Humboldt County has implemented the state's new tiered blueprint for reopening and while it imposes added restrictions on some sectors and loosens them on others, County Health Officer Teresa Frankovich said she thinks it's a net positive locally.
While the governor's previous "watch list" system was mostly an all-or-nothing endeavor — prohibiting certain activities and services, but allowing others — Frankovich told the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors the new framework is a bit more nuanced.
"The idea is really to be able to expand or contract operations for most businesses, rather than simply opening or closing," she said.
The system uses two metrics — average daily new cases per 100,000 residents and test positivity rates, both over a seven-day period — to place counties in one of four risk tiers, which range from "widespread" (purple on the color wheel) to "minimal" (yellow). Humboldt is currently in the "moderate" category, with 3.6 cases per 100,000 residents and a positivity rate of 1.7 percent, putting it between the "substantial" and "minimal" risk tiers. To be bumped up to the "substantial" tier — which brings tighter restrictions — Humboldt would have to see an average of between four and seven new cases a day or a test positivity rate of 5 to 8 percent. (Eclipsing either threshold will move a county to the more restrictive tier.)
To move down to the "minimal" tier, Humboldt would have to see daily case averages fall to below one with a less than 2 percent positivity rate for a period of 21 days.
The tiered restrictions vary by sector. For example, restaurants can open for indoor dining at 50 percent capacity in the "moderate" tier but would have to cut back to 25 percent capacity if their county moves to "substantial." Bars are allowed to open for outdoor operations under "moderate" but would have to close entirely under "substantial." Gyms and indoor pools can open at 25 percent capacity in the "moderate" tier but would have to cut back to 10 percent and close pools in the "substantial" tier, or could bump to 50 percent capacity and open saunas, spas and steam rooms in the "minimal" tier.
All things considered, Frankovich said Humboldt County should be grateful it didn't land in the "substantial" tier, given that some recent weeks of local case numbers would have qualified but not the weeks the state used to calculate initial ratings. That said, she warned Humboldt County could quickly land there if it were to see an average of about eight cases a day for a couple of weeks, adding that there's no question virus spread is trending upward locally and, while it took Humboldt 157 days to log its first 194 cases, the next 194 were confirmed in just 44.
"What I want to point out is that case rate is the thing that we really need to be watching," she said.
Frankovich also cautioned again that folks gathering with people outside their household units remains the primary driver of cases locally, noting that multiple recent cases spawned from a social gathering of about 40 people.
Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal said the Joint Information Center regularly receives complaints of larger social gatherings and works to head them off before they occur, when it can. Both he and Frankovich warned that the risks of such gatherings are great because they could see a large number of people exposed at once, with each of them going back to unwittingly infect people within their households.
"It takes one or two of these gatherings and, all of a sudden, we're blowing up, we're on a different tier and we're closing down some businesses and our freedoms are being taken away because a few groups decided to get together," Honsal said. "The problem is a relatively small number of people with gatherings can really change the whole dynamic for the county."
Thadeus Greenson (he/him) is the Journal's news editor. Reach him at 442-1400, extension 321, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @thadeusgreenson.