When the state of California revokes its COVID-19 mask mandate next week, Humboldt County will follow suit, health official Ian Hoffman told the oversight board this morning.
Hoffman said the county plans to build on testing, ventilating and vaccinating efforts moving forward, adding that with the easing of the Omicron push, county public health will shift to a mitigation strategy that relies more on home testing and home treatment. the burden away from hospitals and the healthcare system. Overall, he said, the county will move away from requirements and “move towards recommendations” while monitoring new variations whether it needs to be “flexible” to reverse course to reimpose policies” based on the future behavior of the virus”.
Responding to a question from First District Supervisor Rex Bohn, Hoffman said more information about the county removing its masking order next week will be made available at a press conference tomorrow. But Hoffman said he expects statewide orders requiring universal masking in schools, hospitals and skilled nursing facilities to remain in place.
The change comes as Humboldt County appears to be on the decline from an unprecedented rise in cases fueled by the highly contagious variant of Omicron. The county reported confirming a record 6,438 virus cases in January, or about 207 new virus cases per day. Case rates have dropped each of the past two weeks, and the county reported 810 new cases of the virus in the first seven days of February, or about 115 a day.
In announcing the statewide change, which is expected to take effect Feb. 15, officials pointed to the decline in the state’s test positivity rate, which measures the percentage of COVID-19 samples. samples that come back positive for the virus and experts believe this is a better indicator of the spread of the virus than just the number of cases. Statewide, the seven-day test positivity rate sits at 8.8% while, according to the county dashboard, Humboldt County’s sits at 33.44%.
Providence St. Joseph’s Hospital chief executive Roberta Luskin-Hawk told the board that St. Joseph’s Hospital is currently treating 16 COVID-19 patients, with three more being treated at Redwood Memorial Hospital and likely more. at Mad River Community Hospital. But she said hospitalizations remained well below their peak in August and September during the surge fueled by the Delta variant, which she says is likely due to a number of factors, including Omicron being less likely to cause severe disease than previous variants and an increase in the availability of effective drug therapies, antivirals and antibody treatments.
After someone in a public comment questioned the decision to lift the county’s mask mandate while still in the midst of a surge in cases, Hoffman said the California Department of Public Health and the United States Centers for Disease Control continues to recommend masking in public spaces in areas of high COVID-19 transmission, a designation that Humboldt County continues to hold.
“The recommendation is still there,” Hoffman said. “What changes is that the requirement is no longer there.”