Over the course of the past week, concern about COVID-19 (coronavirus) has reached fever pitch around the globe. On March 11, a number of major points in the evolution of the coronavirus outbreak took shape: President Trump suspended travel by foreign nationals to the United States from 26 European countries, the World Health Organizations (WHO) declared the coronavirus a pandemic, and the National Basketball Association suspended its season indefinitely after a player tested positive for the virus.
In addition, the attending physician of Congress and the Supreme Court, Brian Monahan, informed Senate staff of his expectation that between 70 and 150 million American would catch the virus. Monahan stated a belief that at least 80% would be fine.
The day before, on March 10, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York declared a one square-mile containment zone in the city of New Rochelle, just north of New York City, which involves closing all public gathering places with the exception of grocery stores and supermarkets.
Some colleges and universities have cancelled spring operations, while the NCAA has already cancelled its ‘March Madness’ basketball tournament for both men and women.
Abroad, some governments have taken some drastic measures.
Italy has effectively shut down, with only essential stores remaining open. The Italian government has banned all non-essential travel and closed schools until April 3; this comes on the heels of nearly 200 deaths in the course of 24 hours, and more than 1,000 deaths total in the country. Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte announced that the country would allocate 25 billion euros ($28.3 billion) to offset the effects to the nation’s economy.
Speaking of the U.S. economy: well, the stock market has been in freefall this week, with the Dow Jones Industrial average seeing levels it hasn’t seen since the summer of 2017.
On Thursday, the market dropped 10%, its worst day since the Black Monday crash of 1987
In California, the situation continues to develop: The state government has placed a ban on all gatherings of more than 250 people, and an increasing number of colleges and universities have halted in-person class and closed campuses; Stanford University has three confirmed cases so far.
By Thursday morning, the state had at least 177 confirmed cases, with more than 1,300 nationwide. Santa Clara County has been hit the hardest. Placer County, on the west side of Lake Tahoe, has seven reported cases.
As of Thursday morning, neither Inyo nor Mono County has reported a confirmed case of the virus and health officials continue to advise residents to exercise caution and proper hygiene.
Nevertheless, local events have been canceled as well, including next weekend’s Elevation Mammoth, which typically draws 2,500 skiers.
Mono County Public Health Director Sandra Pearce and Health Program Manager Bryan Wheeler went before the Mono County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday to present an update on coronavirus to the Supervisors.
Wheeler began with a standard rundown of symptoms and incubation period, noting “It’s a virus so we don’t have great treatments for [it]” and adding that a vaccine would take more than a year to develop.
Wheeler also explained that testing is available at some public and private labs around the state, with more widespread testing availability to be expected in the coming weeks.
Pearce then took over from Wheeler, acknowledging rumors that a singular case existed in both Mono and Inyo. She cautioned against acting on such rumors, explaining that “If we do have a case, it’ll certainly be pushed out.”
She also detailed a leveled alert system, 0-3, for categorizing the virus’s presence in the area, stating that the county is currently at level one, meaning that they are monitoring potential cases but that none exist as of yet. Level 2, Warning, would constitute a health threat like a possible case in the area that represents an immediate risk to the community. At that point, the department would open an operations center to manage the spread from that point
The final level, level 3, would mean immediate risk of a widespread health threat to the community.
“We do expect that we will get to level 3,” Pearce told the board, “have widespread coronavirus in the community, but our goal is to try to slow that process down so that…it doesn’t impact our medical system and overwhelm them.”
Pearce showed a list of 19 counties that had already declared a state of emergency, with two additional counties that were expected to declare that same day. She did note that most of the counties are consist of coastal or metropolitan areas.
“In terms of the smaller counties, we haven’t cases in those locales yet but expect them coming down the pike,” Pearce said.
She explained that Public Health had been meeting individually with local stakeholders with future weekly meetings with the entirety of the group to begin next week in addition to community meetings throughout the county on Wednesday and Thursday of next week.
County Administrative Officer Steve Barwick addressed how the county is handling public communication during this time.
“Communication is key in this,” Barwick said, “Every crisis comes with a secondary crisis and that is misinformation.”
