During a June 30 Humboldt County Public Health COVID-19 press conference, Health Officer Ian Hoffman reiterated one message: If you've been waiting to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, now is the time to get it, especially with the rising cases of COVID variants.
"The first I'll say is that emerging evidence is very clear, the vaccines work extraordinarily well, they're extraordinarily safe and effective and they work against the variants — the variants that have been here and the variants that will very likely soon be here, and I am talking about the Delta variant," Hoffman said.
While it is possible for vaccinated individuals to still get the virus, hospitalizations and deaths are extremely unlikely. Meanwhile, he said, unvaccinated individuals are 80 times more likely to get COVID-19.
Humboldt County has only seen a handful of Delta cases but Hoffman said it's only a matter of time before Public Health begins to see the highly transmittable variant of concern account for a majority of local cases based on past patterns with the alpha and gamma variants.
Mobile Vaccine Clinics
Public Health will continue to offer vaccine clinics to residents looking to get their shots, now with a greater push for mobile vaccine clinics in more rural areas.
State Sen. Mike McGuire, who was also on the June 30 panel, said that the state will be working with the county to hold more mobile vaccine clinics beginning Friday, July 23, in Klamath and again Saturday, July 24, during the Arcata farmers market.
"What we know is that this needs to remain an all-hands-on-deck effort. State working with the county to ensure that we continue to increase our vaccination rate here on the North Coast," McGuire said. "In many North Coast counties, the overall vaccination rate is trending lower than the overall state rate. That's why you're going to see a continued focus on going out to where folks live, especially in rural California."
According to the California Department of Public Health, 64 percent of Humboldt County residents eligible for a vaccine have received at least one dose.
Public Health Director Sofia Pereira said her department is working hard to offer more mobile vaccine clinics throughout the county, adding that residents may see the mobile vaccine clinic at mobile home parks, community centers and churches. (Those wishing to see the mobile vaccine schedule can look on the MyTurn website or call the Joint Information Center at 441-5000.)
McGuire added that the state is budgeting over $357 million in the next year for immunization grants that will assist public health agencies with continued vaccine rollout.
"While we are seeing great improvement in COVID infection numbers," McGuire said before offering a word of caution, "This is far from over, and especially as we head into fall and winter, it is up to all of us to be able to get as many folks vaccinated as possible and that means the state needs to put money on the table to be able to help Dr. Hoffman, Director Pereira get folks vaccinated and make it as easy as possible."
Reaching the Youth
Public Health officials are warning that all four COVID-19 variants of concern — and especially the new Delta variant — appear more contagious and potentially cause more severe illness in young people. And while there is "strong evidence" that COVID-19 vaccines are effective against the variants, vaccination rates continue to lag in younger demographics.
"Making up less than a third of the county population, young adults represent nearly half of the county's total COVID-19 cases," the county announced in a July 2 press release. "At the same time, vaccination rates are lagging behind in that age group, especially in 20 to 29 year olds, with fewer than 36 percent of them fully vaccinated.
In the same press release, the county noted that the Delta variant was responsible for an unspecified number of "additional cases" locally. Nationwide, the variant currently accounts for roughly one in four new infections, and Hoffman said vaccination is the only thing that will curb spread of the variant and other forms of the virus.
"We are seeing cases in younger folks and sicker people hospitalized, even people in their teens," he said. "Variants like Alpha appear to be more infectious, more contagious, to make people sicker, and hit younger folks harder than the previous versions of the virus. Until people are vaccinated, this virus will continue to circulate among unvaccinated folks, and the potential for serious illness is still very high, even in the younger age group."
Over the 14 days before this edition of the Journal went to press, the county confirmed 100 new cases of the virus with six hospitalizations and two related deaths. And with more than 46 percent of the local population fully vaccinated as of June 29, the continued high case rates mean COVID-19 is increasingly spreading in unvaccinated populations.
Over the seven days prior to the Journal going to press, the county reported 53 new cases — including 10 in children age 9 or younger and 13 in residents age 30 to 39. Of the four people hospitalized in that span, three were in their 40s.
Demobilization of OES
Pereira and Office of Emergency Services Manager Ryan Derby gave a brief update of the demobilization of the OES, stating that the office will be scaling down to a departmental effort instead of a countywide effort.
The Humboldt County Sheriff's OES will no longer oversee the county's COVID-19 response, which will now be supervised by Public Health.
Pereira said the changes will be seen internally through staff changes but to the general public the Joint Information Center will continue to provide daily updates, social media outreach and will continue to answer any COVID-19 questions through the JIC's COVID information line (441-5000).
"We feel that we've been able to stabilize the [COVID-19] response structure to a point where we can hand the torch over to DHHS and Public Health in a way that they will be able to sustain the same level of services and the same level of response that we've seen for the past 15 months," Derby said. "What that doesn't mean is that COVID is over. By no means is it over, there is still a lot of work to be done, a lot of vaccination that needs to go out into the community, ongoing testing and then the whole recovery aspect that's likely going to last years."
Journal news editor Thadeus Greenson contributed to this report.
Iridian Casarez (she/her) is a staff writer at the Journal. Reach her at 442-1400, extension 317, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @IridianCasarez.