Science

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Prey-go-neesh One Step Closer to Soaring in Humboldt Skies

Posted By on Tue, Mar 23, 2021 at 12:12 PM

A wild-hatched condor. - COURTESY OF REDWOOD NATIONAL PARK
  • Courtesy of Redwood National Park
  • A wild-hatched condor.
After nearly a century, California condors will soon once again soar over Yurok ancestral lands, the culmination of years of work by the tribe on behalf of the bird Yurok people know as prey-go-neesh.

Nearly lost to extinction in the 1980s, condors are integrally connected to the Yurok Tribe and others in the region, where the last reported sighting was near Drain, Oregon, in 1940.

“For the last 20 years, the Yurok Tribe has been actively engaged in the restoration of the rivers, forests and prairies in our ancestral territory,” said Yurok Tribe Chair Joseph L. James in a news release “The reintroduction of the condor is one component of this effort to reconstruct the diverse environmental conditions that once existed in our region. We are extremely proud of the fact that our future generations will not know a world without prey-go-neesh. We are excited to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Redwood National Park on the final stages of the project and beyond.”

(Read more about the Yurok Tribe's efforts in the Journal's May of 2019 story, "Bringing Prey-go-neesh Home" by clicking here.)

Ventana Wildlife intern Kristy Markowitz (front), Yurok Tribe wildlife technician Tiana Williams (center) and Ventana field technician Sayre Flannigan release a California condor in Big Sur. Photo by Chris West
  • Ventana Wildlife intern Kristy Markowitz (front), Yurok Tribe wildlife technician Tiana Williams (center) and Ventana field technician Sayre Flannigan release a California condor in Big Sur. Photo by Chris West

By this fall or next spring, after a release facility in Redwood National Park is completed, the first birds are expected to take flight, bringing California condors back to the northern reaches of its historic range, which once stretched to the Canadian border and east to Utah, Montana and Colorado.

Tomorrow, a final rule will be published in the Federal Register to designated condors involved in this reintroduction “as a nonessential, experimental population,”  which is needed to propel the collaborative effort by the Northern California Condor Restoration Program, Redwood National and State Parks and the Yurok Tribe forward.

Not long ago, a mere 22 sole survivors were sequestered in a small, remote mountainous area of Southern California and, by 1987, the last ones were taken into captivity for breeding, with hundreds of North America’s largest bird now returned to the wild.

Still condors remain vulnerable, mostly due to human interference partnered with a slow reproduction cycle that sees a female produce one solitary egg every other year.

“The return of condors to the skies above Redwood National and State Parks is a critical step toward recovery of this majestic landscape,” said Steve Mietz, superintendent of the Parks. “Working with our friends and partners, the Yurok Tribe and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we will continue the unparalleled success story of condor recovery allowing all Americans to visit the tallest trees in the world while watching one of the largest birds in the world soar overhead.”

But with another chance for the birds to spread their 10-foot wingspans, the hope is the Redwood National Park site will act as a gateway for the California condor to make new inroads into its former territory.

“The California condor is a shining example of how a species can be brought back from the brink of extinction through the power of partnerships,” said Paul Souza, Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s California-Great Basin Region. “I would like to thank the Yurok Tribe, National Park Service, our state partners, and others, who were instrumental in this project. Together, we can help recover and conserve this magnificent species for future generations.”

Read the full release below:

For the first time in 100 years, the endangered California condor will return to the Pacific Northwest. Once on the brink of extinction, this iconic species has made significant steps towards recovery. Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, and the Yurok Tribe announced a final rule that will help facilitate the creation of a new California condor release facility for the reintroduction of condors to Yurok Ancestral Territory and Redwood National Park, which is in the northern portion of the species’ historic range. This facility will be operated by the Northern California Condor Restoration Program, a partnership between Redwood National Park and Yurok Tribe.

The rule will designate the condors affiliated with this program as a nonessential, experimental population under the Endangered Species Act. This status will provide needed flexibility in managing the reintroduced population, reduce the regulatory impact of reintroducing a federally listed species, and facilitate cooperative conservation. 

“The California condor is a shining example of how a species can be brought back from the brink of extinction through the power of partnerships,” said Paul Souza, Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s California-Great Basin Region. “I would like to thank the Yurok Tribe, National Park Service, our state partners, and others, who were instrumental in this project. Together, we can help recover and conserve this magnificent species for future generations.”

