Humboldt County Health Officer Ian Hoffman said during a press conference yesterday the highly contagious COVID-19 Delta variant is circulating in Humboldt County, warning there’s growing evidence it can spread among fully vaccinated individuals.
Indications that the variant can be transmitted by fully vaccinated people is reason for pause, Hoffman said, as data indicated previous iterations of the virus were unlikely to either infect or be transmitted by the fully vaccinated. But Hoffman said there is still every indication the vaccines “protect from severe outcomes.”
“They’re not getting hospitalized,” Hoffman said of the so-called “breakthrough cases” in fully vaccinated individuals. “They’re not getting hospitalized. That’s the main point. [The vaccines] are very effective in that way.”
Nationally, the data supports that, as U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky recently said that of the nearly 25,000 hospitalized nationally with COVID-19, more than 97 percent were unvaccinated. U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, meanwhile, reported that 99.5 percent of recent COVID-19 deaths were of unvaccinated people.
The press conference was held as local case numbers trend upward, with local case and test-positivity rates far outpacing those of the state as a whole. Over the past week, Humboldt County has confirmed 124 new COVID-19 cases, with 14 percent of samples taken coming back positive for the virus. (Statewide, the seven-day test-positivity rate sits at 4.1 percent.)
During the press conference, Public Health Director Sofia Pereira said local vaccination efforts continue, with the county’s mobile clinics having “hit a really good stride,” showing up at churches, community centers, events, farmers markets and even a Humboldt Crabs game to meet people where they are and make the shots as accessible as possible.
“We’re keeping the team busy, making sure we’re reaching different parts of the county,” Pereira said.
According to the county’s dashboard, which was updated yesterday, 49 percent of the local population is fully vaccinated, with another 5.78 percent partially vaccinated. Hoffman said he expects both numbers to continue to tick upward absent external changes.
Specifically, the health officer said he believes full approval of the vaccines by the Food and Drug Administration would lead to a spike in vaccination numbers, as would the agency’s expanding its emergency authorization to children. (Currently, the Pfizer vaccine is only authorized for use on people 12 and older, while the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are only authorized for those 18 and older.) Authorizing the vaccines to be administered in more doctor’s offices would also increase vaccination rates, Hoffman said.
“Any one of those changes, and we’ll see significant movement on things,” Hoffman said.
Asked about the mask mandate recently re-imposed in Los Angeles County and whether surging local case rates might inspire a similar move — or at least a recommendation that everyone, including the fully vaccinated — resume masking in indoor public places similar to those issued by more than 20 counties — Hoffman said he continues monitoring the data but doesn’t anticipate re-imposing restrictions. He said such a move would only be triggered if local hospitals begin to become overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases.
“Going backward in terms of restrictions, I think, would require a larger impact on the hospital system,” he said.
Check out the full press conference in the video below.