Friday, September 24, 2021

Public Health: Of 12 COVID-19 Hospitalizations This Week, 11 Were Unvaccinated

Posted By on Fri, Sep 24, 2021 at 4:23 PM

PUBLIC HEALTH
  • public health

Humboldt County Public Health confirmed 23 new COVID-19 cases and two new hospitalizations today but, for the first time in more than a week, did not report a COVID-19 death locally.

A state database shows 24 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 locally, with two under intensive care. The local hospital census peaked Sept. 3 with 42 COVID-19 patients before a steadily decline over the next couple weeks. The census is creeping back up, however, as a total of 17 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized as of Monday and there are currently 24.

"The county has seen a slight improvement in the cases and hospitalization rates, but local health officials caution that both metrics are still higher than at any point before August, the deadliest month of the pandemic," a press release states.

Today's cases — which make 259 confirmed so far this week — were reported after laboratories processed 394 samples with a test-positivity rate of 7.4 percent. After recording a test-positivity rate of 10.1 percent in July — the highest for any month since the pandemic began — the rate in Humboldt County jumped to 15.9 percent in August. Through the first 24 days of September, it sits at 15.8 percent, far outpacing state (3.1 percent) and national (8.1 percent) rates.

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Lightning Could Spark more California Fires as World Warms

Posted By on Fri, Sep 24, 2021 at 11:35 AM

The lightning-caused Monument Fire jumped State Route 299 in several places near Del Loma. Started July 30, it is now 61 percent contained. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • The lightning-caused Monument Fire jumped State Route 299 in several places near Del Loma. Started July 30, it is now 61 percent contained.
Wildland firefighters don’t admit to fearing much, but lightning is one terror that even the most experienced veterans say they hope to never encounter.

The worry is not being struck by a bolt, although it can be deadly. Instead, their primary concern is that lightning, slashing down in remote areas, can trigger unseen fires that smolder for days before they flare up, bursting into a dangerous and difficult-to-fight wildfire.

In August 2020, a remarkable barrage of lightning in Central and Northern California spawned more than 15,000 strikes over a few days, igniting more than 600 fires and burning more than 2 million acres. Five simultaneous lightning-sparked fires destroyed thousands of homes and buildings and claimed the lives of at least seven people.

And this month, lightning ignited a nasty, uncontained fire that is still menacing groves of ancient sequoia trees in Sequoia-Kings National Park.

It’s starting to look like a preview of the future: As climate change continues to alter the landscape, particularly in the West, scientists warn that lightning strikes capable of igniting wildfires are expected to multiply.

One study predicts that lightning strikes nationwide will increase 12 percent for every degree Celsius of global warming and about 50 percent over the 21st century if people keep emitting planet-warming greenhouse gases at the current pace. Other studies over the past three decades have predicted similar effects of climate change.

“The evidence from looking at climate models is that we can expect that lightning will increase,” said David Romps, who directs the Berkeley Atmospheric Sciences Center and co-authored the study. “My best guess is that by the end of the century — if we continue to burn coal and fossil fuels — we anticipate an increase of the number of lightning strikes by 50 percent.”

One study predicts that lightning strikes nationwide will increase 12 percent for every degree Celsius of global warming.

Lightning plays an outsized role in wildfires: More than 40 percent of wildfires in the West, largely in places other than California, were caused by lightning, and those fires accounted for more than 70 percent of the acreage burned between 1992 and 2015, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

“Lightning is so dangerous, usually it stays pretty much on the east side of the state, but last year it was all over the place, including the Coast Range,” said David Carle, whose book, Introduction to Fire in California, is a primer on the subject. “I think we have learned that dry lightning storms are a real problem.”

The strangeness of last year’s lightning-sparked firesstriking in coastal ranges unaccustomed to electrical storms — was underscored by the absence of rain, meaning that powerful natural energy hit the ground precisely where overgrown, dry vegetation waited, with no rain to quench the sparks.

“Dry lightning — it’s what everybody fears,” said Paul Steblein, a fire science coordinator with the U.S. Geological Survey.

Lightning strikes difficult to model

There’s little debate that climate change is driving larger and more frequent fires. But so far, scientists have not yet seen an increase in lightning events.