With a wingspan of almost 10 feet, the California condor is the largest soaring land bird in North America. These massive vultures are essential members of their ecosystems and play a significant role in the spiritual and cultural beliefs of the Yurok Tribe, as well as many other Tribes, throughout northern California and the Pacific Northwest.

Over the past twelve years, the Yurok Tribe has led this reintroduction effort and completed a tremendous amount of legwork to prepare for the return of condors to the Pacific Northwest. Extensive environmental assessments, contaminant analyses, and community outreach were just a few of the requisite tasks. The Tribe completed this endeavor because the condor is an irreplaceable part of a sacred cultural landscape. Pending completion of the condor release facility, the anticipated release of condors would be fall of 2021 or spring of 2022.

“For the last 20 years, the Yurok Tribe has been actively engaged in the restoration of the rivers, forests and prairies in our ancestral territory. The reintroduction of the condor is one component of this effort to reconstruct the diverse environmental conditions that once existed in our region. We are extremely proud of the fact that our future generations will not know a world without prey-go-neesh. We are excited to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Redwood National Park on the final stages of the project and beyond,” said Joseph L. James, Chairman of the Yurok Tribe. 

California condors prehistorically ranged from California to Florida and, in contemporary times, from Western Canada to Northern Mexico. By the mid-20th century, condor populations drastically declined due to poaching and poisoning. In 1967, the California condor was listed as endangered. In 1982, only 23 condors survived worldwide. By 1987, all remaining wild condors were placed into a captive breeding program. Thus, began an intensive recovery program to save the species from extinction.

As a result of exemplary conservation partnerships, and intensive captive breeding and reintroduction efforts, there are now over 300 California condors in the wild in California, Arizona, Utah and Baja California. However, the bird is still listed as endangered and lead poisoning (largely caused by ingesting lead shot or fragments of lead bullets when feeding on carcasses) is listed as one of the species’ primary threats.

“The return of condors to the skies above Redwood National and State Parks is a critical step toward recovery of this majestic landscape,” said Steve Mietz, superintendent of Redwood National and State Parks. “Working with our friends and partners, the Yurok Tribe and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we will continue the unparalleled success story of condor recovery allowing all Americans to visit the tallest trees in the world while watching one of the largest birds in the world soar overhead.”

“We are excited for this opportunity to bring these iconic birds back to California habitat that has not been occupied for decades,” said Stafford Lehr, Deputy Director of Wildlife and Fisheries for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “These birds are important to the biodiversity of the landscape and we are pleased with the collaboration amongst state and federal agencies, the Yurok Tribe, and private companies to conserve this species.”

The final rule exempts most incidental take of condors within the nonessential experimental population, provided the take is unintentional and not due to negligent conduct. Although the rule exempts most incidental take, certain activities are prohibited within 656 feet (200 meters) of an occupied nest.

These include habitat alteration (e.g., removing trees, erecting structures, altering the nest structure or perches near the nest) and significant visual or noise disturbance (e.g., tree felling, chainsaws, helicopter overflights, concrete cutters, fireworks or explosives). There are two exemptions: emergency fuel treatment activities by federal, state, tribal, or local government agencies to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires and responses to wildfire or other emergencies.

The final rule will publish in the Federal Register on March 24, 2021. The document can be found on www.regulations.gov by searching under docket number FWS–R1–ES–2018–0033. More information is available here: https://parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?projectID=66364

The Yurok Tribe, California’s largest federally recognized tribe, exercises its inherent sovereignty in order to conserve, protect and restore Yurok natural resources and culture and the health and social well-being of existing and future Tribal members through its exercise of sovereign rights, culturally integrated methods and high quality scientific practices in coordination with the community, public agencies and private organizations. For more information about our work, visit http://www.yuroktribe.org/ or connect with us via Facebook.

The National Park Service Organic Act of 1916 established a single system of federally managed parks, monuments and reserved lands to promote and regulate their use and "....to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations." For more information about the National Park Service, please visit Facebook, Twitter or Flickr. For more information regarding Redwood National Park visit https://www.nps.gov/redw/index.htm.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information about our work and the people who make it happen, visit https://www.fws.gov/cno/ or connect with us via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.

