MENDOCINO Co, 7/24/21 — California ended the Blueprint for Safer Economy map and its colored tier system in June, but in a news conference Friday, July 23, county officials couldn’t help but refer to “old terminology” to describe the surge in COVID cases the county is seeing — which would place Mendocino County in the state’s most restrictive purple tier.
A month after the state reopened, Mendocino County experienced a steady uptick in positive COVID cases and two weeks ago a surge that prompted officials to recommend wearing masks indoors regardless of vaccination status. Over the last month, the average for cases has tripled from 3.7 to 11 per day and the number of people hospitalized has almost tripled from 5 to 14, according to Dr. Andy Coren, Public Health Officer, in a statement released by Mendocino County Public Health.
Anne Molgaard, Director of Public Health, clarified county recommendations for those who are confused about the increasingly varied guidance on masking: “Our local Mendocino public health officers who understand what our local situation is way better than the CDC or CDPH does, are actually recommending that everyone mask indoors,” she said. Molgaard reminded business owners that they have the right to require all patrons to wear masks.
Dr. Doohan added that while “guidance” is an order and can be legally enforced by the state government, a recommendation is not enforceable. “The reason that we’re recommending that everybody, regardless of vaccination status, mask in public places indoors…is that we’re surging again pretty seriously.”
As of July 23, there are 111 people in isolation, 68 in quarantine, nine COVID-19 cases in the hospital and five in ICU, a stark contrast to one month ago. Deaths from COVID-19 have remained at 50 since June 4, none of which were vaccinated people. There are no vaccinated people in the hospital or ICU.
The fully vaccinated population has increased slightly from 51.3% to 52.8%. Of those eligible to receive vaccinations, 32.2% remain unvaccinated.
A number of under-vaccinated people (4,247) who have not received their second dose for more than 60 days have county officials bewildered. “We are looking at this data a little bit more to try and figure out what’s happening here,” said Kirk Ford, DOC manager for Mendocino County Public Health. “Did these people just choose to not get a second dose? Have they gotten a second dose and we don’t have a record of it?”
Though the vaccines are highly protective, 55 fully vaccinated people have tested positive for COVID-19, up from 34 on July 9. There are 43 cases of COVID positive people who are partially vaccinated, also up from 38 cases two weeks ago. The post-vaccination infections affected mostly those 65 and older, white and female. Still, the rate of infection among vaccinated people remains low (0.316%) and Mendocino County has had no post-vaccination cases hospitalized.
Statewide, according to the California Department of Public Health, “for the week of July 7-14, the average case rate among unvaccinated Californians is 13 per 100,000 and the average case rate among vaccinated Californians is significantly lower at 2 per 100,000.” Nationally, more than 97 percent of people hospitalized for COVID-19 are unvaccinated.
As California relaxed pandemic restrictions, the Delta variant has mushroomed, more infectious and with a shorter incubation period of around two days compared to 4-5 days of older variants. “We’re back out there,” said Dr. Doohan speaking to frontline workers. “We’re back seeing it. We’re seeing the hard things. Now we’re seeing younger people dying in hospitals.”
Mendocino County has documented five cases of the Delta variant. The first recorded case in Mendocino County was on April 20, 2021 and now the Delta variant is of “primary concern” for unvaccinated and partially vaccinated people, officials say.
“[The surge] in the county is most certainly due to the Delta variant,” Deputy Health Officer Dr. Noemi Doohan told reporters. Doohan noted the county does not have a complete picture of how many Delta variant cases are in the county in part due to a backlog in the state’s genome sequencing, which Mendocino County has to send out of county to be sequenced.
“We are in the dark about the presence of the delta virus in our county,” Dr. Doohan said. Statewide 83% of analyzed samples in July have been identified as the Delta variant. “We are going to assume that eight three percent of our cases in Mendocino County are Delta variant,” she said.
“We do have a large number of people in our hospitals and ICUs. If it keeps going this way, it could even approach what we saw last winter. Ultimately, our goal with this pandemic is to protect the hospital systems and our healthcare delivery systems so they are not overwhelmed and to slow the spread, or what we call ‘flatten the curve’ so it gives us more time to prepare and respond. What we don’t want is an outbreak of cases so strong that the hospital can’t handle the number of cases. Our job is to slow things down,” Doohan said.
With fewer people getting testing and a decreased demand for vaccinations, part of the County’s continued public health response to slow the spread of the virus is through contact tracers. Dr. Doohan urged those contacted by the Case Investigation Contact Tracing Team (CICTT) to cooperate with contract tracers. Recently, in the case of Willits’ Frontier Days where at least 5 people were infected, Dr. Doohan says contact tracers were critical in connecting the dots and informing those who were potentially exposed. “Please answer the call. Please answer their questions. Our team members are here to help.”
Officials also addressed concerns families may have with the new school year right around the corner. Molgaard said that while CDPH determines guidance for safely reopening schools, though ultimately individual school districts will enforce guidance. “That’s going to be a big conversation with superintendents and school boards and parents and labor unions and teachers. [DPH] will certainly be available to advise and help them navigate through this… but it’s not our call this time.” Molgaard recommends vaccination for everyone who is eligible, “universal masking” in schools and “targeted quarantine practices.”
Dr. Doohan ended her statement with a message for those of various vaccinated statuses: “We’re surging. We’re looking like we‘re back in the purple tier, using our old terminology. Our hospital has more patients in it with COVID than it has for a very long time.”
If you’re fully vaccinated, Doohan says “there is a possibility that you could get symptomatic COVID. It’s seven times as likely if you are unvaccinated. For a fully vaccinated person, COVID is like a bad case of the flu. The vaccine is very protective for you. However if a fully vaccinated person were to get COVID, they still have to isolate if they are symptomatic for the ten days.”
If you are partially vaccinated, “now is the time to get your vaccine.”
For those who are unvaccinated, “we respect you. We respect your rights. There’s no requirement by the public health department for anybody to be vaccinated. If you’re hesitant to get vaccinated, you’ve been thinking about it, you’re not sure if it’s the right time, you want some more time to think about it, I would encourage you that this is the right time. Millions of people in the United State have received the COVID-19 vaccines under the most intense safety monitoring in US history.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that as of July 24, there have been 34,380,019 COVID-19 cases and 608,403 deaths both trending upward. Of the 339 million doses of COVID vaccine in the United States, .0018% have resulted in a death. “The risk of dying from COVID is 1000 times more likely than the possible rare risk of dying from the vaccine,” Doohan said.
Watch the full July 23, 2021 Mendocino County Public Health Covid-19 press conference here:
COVID TESTING & VACCINE INFO: For more information on COVID-19 vaccines, testing, and masking, contact the Mendocino County Public Health COVID19 Call Center at (707) 472-2759 or visit their website at: https://www.mendocinocounty.org/community/vacunas-covid-19. You can read our ongoing coverage of the pandemic here, and find the current county COVID-19 data here.