Humboldt County's ongoing record COVID-19 surge — which had seen 1,536 cases confirmed through the first 24 days of August as the Journal went to press — is putting an increasing strain on local hospitals, Health Officer Ian Hoffman told the Board of Supervisors.
"The hospital impact is being felt severely by our local healthcare workers," Hoffman told the board during an Aug. 24 report, reading from a prepared statement, adding that while there's some hope case rates have began to plateau, hospitalizations have not. "Many critically ill residents have been transferred out of the county due to a lack of bed space in our local ICUs. Plans have been in the works for weeks at increasing staffing in the hospitals, but due to significant staffing shortages across the state and the U.S., so far, no increase in staffing has been secured as of the time of this report. Humboldt's ICU capacity has been near or at 100 percent for most of the past two weeks."
The large influx of COVID-19 patients that has seen at least 67 hospitalized this month, Hoffman said, has resulted in the cancellation of many procedures that are necessary but deemed "non emergencies," but include things like heart, cancer and back surgeries, some of which had already been deferred due to COVID. Hoffman said he believes roughly 90 percent of the recent cases have been the highly contagious Delta variant.
Underscoring the reverberating impacts of the stretched hospital capacity, Fifth District Supervisor Steve Madrone asked if local hospitals are offering monoclonal antibody treatments, which some tests suggest have been effective in treating early COVID-19 patients who are mildly symptomatic but have underlying conditions putting them at great risk as a means of preventing more severe illness. Hoffman replied that the treatment requires an infusion that takes several hours, which requires space and staff time that are luxuries local hospitals currently don't have amid the surge.
National, state and local officials, as well as a group of 111 local doctors in a recent letter to the community, have repeatedly advised that the three COVID-19 vaccines being used in the United States — including the Pfizer BionTech vaccine the FDA gave full approval Aug. 23 — are safe and effective. While so-called breakthrough cases in fully vaccinated people are increasingly being seen with the rise of the Delta variant, data shows the vaccines remain incredibly effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalizations and death.
Yet as the Journal went to press Aug. 24, just 52 percent of the local population had been fully vaccinated. At the supervisors' meeting Madrone urged those who have thus far chosen not to get vaccinated for whatever reason to take other precautions.
"If you want to be unvaccinated, stay home, if you can — or at least wear the mask," he said.
Fourth District Supervisor and Board Chair Virginia Bass urged residents who had been so upset about last year's lockdowns to recognize their actions now are impacting local businesses, noting that a single exposure or positive case can close a local business for more than a week.
"It's impacting a lot of businesses very negatively right now," she said, before turning her attention to the Humboldt County Fair, which chose to proceed even as most local events canceled, citing worsening COVID conditions. "Personally, I'm not going anywhere near the fair. I think that's the worst idea. ... I think people are in such a hurry to resume life they're forgetting there's a bigger picture of how to approach it."
Hoffman said he's constantly hearing from business — including restaurants and daycare centers — that have had trouble staying open due to staff exposures or other related issues.
And the vast majority of Humboldt County's school-age children are slated to return to in-person learning this week and next, as the county is in the midst of an unparalleled case surge. Through the first 24 days of August, it had confirmed a quarter of its total cases from the pandemic's 19-month duration, as well as 20 percent of its hospitalizations and 14.5 percent of its deaths.
Hoffman indicated he's worried about children's ability to simply stay in school amid quarantine and isolation requirements and increasing threats of exposure to kids, staff and teachers, particularly in areas of the county with lower vaccination rates.
"These are very real concerns," he said.
Thadeus Greenson (he/him) is the Journal's news editor. Reach him at 442-1400, extension 321, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @thadeusgreenson.
Upcoming Vaccination Clinics
Humboldt County Public Health has a series of no-cost COVID-19 vaccination clinics scheduled this week. Walk-ins are welcome but appointments are encouraged. Sign up — and request help with transportation, as needed — at www.vaccines.gov or www.myturn.ca.gov. For more information, call the county joint information center at 441-5000.
Eureka – Wednesday, Aug. 25, from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. Housing Authority – (735 W. Everding St.) Pfizer/Johnson & Johnson
Ferndale – Wednesday, Aug. 25, from noon to 3 p.m. Humboldt County Fair – main parking lot (1250 Fifth St.) Pfizer/Johnson & Johnson
Eureka – Wednesday, Aug. 25, from 5 to 7 p.m. Highland Park (High St. Parking Area) Pfizer/Johnson & Johnson
Fortuna – Thursday, Aug. 26, from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. Dollar General (650 S. Fortuna Blvd.) Pfizer/Johnson & Johnson
Ferndale – Thursday, Aug. 26, from noon to 5 p.m. Humboldt County Fair – main parking lot (1250 Fifth St.) Pfizer/Johnson & Johnson
Petrolia – Friday, Aug. 27, from 10:30 to noon Mattole Valley Resource Center (167 Sherman St.) Pfizer/Johnson & Johnso
Ferndale – Friday, Aug. 27, from noon to 5 p.m. Humboldt County Fair – main parking lot (1250 Fifth St.) Pfizer/Johnson & Johnson
Honeydew – Friday, Aug. 27, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Honeydew Elementary School (1 Wilder Ridge Road) Pfizer/Johnson & Johnson
Ferndale – Saturday, Aug. 28, from noon to 5 p.m. Humboldt County Fair – main parking lot (1250 Fifth St.) Pfizer/Johnson & Johnson
Redway – Sunday, Aug. 29, from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Redwoods Rural Health Center (101 W. Coast Road) Pfizer/Johnson & Johnson