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Monday, February 22, 2021

Up in the Sky: Moon Drifts Through the Winter Circle

Posted By on Mon, Feb 22, 2021 at 12:51 PM

The Winter Circle. - NASA
  • NASA
  • The Winter Circle.
Look up in the sky tonight to watch the moon finish sashaying its way across the so-called Winter Circle — a ringed array of six stars — as it heads toward becoming full by Feb. 27.

According to NASA, the circle of stars — also called an asterism — includes Aldebaran, Capella, Pollux (and Castor), Procyon, Rigel and Sirius and can be seen rising in the east early in the evening.

“The Winter Circle contains two other special groupings of stars: the constellation Orion, and another wintertime asterism, the Winter Triangle, made of the bright stars Sirius, Betelgeuse, and Procyon,” according to NASA. “Like their counterpart, the Summer Triangle, the Winter Circle and Winter Triangle are signposts of the season.

“In the Northern Hemisphere, you'll see them rising in the east early in the evening during the time of long, cold nights, and setting in the west earlier and earlier as the season turns to spring.”

The moon visits the bright stars of Gemini on Feb. 23. - NASA/JPL-CALTECH
  • NASA/JPL-Caltech
  • The moon visits the bright stars of Gemini on Feb. 23.
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Monday, February 1, 2021

UPDATE: Flood Watch in Effect for Areas of Humboldt, Del Norte, Trinity

Posted By on Mon, Feb 1, 2021 at 10:58 AM

flood_watch.png
UPDATE:

Slide activity has prompted the closure of State Route 96 about 8 miles west of Happy Camp and no detour is available. There is not current timeline for when the roadway will reopen. Read more here.

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Moderate to heavy rainfall is expected across the region today, with 3 to 4 inches of rain is forecast through tonight for Del Norte County and southwest Humboldt, while other areas could see 5 to 7 inches.

A flood watch is in effect from 10 a.m. to late tonight for coastal and interior Del Norte County, interior areas of Northern and Southern Humboldt, southern Trinity County and southwestern Humboldt County, according to the National Weather Service office in Eureka.

“Heavy rain combined with saturated soil (and melting snow across the mountains) will contribute toward possible flooding,” according to the NWS. “Low lying areas, creeks, streams, culverts, and portions of urban areas may experience flooding due to heavy rainfall.”

Elevations above 1,500 are expected to see gusty winds.
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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

County Tracking 'Several Small Outbreaks' of COVID Cases, Nearly 200 Transmission Chains

Posted By on Tue, Jan 26, 2021 at 12:52 PM

Public Health confirmed an additional hospitalization and 28 new COVID-19 cases today, bringing the county's cumulative tally to 2,652, with 892 reported this month alone and surpassing December's single month record of 863 cases.

Humboldt County Public Health contact investigation teams are currently tracking 194 chains of transmission and several small outbreaks throughout the county, with many related to indoor gatherings, according to a news release.

"Local health officials say that cases have been reported in various settings, including workplaces and places of worship," the release states. "Indoor gatherings are strongly discouraged by the state, and county residents are urged to follow all COVID-19 safety measures until vaccine supply allows for communitywide distribution."

Meanwhile, the county is continuing to vaccinate healthcare workers, including in-house support services providers. Emergency services personnel were invited Monday to begin making appointments as part of the Phase 1B Tier 1 expansion, which will move to other groups, including teachers, as supplies allow, the release stats.

Individuals without a primary care provider or whose provider is not an approved vaccinator can register with the county by submitting an online interest form. (Read more and find a link to the form here.)

Under state data released today, Humboldt County remains in the most restrictive purple "widespread" tier.

To date, Humboldt County has confirmed 2,652 cases, with 94 hospitalizations and 27 confirmed COVID-19 related deaths. Twelve Humboldt County residents are currently hospitalized, according to the county's dashboard, including five under intensive care. Humboldt County's ICU capacity is listed at 58.8 percent.

The county dashboard lists 2,313 people as having "recovered" from the virus locally, though that just means they are no longer contagious and does not account for long-term health impacts, which local healthcare workers have told the Journal can be substantial, even in previously health patients.

Meanwhile, state health officials this week abruptly ended a stay home order, which divided California into five regions, that was triggered throughout a region when its commutative available hospital intensive care unit capacity dropped below 15 percent. Areas of the California that where under the order, which included most of the state but not Humboldt, can now resume some operations, such as outdoor dining.

