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Today, like many days, Dr. Teresa Frankovich — Humboldt County’s Public Health Officer — took questions from local reporters on the county’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today’s questions were submitted before Gov. Newsom announced that he would order all bars, indoor dining, movie theaters and a variety of other business categories to close statewide (and additional sectors to close in particular counties), so these questions do not deal with that announcement.

Instead, they talk about last weekend’s spate of weddings, COVID in the marijuana industry, the state’s inmate release program and the very bad state of coronavirus testing in Humboldt County right now. 

Video above. Questions and summaries of Dr. Frankovich’s answers below.

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1. With 26 new cases confirmed just this month, how close is
Humboldt County today to the threshold for being on the state’s watch
list?

There
are a few factors that are used to determine whether or not a county
goes on that list, Dr. Frankovich says
– the number of cases per capita, the rate of people testing
positive, hospital capacity. Our hospital capacity is fine.

New
cases and the testing percentage have risen in Humboldt County
lately, and that’s been of concern. But to be on the watch list,
she said, a county has to have confirmed 25 new cases per 100,000
population over two weeks
and a positive test rate of
8 percent during that time.
We’re still well under that
benchmark – though recent trends are concerning.

2. With more and
more places opening up and people going back to work, can you talk a
little bit about what employers are required to do when a case if
reported at their workplace. Are they required to notify all
employees or just those in direct contact? Does the entire place need
to be shut down for cleaning, etc.


Every case is a little bit different, Dr. Frankovich says. If an
employee tests positive, they’re talking to the employer and the
employee to determine which other employees the person infected may
have been in close contact with. After that, it can go in a lot of
different directions.


All businesses are doing enhanced cleaning, just as a matter of
staying open. If there’s a confirmed case associated with the
premises, that is probably enhanced even further. But they don’t
necessarily close to do that.

3. With local
COVID-19 cases going up, why is the call center run by the JIC
reducing its hours? What message is the county sending to the
community about how big of an issue COVID-19 is when it cuts back on
access to having questions answered?


Dr. Frankovich says that the county’s trying to use its resources
wisely. Right now, judging from the call volume, there’s not as
much need for extended hours. In the future that could change, and
they could ramp back up again.


“That’s really how the EOC is constructed – to contract and
expand as needed,” she says.

4. Over the past
months the media has followed the unfold of the coronavirus, it seems
as though news updates have become redundant, how has Humboldt County
pushed to receive advanced and diverse data pertaining to effects of
the virus in all minorities?

Frankovich
notes that the county has been putting race and ethnicity data about
rates of infection on the county coronavirus dashboard, and has been
commenting on the disproportionate burden we’re seeing in the
Latino community – which is concerning.

Other,
more long-term data – about outcomes, for instance – is in the
hands of care providers, rather than the Public Health department.
Public Health researches that data as it’s complied on the national
level – and, again, is very concerned about the disproportionate
impact the pandemic is having on people of color.

5. Do you
research these demographics?


Yes.

6. In order to
address the disparity in COVID cases among our Latino and Hispanic
community, for the purpose of making health and safety information
readily available to those folks, has the JIC or DHHS made use of any
Spanish speaking staff members for the purpose of formatting
information, or hired a translator to produce information in Spanish,
and have you considered providing these media Q&A videos
translated for that community? Do you have any suggestions on how
media can help get information to that community?

This
has been a goal and a priority in the Joint Information Center, Dr.
Frankovich says.. Many of their materials, including an FAQ on the
website, are produced and available in Spanish. The JIC always has a
Spanish-speaking staff member available to answer questions. We have
Spanish-speakers on staff in Public Health to interview people.
They’ve produced some videos in Spanish.


However, it’s always a challenge, and she welcomes assistance from
the media (or, it sounds like, just about anyone).

7. Has the
JIC/DHHS been successful in adding local staff to the Othman Serve
COVID-19 testing site at Redwood Acres, and for how much longer do
you foresee that resource being available to Humboldt County
residents?


OptumServe is contracted by the state to be at Redwood Acres until
Aug. 31. What happens after that is unclear, Dr. Frankovich says, and
out of the county’s hands. However, the county has been “actively
exploring” other options that will give us a sustainable facility
with better turnaround times.

8. At a free
testing site in Southern Humboldt, the turn around time for COVID19
test results are 8 to 10 days. One community member has reportedly
had a complete 14-day quarantine period before getting their test
results back.

That’s
what they’re hearing from OptumServe, Dr. Frankovich says – 8 to
10 days. “It’s a huge
concern. It’s of very little utility to us – certainly in terms
of our contact investigations – if we cannot get a turnaround
that’s quicker than that.”

It’s
a national challenge rather than a local one, she says.

9. What is
causing this delay and should asymptomatic people still obtain a
test?


“We are still asking people to do that,” says Dr. Frankovich.

10. Can you share
an estimate of how many positive cases of
COVID-19 have
been confirmed (residents and non-residents) that are linked to the
‘cannabis community’?


A “substantial number” of cases are tied to the cannabis-related
industries, Dr. Frankovich says, and there are also a number of
secondary cases with contacts to those individuals. It’s not
surprising, as workplace-related cases a pretty common, nationwide.


She says they’ve been working to reach out to that community to
assure them that Public Health is not concerned about the legality of
a particular grow, or cannabis-related business – they’re just
looking to help those businesses follow best practices and keep their
workers safe.

11. You mentioned
last week that Public Health and the Joint Information Center fielded
calls about planned gatherings, are you able to confirm whether or
not a wedding with hundreds of people took place this weekend in
Petrolia? And if it did, what are some of Public Health’s biggest
concerns moving forward? Do you think we’ll see a spike in cases
because of it?


“These gatherings are of huge concern to us,” says Dr.
Frankovich. Gatherings are a big source of the spike in cases that
we’ve seen recently – and it’s not just us. This is happening
across the state.


While she expresses sympathy who want things to get to normal,
Frankovich is firm: “Gatherings of hundreds of people are clearly,
vastly outside the state and local orders, and are frankly illegal.”

12. Also last
week, you had expressed concern about several large weddings that
were scheduled to be held over the weekend. Did those weddings go
forward? Was the county able to have any impact on their safety
procedures? How CAN people hold a wedding in Humboldt County these
days, under the current local and state restrictions?


Weddings are not an easy thing to do right now, Dr. Frankovich says.
The ideal thing is to have no gatherings with people outside your
household unit. The second-best thing – though technically still
not permitted — is to have a very small number of people, socially
distanced, gather strictly outdoors.

13. Why is the
right to protest in a large gathering allowed – but not large
gatherings for weddings and funerals?


Protests are constitutionally protected. Dr. Frankovich says, while weddings and funerals are
not. But there are exceptions made for funerals these days, under
certain circumstances – 12 people, with social distancing.

14. What
enforcement actions do police have at their disposal if the weddings
mentioned last week proceed after being warned?


Dr. Frankovich defers this question to the Sheriff.

15. Last week
Sheriff Honsal voiced concern about inmates being released to
Humboldt County from state prisons without any quarantine
procedures. Can you explain how Public Health is working with the
county’s Probation Department to line up temporary housing for these
people? What’s being done to ensure they don’t pose an infection risk
to the larger community?


It’s tough, Dr. Frankovich says, because the prison system is
making up this system on the fly. But they’ve been very good about
reaching out to Public Health for feedback.


As it is, the county is notified if someone is released into the
community if they’ve tested positive or if they are coming from a
facility where there has been an outbreak. If people need isolation
and/or quarantine, they’ve been working with the Probation
Department to find housing, if needed.

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