Friday, December 18, 2020

Public Health Confirms 13 New COVID-19 Cases as Regional ICU Capacity Continues to Dip

Posted By on Fri, Dec 18, 2020 at 3:38 PM

Humboldt County Public Health confirmed 13 new COVID-19 cases today, the lowest daily tally in a month, and for the first time in five days reported no COVID-related deaths.

The county confirmed 156 new cases this week, bringing December's tally to 490, which already far surpasses November's then record total of 327 as a local, state and national surge continues. The week also saw Public Health announce five COVID-related deaths, all of residents at Granada Rehabilitation and Wellness Center.

While it's now been 10 months since Humboldt County confirmed its first COVID-19 case, 35 percent of local cases, 23 percent of hospitalizations and 40 percent of deaths have come over the past 18 days.

The "Northern California" region of the state — which includes Humboldt and 11 other counties — is still expected to fall under a regional stay-at-home order form the state in the coming days. The order will be triggered throughout the region when its commutative available hospital intensive care unit capacity drops below 15 percent, as has already occurred in the rest of the state.

As of this morning, the state reported the region had a combined 21 percent capacity — down from close to 30 percent at the beginning of the week and 25.8 percent yesterday. If implemented, the order will temporarily close bars, wineries, personal service salons, hair salons and barbershops, while retail stores will be limited to 20 percent capacity and restaurants will be limited to take-out and delivery only. Schools that have a waiver will be allowed to remain open to in-person instruction and critical infrastructure will remain open. The order also temporarily prohibits all non-essential travel.

“Given our small number of ICU beds, if we filled roughly eight more ICU beds, our region would drop below 15 percent," Humboldt County Health Officer Ian Hoffman said in a press release. "Currently, we count on the ability to send patients out of the area if we run out of capacity, but with the rest of the state at very low or no capacity, that may not be an option.”

The release noted that the Southern California and San Joaquin regions current report no available ICU capacity, while the Bay Area and Greater Sacramento regions report 12.8 percent and 14.5 percent, respectively.

According to a letter from Del Norte Health Officer Warren Rehwaldt, the Rural Association of Northern California Health Officers is concerned the 15-percent threshold leaves little margin for error in the region and is putting together a joint statement urging Northern California residents to exercise extreme caution, likening the pandemic to a wildfire that is engulfing the entire region.

"Even as a region, we only have about 120 ICU beds, and 15 percent capacity leaves fewer than 20 beds; that's for people with heart attacks, strokes, trauma and COVID-19," the draft statement says. "We, the Rural Health Officers of Northern California, are gravely concerned that this cushion of beds could easily be overwhelmed, and most counties in our region are already struggling to find hospital beds for patients requiring a higher level of health care."

In Humboldt County, health care workers have already said there are emergency room patients who have been waiting for days for transfers out of the area for specialized care because hospitals throughout the state don't have available beds.

Today's Humboldt County cases were confirmed after 342 samples were processed with a test-positivity rate of 3.8 percent. The county also reported no new hospitalization.

Meanwhile, the initial rollout of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has begun, with the county having received 975 doses and healthcare providers and long-term care facility residents in the priority tier.

The county's steady escalation of cases puts Humboldt solidly in the state's purple "widespread" risk tier, along with nearly all of California's 58 counties, which had already brought new layers of restrictions on local businesses.

The state of California largely depends on two metrics to determine where a county falls in its tier system: the percentage of COVID-19 tests administered that come back positive over a seven-day period and the average number of new positive cases confirmed per 100,000 in population daily over the course of a week. Both have spiked dramatically in recent weeks.

While the state has a case rate of 63.9 daily cases confirmed per 100,000 residents (up from 34) with a test positivity rate of 11.3 percent (up from 8.4) as of Tuesday, Humboldt has a case rate 16.1 cases per 100,000 (up from 12.3) and a 4.7 percent positivity rate, also an increase.

As is, Humboldt County's purple status has forced restaurants, movie theaters and places of worship to cease all indoor operations, while also imposing the governor's nighttime stay-at-home order, which requires residents to stay home from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. save for essential outings, such as going to work.