Still in effect is a health order issued last month that halted all elective surgeries to make more room for intensive care unit capacity in regions where hospital ICU capacity is at 0 percent. That order doesn't currently affect Humboldt County.

The state has issued a travel advisory strongly discouraging all non-essential travel and urging anyone returning from non essential, out-of-state travel needs to self-quarantine for a minimum of 10 days upon their return.

In Humboldt County, healthcare 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 197 samples were processed.

While California has a case rate of 71.6 daily cases confirmed per 100,000 residents with a test positivity rate of 12.6 percent in data released last week, Humboldt has a case rate of 23.7 cases per 100,000 and a 6.8 percent positivity rate, both increases.

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 assessing risk factors for contracting the illness, which can be found 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.

Read the county release below:

A total of 2,652 Humboldt County residents have tested positive for COVID-19, after 28 new cases were reported today. Humboldt County Public Health contact investigation teams are tracking 194 chains of transmission and several small outbreaks throughout the county, largely related to indoor gatherings. Local health officials say that cases have been reported in various settings, including workplaces and places of worship. Indoor gatherings are strongly discouraged by the state, and county residents are urged to follow all COVID-19 safety measures until vaccine supply allows for communitywide distribution. Public Health continues to vaccinate Phase 1A health care workers, with 320 appointments scheduled today and tomorrow. Many of those receiving vaccines are In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) and other caregivers who provide direct support to seniors and dependent adults. On Monday, more than 500 emergency services personnel were invited to schedule an appointment as part of Phase 1B Tier 1. While vaccinations for health care workers are ongoing, Public Health and local health care providers will expand appointments to other groups in Phase 1B Tier 1, including educators, as doses become available. All county residents who want to receive the COVID-19 vaccine can submit their contact information through an online interest form and be notified when an appointment is available for their priority group. A total of 9,150 county residents have submitted the form since its launch. Go to humboldtgov.org/InterestForm to complete the form. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) today announced that Humboldt County remains in the “Purple” or widespread tier under the “Blueprint for a Safer Economy,” with an adjusted case rate of 24.3 and a positivity rate of 6.8%. CDPH also is expected to announce a new plan for COVID-19 vaccine distribution statewide. More information on local impacts will be released as soon it becomes available. 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.

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Monday, January 25, 2021

County Launches COVID Vaccine Interest Form

Posted By on Mon, Jan 25, 2021 at 12:25 PM

Humboldt residents who are interested in receiving a COVID-19 vaccination can now fill out an interest form with the county to be notified when their tier comes up.

A news release from the county's COVID Joint Information Center notes that vaccinations are currently only available to healthcare workers and those who are 75 or old due to limited doses. Appointments are expected to be opened up to some portions of the Phase 1B Tier 1 sector "in the coming days and weeks."

According to the county, about 3,000 people have filled out the form, which ask basic questions, including name, age and ZIP code, since its soft launch on Friday.

About 1,350 people are expected to receive vaccinations this week at Public Health clinics. 

“This interest form is another step toward expanding vaccine access to more members of our community as we plan for additional groups and clinics, but how quickly that happens depends on how many doses we receive from the state,” Humboldt County Public Health Director Michele Stephens said in a news release on Friday.

Last week, the local health official also said the state is working on a way to more accurately track how many doses are available in a particular area.

“Some doses are distributed directly to approved vaccinators and others come through Public Health,” County Health Officer Ian Hoffman said in the release. “A streamlined tracking tool will make it easier for us to plan future vaccination clinics.”

All Humboldt County residents who want to receive the COVID-19 vaccine can now submit their contact information through an online interest form to be notified when doses are available for their tier. The form takes about two minutes to complete and asks for basic information like name, email, zip code and willingness or ability to travel to a clinic in another part of the county. Nearly 3,000 residents have filled out the form since the soft launch on Friday.

Currently in Humboldt County, vaccine is available by appointment only due to limited supply, and priority is given to frontline health care workers and people age 75 and over as part of Phase 1A. Vaccination appointments, while still limited, will be expanded to some in Phase 1B Tier 1 in the coming days and weeks.