“I’ve looked at lightning trends over the last 25 years, and there hasn’t been a noticeable increase in global lightning or U.S. lightning,”said Chris Vagasky, a meteorologist who monitors lightning for Vaisala, a Finnish company that operates a vast U.S. network of lightning sensors, providing research and real-time data to governmental agencies and private companies.

Because lightning is caused by hyper-local, highly transitory factors, such as winds, it’s difficult for scientists to tease out patterns or project the future. “Lightning itself is such a small process that it can’t be modeled explicitly at climate scales,” Vagasky said.

A helicopter drops water on the edge of the now 98-percent contained and lightning-caused McFarland Fire, which started July 29. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • A helicopter drops water on the edge of the now 98-percent contained and lightning-caused McFarland Fire, which started July 29.

Lightning is created by static electricity in clouds, as ice droplets bump into each other and cause friction, heating the air in the cloud to as high as 54,000 degrees. About 80% of the time, lightning explodes from cloud to cloud, crackling and snapping in the upper atmosphere in thunderclouds that can rise 10 miles.

Last year, some 170 million lightning strikes occurred across the country, about 22 percent below average; California was 51 percent below average with 283,000 strikes, despite the deadly August 2020 surge. This year, nationwide strikes are trending about 15-20 percent below average, Vagasky said.

California does not rank among the top ten for lightning strikes: Texas, Florida and Oklahoma, where warm, moist air spends the summer, are the leaders. While lightning can set grass fires in those states, the repercussions are nothing like California’s expansive, destructive and deadly wildfires.

Still, the Golden State has a history of catastrophic fires sparked by lightning storms. In the Siege of ’87, lightning assaulted the California-Oregon border for two weeks, setting off as many as 4,000 fires. Lightning-sparked fires in 1999 also merged in Big Sur into a massive conflagration, and more than 5,000 strikes over a day and a half set off about 1,000 fires in 2008.

Fighting unpredictable lightning fires

While less lightning in California over the past two years is good news for fire commanders, the scientists’ projections of an increase in coming decades are sobering: This year’s stubborn drought and record heat mean that lightning strikes are particularly dangerous.

“There are some lightning strikes in these conditions where you have immediate fire activity,” said Anthony Scardina, deputy regional forester for the U.S. Forest Service. “In other instances, the strike may not show a flame for 72 hours. It could hit a single tree, and in the right environment, it could flame up later and grow. The fire is out there, hiding.”

Lightning “could hit a single tree, and in the right environment, it could flame up later and grow. The fire is out there, hiding.”

Anthony Scardina, U.S. Forest Service

Such blazes are known as “holdover fires,” said Robyn Heffernan, a federal meteorologist working at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, the nerve center for U.S. wildland firefighting. “When there are thunderstorms and lightning events, we know that these small fires can be out there and we look for them.”

Another complicating issue with lightning-caused fires is the unpredictability of their location. Lightning can strike as far as 20 miles away from the thunderstorm that generated them. Human-caused fires, which account for about 95% of wildfires in California, tend to start near people or equipment, generally within reasonable reach of fire crews. But lightning’s caprice means fires can pop up virtually anywhere, in the backcountry or far from firefighters.

Brian Rhodes, the U.S. Forest Service’s deputy director for fire and aviation management, said it’s almost impossible to forecast lightning-sparked fires, calling them a “ wild card.”

“I’ve been working in California my entire career and our weather models really struggle to keep up with predicting these events,” he said.

Understanding weather patterns and lightning risk is a critical piece of fire strategy, so much so that large blazes are assigned fire weather officers who receive special training and certification from the National Weather Service.

This month’s lightning storms in the Bay Area and Southern California lasted less than 12 hours, compared to two days of strikes that triggered the August 2020 fire siege. That siege caught authorities off guard for an array of reasons: the number of strikes, the speed at which the fires spread and converged, and how broadly dispersed the lightning storms were.

The five major lightning-sparked fires all ignited within three days, beginning on Aug. 16, reaching from Monterey Bay north to the Oregon border. In the end, lightning storms had spawned California’s first “gigafire,” a single blaze that grew to more than a million acres.

One of the biggest fires — the CZU August Complex fire north of Santa Cruz — was sparked by lightning around 3 a.m on a Sunday, on Aug. 16. By noon, 22 fires were detected, 15 of them unstaffed with firefighters.

