Wednesday, May 25, 2022

HumCo Reports Another COVID Death as Hospitalizations Rise

Posted By on Wed, May 25, 2022 at 5:00 PM

Humboldt County Public Health reported today that the county has confirmed another COVID-19 deaths since its last report May 18, a resident over the age of 80.

Five new hospitalizations were also reported today but, according to a state database, 15 people are currently hospitalized with the virus locally, including three under intensive care. The death reported today is the 147th in Humboldt County since the pandemic began.

Find the full public health press release, which includes a schedule of upcoming vaccination clinics, click here.
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Two Suspected Opioid Overdoses in HumCo Jail; 20 Grams of Suspected Heroin Found in Cell

Posted By on Wed, May 25, 2022 at 3:08 PM

Two Humboldt County jail inmates were saved by correctional officers after suspected opioid overdoses, the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office announced in a press release today.

On Monday night, correctional officers administered Naloxone, a nasal spray commonly used to counter decreased breathing caused by an opioid overdose, to two female inmates housed in the same cell after they were found unresponsive and showing signs of a possible opioid overdose.

Both inmates were later transported to a local hospital for further treatment and are expected to recover.

"By quickly responding and administering the life-saving medication, correctional deputies effectively saved both inmates’ lives," the release states.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Candy Stockton Named Humboldt's New Public Health Officer

Posted By on Tue, May 24, 2022 at 4:42 PM

Humboldt County's new Public Health Officer Candy Stockton. - HUMBOLDT COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH
  • Humboldt County Public Health
  • Humboldt County's new Public Health Officer Candy Stockton.
Humboldt Independent Practice Association Chief Medical officer Candy Stockton has been confirmed by the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors to serve as Humboldt County's Public Health Officer. She is slated to begin the new post  July 18.

“Having spent years practicing medicine in rural Northern California has given me a deep understanding of the challenges inherent in medicine and community health in rural and isolated areas,” Stockton said.

Stockton, a fourth-generation Humboldt County resident, replaces Ian Hoffman, who stepped down as Humboldt County Public Health Officer in March.

Stockton received her medical degree from Loma Linda University School of Medicine and is board certified in family and addiction medicine. She served as the medical director for Shingletown Medical Center in Shasta County for nine years, and for the past five years has served as the chief medical officer for the Humboldt IPA in Eureka. Stockton is also involved in advancing treatment for substance use disorders with a focus on pregnant and parenting individuals at the statewide level, and is also a trainer and consultant for the national Opioid Response Network and a contributing member of the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative’s Mother & Baby Substance Exposure Initiative Toolkit.

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Fortuna Nursing Home COVID Outbreak Expands to 36 Infected

Posted By on Tue, May 24, 2022 at 4:04 PM

Humboldt County Public Health is continuing to provide a heightened response to a COVID-19 outbreak at the Fortuna Rehabilitation and Wellness Center in which 26 residents and 10 staff members have tested positive for the virus, with one resident currently hospitalized. 

Public Health's Communicable Disease team is testing residents and staff three times a week and is coordinating with the California Department of Public Health's Healthcare-Associated Infections Group.

The outbreak began Friday when 12 people tested positive for the virus.

Fortuna Rehabilitation and Wellness Center is a 104-bed facility with 56 residents and 70 staff members. The release states that management is currently working to backfill staff who have tested positive.

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Protecting the Titans: New Trail Provides Safe Access to Ancient Grove

Posted By on Tue, May 24, 2022 at 3:33 PM

The railings on this bridge were hand-rounded by trail crews, who hand-carried in almost 128 tons of building materials. - CARLY WIPF
  • Carly Wipf
  • The railings on this bridge were hand-rounded by trail crews, who hand-carried in almost 128 tons of building materials.
A once hidden trail blazed off the beaten path is now a formal North Coast attraction.

Today, if you walk along the Mill Creek Trail in Del Norte County’s Grove of the Titans, you’ll tread on raised metal walkways that allow water to flow and ferns to grow beneath your feet. You’ll cross a wooden bridge, climb perfectly placed stairs and duck through nature-made tunnels of green, all the while taking in a striking view of some of the world's tallest trees.

But it wasn’t always this way.

Before it reopened with ribbon-cutting ceremony May 21, the area around the Mill Creek Trail — a 3-mile path that weaves through Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in Redwood National and State Parks (RNSP) — was largely untouched.

