During yesterday's Public Health COVID-19 press conference Health Officer Ian Hoffman further explained why the county has chosen to lift its mask mandate next week, stating that the current Omircon COVID-19 surge has shown a "different scenario" than what the county faced during the Delta-fueled surge.
On Tuesday, Hoffman told the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors he will lift the county's mask mandate for vaccinated people in all indoor public spaces on Feb. 15, at the same time as the statewide order expires.
Last June, the statewide and local mask mandates were lifted until the surge of the highly contagious Delta variant. In response to the COVID-19 Delta surge around August, Public Health reinstated a mask mandate and in November said that the mandate would be lifted if the county met three specific requirements: to be in the Centers for Disease Control’s yellow or “moderate” transmission tier on its COVID-19 tracker for three consecutive weeks, reach an 80-percent vaccination rate in Humboldt County and see a stabilization in hospitalization numbers.
However, the county has yet to meet any of those requirements. The county hasn’t dropped to the CDC’s “moderate” level since that specific standard was set, its vaccination rate currently sits at 64 percent and hospitals are just barely getting through the omicron surge.
Hoffman said during yesterday's COVID-19 press conference that those metrics were set during the Delta surge and the omicron variant, though highly contagious, pushing case counts to the highest levels the county has seen, has resulted in fewer hospitalizations and deaths.
Hoffman then said that the high case rates but low hospitalizations can be attributed to the county’s improving vaccine rate, saying that the authorization for vaccines for kids 5 years old and older, booster shots, as well as the increased vaccine rate in the county’s most vulnerable population, have made it possible for more herd immunity.
“All these factor into why we’ve removed the mask mandate and decided to allow for [California Department of Public Healht] and CDC requirements recommendations to be the (county’s) masking recommendations and requirements going forward,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman also explained that new data has played a huge part in the county’s decision to move toward CDPH masking recommendations. The new data shows that people who have already been infected with the virus will have a lower risk of hospitalization upon reinfection.
“Knowing that gives us another layer of understanding to that piece of community immunity. … so All of these pieces of data are coming together, data that we didn’t know back in August and even in November. Progress has been made and that’s really the reason we’re making these changes,” he said.
Yesterday, Humboldt County Public Health reported another COVID-19 death and confirmed 122 new cases of the virus and one new hospitalization locally.
The Omicron surge is reaching the end of its peak as yesterday's cases come on the heels of 1,055 confirmed last week, which were down from 1,779 the week before. January saw 6,438 new cases of the virus — more than 37 percent of the county's cumulative case count through 23 months.
As of yesterday, a state database shows 23 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 locally, with three under intensive care.
Mask mandates will continue to be upheld in public settings with higher congregate levels, like schools, hospitals and nursing facilities. The masking recommendation, Hoffman said, will be flexible to allow for changes, if another more severe variant of the virus comes along.
Humboldt County Public Health Director Sofia Pereria said the county will soon be upgrading the county’s COVID-19 dashboard and moving to reporting cases just three times per week.
With only a month left until Hoffman’s departure as Public Health Officer, Pereria said Public Health is working on the transition with Kate Estlin helping with the county’s COVID response and former Public Health Officer Donald Baird helping with non-COVID related tasks. The county is expecting to publish recruitment soon.
Watch the full Public Health COVID-19 press conference below.