That same day, lightning sparked the LNU fires, racing through Sonoma, Napa, Lake, Solana and Yolo Counties. Thunderstorms west of Big Sur sparked the SCU Lightning Complex fire that spread over five counties. Then, over the next two days, Butte, Tehama and Glenn Counties were struck with multiple lightning fires that killed one firefighter, and the Sequoia National Forest blew up with a fire that burned nearly 170,000 acres.


Once these multiple fires caught, they moved at a furious rate. Fire authorities had to rush crews from one blaze to another, a deadly and frustrating game of whack-a-mole.

“Resources quickly became scarce,” the 2020 Cal Fire report says. “Requests outnumbered available resources as initial attack activity outpaced available resources. The lightning storm continued across the State into the Pacific Northwest and Great Basin. Demand for available resources across the nation was impacted by multiple major fires in the western United States.”

One of the biggest threats, Rhodes said, was where the lightning siege struck: “A lot of the areas were very remote,” he said, “and it was dry lightning, the worst we can get on fires.”

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Thursday, September 23, 2021

HumCo Records Four More COVID-19 Deaths, 40 New Cases as Hospitalizations Rise

Posted By on Thu, Sep 23, 2021 at 4:18 PM

Humboldt County Public Health Microbiologist Annayal Yikum prepares patient samples for the COVID-19 testing process. - SUBMITTED
  • Submitted
  • Humboldt County Public Health Microbiologist Annayal Yikum prepares patient samples for the COVID-19 testing process.

Four more Humboldt County residents have died of COVID-19, Public Health reported today, while also confirming 40 new cases of the virus and four new hospitalizations.

This is the fifth consecutive day Public Health has reported a new COVID-19 death, with 10 local deaths reported over the past seven days and 40 since Aug. 1.

A state database shows 25 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 locally, with four under intensive care. The local hospital census peaked Sept. 3 with 42 COVID-19 patients before a steadily decline over the next couple weeks. The census is creeping back up, however, as a total of 17 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized as of Monday and there are currently 25.

Today's cases — which make 236 confirmed so far this week — were reported after laboratories processed 377 samples with a test-positivity rate of 10.6 percent. After recording a test-positivity rate of 10.1 percent in July — the highest for any month since the pandemic began — the rate in Humboldt County jumped to 15.9 percent in August. Through the first 20 days of September, it has jumped to 16.3 percent, far outpacing state (3.1 percent) and national (8.1 percent) rates.

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Governor Signs Wood's Wildfire Prevention Bill

Posted By on Thu, Sep 23, 2021 at 1:51 PM

Assemblyman Jim Wood, in October, asking Gov. Jerry Brown to pass statewide medical marijuana reforms. - PHOTO BY GRANT SCOTT GOFORTH
  • Photo by Grant Scott Goforth
  • Assemblyman Jim Wood, in October, asking Gov. Jerry Brown to pass statewide medical marijuana reforms.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed North Coast Assemblymember Jim Wood's bill creating a wildfire prevention entity in the Office of the State Fire Marshal into law.

“It is clear that we cannot firefight our way out of this wildfire crisis,” Wood said in a press release. “California needs both a world-class firefighting force and a world-class fire preparedness and mitigation force with the resources to meet the crucial task at hand.”

Under the bill, Assembly Bill 9, eight existing programs and duties focused on community fire prevention, preparedness and mitigation efforts currently under CalFire's purview will be shifted to this new branch. The new entity will use block grants and work to support regional entities to develop a pipeline of woodland and fuel reduction projects that are part of a coordinated strategy across the region and state.

“What communities need to do to prevent and prepare for catastrophic wildfire varies tremendously across this diverse state,” said Wood. “Housing density, vegetation type and topography are just a few of the many considerations that affect the kinds of work communities must undertake to prepare for the next fire. This bill ensures that strategies be regionally focused to meet the unique needs of each community.”

