Supes to Mull Support of Health Officer's Certification that Humboldt is Ready to Ease COVID Restrictions at Own Pace


Humboldt County Public Health Officer Teresa Frankovich and Sheriff William Honsal talk COVID-19 at a recent virtual forum. - COURTESY OF DHHS
  • Courtesy of DHHS
  • Humboldt County Public Health Officer Teresa Frankovich and Sheriff William Honsal talk COVID-19 at a recent virtual forum.
The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors will meet in special session this afternoon to consider sending a letter supporting Public Health Officer Teresa Frankovich’s certification that the county has met state readiness criteria that would allow the county to move faster than other parts of California through the second stage of reopening under the governor’s plan.

Gov. Gavin Newsom moved the state into stage two of reopening May 8, easing some shelter-in-place restrictions and allowing retail businesses to open for curbside pickup or delivery services. Stage two, as outlined by Newsom, is a slow progression that starts there and moves up to opening stores to walk-in customers, offices, dine-in restaurants, shopping malls and childcare facilities. And the governor is allowing some counties to move through stage two at their own pace, so long as their health officers attests they meet certain readiness criteria and they have the support of the board of supervisors.

The readiness criteria includes everything from attesting that essential workers have sufficient protocols and supplies in place to protect themselves and the public and there is sufficient local testing capacity to contact tracing capabilities and plans in place as to how the county plans to move forward.

Frankovich is attesting that Humboldt County meets the criteria and is prepared to move forward, which generally seems to be the case. The potential gray areas seem to be testing volume, infection rates and whether the county has the healthcare workforce in place to handle a 35 percent surge in hospitalizations.

The state wants to see that counties have a “minimum daily testing volume” to test 1.5 people per every 1,000 residents. In Humboldt, that would equate to about 203 people a day. While it’s hard to say exactly where the county is so far as tests conducted per day because there is a lag between the day a test is administered and when the result is made public, Humboldt County has only reported more than 203 results in a single day once — yesterday, when it reported 205. This month, it has averaged reporting 124 results per day. But Frankovich has maintained the county currently has the capacity to test more than 200 people per day with the potential to quickly expand and the state does allow a county that doesn’t meet the desired threshold to explain why that may not be necessary.

When it comes to infection rates, the state has two seemingly strict criteria: At the time the county attests its readiness to move forward, it cannot have had a COVID-19 death or an infection rate of more than one new case per 10,000 residents over the past 14 days. Humboldt County had seemed to be doing great on both fronts until a recent spike in cases. While there are no deaths locally confirmed to be related to COVID-19, the county has now confirmed 11 cases since April 29 — an average of 0.81 cases per 10,000 residents — after seeing two positive cases announced Saturday, followed by four Monday and three Tuesday. That’s below the threshold but barely, and another four new cases today would thrust the county over. Because the criteria is that counties must be below that threshold at the time they certify their readiness, it’s unclear how the state would view a county exceeding it just hours after attesting its readiness.

Finally, while the county has done a ton of work to expand hospital space locally — with each local hospital looking to expand capacity by 30 percent and two alternate care sites opening to provide more than 100 beds of surge capacity — the state wants to see that counties also have the healthcare workforce capacity to meet a surge. Deputy Public Health Officer Josh Ennis has indicated this is “probably the most critical component” of building local healthcare capacity and where the county is likely to “experience the most significant limitations.” Lots of work is underway to bolster the workforce, officials have said, but Frankovich makes clear in the document she prepared for the state that limitations remain.

“The county has looked to local staffing models and (personal protective equipment) supply chains to safely operate the facility,” the attestation reads. “However, it remains a real possibility, given impacts of illness to workforce and need to lower staffing ratios in hospitals as ICU patient census increases, that we may fall short in adequately staffing an (alternate care site) and having adequate PPE in place to do so. The county would look to regional and state support in these scenarios should the ACS become operational.”

The board’s special meeting is set to begin at 1:40 p.m. today and can be viewed through the county website here. View Frankovich’s certification document here and the proposed letter of support form the board here, as well as letters of support from Jerold Phelps, Mad River Community and St. Joseph hospitals.

Check back for updates on today's meeting, and check out this week's cover story — hitting newsstands today — which more thoroughly explains the readiness process.

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