The rise of social media over the past two decades meant more and more locals and tourists spread the word about the lauded grove. A network of informal, secret trails formed and visitors trampled over the ferns and undergrowth to marvel at the beauty of the giant trees. But this came at a significant cost to the giant trees.

Redwood root systems were damaged and plants on the forest floor died. Foot traffic eroded soil and pushed litter into the streams, putting a strain on coho and steelhead spawning areas.

“It is our duty to protect our resources — we needed to protect this grove, but we also wanted to allow people to access it because it is a pretty significant experience,” said Erin Gates, deputy superintendent for Redwood National and State Parks and California State Parks North Coast Redwood District. “What we were able to do is realign Mill Creek Trail, build an elevated walkway so visitors are able to experience this grove without letting their footprints do damage that is irreversible.”

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Monday, May 23, 2022

Third Condor Set to Fly Free

Posted By on Mon, May 23, 2022 at 6:19 PM

A2 and A3 interact after A3 returns to the enclosure site after a two-week absence. - YUROK TRIBE FACEBOOK
  • Yurok Tribe Facebook
  • A2 and A3 interact after A3 returns to the enclosure site after a two-week absence.
The Northern California Condor Restoration Program is readying to send a third condor out into the wilds of Humboldt County on Wednesday to join two others — A2 and A3 — that took their first foray earlier this month.

A change in the weather forecast is delaying the previous plan to go forward on Tuesday.

The release of A0 — which will be live streamed —  marks the first flight of a female condor in the region in more than a century. But first, the bird has to cooperate by entering a smaller pen next to the main enclosure that has a door to the outside, a process successfully navigated by A2 and A3 on May 3.

After leaving first, A3 was nicknamed "Poy’-we-son," which the Yurok Tribe said translates to "the one who goes ahead, but also harks back to the traditional name for a headman of a village, who helps lead and guide the village in a good way,” while A2’s nickname, "Nes-kwe-chokw,’" translates to “He returns” or “He arrives."

The last of the young condors is expected to be let out sometime next month.

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Sex Abuse Suits Pouring in as State’s Catholic Leaders Seek Relief From Highest Court

Posted By on Mon, May 23, 2022 at 11:35 AM

In California, the lawsuits are mounting — middle-aged men, saying they were sexually assaulted as children by a Boy Scout leader or a priest. A woman, now in her late 30s, detailing how she was allegedly assaulted in a center for foster children. A man who said he was abused while volunteering with the Salvation Army. 

At least 750 of those lawsuits filed since January 2020 are against Catholic dioceses, and more than 800 people are in the process of filing to beat a Dec. 31 deadline, according to lawyers involved in the cases. 

The year-end date marks the close of the state’s three-year “lookback window,” which allows plaintiffs to file civil suits for childhood sexual abuse no matter how long ago the alleged events took place.  

Now, facing hundreds of lawsuits, a group of Catholic bishops is taking those challenges to the nation’s highest court. Saying they faced “potentially ruinous liability,” the bishops last month asked the U.S. Supreme Court to declare the California lookback window unconstitutional. 

“Review is critical now, before the Catholic Church in the largest state in the union is forced to litigate hundreds or thousands of cases seeking potentially billions of dollars in retroactive punitive damages,” according to the petition, which was first reported by the Catholic News Agency.

“There are few institutions that serve youth that do not have a history of having perpetrators in them who harm children.”

Paul Mones, Los Angeles plaintiff’s attorney

California created its new lookback window in 2019 under Assembly Bill 218, authored by then-Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, a San Diego Democrat. 

The bill opened a three-year period, from 2020 to 2022, that permitted complainants to file sexual abuse claims that exceeded the statute of limitations. 

The law allows people younger than 40 to file complaints without any extra steps. Complainants older than 40 must obtain, through an attorney, a mental health evaluation that finds “there is a reasonable basis to believe that the plaintiff had been subject to childhood sexual abuse.”

In 2002, the state passed a similar law creating a year-long window for people to file such claims. More than 850 people sued the Catholic Church the following year, and another 150 sued other religious institutions and the Boy Scouts of America. The Catholic Church paid out more than $1 billion to settle claims, according to the bishops’ petition to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Multiple dioceses sold “vast swaths” of church property in the 2000s, the petition states. Some exhausted or relinquished their lawsuit insurance, and the church believed at the time that the matter was over. 

