With the coronavirus making headlines across the nation and around the world, and now the first confirmed death from the disease in California, it seems only natural to be worried about the disease’s spread. There’s even serious talk about cancelling the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
As of Wednesday, the number of cases within California had risen to 51, the most of any state. The only coronavirus-related death outside of Washington state thus far was recorded in Placer County, near Sacramento. At present, the mortality rate from the virus sits around 3.4% according to the WHO (World Health Organization). President Trump, a renowned health expert, believes the mortality rate to be 1%.
In China, where the disease originated, there have been more than 80,000 reported cases, with 3,000 deaths.
South Korea is reporting more than 6,000 cases and 40+ deaths while Italy reports 3,000 cases with 100+ deaths.
Here in the U.S, King County, Washington remains the hardest hit area. Home to Seattle, the county has seen 10 deaths from the coronavirus thus far and some local schools will be closed for two weeks.
Officials in Los Angeles County declared an emergency after six new cases were announced, including an individual who had worked as a medical screener at LAX.
Although an isolated part of the state, the Eastside sees a significant amount of traffic from larger urban areas such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego. In addition, tourists from all over the world come visit the area each year.
The disease has already proven to be bad news for the global economy; the stock market saw its worst week since 2008 as a result of international fears and uncertainty surrounding coronavirus.
The question then: how will coronavirus affect not only public health but also the local economies dependent on visitors?
Mono and Inyo Counties teamed up to release a joint press release on February 28th about the virus and Mammoth Hospital put out a release of their own on the same day containing information about the disease. Mammoth Hospital reported that they’ve already put together an internal task force that is looking at the hospital’s capacity to handle Coronavirus patients.
Mono County Public Health Officer Tom Boo explained that it is his belief that there are a significant number of coronavirus cases that have gone undiagnosed thus far due to the long incubation period delaying noticeable symptoms.
“I see this as kind of a very unusual, insidious disease,” Boo said, “It seems to able to circulate without being detected.”
Currently there haven’t been any reported cases in Mono or Inyo counties, but according to Boo, that’s going to change. “I do think it’s going to come, I just don’t know when,” he told The Sheet.
In the days since the virus first grabbed public attention, Boo has met with stakeholders in the area to discuss plans moving forward, including representatives from Mammoth Mountain, Jennifer Wildman, Superintendent of Mammoth Unified School District, and Town Manager Dan Holler, among others.
Boo mentioned that there have already been presentations done in the schools that focus on hygiene (hand washing, not touching ones face, etc.) and encouraging students to stay home if they do become sick.
There are plans in the works to have public outreach meetings in conjunction with the stakeholders to address community concerns. Boo acknowledged the tricky situation posed by hosting larger public gatherings during a disease outbreak but stressed the importance of giving the community a chance to ask questions and gain information in times like these.
In terms of symptoms, Boo referred The Sheet to a paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine on February 28, written by doctors in China, about the variability in symptoms in different cases of coronavirus. Boo explained that in public health and healthcare, there’s a tendency to rely on “case definitions” of diseases; in cases of coronavirus, symptoms can range from nearly nothing at all to severe respiratory issues and fever.
Add to that an extended incubation period and some very particular testing requirements and the disease can be extremely difficult for health officials to track.
In terms of the local economy, the outbreak is very much a double edged that has marketers and business owners considering a tightrope act of sorts.
For some larger events that bring people to town, the dates are still far enough away that organizers aren’t as worried about the impacts that the outbreak might have. Jim Vanko with Bluesapalooza told The Sheet that while the organizers are aware of the outbreak, no plans have been made yet with coronavirus in mind.
Over at Mammoth Lakes Tourism, Communications director Lara Kaylor has been keeping an eye on the situation and speaking with other stakeholders, like Dr. Boo. Kaylor is a member of Eastern Sierra Public Information Officer’s Group, which held a meeting Thursday to discuss response to the outbreak across the spectrum of public information.
*There’s an Eastern Sierra Public Information Officer’s Group? Wow.
Kaylor reported that MLT’s international marketing director Michael Vanderhurst was still making the rounds abroad, albeit a bit more cautiously than previously. ITB Berlin, one of the largest tourism tradeshows in the world, was cancelled due to fears surrounding coronavirus. That’s 100,000 visitors not drinking beer in Berlin last week.
At Mammoth Lakes Tourism’s (MLT)Wednesday board meeting, restaurant representative Michael Ledesma was the first board member to dive into concerns about the coronavirus and its effects on the town.
“I personally don’t believe this is as crazy of a health threat (in terms of mortality) as other people do,” Ledesma began, noting “From a business standpoint, this has the potential to be absolutely devastating, not just for Mammoth Lakes.”
Ledesma also brought up the question of the supply of hygiene products in town (hand sanitizer, soap, facemasks, etc.), ultimately asking “Do we have a plan here in Mammoth?”
Mammouth Mountain representative Eric Clark told the board that plans for a $13 million renovation at the Westin hotel scheduled for April had been already been delayed over supply problems with Chinese manufacturers.
