COVID-19 cases in Humboldt County double

Testing capacity increasing locally between Public Health, commercial labs

Illustration based on electron microscope image of the coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s about 120 nanometers in diameter (a nanometer is one billionth of a meter). The red “spikes” on the outside enable the virus to hook onto receptor cells in humans and to cut into them with molecular “can openers.” (Image by Alissa Eckert and Dan Higgins, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
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The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Humboldt County has doubled overnight, jumping from five on Tuesday to 10 as of Wednesday afternoon.

The Department of Health and Human Services announced that four of the new five confirmed cases of COVID-19, a respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, were part of a traveling group that yielded two previous positive test results, according to a news release from the department. The fifth confirmed case was “a household contact of one of these individuals.”

“I cannot emphasize enough that travel increases every individual’s risk and the risk to the community as a whole,” said County Health Officer Teresa Frankovich in a statement. “It is everyone’s responsibility to cancel non-essential travel and to comply with shelter-in-place orders.”

The individuals and their close contacts are under self-isolation and a multistate investigation is underway to determine who the individuals may have come into contact with while traveling, according to the release.

“Our safest bet is people staying where they are,” Frankovich said in a video statement. “Not crossing back and forth between counties, other states and such.”

That brings the number of active positive cases to nine; the first local case was cleared last month after self-isolating for two weeks. The Public Health Laboratory has tested 154 individuals, and other sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state Department of Public Health and commercial labs, have tested 136 people, according to the latest information from the county Public Health Laboratory.

The local Public Health lab, as of Wednesday, has a capacity to test 525 individuals. It is able to process about 30 tests per day and results are available in 48 hours.

Hospitals and outpatient providers have a kit, which includes a swab and a liquid to hold that swab, that allows them to collect a specimen, Frankovich said.

“The labs themselves are the entities that have all of the reagents and equipment to run the test,” Frankovich said. “Right now testing is not being done on-site at our local hospitals and clinics. The technology for that isn’t there yet.”

The county replaces the swab and medium it goes in when the tests go to the Public Health Lab, Frankovich said.

Commercial labs provide their own supplies and replace them, or the hospital procures those supplies in another way and sends them to the commercial lab, she said.

Ideally, it would be possible to test everyone, Frankovich said, but the first case out of China was reported was New Year’s Eve and the scientific community has had to play catch up in developing tests, vaccines and treatments.

“We’ve come a long way in a short period of time,” Frankovich said, “and the truth of the matter is that not only did the test have to be developed for this virus after it was genetically mapped, but the testing capacity … all of that had to be put in place. It’s been a frustration for everyone, but we have to deal with the reality we’re in.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, the U.S. had the third highest number of cases globally (65,778) of COVID-19 after China (81,661) and Italy (74,386), according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

Sonia Waraich can be reached at 707-441-0506.

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