“That assurance proved to be false,” the bishops wrote.

Across the country, such lookback windows have faced and survived multiple legal challenges at the state level. Actor Bill Cosby, accused of more than 50 sexual assaults over decades, has challenged them in California and New Jersey. Prince Andrew’s initial challenge to New York’s “lookback window” failed to persuade a judge in January to throw out his case.

Los Angeles attorney Paul Mones, who is representing at least 75 people suing the Catholic Church and dozens more suing other institutions, said he expects “a flurry of filings” in the last 60 days of the year before the lookback window expires. 

Among his cases, Mones said, were people suing the Boy Scouts of America, private schools, public schools, the Salvation Army, Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. 

“There are few institutions that serve youth that do not have a history of having perpetrators in them who harm children,” Mones said. 

The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down a previous California lookback window, but that was specific to criminal prosecution. 

In that 2003 case, Stogner vs. California, the high court ruled 5-4 that allowing California to charge someone criminally with child sex abuse after the statute of limitations had expired “inflicted punishment for past criminal conduct that … did not trigger any such liability.”

In 2013 and 2018, then-Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed similar proposals to create lookback windows in California.

The lawsuits during the current window have been targeted at both religious and secular institutions. In California, more than 200 women and men have sued an El Monte children’s center, alleging abuse between 1988 and 2001. 

In Sacramento, two brothers have sued the Capital Christian Center, alleging that they and three other former students were abused sexually in the early 1980s. 

Rick Simons, a plaintiff’s attorney managing the cases against the Catholic Church in Northern California, said his oldest case dates to the early 1960s. That litigant and others like him didn’t sue during California’s 2003 lookback window because “he wasn’t ready,” Simons said. 

“One year is just not enough time for some folks to process stuff,” Simons said. “This time, maybe the parents are mostly gone. Many more people are sober.”

“This was news in 2002 and 2003, that Catholic priests were engaged in systematic abuse. People hadn’t heard it on that scale,” he added.

The abuse cases against the Catholic Church during the current lookback window have been divided into three consolidated cases across the state: Northern California, San Diego and Los Angeles. In Northern California, plaintiff’s attorneys said more than 200 people have already filed suit, and another 800 are in the process of filing. 

“The (bishops’) petition is an attempt to invalidate the law and a disingenuous slap in the face to victims who have yet to come forward.”

Mike McDonnell, Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests

In San Diego, 80 people have filed suit, and in Los Angeles, 473 people have sued.

“The (bishops’) petition is an attempt to invalidate the law and a disingenuous slap in the face to victims who have yet to come forward,” said Mike McDonnell, spokesperson for the group Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. 

“It’s concerning to us because it’s not a thing of the past, it is a thing of the present and it is absolutely a thing of the future.” 

McDonnell said the sexual abuse claims test not just the financial resources of the Catholic Church and its dioceses, but the insurers that cover them. 

Insurers have expressed concern over the reopened statute of limitations and their financial exposure to costs far higher than they anticipated when they originally issued policies for an organization, whether it’s a church or a Boy Scout troop.

In 2019 alone, 14 states amended their laws to allow more time for claims of child sexual abuse, and at least eight states reopened the window for abuse claims that had exceeded the statute of limitations. 

Nationwide, lookback windows have typically led to thousands of lawsuits. In New Jersey, for instance, more than 1,200 sexual abuse lawsuits were filed between December 2019, when the state’s lookback window opened, and October 2021, when it closed, according to the Associated Press

About two-thirds of those New Jersey lawsuits named religious institutions. Lawsuits against schools represented about 14 percent and about 9 percent named the Boy Scouts.

Bill Donohue, president of the New York-based Catholic League, said in a statement that a focus on the Catholic Church in child sex abuse legislation and litigation is “anti-Catholic bigotry.” 

“It is a myth to maintain that the Catholic Church has a monopoly on the sexual abuse of minors: it exists in every institution where adults interact with youngsters,” Donohue said. 

“The Catholic Church in California has twice dealt with this issue. It should not be subjected to another round of lawsuits.”

California Catholic churches have paid among the highest dollar amounts for sex abuse settlements of any state, according to a list of settlements compiled by the website Bishop Accountability. 

“The Catholic Church in California has twice dealt with this issue. It should not be subjected to another round of lawsuits.”