Lodging Representative Jess Karell also reported that some groups have already cancelled plans to visit Mammoth Lakes over coronavirus fears.
Board Chair John Morris asked for a consolidated fact sheet to be disseminated throughout town. “We want to make sure we’re saying the right thing” to visitors to the area.
The double-edged nature of the outbreak came up continually. On one hand, more fears surrounding crowded places could drive people to the countryside/mountains, which would in turn bring more business to the area. On the other hand, bringing more people to the area increases the likelihood that someone brings the disease up with them and spreads it to the local community.
Part of the meeting consisted of Executive Director John Urdi laying out MLT’s strategic plan for FY 2020-2021. Feedback from board members included an increased focus on contingency plans in the face of disaster.
Ledesma served as the driving force beyond coronavirus-related conversation, bringing up the issues of consistent hygiene supplies repeatedly and asking whether the hospital would have enough room for patients.
“We have a crisis plan,” Urdi told the board, “This is the new crisis … there may be very little we can do to close the door on this.”
It’s worthwhile to note that the coronavirus shares symptoms with Influenza A and B, both of which are much more prevalent in the area than coronavirus at this time. All are infectious and can be spread easily, so health officials advise that anyone with these symptoms take care of themselves and stay at home to avoid getting others sick.
The Situation In Bishop
“I stopped at several stores (Vons, Smart and Final, Dwayne’s Friendly Pharmacy, Grocery Outlet and Rite Aid) on Monday evening, that would stock popular coronavirus-related items, such as hand sanitizer, hand soap, bottled water, masks, rice, beans, gloves, soups (canned), noodle soups, and Kleenex.
The first stop was Vons. I noticed the lack of travel size hand sanitizers and soaps.
When I walked towards the bakery, near the antibacterial hand wipes I managed to find brands like Wet Ones and Signature Select in stock on Tuesday, March 3rd.
The Kleenex was nearly gone and the toilet paper shelves looked a little empty.
Water, soup, and vegetables were all slightly low but nothing out of the ordinary. Interestingly enough, the cookies and brownie mix were completely gone. Hmm.
When I asked a pharmacist about their supplies they didn’t want to answer any questions, but they mentioned there were no face masks.
Talking with one customer in the produce aisle in Vons, Jessica Ary, 36 said she was shopping for items to make stew for dinner.
Ary said she hasn’t really prepared for the Coronavirus “other than washing my hands a lot more,” she said. It’s definitely on my radar, she said, as she mentioned the tourists that come to the area from all over the world.
When The Sheet asked about the emptiness of the products on the shelves and if she was worried, she said “not really,” but “maybe I should be,” said Ary.
Dwayne Wilson, owner of Dwayne’s Friendly Pharmacy said there is a shortage of masks and people have called asking for masks, especially for the 95 mask. People are also getting ahead on their prescription medications with an extra supply of 60-90 days, said Wilson. “Let me buy it, because I want to have it on hand,” customers have said.
At Smart and Final, a sign was posted on the door noting a limit of 4 items for disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer and latex gloves. The limit is due to everyone freaking out about coronavirus, said the assistant manager.
The assistant manager also told The Sheet they receive new shipments every other day.
In a media conference call for Northern Inyo Healthcare District, Rural Health Clinic Director Dr. Stacy Brown explained that NIHD had run a coronavirus drill at emergency rooms and rural clinics to identify where efforts should be directed in the event of cases.
Dr. Brown also noted that NIHD had taken stock of its supplies, “We feel like we have sufficient stock of everything we need, including hand sanitizers and soap to meet the demand.”
Included in that stock is 95 masks and respirators for hospital staff and already existing supplies for patients.
Robin Christenson, Infection Control Specialist, backed up Brown’s assessment, noting close involvement between her department and the purchasing arm of NIHD to ensure sufficient supplies would be on hand in the event of coronavirus patients.
If a surge in patients were to occur that exceeded the hospital’s present capacity, NIHD has plans to set up a triage area outside, allowing for separation of high risk patients to prevent inadvertently spreading the disease in hospital waiting rooms.
Tips and Tricks
Preventing the spread of the coronavirus is similar to preventing the spread of any other communicable illness. Officials advise hand washing with soap and water when possible and using hand sanitizers that have more than 60% alcohol content if hand washing isn’t an option.
Officials also advise practicing “social distancing”, keeping space between yourself and others whenever possible, and avoiding crowded or enclosed spaces.
In addition to covering the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, it’s also recommended to avoid touching one’s face as doing so facilitates the spread of illness.
In the event that you experience coronavirus-like symptoms, alert your local healthcare provider and try to get tested if possible.
The elderly and those with pre-existing conditions (heart disease, diabetes, respiratory conditions, etc.) are the most at risk in the event of an outbreak.
There will be a community meeting at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, March 11 at Mammoth High School to address concerns over the coronvirus and give community members the opportunity to ask questions.
For more information on the coronavirus, its spread, and ways to protect against contracting the illness, visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
NIHD, Mammoth Hospital, Southern Inyo Hospital, and the Mono and Inyo Public Health will post regular updates on their websites as the situation changes/evolves.