Humboldt County continues to see a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations fueled by the more contagious Delta variant, leading to “many critically ill” patients being flown out the area for treatment and the postponement of vital but non-emergency surgeries, according to an update from Health Officer Ian Hoffman.
In his written report
to the county Board of Supervisors, Hoffman say there’s some “early” indications of a plateau in case rates for unvaccinated residents and a slight drop for the fully vaccinated, stating that for “first time in one month the case count per 100k has not continue to rise at dramatic rates week by week.”
He is scheduled to give a special presentation to the board at tomorrow's meeting
The case rate for the nonvaccinated topped out at 73 per 100,000 for the week ending Aug. 14 compared to 18.9 per 100,000 for the fully vaccinated, according to a graph included with Hoffman’s report.
But he cautions that hospitalizations lag behind case counts by several weeks and local hospitals and their staff are already severely impacted, with ICU capacity near or at 100 percent for most of the last two weeks.
“This continues to be half or more COVID-19 patients and has thus resulted in cancellation of many needed procedures that were deemed not emergencies, but still very needed by member of our community,” Hoffman writes. “The types of care that become deferred by the hospital during a surge of this type include things such as heart surgeries, cancer surgeries, joint and back surgeries. Sometimes these are surgeries that were already put off by weeks or months due to previous COVID impacts on the healthcare system.”
Hoffman also notes there is a trend toward “younger and younger” patients being hospitalized, “likely since this is the group with the lowest vaccination rates in our county,” and emphasizes the continued need for masking, social distancing and avoiding large crowds, as well as for those who are eligible to get vaccinated, especially with schools going back into session.
“For now, we should remain vigilant until real decrease is seen in both cases and hospitalizations,” Hoffman says, noting vaccination is the best tool the community has for keeping schools and businesses open and reducing stress on the region’s already fragile healthcare system.
The health officer also states that plans to increase staffing at local hospitals have been in the works for weeks but “due to significant staffing shortages across the state and the US, so far, no increase in staffing has been secured as of the time of this report.”
According to a state database, there are currently 33 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Humboldt County, with nine receiving intensive care.
Hoffman says there has been a small increase in vaccinations over the last few weeks for the first time since the state moved to fully reopen June 15, with the majority being first doses, and “new requirements for vaccination in healthcare and education should start to increase vaccination rates even more in the coming weeks.”
The Food and Drug Administration today gave full approval to the Pfizer vaccine for individuals ages 16 and older, which will now be marketed as Comirnaty, with the emergency use authorization continuing for those 12 to 15 years old and the third dose now being recommended for “certain immunocompromised individuals,” according to an FDA release.
Hoffman says he does not foresee any impact to vaccine availability with the third dose, which currently applies to about 3 percent of the population, but with the FDA looking at expanding the recommendation to more people in the coming weeks, Public Health will be monitoring situation “so we can plan for any larger increase in demand by coordinating resources for delivery and supply of newly approved third doses.”
At this point, he says, COVID-19 vaccine approval for those under age 12 is not expected until later this year or early 2022 “unless significant changes are made to the current timeline for FDA approval in this age group.”
Meanwhile, with the Delta variant’s spread, testing ability in the county has been strained, Hoffman says, but there are signs “that testing capacity is improving with increased capacity at Optum fixed site in Eureka and return of the mobile Optum sites in Garberville, Arcata, McKinleyville, Fortuna and Hoopa.”
Hoffman also states that rapid testing is expected to increase in the coming weeks at businesses, schools and in healthcare but the results of rapid tests done at home are not reported to Public Health.
“COVID-19 has proven to be a formidable opponent, and it is safe to say everyone is exhausted. Everyone has suffered loses, whether directly or indirectly, over the past 18 months. What has been evident, however, is the community’s ability to pull together and quickly make new plans when COVID19 throws something new our way,” Hoffman states. “We at Public Health greatly appreciate the community’s ability to react quickly as things change quickly, and to offer to protect yourself and your community by doing the things needed to end this pandemic sooner. For now, until the end of this current surge, please continue to mask, avoid large gatherings, test, and get vaccinated.”