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Open Door Breaks Ground on New Arcata Health Center

Posted By on Thu, Sep 23, 2021 at 12:27 PM

A second round of dirt shoveling at the groundbreaking event was done by Arcata City Manager Karen Diemer, Open Door Community Health Centers President Tory Starr, Assemblymember Jim Wood, Arcata Mayor Brett Watson, Arcata City Planner Joe Mateer,  Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson, former state Assembly and Senate member and former Arcata city council member and Third District Supervisor Wesley Chesbro and Arcata Community Development Director David Loya. - MARK LARSON
  • Mark Larson
  • A second round of dirt shoveling at the groundbreaking event was done by Arcata City Manager Karen Diemer, Open Door Community Health Centers President Tory Starr, Assemblymember Jim Wood, Arcata Mayor Brett Watson, Arcata City Planner Joe Mateer, Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson, former state Assembly and Senate member and former Arcata city council member and Third District Supervisor Wesley Chesbro and Arcata Community Development Director David Loya.

A host of local officials gathered in a dirt lot on Foster Avenue Tuesday afternoon to get their golden shovels dirty and celebrate the groundbreaking of the state-of-the-art Arcata Community Health Center, which is slated to open in 2023.

Once complete, the 33,000 square-foot facility will use a solar array — and an emergency backup generator — to power 35 exam rooms and a laboratory that will treat an estimated 40,000 patients per year — both adults and children — receiving primary care. The center will consolidate Open Door Community Health Centers’ two existing Arcata clinics — North Country Clinic and Humboldt Open Door Clinic — in a facility that meets “the same standards” as Open Door’s new health centers in Crescent City, Eureka and Fortuna.

An artist's rendering of what the Arcata Community Health Center will look like once complete. - SUBMITTED
  • Submitted
  • An artist's rendering of what the Arcata Community Health Center will look like once complete.


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Nonstop to Vegas

Posted By on Thu, Sep 23, 2021 at 7:52 AM

An Avelo flight touches down in Las Vegas. - SUBMITTED
  • Submitted
  • An Avelo flight touches down in Las Vegas.
Wanna go to Vegas?

Avelo Airlines announced this morning that it will begin offering twice weekly nonstop flights from Humboldt County to Las Vegas, Nevada, in November.

“We are excited to add this second popular vacation and entertainment destination to our Eureka/Arcata schedule,” Avelo Chairman and CEO Andrew Levy said in a press release. “Getting to Vegas from the Humboldt Bay Area is now easier and more affordable than ever. The addition of Las Vegas to our existing Los Angeles service demonstrates our commitment to providing more choice and convenient access to the places our customers want to go go at everyday low fares.”

Just how low are those fares? Well, the company says they will start as low as $29 one-way, though that’s for a limited number of seats and “additional fees for carry-on and checked bags, assigned seats and other optional services may apply.”

The flights will operate on Thursdays and Sundays, leaving Humboldt County at 3 p.m. Thursdays (arriving in Vegas at 4:45 p.m.) and returning from Vegas at 5:25 p.m. Sundays (arriving in McKinleyville at 7:25 p.m.). The service begins Nov. 18.

Find the full press release from Avelo here.
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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

HumCo Records 89th COVID-19 Death, 35 New Cases

Posted By on Wed, Sep 22, 2021 at 4:14 PM

A Humboldt County Public Health Laboratory employee processes a COVID-19 test. - PUBLIC HEALTH
  • Public health
  • A Humboldt County Public Health Laboratory employee processes a COVID-19 test.

For the third consecutive day, Public Health is reporting that another Humboldt County resident has died of COVID-19, while also confirming 35 new cases of the virus and two hospitalizations.

The death brings the county's cumulative death toll from the virus to 89, with 36 having come since Aug. 1.

A state database shows 20 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 locally, with four under intensive care. The slow decline in hospitalizations — which peaked at 42 Sept. 3 — is welcome news for local hospitals, which had been pushed beyond capacity amid a brutal August that saw 2,000 new cases confirmed, 98 hospitalizations and 22 deaths.

Today's cases — which make 196 confirmed so far this week — were reported after laboratories processed 289 samples with a test-positivity rate of 12.1 percent. After recording a test-positivity rate of 10.1 percent in July — the highest for any month since the pandemic began — the rate in Humboldt County jumped to 15.9 percent in August. Through the first 20 days of September, it has jumped to 16.7 percent, far outpacing state (2.9 percent) and national (8.1 percent) rates.

