Signs of Omicron: HumCo Officials Talk Surging Cases and Staffing Shortages


Today’s closure of McKinleyville Middle School in the wake of significant staffing shortages due to COVID is likely a harbinger of what’s to come in the coming weeks as the Omicron variant makes the rounds in the community.

Humboldt County is showing all the classic signs of entering into a surge of COVID cases driven by the Omicron variant, according to Health Officer Ian Hoffman, speaking at a press conference today. (Find the full video below.)

Since Dec. 30, 674 new COVID cases have been confirmed locally.

While the variant first detected in South Africa so far appears to result in more  moderate illness than others like Delta, it also spreads quickly — taking over as the dominant variant in many places across the world in record time — and produces breakthrough cases, meaning residents should prepare for staff shortages across the board — from hospitals and schools to city halls and businesses.

“What we’ve seen in other place and are starting to see here are really the hallmarks of the Omicron surge,” Hoffman said, which include a rapid rise in cases, a small bump in hospitalizations and a lack of staff due to positive tests.

In response, the county has worked to increase testing capacity at the OptumServe site and has requested help from the state to increase it even more, Hoffman said.

He notes that the tools needed to take on Omicron are the same ones already at hand: vaccinations, boosters, masks, avoiding large gatherings, improving ventilation inside and social distancing.

The more residents take caution and use those tools, Hoffman said, the better the community will be able to “blunt this surge.” He also suggested people upgrade the quality of their masks and increase mask usage.

Hoffman also said cautioned that “Delta is still here and we don’t have any evidence to suggest Omicron has taken over.” Meanwhile, the county is working to get a test up and running to look for the “thumbprint” of Omicron without genomic sequencing to get a better handle on the status of the new variant in the community.

While there is some talk about the possible upside of Omicron by creating greater immunity in the community with a less severe risk of serious illness, hospitalization and deaths, Hoffman said it’s too early to say what might come next.

“I think all of us are hopeful and would love to see that silver lining come through but you don’t know what the silver lining is until you are on the other side,” he said.

So far, there are indications of less severe illness, fewer ICU cases and fewer deaths associate with Omicron, Hoffman said, but there is still a need to be cautious.

“We’ve tried to make predications in the past and failed,” he said. “No one has a crystal ball and we should all be prepared for another variant out there.”

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