He also expressed a desire for “one source of information” in all coronavirus-related matters, reiterating the need for an emergency operations center if the virus does become widespread. Barwick directed the public to check Public Health’s website for information as things develop
When it came time for board comment, District 2 Supervisor Fred Stump noted that “websites are great for those with computers” and urged health officials to work with programs like Meals on Wheels to get information out to the more isolated parts of the county. He recommended placing notices in public spaces in those areas, adding “It does mean that someone has to drive out there.”
District 4 Supervisor John Peters expressed concern about the local economy throughout the span of the coronavirus, noting that businesses may simply to be prepared for a significant downturn. “Hopefully it won’t be catastrophic,” Peters added.
He also encouraged health officials to release information pertaining to location and movements if someone in the area were to test positive. He referenced the release of information during the
For District 1 Supervisor Jennifer Kreitz, the question was about shuttering doors. “When do we start shutting down and trying to contain travel?”, Kreitz asked.
“Those conversations are certainly going to be happening once we get to level two.” Pearce said, giving an example of a singular case who had been isolated since contracting the virus as opposed to a child in one of the county’s classrooms exposing their school to the virus.
In terms of the county’s ability to do cancel events and impose travel bans, that power would fall to the county’s health officer, Dr. Tom Boo. According to Counsel Stacy Simon, the health officer has significant powers to force events to cancel, school to close, etc., during a state of emergency.
In The Event Of…
With caution around the coronavirus increasing, local events organizers have been left to handle questions from attendees and debate the pros and cons of continuing their events in light of the outbreak.
The Blake Jones Fishing Derby, held on the Owens River and Pleasant Valley reservoir, announced changes to its programming on Wednesday that include removing the prize ceremony portion of the derby (see full statement below).
Next week is Elevation Mammoth, the annual gay ski week that brings 2,500 guests to town. As of Thursday, organizer Tom Whitman had no plans to cancel the event but was encouraging attendees to take caution as he would be doing in regards to events.
In an email to The Sheet, Whitman wrote:
“We are moving forward with the event while encouraging participants to take precautions and we will be taking precautions as well. So far, there are not any cancellations. Our event brings together a much smaller group of people in each space – we bring together hundreds of people in a bar/nightclub size setting, not thousands in a festival or arena style setting.”
He continued: “If health department recommendations change, we will of course re-evaluate and respond accordingly. Right now, we are moving ahead with precautions and our goal is to ensure both a safe as well as a fun event.”
On Thursday morning, Whitman made the decision to cancel Elevation after the state decree and Mammoth Mountain’s decision to cancel some of Elevation’s larger events.
Further out events are taking a cautious approach going forward.
Shira Dubrovner, organizer of the Mammoth Lakes Film Festival in late May, told the Sheet, “We are moving forward, not stopping productions at all. If we have to, we can postpone it…if we were in four weeks, that would be a whole different story.”
In Dubrovner’s capacity as artistic director of Mammoth Lakes Repertory Theatre, she’s also responsible for maintaining the Edison Theatre space.
“We are trying to wipe everything down, keep everything clean, take an active step making sure that in between shows that we wipe the arm rests down, the handrails,” Dubrovner told the Sheet.
“I’m not a panic-driven person,” Dubrovner said, “in this industry, you’re constantly in a head space that if something goes wrong, you have to fix it.”
Dubrovner expressed hope that warmer weather could mean a break from the virus, which would be welcome news for any events being hosted during the warmer months of the year.
The Mammoth Yoga Festival is set to take place in mid-June but organizer Kevin Green has done what he can to be out ahead of the coronavirus. Green told the Sheet that he began to deal with the situation on Saturday and blasted out info to attendees on the festival’s mailing list.
“We have to let them know we know what’s going on, we have to take it seriously,” Green said, “It’s happening really fast, it’s evolving.”
Green noted that there are pieces to the proverbial puzzle, as other entities like restaurants, retail stores, and lodging partners have their own protocols to follow as well.
Consistency is the name of the game for Green, particularly in his messaging and that of his partners so that visitors know what to expect when they get to town.
His approach seems to be working, as Green reported that attendee response to his messaging “has been overwhelmingly positive.”
