Public Health Officer Explains Shelter in Place Order


Public Health Officer Teresa Frankovich and Sheriff William Honsal discuss the shelter in place order taking effect at midnight. - SCREEN SHOT OF TODAY'S PRESS CONFERENCE
  • Screen shot of today's press conference
  • Public Health Officer Teresa Frankovich and Sheriff William Honsal discuss the shelter in place order taking effect at midnight.

Humboldt County Public Health Officer Teresa Frankovich explained at a press conference this afternoon that the shelter-in-place order taking effect locally at midnight tonight is a response to changing COVID-19 conditions elsewhere and “not because there is a significant change in our own community.”

“I’m issuing this order right now because of the changes that are happening across the state and across the country,” she said.

But Frankvoitch made clear local residents need to take the order — and the virus — seriously.

The order — which requires residents to stay home, with limited exceptions in place for outdoor activities, essential outings (like necessary medical appointments and grocery shopping) and the delivery of essential services — will be enforced by law enforcement. It is a misdemeanor and violations are punishable by imprisonment or fines, but Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal stressed that the county is seeking voluntary compliance, will look to educate residents and will not be looking to arrest anyone.

“That’s our goal but we will do what’s best for this community, and if people are congregating in a bar, we will shut down that bar,” he said. “And we will use every single method we can use to shut down that bar.”

While the order largely prohibits non-essential outings, Frankovitch made clear that it does not prevent people from outdoor recreation, like taking bike rides, walks, hikes or runs.

“Those types of things are fine; we’re just not doing them in group settings,” she said, adding that residents should avoid using communal equipment, like play structures and picnic tables.

People can still go grocery shopping and to medical appointments, she said, but should be careful to follow hand washing and social distancing recommendations. Honsal said the county is also working with local grocers to see if they can agree on setting aside a time solely for residents with underlying health conditions or advanced age — two groups most vulnerable to the virus — to shop in isolation.

Both Frankovitch and Honsal stressed that efforts now to decrease the spread of the virus are crucial to preventing our local healthcare system from becoming overrun.

“I think it’s really, really important to stress that now is our time,” Honsal said. “Now is the time for Humboldt County to act. We’ve been known over the years to be resilient and to be independent. Now we need to be known for coming together as a community. We need to care for others by listening to what’s being said today. We don’t take this lightly — this order will impact everyone in Humboldt County. … But this is what is best for everyone at this time and we have to take this serious.”

The sheriff also urged residents to care for their loved ones and neighbors.

“Look out for others,” he said. “If you have elders in your family, please check in with them. I think people should be calling and making sure people are taken care of.”

Frankovitch said that while there have been no documented cases of community transmission in Humboldt County, other places have documented that low-level transmissions occurred prior to being documented through testing.

“We have to be proactive about limiting existing spread if it is here, or to slow it when it arrives on our doorstep if it’s not already here,” she said. “It’s critically important. We need to protect both our most vulnerable populations and our healthcare system.”

County Public Health Director Michele Stephens said efforts are being made to distribute hand-wishing stations throughout the county for homeless residents. She also said that the county is working to secure local hotel rooms where homeless residents with symptoms of the virus — fever, shortness of breath, runny nose and a cough — can isolate while awaiting test results, or longer term should the test come back positive.

The order does not apply to tribal land, over which the county does not have jurisdiction, but Honsal said officials are hopeful tribal governments will adopt similar measures.

Under the order, many businesses should shutter, except those providing essential services — which would include grocers, healthcare providers, media companies, veterinarian services, banks, pharmacies and more. Cannabis dispensaries and restaurants can remain open under the order but must shift entirely to delivery and curbside pickup models. Farmers, it should be noted, are also considered exempt, which may also blunt some of the impact of the order on the cannabis industry.

Essential services include healthcare, public works construction, home construction, the news media, waste collection, utilities, telecommunications systems and more.

The county issued a Frequently Asked Questions page to address any confusion about what the order does and doesn’t cover. It can be found here and the full text of the order can be found here. And watch full video of the press conference, courtesy of Access Humboldt, here.

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