In a telephone town hall attended by more than 800 people April 29, state Sen. Mike McGuire called on experts from UCLA Medical Center and area counties to give updates and answer questions about COVID-19, testing, state mandates and when area businesses will be able to reopen.
McGuire was joined by Dr. Timothy Brewer, MD, a specialist in medicine and infectious disease at UCLA Medical Center. From Trinity County, Public Health Director Marcie Jo Cudziol provided local information to date. From Humboldt County, Public Health Officer Teresa Frankovich, and from Del Norte County, Public Health Officer Dr. Warren Rehwaldt, MD., were also on the line, along with Del Norte County CAO Jay Sarina.
McGuire opened by saying uncounted thousands of lives have been saved through stay at home measures and social distancing practiced by California residents. However, the best measures for dealing with a pandemic have proven to be the worst for the economy, he said.
‘A vaccine is still a year away,” he said. “There isn’t, and there will not be a robust federal testing program. The antibody tests that would have provided us with the data we need to make sound decisions simply isn’t ready for prime time.” He said stay at home orders have been the only tool we have.
However, McGuire added that in the coming weeks, not months, the state will gradually allow reopening of businesses at the lowest risk of spreading COVID-19.
“Here’s what this could mean,” he said. “Giving Mom and Pop retail businesses, the hardest working and the heart of our local economy, the ability to provide curbside pickup or allow them to be able to limit the number of customers that go into the store, or allowing manufacturing firms the ability to reopen while they keep their workers safe.” He said several Northern California cities have begun to relax their stay at home orders regarding parks and public spaces. He said statewide modifications to stay at home orders will roll out in the next few weeks as long as virus numbers are kept low.
“But it will not be business as usual,” he said, noting that before opening, businesses must prepare to meet the requirements of offering protections for employees and social distancing measures for customers.
“Candidly, large events with large crowds will not take place, at least through the summer months,” he said. “I know this has been an incredibly difficult time. There are so many hurting in our community, and we still have challenges ahead.”
McGuire said a light at the end of the tunnel will come in the form of expanded, state-sponsored testing in California counties, focused on rural centers.
“One of the first state-sponsored sites is currently open in Humboldt County,” he said. “More sites in other rural counties will be introduced over the next few weeks, and the state is committed to continuing our expansion of testing. It’s absolutely critical to expand testing to ensure the reopening of our economy.”
By the numbers
Dr. Brewer opened by saying it’s hard to believe that four months ago, no one had heard of COVID-19.
Today, there have been more than 3 million cases and over 200,000 deaths worldwide, he said, noting that the fatality rate is currently about 7 percent.
“Unfortunately, the situation in the U.S. hasn’t been much better,” he said, noting that U.S. cases recently passed 1 million with 60,000 deaths, equaling about 6 percent of known cases. He said African Americans, who make up about 13 percent of the population, have been hit harder and account for about 30 percent of known cases. In California, African Americans account for about 6 percent of the population, and about 7 percent of known cases, but about 10 percent of the deaths in the state.
In total statewide, there were 45,000 known cases as of the April 29 town hall, with 1,800 deaths, equaling a mortality rate of about 4 percent, he said, adding that California’s adherence to stay at home orders has resulted in rates lower than that of the country as a whole. He said California’s infection rate is 10 times lower than that of New York or New Jersey.
“The sacrifices that everyone in California have been making are paying off,” he said. “We are seeing that both in our case rates and our hospitalizations.”
Dr. Brewer said there are two ways to conduct antibody testing for infection. He said the first is a swab test to detect the actual virus. The second is an antibody test to detect proteins produced by the body during infection.
“Those tests, right now, are for public health officials to really get a sense of how much infection has occurred in a population, or for researchers to study the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. “While we will have these tests available in hospitals and clinics, they’re not a test for diagnosing infection at this time. For diagnostic testing, we are going to use the swab test where we are looking for a piece of the virus.
Dr. Brewer praises stay at home measures, saying that while they have been difficult, they have also worked to reduce transmission, illness and death. Giving the example of Hokkaido, Japan, population 6 million, Dr. Brewer said the state contained the virus with an immediate lockdown but reopened soon afterward. A few weeks later, it was hit with a rebound in COVID cases, and had to go back inside.
“They implemented aggressive stay at home orders, almost like California, when they only had about 66 cases, and almost immediately brought their case numbers down to zero,” he said. “After about three weeks, they relaxed their stay at home orders. About three weeks after they did that, they saw a rebound in their cases.” He said that three weeks after relaxing orders, they had a rebound in cases, jumping to 300, then quickly to 500 cases.
“As long as this is transmitting anywhere in California or anywhere in the country, we are at risk,” he said. “It will be important for us to stay in step with the rest of the states and ideally, the country, so that we can all get through this together.”
Cudziol opened by saying 83 tests have been conducted in Trinity County and all have come back negative.
“This testing represents roughly 0.6 percent of our population and is locally insufficient in providing the metric needed to guide local decision-making,” she said, noting that the department is engaging with state partners to create a high throughput testing station in Weaverville. She said Weaverville falls in the category of being 60 minutes from the majority of surrounding areas considered rural testing deserts.
“We know that broadening testing and isolating positive individuals and contact tracing of exposed individuals is absolutely foundational to decision-making around the safe modification of our stay at home orders,” she said.
Cudziol said discussions are taking place regarding the management of virus spread during fire season as personnel converge on the area. She said if a high throughput testing is developed locally, it could easily cover those fire personnel, as well as local essential workers.
“We did get word today that Shasta County has their high throughput open test site up,” she said, noting that only health care workers are being tested at this time. She said that will be essential when it comes to re-establishing preventative care, especially when it comes to children. She said Well-Child checkups and vaccinations need to be done before school resumes.
FAQ and answers
Asked if the virus will shrink in the summer heat, Dr. Brewer said that while most respiratory viruses do just that, he has no reason to believe it will cause a decrease in the number of COVID-19 transmissions.
“That’s why the stay at home orders and other public health measures are so important,” he said.
Asked how long it will take to develop a vaccine, Dr. Brewer said a vaccine is already in the first part of a clinical trial, but it will still take a year to 18 months to be demonstrated safe for human use. McGuire calculated that such a vaccine may not be available until early to mid-2021.
“We have a long way to go yet,” Dr. Brewer said.
Asked if county IHS and Hospice workers can be included in the early throughput testing, Dr. Frankovich said officials are looking at the highest risk workers, which would include them, as well as retail workers.
According to Johns Hopkins University, these are the numbers of cases in counties around Trinity as of Monday afternoon, compared to last week.
Humboldt County now has 54 confirmed cases, up 1 from last week, with zero deaths.
Tehama County has one confirmed case with one death.
Siskiyou County still has 5 confirmed cases with zero deaths.
Del Norte County has 3 confirmed cases with zero deaths.
Mendocino County has 12 confirmed cases, up 1 from last week, with zero deaths.
Glenn County still has 5 confirmed cases, up 1 from last week, with zero deaths.
Shasta County now has 31 confirmed cases, up 1 from last week, with three deaths.
Tehama County has 1 confirmed case with one death.
Butte County still has 16 confirmed cases, with zero deaths.
Colusa County still has 3 confirmed cases with zero deaths.
Lake County has 7 confirmed cases, up 1 from last week, with zero deaths.
Modoc, Lassen and Trinity County still have no confirmed cases.
Total: 133 confirmed cases, up 5 from last week, with five deaths.
The full map of known and active cases can be found at https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html
• More from the Town Hall can be found on The Trinity Journal’s website, www.trinityjournal.com.