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Yurok Tribe Nabs $30 Million Education Grant

Posted By on Wed, Sep 22, 2021 at 3:53 PM

The Yurok Tribe was awarded a $30 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Promise Neighborhoods to create a regional five-year effort for a "cradle-school-career pathway project" that will build programs and support services for students in Del Norte County. 

“The Yurok Education Department is excited about what this grant means for our families, our students and the community as a whole. In partnership with the True North Organizing Network, Del Norte schools, First-5, Del Norte Child Care Council and other local entities, we will build sustainable supports, services and programs that help our students succeed as they make their way from pre-kindergarten to college to a satisfying professional career,” said Jim McQuillen, Yurok Education Department director. "I look forward to establishing the high-quality learning opportunities our students need and deserve."

The DOE’s Promise Neighborhoods grant aims to improve the educational and developmental outcomes of children and youth in distressed communities and to transform those communities.

The grant will be paid over the next five years in the amount of $5,999,644 annually.

The Klamath River Promise Neighborhood looks to bring together tribes, schools, the Del Norte Unified School District and county office of education, community-based organizations, institutes of higher education, local government and parent and resident groups, who intend to improve educational, health and developmental outcomes for children by building a continuum of solutions centered around great schools in Del Norte County and adjacent tribal lands.

North Coast Rep. Jared Huffman applauded the grant award.

"It’s inspiring to see folks across the region come together under the goal of improving students’ lives to secure this grant," he said in a press release. "Del Norte County is one of the most economically disadvantaged regions in my district, but with this funding we can ensure children are healthy, have the tools they need for a successful education, and can go on to have fulfilling careers to support themselves, their communities and Tribes.”

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Huffman Looks to Abolish U.S. Space Force

Posted By on Wed, Sep 22, 2021 at 12:44 PM

Jared Huffman. - CONGRESS
  • Congress
  • Jared Huffman.
North Coast Rep. Jared Huffman has introduced a bill that would abolish the "unnecessary" Space Force created by the Trump administration.

“The long-standing neutrality of space has fostered a competitive, non-militarized age of exploration every nation and generation has valued since the first days of space travel. But since its creation under the former Trump administration, the Space Force has threatened longstanding peace and flagrantly wasted billions of taxpayer dollars,” Huffman said.

The No Militarization of Space Act comes as Congress moves to pass the National Defense Authorization Act, which funds the Pentagon.

Huffman was joined by representatives Mark Pocan, Jesús “Chuy” García, Rashida Tlaib and Maxine Waters in introducing the legislation, which is endorsed by Taxpayers for Common Sense, National Taxpayers Union, Peace Action, R Street Institute and Demand Progress.

“It’s time we turn our attention back to where it belongs: addressing urgent domestic and international priorities like battling COVID-19, climate change and growing economic inequality," Huffman said. "Our mission must be to support the American people, not spend billions on the militarization of space."

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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

HumCo Records 88th COVID Death, 72 New Cases Reported

Posted By on Tue, Sep 21, 2021 at 3:46 PM

A Humboldt County Public Health Laboratory employee processes a COVID-19 test. - PUBLIC HEALTH
  • Public health
  • A Humboldt County Public Health Laboratory employee processes a COVID-19 test.

Another Humboldt County resident has died of COVID-19, Public Health reported today, while also confirming 72 new cases of the virus and two new hospitalizations, including one of a resident in their 20s.

The death — of a local residents in their 50s — brings the county's cumulative death toll from the virus to 88, with 35 having come since Aug. 1.

A state database shows 20 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 locally, with two under intensive care. The slow decline in hospitalizations — which peaked at 42 Sept. 3 — is welcome news for local hospitals, which had been pushed beyond capacity amid a brutal August that saw 2,000 new cases confirmed, 98 hospitalizations and 22 deaths.

Today's cases — which make 161 confirmed so far this week — were reported after laboratories processed 356 samples with a test-positivity rate of 20.2 percent. After recording a test-positivity rate of 10.1 percent in July — the highest for any month since the pandemic began — the rate in Humboldt County jumped to 15.9 percent in August. Through the first 20 days of September, it has jumped to 16.8 percent, far outpacing state (2.9 percent) and national (8.1 percent) rates.

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