Bill Donohue, president, New York-based Catholic League

The Los Angeles diocese paid $660 million to settle hundreds of abuse claims in 2007, and that same year, the San Diego diocese filed for bankruptcy and paid 144 people a total of $198 million. Those are the two highest settlements made by the Catholic Church in the U.S. 

Bankruptcy is a real fear for the churches involved in this litigation, said Jeff Anderson, a Minneapolis-based attorney with an office in Los Angeles who represents child sex abuse claimants suing the Catholic Church. 

“They are among the most frequent offenders, so yes, they are the most exposed [financially],” Anderson said. 

Anderson said the church is banking on the 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court, as well as the justices’ own religious affiliations — six justices are Catholic, though one, Sonya Sotomayor, is part of the court’s liberal minority. 

“I think that’s the only thing they can bank after,” Anderson said. “This writ is really the Hail Mary pass to the Catholic court.”

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Friday, May 20, 2022

COVID Outbreak Hits Fortuna Long-term Care Facility

Posted By on Fri, May 20, 2022 at 4:39 PM

Humboldt County Public Health is working with staff and management at the Fortuna Rehabilitation and Wellness Center to respond to a COVID-19 outbreak at the facility.

According to a news release, 12 people have tested positive for the virus, which includes both residents and staff, but no one has been hospitalized as of today.

“We're always concerned when our seniors and medically vulnerable members of the community are at risk," said Humboldt County Public Health Director Sofia Pereira.

Visitations are being restricted at the long-term care facility to slow the virus' spread and screenings for employees have been increased, the release states.

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The Great Culling: Which California Bills did Legislators Kill?

Posted By on Fri, May 20, 2022 at 1:28 PM

The state Capitol building. - CALIFORNIA STATE ASSEMBLY
  • California State Assembly
  • The state Capitol building.
California lawmakers won’t be creating a state Election Day holiday this year. Nor will they be providing grants to local governments to convert public golf courses into affordable housing, or forcing health insurers to cover fertility treatments.

All of these proposals were victims of the seasonal culling of bills known as the suspense file. This stately and secretive process, led by the Senate and Assembly appropriations committees, serves as a final fiscal review before any legislation expected to have a significant cost to the state is sent to the full chamber for a vote.

In fast and furious hearings on Thursday that stretched for two hours, the committees ran through the fates of nearly 1,000 bills, offering no explanations for their decisions and, in many cases, no formal announcement at all that a measure was held.

The results had already been determined in private deliberations. The suspense file, among the most opaque practices at the Capitol, allows legislative leaders to not only shelve proposals that are too expensive, but to also more quietly dispatch those that are controversial or politically inconvenient, particularly in an election year.

About 220 bills were shelved. The bills that made it through — more than 700 of them — now face another looming deadline next week to pass out of their house of origin. If successful, they will move to the other chamber for further consideration.

Here are some of the notable measures that are not advancing this session:

Election Day holiday

Five times Assemblymember Evan Low, a Campbell Democrat, has tried to create a state holiday for the November election, closing schools and giving public employees paid time off to vote. And five times the bill has been held on the Assembly suspense file, including again this year.

Assembly Bill 1872 was slightly different from several of its predecessors in that it would have swapped out Presidents’ Day with an Election Day holiday in even-numbered years, rather than simply adding another day off, thereby lowering its cost. But with every California voter now being mailed a ballot in every election, the urgency for such a plan has diminished considerably.

A separate measure to create a state holiday for Juneteenth, Assembly Bill 1655 by Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer, a Los Angeles Democrat, advanced to the floor, however.

Affordable housing

If a powerful interest group swings hard enough at a bill, they just might kill it. That’s what happened when nearly 80 local, regional and national golf groups, as well as several organizations that favor local control over housing development, coalesced against Assemblymember Cristina Garcia’s Assembly Bill 1910

The measure targeted the state’s hundreds of municipal golf courses, many of which are operating at significant financial losses, as prime locations to help the state build its way out of its housing shortage. It would have offered grants to local governments to convert their golf courses into housing, at least a quarter of which would have to be affordable to low-income families. The result wasn’t too surprising: everyone wants affordable housing, until it threatens to come to their backyard — or local golf course.

— Manuela Tobias

Fertility treatment

Assemblymember Buffy Wicks’ push to require health insurers to cover fertility treatment, including costly in-vitro fertilization, fell short for the third time in four years.

