In today’s media availability, Dr. Teresa Frankovich, Humboldt County’s public health officer, starts by issuing a warning. COVID-19 cases are spiking across the country, she notes, and certain areas of California are experiencing very rapid growth.
There are “huge lessons to be learned here,” Dr. Frankovich says. Our day-to-day behavior is what is putting people at risks. It’s people gathering between households. It seems safe, but it is not safe. The more you mix between households, the more the virus spreads, and if the virus starts spreading rapidly we are going to lose the progress we’ve already made.
We want schools to be open in the fall. We want businesses to be open. But if things get bad, we’re going to have to walk things back.
Masking is “absolutely essential” going forward. The mask is meant to protect others. If everyone is wearing them, they will help protect you.
“This is our time of personal responsibility. Either we accept that this virus is a problem and has the potential to make a lot of us very sick, or we ignore it at our own peril.”
Media questions, with a summary of her answers, follow.
A listener inquired: Is COVID-19 transmitting from humans to pets? Do you know what can be done to prevent that kind of virus transmission?
There has been documentation of animals contracting COVID, but it doesn’t seem to be a big issue right now, Dr. Frankovich says. There’s no real evidence of transmission from pets to people. The CDC has some guidance on how to handle animals if you are ill. Basically it’s the same things you do to keep from transmitting the virus to other people – handwashing, social distancing…
What practices do you recommend to empower the immune system and stay healthy?
A good diet, with lots of fruits and vegetables. Plenty of activity and outdoor exercise. Getting plenty of rest.
What are the most common medical conditions that warrant an exemption, and is DHHS providing any guidance to businesses on how to handle a situation if someone refuses to wear a mask at their establishment?
“It’s a relatively few number of people,” says Dr. Frankovich. Some people with very restrictive respiratory issues have problems, but most people with COPD or asthma can wear a mask without problem. Also: Some people with certain mental health issues have found masks challenging. Sometimes a face shield is a good alternative.
Guidance for businesses? Call the Joint Information Center – (707) 441-5000. They’re set up to provide this kind of advice.
With direct flights from ACV to LAX resuming July 6th and Los Angeles County just placed on the Governor’s coronavirus watch list due to a spike in cases, is Public Health concerned at all about people traveling specifically to/from that area (whether it be residents flying in/out of the county, or outside people coming to Humboldt to get away from other, more affected areas)?
Travel has been a concern all along, says Dr. Frankovich, partly because we are so isolated. But most people are coming in and out of the county by car, and so airplane travel isn’t as much of a worry, actually.
To date, most of our travel-related infections have been from our own residents leaving the area and coming back. If you’re going on vacation, don’t forget the basics – hand-washing, distancing, mask-wearing.
With bars in Humboldt County being able to now submit their reopening plans and the recent announcement from the Governor about bars being ordered to close in a number of other counties, is Public Health thinking about the possibility of having to put those reopenings on hold? Are you working more closely with bars to ensure their reopening safely?
Bars are, by their nature, a social setting. Dr. Frankovich says she has reservations about them opening up. Essentially, bars – like all businesses – need to follow the plan that they’ve filed with the county. And if they don’t, they need to be held accountable.
The county will be watching bar reopening closely.
Can you explain how information on COVID tests is determined okay to be released? By what criteria is COVID-related information determined to be “needed” to be disclosed as public information versus being deemed unnecessary for the public and hence considered “wanted” information?
These things fall into three baskets, Dr. Frankovich says.
One: The information that is really central to the crisis.
Two: The information that would be great to report, but which is very difficult to acquire and report
Three: Information people really want but that relates to patient privacy, which they simply cannot provide. If someone’s hospitalized in Los Angeles, it’s no problem to report that information – it’s not identifiable. But in a smaller community, when you start talking about people who have been hospitalized, or sent to an intensive care unit, or on a ventilator, it starts to become more
Frankovich says that privacy is a key preoccupation in the public health field. “People need to feel confident that their information will be protected.”
In an earlier response you noted the “disproportionate amount of cases in our Latino community,” do you believe that a lack of available information and direct outreach to undocumented community members has impacted the local spread of COVID? Have you seen any cases where community members have been reluctant to seek out health services while suffering from COVID, due to immigration-related concerns or fears?
We have seen a disproportionate number of cases in the Latino community here and statewide, Dr. Frankovich says. It’s a big concern. She says that the Joint Information Center has been working hard to do outreach to get information to people in their own languages, and in various forms.
But she hasn’t yet seen specific cases of immigration status as a barrier here in Humboldt County. “I’m not aware of anyone who has not sought care because of their immigration status,” she says.
There have been conflicting national media reports over the past week about the degree to which children may be susceptible to contracting and spreading COVID-19. What is your understanding of the latest science about how the disease does and does not impact children?
It’s been hard to determine how often children get COVID-19, Dr. Frankovich says. Kids are more likely to be asymptomatic and less likely to be tested. Severe outcomes are rarer among children, fortunately – though bad cases do exist – but hopefully increased testing will help answer these questions.
According to the county dashboard, 12 percent of local cases have been confirmed in people age 19 or younger, which accounts for a far higher percentage of cases than has been reported nationally by the CDC. Do you have any theories as to why Humboldt County is seeing a higher rate of cases in this age demographic?
The vast majority of these cases – perhaps all of them – have been contacts of known cases. The county has been really aggressive about testing all contacts of known cases.