Appointments will be made by priority group, as laid out by the California Department of Public Health. Completing the interest form will allow Humboldt County Public Health to contact residents directly when a clinic is scheduled for their priority group. Filling out the form does not place a resident ahead of someone in a higher priority group.

Access the “COVID-19 Vaccine Interest Form for Individuals” here: humboldtgov.org/InterestForm.

The State of California is developing a similar system, myturn.ca.gov, but it is currently not operational in much of the state. More information about that system will be released as it becomes available. 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. 
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Friday, January 8, 2021

Planetary Trifecta: Triple Conjunction of Saturn, Mercury and Jupiter

Posted By on Fri, Jan 8, 2021 at 2:30 PM

Jupiter and Saturn put on quite the Solstice show last month by coming together to form the “Christmas Star” but now Mercury is coming into view, setting the celestial scene for a triple conjunction.

The planetary trifecta will be visible at dusk starting tonight through Monday, with NASA saying, “the planet Mercury will appear to pass first by Saturn and then by Jupiter as it shifts away from the horizon, visible each evening low in the west-southwest and setting before evening twilight ends.”

Jupiter will take the top spot tonight and tomorrow, according to the website EarthSky, and the “tightest grouping” of the three will take place on Sunday.

“Depending on your sky conditions and use of optical aid (binoculars), you should be able to watch this planetary trio for several days to a week,” the EarthSky post states.

On Jan. 13, NASA notes that skywatchers may be able to see the “thin waxing crescent Moon, Saturn, Jupiter, and Mercury, low in the west-southwest” until about a half-hour after sunset, with the planets in an arc above the Moon.

“If you use binoculars, be sure to wait until you are sure the Sun has set to protect your eyes,” NASA cautions. “Mercury will be the highest in the sky, and Wednesday evening will be the first evening that Mercury will be above the horizon at the time evening twilight ends.”

Of course, all things being Humboldt, the forecast is calling for mostly cloudy skies for the next several nights that might mar the view, but luckily 2021 is not being stingy with its cosmic offerings and another triple display — this time Mercury, Venus and Jupiter — is coming in February.
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Thursday, January 7, 2021

Stormy Weather, Dangerous Surf Heading to Humboldt

Posted By on Thu, Jan 7, 2021 at 3:15 PM

wind.png
Another round of wild weather is heading to Humboldt, with winds forecast to begin increasing this afternoon as a storm system moves into the area, according to the Eureka office of National Weather Service.

More dangerous surf is also expected to hit the coast early Friday morning and last into the evening, with breaking waves around 20 to 23 feet. A high surf advisory is in place.

The upcoming storm is expected to bring gusts upward of 50 mph across ridgetops and mountain passes while coastal areas will likely see gusts in the range of 30 to 40 mph.

“Secure loose objects that may be blown around by the wind,” the NWS cautions in a Facebook post. “Use extra caution when driving, especially if operating a high profile vehicle
136961748_3915368958508266_1023489563963189657_n.jpg
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Tuesday, January 5, 2021

December Sees Nearly Half of Humboldt's COVID Case Total

Posted By on Tue, Jan 5, 2021 at 1:57 PM

Humboldt County Public Health confirmed 18 new COVID-19 cases and an additional death today. The individual who died was in their 80s and had tested positive.

Under state numbers released today, the region qualifies for California's most restrictive COVID risk tier but continues its stay in the state's red or "substantial" ranking, although local health officials say that is very likely to change next week.

During a report to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors this morning, Health Officer Ian Hoffman noted that the state's data trails behind the real-time numbers local officials are seeing.

“Our data is worsening, not improving,” Hoffman said in a news release. “I would urge every member of our community to take precautions as if we’re in the purple tier because there is a lot of virus circulating in our community right now. Local businesses should also be cautious planning for the next few weeks because we anticipate a move back to purple next week.”

As one of only four counties not currently in the purple or "widespread" tier, and since the region is not yet under the state's shelter-in-place order like more than 98 percent of California's residents, some Humboldt businesses and organizations have been allowed to resume limited indoor operations, including restaurants, movie theaters, gyms and places of worship.

But that will change when the county moves back up to the more restrictive ranking. So far this month, 165 cases have been recorded on the heels of a steady stream of cases confirmed last week, including 53 on Dec. 30, 31 on Dec. 29 and 61 on Dec. 28.

