Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Humboldt to Lift Mask Mandate, Following State's Lead

Posted By on Tue, Feb 8, 2022 at 12:05 PM

click to enlarge Health Officer Ian Hoffman - SCREENSHOT
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  • Health Officer Ian Hoffman
When the state of California rolls back its COVID-19 mask mandate next week, Humboldt County will follow suit, Health Officer Ian Hoffman told the Board of Supervisors this morning.

Hoffman said the county plans to rely on testing, ventilation and vaccination efforts moving forward, adding that with the Omicron surge easing, county public health will shift to a mitigation strategy that relies more on at-home tests and at-home treatments, “shifting the burden away from the hospitals and the healthcare system.” Overall, he said, the county will be moving away from requirements and “toward recommendations” while still monitoring for new variants should it need to be “flexible” in reversing course to re-impose policies “based on future behavior of the virus.”

A subsequent Public Health press release clarified that the masking order will only be lifted for vaccinated people, while those who remain unvaccinated will still be required to mask in indoor public spaces.

Responding to a question from First District Supervisor Rex Bohn, Hoffman said more information about the county removing its masking order next week will be made available at a press conference tomorrow. But Hoffman said he expects statewide orders requiring universal masking in schools, hospitals and skilled nursing facilities will remain in place.

The change comes as Humboldt County appears on downside of an unprecedented surge in cases fueled by the highly contagious Omicron variant. The county reported confirming a record 6,438 cases of the virus in January, or roughly 207 new cases of the virus daily. Case rates have come down each of the last two weeks, and the county reported 810 new cases of the virus through the first seven days of February, or roughly 115 per day.

In announcing the statewide change, which is slated to go into effect Feb. 15, officials pointed to the state’s declining test-positivity rate, which measures the percentage of COVID-19 samples taken that come back positive for the virus and experts believe is a better indicator of virus spread than simple case counts. Statewide, the seven-day test-positivity rate sits at 8.8 percent while, according to the county’s dashboard, Humboldt County’s sits at 33.44 percent.

Providence St. Joseph Hospital Chief Executive Officer Roberta Luskin-Hawk told the board St. Joseph hospital is currently treating 16 COVID-19 patients, with another three being treated at Redwood Memorial Hospital and likely more at Mad River Community Hospital. But she said hospitalizations remain well below their peak in August and September during the Delta-variant-fueled surge, which she said is likely due to a number of factors, including Omicron being less likely to cause severe illness than prior variants and an increase in the availability in effective drug therapies, antivirals and antibody treatments.

After someone in public comment questioned the decision to lift the county’s mask mandate while still in the midst of a case surge, Hoffman said the California Department of Public Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control continue to recommend masking in public spaces in areas of high COVID-19 transmission, a designation Humboldt County continues to hold.

“The recommendation is still there,” Hoffman said. “What changes is the requirement is no longer there.”
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Thadeus Greenson

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

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