Unlike 17 other states, California does not require health insurers to pay for fertility treatments. A round of in vitro and the accompanying medication can cost upwards of $20,000, deterring some people from having children and leaving others in exorbitant debt.

Photo via iStock
Photo via iStock

Assembly Bill 2029 by Wicks, an Oakland Democrat, was opposed by health insurance plans and other business groups, which noted the high price tag: an estimated $715 million that would be fronted by employers and health plan enrollees largely in the form of increased premiums. 

— Ana B. Ibarra

Salary transparency

Assembly Bill 2095 by Assemblymember Ash Kalra, a San Jose Democrat, was a first-in-the-nation bill that would have required large companies to report a broad swath of data on their workforce, including how much they are paid and what benefits they receive. The state could have used that information to provide the public with easy-to-understand measurements of how companies treat their employees and to give top performers certain perks, like tax credits. 

But the bill faced ardent opposition from business groups, including the California Chamber of Commerce, which put the bill on its “job killer” list — the collection of measures it lobbies against most aggressively each year. The Chamber argued that the data would create unfair comparisons between companies or be taken out of context. 

Legislators did advance another workplace transparency proposal on the “job killer” list: Senate Bill 1162 by Sen. Monique Limón, a Santa Barbara Democrat, which would require companies to make some pay data public, including salary ranges in job posting, passed with a few amendments, including one that exempted companies with 15 or fewer workers.

— Grace Gedye

Community college professor pay

Part-time community college faculty are having a mixed moment in Sacramento. A pending $200 million health care fund they’ve championed has the support of the governor. But a bill to match the wages of part-time community faculty with full-time faculty for similar levels of work died on the suspense file.

Assembly Bill 1752 by Miguel Santiago, a Los Angeles Democrat, would have increased community college costs by an estimated hundreds of millions of dollars annually. That the cost is so high speaks to the enormous wage gap between part-time faculty — who are typically paid only for the hours they teach, but not for other related work like lesson planning and grading — and their full-time salaried peers. 

A majority of community college faculty are part-time, earning on average $20,000 per year. Labor unions backed this bill while the organization representing community college executives opposed it, arguing that they were already struggling to meet staffing obligations in an era of declining student enrollment.

— Mikhail Zinshteyn

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Thursday, May 19, 2022

Arcata Man Dies After Being Struck on 101

Posted By on Thu, May 19, 2022 at 11:46 AM

A 59-year-old Arcata man died after being hit by a car in the early morning hours of May 14 while he was reportedly walking within the lanes of U.S. Highway 101 just north of the Indianola Cuttoff.

According to the California Highway Patrol, Troy Rassbach was struck just after 3:30 a.m. Medical personnel responded to the scene but he succumbed to his injuries.

Impairment of the driver was not a factor, the CHP reported. The results of Rassbach’s toxicology screening are pending.

The CHP is continuing to investigate the collision and any one with information is asked to contact the agency at 822-5981, or 268-2000 after business hours.

Read the CHP release below:
On 05-14-2022, at approximately 3:32 AM, the CHP Humboldt Communication Center (HCC) received a call of a vehicle versus pedestrian traffic crash on US-101 Southbound, north of Indianola Cutoff.

Based on CHP's preliminary investigation, it appears this crash occurred when 59-year-old Troy Rassbach of Arcata CA, was walking within the lanes of US-101 Southbound and was struck by a 2010 Honda Pilot driven by 44-year-old Stephanie Mellen of Eureka. Emergency medical personnel responded to the scene and rendered aid to Mr. Rassbach. However, despite the efforts of medical personnel, Mr. Rassbach succumbed to his injuries and was pronounced deceased.

Impairment is not a factor in the driving of the vehicle. Impairment of Mr. Rassbach is unknown at this time and will be determined by the Humboldt County Coroner's Office.

The CHP is continuing to investigate this crash and asks anyone with information to contact the Humboldt Area CHP at (707) 822-5981 or (707) 268-2000 after business hours.

The California Highway Patrol extends its condolences to the family of the deceased and would like to thank the following agencies for their response and assistance with this investigation: Eureka Police Department, Humboldt Bay Fire Department, Arcata Mad River Ambulance, Humboldt County Sheriff's Department, California Department of Transportation and Humboldt Towing.
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