funerals, birthday parties and anniversaries,” he added. “This summer might not look completely normal as we will still be masking and distancing at these events, but given what we’ve gone through in the past year, it will be a far cry from the past 13 months.”
Though Hoffman was optimistic about moving into the less-restrictive orange tier, he told the community to remain vigilant and to keep taking steps to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“It’s been a really long and hard year,” Hoffman said. “We’ve endured losses of loved ones, lost income, losses of moments with family and friends, lots of memories that we should have had in the past year. Sadness and regret have certainly reigned for much of this past year. We’re now at a time when it feels that it should all be over but we know that we’re still in this race and that the race is not yet over.”
Hospitalizations and ICU admissions have decreased in the past two months but Hoffman said the county has not returned to presurge levels.
“There are still people currently being hospitalized in our community. It is definitely running much, much lower than its peak surges of December and January, but we’re not back down to zero or even the pre-surge levels,” Hoffman said. “We continue to have ICU admissions almost daily over the past few weeks and that’s something that signals the surge is not entirely gone. We have the hospital capacity to deal with it at this point and we’re not concerned about overwhelming our hospitals, but it is a sign that (the surge) isn’t gone yet.”
That being said, Hoffman said the county is moving “full steam ahead” with vaccination efforts and has distributed 57,000 vaccines as of Tuesday morning.
“That translates to 22,000 individuals who are fully vaccinated, just over 16% of the total population or 20% of the eligible population 16 years and over,” Hoffman said. “36,000 individuals have at least one dose or about 27% of the total population, 38% of the eligible population that is 16 years and older. “
Humboldt County Public Health on Monday shifted from its online vaccine interest form to the state’s version, myturn.ca.gov. People can also call 833-422-4255 to sign up.
“This will replace the county-based interest form and allows people to directly book their appointments if they’re eligible,” Hoffman said.
Blue Shield will take over vaccine distribution from Public Health beginning next week.
“We will work very closely with both Blue Shield and the providers to make sure that this is a smooth transition,” Hoffman said. “It is unfortunate that some providers in our community will not be signing with Blue Shield; we are going to lose a few vaccinators due to this transition.”
Hoffman noted that there are several streams of federal vaccines coming into the county at pharmacies such as CVS, Walgreens, Rite-Aid and Costco.
Humboldt County Sheriff’s Emergency Operations Center Director Ryan Derby said the county is looking to reel in some aspects of the COVID-19 response and shift focus to vaccine distribution.
After receiving several questions from community members as to why the county’s emergency proclamation remains in effect, Derby explained that it allows for the county to be reimbursed by federal and state governments.
“The local emergency proclamation, in addition to your local health proclamation, are our channels for getting California Disaster Assistance Act funding and Stafford Act funding from the federal government,” Derby said. “Basically, as long as there are emergency protective measures happening within Humboldt County, whether it’s staffing, equipment supplies or state and federal sources that emergency proclamation is critical in allowing us to reimburse costs for those categories for emergency protective actions.”
Referring to the board’s March 23 meeting, 3rd District Supervisor Mike Wilson expressed frustration with the messaging that if community members “actively seek the vaccine, you’ll just find one.”
“There are a lot of people who have jobs that are 40 hours a week, they have kids, they’re not well connected, they may not live within proximity of when these things happen and so there’s a lot of factors that make it pretty difficult for a lot of people,” Wilson said.
Wilson acknowledged that vaccine efforts are constantly improving and expressed appreciation to the community for its patience.
More information on the county’s response to COVID-19 can be found at humboldtgov.org/2749/Dashboard-Portal or 707441-5000.