Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – Humboldt County has failed to reach its COVID-19 vaccination goals for reopening and has more cases, hospitalizations and deaths to show for it.
Like the rest of the state, Humboldt’s COVID-19 presence is increasing following a mid-June reopening.
An amended state public health order lifted restrictions based on the premise that with the widespread availability of free vaccination, the responsibility for public health should shift from government-imposed mandates to individual action.
But children younger than 12 years old don’t have the vaccine option. And many adults have yet to get vaccinated.
The county’s goal was to get 70 to 75 percent of residents vaccinated by June 15. A month later there is only a sluggish rise in a local vaccination rate that falls well below the hoped-for benchmark.
As of July 16, 49 percent of the county’s population had been fully vaccinated.
The region’s low vaccination rates prompted the Rural Association of Northern California Health Officers to release a statement of warning for those who haven’t been vaccinated.
“Our region has consistently shown a lower rate of COVID-19 antibodies, meaning more residents are susceptible to the virus,” the association said. “In sum: we are vulnerable.”
The association’s statement also warns that the Delta variant, which is fueling case surges and hospitalization increases in 46 states, will affect the region’s summer season “with tourism in full force both between counties in our region and travelers from all over the world.”
The U.S. surgeon general has directed a battle against “vaccine misinformation” and the regional association’s statement responds to the “myths” that are presumably influencing non-vaccination.
According to the association, they range from beliefs that vaccines alter DNA to fears that they are “experimental” and “rushed into use.”
Also among the “myth” beliefs is that having gotten COVID-19 will prevent re-infection. The regional health officers say “reinfection is well documented” and “the reality is that we cannot reliably predict who will mount a good immune response from natural infection.”
A sense of alarm was also expressed in a July 16 mass email from Senator Mike McGuire.
“COVID case numbers across California and right here at home on the North Coast are increasing again as a new variant of the virus continues to spread,” he wrote in the email, urging vaccination.
In a July 13 written update to the Board of Supervisors, Humboldt County Health Officer Dr. Ian Hoffman reports that “additional cases of the significantly more contagious Delta variant were identified in Humboldt County last week” and the strain is “anticipated to become the predominant strain locally as in the rest of the country.”
At the time of Hoffman’s report, the county’s COVID-19 testing positivity rate was about 5.5 percent while the state’s was 4.4 percent.
In the week ending on July 16, the county’s testing positivity rate rose to 7.49 percent.
There is increasing concern that reopening is premature. Los Angeles County, which is experiencing a surge, has reinstated an indoor mask mandate that applies to everyone, including vaccinated residents.
And vaccine protection has an uncertain shelf life.
The World Health Organization’s top officials have warned that new and more dangerous variants –possibly including variants that evade vaccine protection -- are likely to emerge and the pandemic is far from being over.
Last week saw confirmation of 84 more local COVID-19 cases but at this point case numbers aren’t a reliable gauge because they’re based on inconsistent numbers of tests.
The county’s total number of confirmed cases to date is 4,730.
There were four more COVID-19 hospitalizations last week, of residents in their 40s, 60s and 70s, bringing the county’s hospitalization total to 218.
There were two deaths last week, of residents in their 60s and 70s, bringing that total to 53.
The virus has been remarkably adaptive at every turn. Earlier in the pandemic, infection rates among younger people and children were minimal.
As vaccination runs strong in older age groups, a recent trend of infections among younger people is widespread and seen locally.
For the week ending on July 12, the county reported that half of 60 confirmed cases were of people under 30 years old, including 16 residents ages 10 to 19 and five children younger than 10 years old.