At 932, December's numbers accounted for nearly half of all confirmed COVID-19 cases in Humboldt County, according to the Joint Information Center.
covid_numbers.png

As of this morning, the state reported the region had a combined 29.8 percent capacity. 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.

Continue reading »

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Monday, January 4, 2021

Humboldt Nearing 2,000 COVID Cases

Posted By on Mon, Jan 4, 2021 at 4:11 PM

Humboldt County Public Health reported today it has confirmed 147 new COVID-19 cases since Dec. 31, bringing the total number to date to 1,910 cases as the pandemic continues into its 10th month. Two more hospitalizations were also reported.

Today's results follow a steady stream of cases confirmed last week, including 53 on Dec. 30, 31 on Dec. 29 and 61 on Dec. 28.

But Humboldt County remains in the state's "substantial" COVID risk tier, at least for the moment, which allowed some businesses and organizations to resume limited indoor operations, including restaurants, movie theaters, gyms and places of worship, after being lowered from a purple or "widespread" ranking last week to the surprise and concern of local health officials.


Last week, Humboldt County Health Officer Ian Hoffman said in a press release that in many ways data does not support the state's decision. New risk rankings are scheduled to be released tomorrow.

In today's release, Hoffman reminded residents what they are supposed to do if they test positive for COVID or are notified of a possible exposure.

“If you test positive, follow isolation procedures. Stay home, and contact the Joint Information Center. The guidance is that simple,” he said in the release. “Isolating from others, including people you live with, is the best way to stop the chain of transmission and keep your friends and loved ones safe.”

Those who have been in contact with a positive COVID case are asked to self-quarantine.

“If you were notified by a medical professional or someone you know that you are a close contact, follow quarantine guidelines, and stay home for a minimum of 10 days from the time of exposure,” Hoffman said, adding 14 days is the safer option. “Do not get retested. It puts health care workers at risk, and a negative test result has no impact on the duration of your quarantine.”

Meanwhile, the "Northern California" region of the state — which includes Humboldt and 11 other counties — continues to be the only section of the state not yet under a regional stay-at-home order. 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 30 percent capacity. 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.

In Humboldt County, healthcare 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 1,284 samples were processed.

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 California has a case rate of 93.1 daily cases confirmed per 100,000 residents (up from 80.7) with a test positivity rate of 14.5 percent (up from 13.3) in data released today, Humboldt has a case rate of 14 cases per 100,000 (down from 18.5 last week) and a 4 percent positivity rate, also a decrease.

To date, 1,910 Humboldt County residents have been confirmed to have the virus, with 68 having been hospitalized at some point in their care and 22 confirmed COVID-related fatalities. Five Humboldt County residents are currently hospitalized, according to the county's dashboard, including two under intensive care.

Nationally, more than 19.8 million people have been confirmed to have the virus, including 230,337 cases confirmed today, with 341,199 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Statewide, 2.2 million people have been confirmed to have the disease, including 25,386 today, with 25,386 COVID-related fatalities.

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 assessing risk factors for contracting the illness, which can be found 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.

An additional 147 cases of COVID-19 have been reported since the most recent report Thursday. A previously reported case was determined to be a duplicate, so the total number of Humboldt County residents who have tested positive now stands at 1,910. Given the recent increase in local cases, Humboldt County Health Officer Dr. Ian Hoffman shared information about best practices for people who test positive and those who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.

“If you test positive, follow isolation procedures. Stay home, and contact the Joint Information Center. The guidance is that simple,” he said. “Isolating from others, including people you live with, is the best way to stop the chain of transmission and keep your friends and loved ones safe.”

Quarantine is meant for people who have not tested positive but have been identified as a close contact of a person known to be positive for COVID-19. A close contact is defined as being within 6 feet of a COVID-positive person for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period.

“If you were notified by a medical professional or someone you know that you are a close contact, follow quarantine guidelines, and stay home for a minimum of 10 days from the time of exposure,” Dr. Hoffman said, adding that quarantining for 14 days is still the safest option to prevent exposure. “Do not get retested. It puts health care workers at risk, and a negative test result has no impact on the duration of your quarantine.” Learn more about home isolation and quarantine at humboldtgov.org/blanketorders. 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 the Joint Information Center at 707-441-5000.
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Questions Answered About the New COVID Strain

Posted By and on Mon, Jan 4, 2021 at 11:27 AM

As California continues to ride its worst wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, public health officials have more unsettling news: Four cases of a worrisome, potentially more infectious new coronavirus variant have been detected in California.

