Omicron Surge: Humboldt Officials Talk Hospital Preparation with Peak Expected in February


Omicron has arrived and is spreading in Humboldt County, with case numbers double and triple in a matter of days, as hospitals brace for potential impacts from the highly contagious virus.

During a county COVID press conference today, Roberta Luskin-Hawk, CEO at Providence in Humboldt County — which includes St. Joseph and Redwood Memorial hospitals — said patients levels have “crept up a little bit” recently.

She estimates there currently are around five COVID-19 patients at Redwood Memorial in Fortuna and 10 to 15 at St. Joseph in Eureka ( a state database shows two more at Mad River Community Hospital), but states the numbers are still well below the peak in September, which saw 42 COVID patients in local hospitals.

Still, Luskin-Hawk said, the hospitals also have staff out due to COVID-related issues, with some 40 to 50 absent at any one time, and have moved to delay certain elective procedures for at least the time being as Omicron moves through the area, with a “focus on caring for people who are most critical right now”

“The sheer number of patients still means we could have an impact on the hospital census over coming weeks and we’re preparing for that,” she said.

St. Joseph Hospital was able to secure assistance from the state to fill five emergency nurse positions, Luskin-Hawk said, and with postponing elective procedures is able to switch caregivers from those duties to help out in other areas of the hospital as needed to provide an “extra set of hands.”

The hospitals also applied for a waiver to use “team-based” nursing, in which a nurse with expertise in a certain specialty, such as emergency, is joined as a team with a nurse who may not have the same experience in that field to provide care for those patients.

Asked about the recent announcement by California health authorities that hospital staff who test positive for COVID but are a-symptomatic can still work with certain precautions, Luskin-Hawk said, “If we need those caregivers to help to staff for emergencies that's definitely the best option but currently that’s not where we’re at.”

Right now, Health Office Ian Hoffman said, Humboldt County is not expected to see the Omicron surge peak until sometime in February and they are “going to keep watching” hospitalizations over the coming weeks.

He also noted that while the newest guidance on isolation and quarantining is five days — for those who are asymptomatic or their symptoms are getting better and they have been without a fever for 24 hours on the fifth day — but there are “nuances.” And, Hoffman emphasized, those individuals should still mask up everywhere and around everyone for another five days.

“So that extends to private setting as well, so around your family and your friends,” he said.

Hoffman also notes that upgrading to a surgical mask or KN95 can offer more protection than the cloth variety but any mask will slow down transmission.

“Each step would really increase the protectivity of that mask not only for yourself but the people around you,” he said.

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