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Humboldt County Health Officer Dr. Teresa Frankovich again sat down to answer questions from local media today.
At the outset she expressed condolences to the friends, family and people who worked with the 97-year-old Alder Bay resident who died as a result of COVID-19 complications over the weekend, becoming the county’s first COVID-related fatality.
Today’s media questions and summaries of Frankovich’s answers are below.
Have you been able to trace how an Alder Bay staff member acquired COVID, and can you confirm that it was a staffer who brought the virus into the assisted-living facility? (0:28)
The county is attributing this particular string of cases to community transmission, though continued tracing could possibly reveal links with other chains of transmission, Frankovich says. While a staff member was the first person at Alder Bay to be identified as having the virus, there’s no way to know for sure how it was brought into the facility.
What is being done at Alder Bay and similar facilities to reduce the risk of staff members introducing the virus? (1:13)
“We can certainly work on doing some periodic screening of staff who work in some of these facilities, and actually that is occurring,” Frankovich says, but there’s no way to screen everybody in real time, she adds. The technology for getting immediate results doesn’t yet exist, so periodic screening for people who may be asymptomatic is the next-best option.
The county’s Optum site, a community testing facility at Redwood Acres, allows for that, but even there, the lag time between testing and getting results allows for undetected exposure. Thus, preventative measure like limiting visitors, screening staff for symptoms and disinfecting surfaces are key.
What’s the protocol when a resident tests positive? (3:03)
There are several types of housing facilities for at-risk folks locally, Frankovich says, and protection measures vary. The idea is to “embrace the best type of infection control standards for the type of facility you’re operating,” she explains.
One of the state’s conditions for granting counties the freedom to loosen shelter restrictions is having a plan in place “to quickly identify and contain outbreaks in facilities housing older Californians.” Following today’s news of a COVID-related death at Alder Bay, you wrote, “[O]nce the virus is carried into a facility, transmission is very difficult to control.” So, does the county have a plan to contain outbreaks in senior housing facilities? If so, why hasn’t it worked at Alder Bay? (4:15)
Public health workers recognize that people in skilled nursing and assisted living facilities are vulnerable, Frankovich says. “and protecting them is really paramount in this response.” Employees at the county’s Emergency Operations Center are reaching out to such facilities to advise staff and assess their protective measures and contingency plans.
“That being said, COVID is new to everyone,” Frankovich says, “and all of these facilities are dealing with a pathogen that they have never had to deal with before.” She’s reassured by the measures being taken at local facilities, but getting ahead of the curve on preventing spread is very challenging. “It’s a work in progress,” she says. The county has reached out to the state for assistance, and the state plans to get “boots on the ground” here in Humboldt.
“I just ask everyone to work on containment in our community and following orders such that we can keep a low level of transmission occurring,” Frankovich says.
Is the county working with the state to increase testing and nursing homes and other care facilities? (7:30)
The county has pretty good capacity to screen people, Frankovich says, though screening every single employee daily simply isn’t possible — at least not unless and until testing technology improves dramatically.
Gov. Gavin Newsom is facing pressure from nursing home/assisted living lobbyists to give that industry immunity from civil and criminal charges related to patients contracting COVID-19. Do you think these facilities should be held accountable for preventable injuries and death? (8:28)
“So, I am not a lawyer, and I have no way to comment on that,” Frankovich says. But local facilities that the county is working with “are very highly motivated to protect their population and to do whatever they can to keep them safe,” she adds.
With the news of Humboldt County’s first COVID death, we no longer meet the epidemiological stability criteria laid out by the state to advance through Stage Two more quickly. What does this mean for Humboldt County moving forward? (9:24)
It’s true that, based on both our cases numbers and the death, we would not have met the state’s criteria had we been submitting today, Frankovich says, but the state is amending their guidance and relaxing some of their standards. The county laid out in its plan the various factors officials would consider when assessing the safety of reopening.
“I want to point out that the cases we’ve seen to date really don’t reflect the changes we’ve made so far in terms of amending our approach to businesses opening,” she adds. The spike in cases is likely related to people moving around and gathering together, in spite of the current shelter-in-place order.
Humboldt County has had 23 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed over the past two weeks. [Update: It’s 27 cases, as of Monday.] How will this spike affect our “soft opening” and loosened restrictions on local businesses? (11:44)
Health officials are analyzing the data, she says. Local hospitals and communicable disease teams are doing fine, “but, again, our numbers [of cases] are of concern to me,” she adds. The county continues to take applications from businesses seeking to reopen, but the certification process may need to slow down to match what’s happening on the ground.
Can you address what mitigation measures you may be taking at this time? (13:35)
Local health officials are looking at “a constellation of factors” and, as stated, may slow the pace of the number of businesses opening, if the situation calls for it.
Is there a specific numeric range that would trigger such measures? (13:14)
The factors involved include hospital capacity, hospitalization rates, contact tracing capacity and more, so no, there’s not a specific number that would trigger a specific mitigation measure, she says.
A local casino plans to reopen within a week. Do you believe it is irresponsible and possibly dangerous? (14:55)
Frankovich says she’s hopeful that the tribe will reconsider. “I am very concerned about introducing mass gatherings … ,” she says. “It is not safe.”