The new strain, first detected in the United Kingdom, also has been seen in Colorado and Florida and 33 other countries. Last week, San Diego County reported it had identified the new variant, called B.1.1.7, in a 30-year-old man with no travel history. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the discovery in a live streamed event with Dr. Anthony Fauci, a leading national voice in the pandemic. Over the weekend, San Diego County health officials reported three additional cases.

Fauci said this news was expected, since international travel is ongoing and viruses generally mutate. “RNA viruses, they make a living out of mutating,” he said. “The more you replicate the more you mutate.”

However, the lack of travel history in the San Diego case is an indicator that the new form of the virus is circulating among the community, health officials there said.

“What’s really important is that detecting this lineage here doesn’t really change what we need to do other than we need to do it better,” Dr. Kristian Andersen, an infectious disease and genomics expert at Scripps Research in San Diego, said in a news conference. That includes wearing masks and maintaining social distance.

Here’s what Californians need to know about the new coronavirus strain.

How was it discovered?

The new virus variant was first reported by England’s public health agency following a surge of cases in the southeastern part of the country. The first two samples were discovered in Kent and in London in September. While mutations in viruses are common, this particular strain stood out because it carries more genetic changes than is typical, according to researchers.

What’s the concern with this coronavirus variant?

Public health officials say the new strain seems to be more easily transmitted than the standard form of the virus. This means people who are exposed are more likely to become infected. According to health officials in the United Kingdom, evidence shows that infection is growing more rapidly in geographical areas where this variant is found.

A study from The Centre for the Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases in London shows this particular strain is 56% more transmissible. The study is still being peer-reviewed. Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s health secretary, explained it like this in a recent news conference: “For COVID to enter a human cell, it needs to bind to a receptor, a sort of front door on a human cell,” he said. “And the new, mutated COVID virus seems to bind a little tighter, a little more easily and enter the cell of the human body easier than our current COVID virus.”

It remains unclear how this mutant form of the virus has contributed to the current surge in California. Officials have said its prevalence here is still likely low.

On Dec. 21, Ghaly said that California had been checking thousands of specimens daily over the last month, looking for mutations. “We’re concerned because of the unknowns,” Ghaly said. “We’re concerned that we aren’t sure how this impacts the broadscale efforts to contain and mitigate the virus as it exists now.”

What is California doing in response?

The California Department of Public Health said health care providers are collecting specimens for genetic sequencing, and the state is analyzing samples suspected of being variant strains.

“As variants and mutations are found, that information is used to inform public health decisions and critical information is shared with the public,” the department said in an email.

How widespread is the new strain?

After the new variant was detected in the United Kingdom, some 40 countries restricted travel from the UK. The variant has since been reported in France, Japan, Spain, Sweden and Canada among other countries. The first known U.S. case, in a Colorado National Guardsman in his 20s, was reported Dec. 30.

Two variants that share some mutations with the UK variant also have been reported in South Africa and Nigeria, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We know there’s more. We don’t know how many,” said Andersen, the infectious disease expert in San Diego. “Its prevalence for now is relatively low.”

Will it make me more sick?

Right now, there’s no evidence that this new COVID variant has a higher fatality rate or causes more severe illness than the currently predominant strain, according to the CDC. A recent UK government study compared patients infected with the new variant to those with the predominant strain and found no statistically significant differences in severity of illness, deaths or reinfection.

Scientists around the world are still studying the UK variant, however, and more answers may come soon.

Will currently authorized vaccines protect against this new strain?

Scientists believe they will. Fauci told Newsom last week that the variant “doesn’t seem to evade the protection that’s afforded by the antibodies that are induced by vaccines.” But scientists are testing the variant against the currently authorized vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna.

The CEO of AstraZeneca, which is developing another COVID-19 vaccine candidate, told the London Times that the company’s scientists believe the vaccine will protect against the new variant. But some scientists believe it’s possible that the UK variant, or future variants, may prove tougher for vaccines to overcome.

CalMatters COVID-19 coverage, translation and distribution is supported by generous grants from the Blue Shield of California Foundation, the California Wellness Foundation and the California Health Care Foundation.
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