To date, 1,381 Humboldt County residents have been confirmed to have the virus, with 62 having been hospitalized at some point in their care and 15 confirmed COVID-related fatalities. Seven Humboldt County residents are currently hospitalized, according to the county's dashboard, including three under intensive care.

Nationally, 17 million cases have been confirmed — including 230,953 yesterday — with 309,880 fatalities, according to the Centers for Disease Control. California, meanwhile, has seen 1.7 million cases confirmed — including 52,281 yesterday — and 21,860 deaths, according to the Department of Public Health.

Meanwhile, the county's Joint Information Center is urging locals to get tested, calling it "one of the most helpful things county residents can do for the community at large," because it allows Public Health to catch cases early and limit spread. The state-run OptumServe testing site at Redwood Acres Fairgrounds in Eureka is open seven days a week and no-cost appointments can be made by clicking here or calling (888) 634-1123.

The Humboldt County Data Dashboard includes hospitalization rates by age group, death rates by age group and case totals by ZIP code, the latter of which are reported in "a range of 0 to 5 for case count until the area surpasses 5 total cases," according to the county. After that threshold has been reached in a ZIP code, the exact number will be included.

Basics of COVID-19

The California Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control, state that symptoms of novel coronavirus include cough and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, or at least two of the following: fever, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat or a new loss of taste or smell.
Emergency warning signs needing immediate medical attention include difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or inability to awaken, and bluish lips or face.

In an emergency situation:
Call ahead to the emergency room or inform the 911 operator of the possibility of a COVID-19 infection and, if possible, put on a face mask.

Symptoms or possible exposure:
In the case of a possible exposure with symptoms — fever and cough or shortness of breath — contact your doctor’s office or the county Department of Health and Human Services, which has a hotline that can be reached during business hours at covidinfo@co.humboldt.ca.us or at (707) 441-5000. Residents seeking medical advice or questions about testing are asked to contact Public Health at hhsphb@co.humbldt.ca.us or at (707) 445-6200.

St. Joseph Health has also set up a virtual assessment tool as an aid to assess risk factors for contracting the illness, which can be found at here.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has started a rumor-control webpage that can be found here.

For the Journal's latest COVID stories, updates and information resources, click here. Find the press release from Public Health copied below.

Dec. 18, 2020 - 13 New Cases of COVID-19 Reported Today

707-441-5000 ; covidinfo@co.humboldt.ca.us ; Monday-Friday 8am to 5pm Opens in new window
The total number of county residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 now stands at 1,387, after 13 new cases were reported today.

Intensive Care Unit (ICU) bed capacity in the Northern California region, of which Humboldt County is a part, dropped today to 21% from 25.8% yesterday. If the region’s ICU bed availability drops below 15%, the state’s Regional Stay Home Order will take effect.

Humboldt County Health Officer Dr. Ian Hoffman said, “Given our small number of ICU beds, if we filled roughly eight more ICU beds, our region would drop below 15%. Currently, we count on the ability to send patients out of the area if we run out of capacity, but with the rest of the state at very low or no capacity, that may not be an option.”

The Statewide ICU Bed Availability metric has been added to the “Current Hospital Information” dataset of the Humboldt County Data Dashboard (humboldtgov.org/dashboard). This measures the capacity of available ICU beds across the entire state, which currently stands at 2.1%.

The Southern California and San Joaquin regions currently report 0% ICU capacity. The Bay Area region is at 12.8% reported capacity, and the Greater Sacramento region is at 14.5% capacity, leaving the Northern California region the only one not subject to the state Regional Stay Home Order.

For the most recent COVID-19 information, visit cdc.gov or cdph.ca.gov. Local information is available at humboldtgov.org or during business hours by contacting covidinfo@co.humboldt.ca.us or calling 707-441-5000.


Local COVID-19 vaccine information: humboldtgov.org/vaccineinfo,
Humboldt County COVID-19 Data Dashboard: humboldtgov.org/dashboard,
Follow us on Facebook: @HumCoCOVID19,
Instagram: @HumCoCOVID19,
Twitter: @HumCoCOVID19, and
Humboldt Health Alert: humboldtgov.org/HumboldtHealthAlert


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Thadeus Greenson

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Thadeus Greenson is the news editor of the North Coast Journal.

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