Jessica Cejnar / Wednesday, May 19 @ 5:08 p.m.
Harbor Officials Discuss Concert, In-Person Meetings; Del Norte Public Health Officer Speaks to Potential Consequences to Lifting COVID-19 Restrictions
As Del Norte gears up for a fair, an Independence Day celebration and a traditional high school graduation, the Crescent City Harbor District Board of Commissioners is also anticipating life beyond COVID-19.
Commissioners on Tuesday discussed a concert at Whaler Island proposed for July 2 and brought up the possibility of resuming regular meetings at the Harbor District’s office on Citizens Dock Road.
But until Del Norte County graduates to the yellow, or minimal, tier on California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, the harbor would have to maintain a maximum 25 percent capacity in its office, Interim CEO Tim Petrick said.
“Our meeting room downstairs has a capacity of about 65, so that would be 16, which would be 25 percent,” he said. “And the concern there is if we were to open to complete in-person meetings, between staff and commissioners, you’re talking about approximately 10 people that need to be at the meeting, so you’re only allowing six members of the public inside.”
Del Norte County is currently in the red, or substantial, tier on the Blueprint for a Safer Economy. This means that while government services can be open with modifications, gatherings indoors are strongly discouraged and must be limited to no more than three households, or 10 people, and no more than 25 percent capacity.
But come June 15 — the date California Gov. Gavin Newsom named for relaxing most public health restrictions — previous health mandates may no longer be in place, according to Public Health Officer Dr. Warren Rehwaldt.
The ability for the community to return to pre-pandemic normalcy is predicated on the number of people who have received the COVID-19 vaccine, Rehwaldt said. State public health officials would have liked to see a 70-75 percent vaccination rate before the Blueprint for a Safer Economy was eliminated, he said.
In Del Norte County, a total of 6,588 people have been vaccinated, about 23.7 percent of the population, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 Data Tracker.
“We’ll get close on average statewide, but locally I don’t think we’re really near that,” he said. “We may experience a surge afterwards, quite honestly. You’re going to open up more avenues for the virus to move around.”
On Wednesday, a single new case was reported to the Del Norte County Public Health Branch, bringing the total number of active cases to 27.
Two people are currently hospitalized, according to the county’s COVID-19 Information Hub.
Earlier this month, Rehwaldt announced that the more contagious B.1.1.7 variant, detected in the United Kingdom in December, had shown up in Del Norte County.
On Wednesday, Rehwaldt told the Wild Rivers Outpost that those variants may account for COVID-19 surges in Humboldt and Mendocino counties.
With the more transmissible variants, and a lower vaccination rate, Rehwaldt said the Del Norte Public Health Branch could be bracing for a small surge, though whether that will result in more hospitalizations has yet to be seen.
“I think it’s a good chance that enough people are vaccinated and have recovered, especially enough seniors vaccinated, that by then the impact on the system isn’t going to be very great,” he said. “It’ll be more than we’re used to, but it won’t be anything we can’t manage.”
Once June 15 rolls around and restrictions lift, Rehwaldt said there may still be some basic guidelines regarding size limitations for certain things. He said the state will also likely have strong limitations tied to personal protection in close quarters, particularly indoor events. But, by then enough people will be vaccinated, he said.
“If it doesn’t work and we start seeing surges everywhere the state will (likely) backtrack and do it pretty quickly,” Rehwaldt said. “Things could happen rather quickly after June 15. I suspect we’ll see a slight bump (in cases) statewide, but in smaller counties we may see a bit more of a bump and potentially an increase in hospitalization. The real question is it going to be enough to make a big impact.”
On Tuesday, harbor commissioners discussed a potential music festival at Whaler Island hosted by Schmidt’s House of Jambalaya. According to Petrick, restaurant owner Mike Schmidt is proposing the festival for July 2 and has stages and “everything he needs to do this.”
Though they were excited at the prospect of a music festival, commissioners Harry Adams and Rick Shepherd, commercial fishermen, noted that the weekend will likely be packed with visitors and fishermen due to the holiday.
“The harbor is going to be jammed enough,” Adams said.
Adams and Gerhardt Weber, a newcomer on the Harbor District Board, agreed to create a check list for individuals and organizations to meet if they want to have an event at the harbor.
Meanwhile, with capacity restrictions in place, harbor commissioners agreed on a hybrid meeting held at the district’s office and via Zoom for the public. Board President Brian Stone agreed to put the matter on a future agenda for further discussion.
“By that time, maybe we’ll have gone back down into the yellow tier,” he said.