“People are happy that we’re out in front of it, that we care, and that we’re thinking through it ” Green said.
Green also stressed the importance of event insurance, potentially in the form of waivers, that could protect organizers from being forced to eat all the costs associated with cancelling an event. Beyond just events, Green expressed an overarching worry about the sustained impacts to the economy.
“I feel like I’m watching a category five hurricane that I know is gonna land,” Green said in reference to the economic health of the region and world, “I don’t think people are where they need to be in terms of what might be coming.”
Wednesday night’s community meeting at Mammoth High School gave the public the opportunity to hear information regarding the COVID-19 outbreak from the mouths of public health officials. Bryan Wheeler, County Health Officer Tom Boo, and Mammoth Hospital CEO Tom Parker took turns giving information and answering questions. Before the meeting began, Wheeler took the microphone every few minutes to remind attendees to remain six feet apart from one another.
Boo told the twenty or so community members that “We don’t know how many people in the community are vulnerable [to COVID-19] but we do think that the majority of people will be okay.”
Boo explained that while the county doesn’t currently have coronavirus test kits, they do have the ability to collect samples and have them tested at a lab elsewhere. Boo also related that if someone were to test positive in one of the county’s schools, Public Health would strongly consider shuttering that school for an extended period.
Part of the consequences of closing the schools, Boo said, is that it would force parents to work from home or cease working altogether, an effect that could severely impact other businesses in town, including the hospital.
Parker noted that while the hospital has been following the national Center for Disease Control’s guidelines for the coronavirus, staff were planning to meet the next day to discuss altering that course of action.
One community member asked what health officials would be doing to mitigate the impacts of stress or anxiety brought about by the outbreak. She included specific references to ability to pay rent, take care of children, and not being fired or laid off.
Boo emphasized that the overarching task of managing COVID-19 is a “challenging endeavor” and reiterated the fact that children are not at great risk of severe symptoms. “We want to strike a balance,” Boo said in regards to the question.
Over in Inyo (Maddux)
During a teleconference call with NIHD on Monday, March 9, NIHD Vice Chief of Staff and Medical Director of the rural health clinic, Dr. Stacey Brown led most of the discussion to give an update on the coronavirus, and the precautions they are currently taking. Dr. Brown stated NIHD currently has two negative pressure rooms to treat patients who have contagious airborne illnesses, such as COVID-19. The two differences in the room, as compared to a regular patient room, is the special ventilation with exhaust systems that are not released into other parts of the hospital and the ante rooms where caregivers can take on and off their personal protective equipment, such as special mask, gowns, gloves and protective eyewear before care of the patient.
At the same time, Dr. Brown of NIHD said they are practicing social distancing, which included:
ïVolunteers being released from service at all NIHD locations, until further notice
ïEmployees being advised not to bring family members to work, unless the family member is seeking medical treatment—keeping kids at home and not visiting mom at work
ïAll non-critical activities being suspended, such as community meetings, community education classes like Healthy Lifestyle Talks, and employee travel to conferences and seminars
ïThe staff not coming into work with a fever, cough
Brown said they continue to monitor their supplies, and at this point there is no shortage in which to treat the public. For those testing for COVID-19, is the person under investigation test (PUI). Brown clarified the test is covered by most insurance companies and Medi-care. Brown said there is currently an increase of calls to the clinic about the coronavirus. Some patients in the outpatient and ER are screened, if they have respiratory problems, to make sure they do not meet the COVID-19 symptoms, said Brown. NIHD infection specialist, Robin Christensen said “if they are not ill enough, they will be self-quarantined and self-monitored,” when asked about those who might test positive for COVID-19. At this point, there are still no confirmed positive cases, said Dr. Brown.
On Tuesday, March 10 director of health and human services, Marilyn Mann gave the Inyo County Board of Supervisors an update on precautions they are taking due to the coronavirus. In a phone call to Mann, she said the informational sheet they receive from the California Department of Public Health is changing frequently, at times they will receive a report in the morning and by afternoon there is something different. Mann clarified they are actively monitoring and keeping abreast of the situation, she said.
“We don’t want to overreact; we don’t want to underreact. [The] issue is not people getting sick [but] people worried about getting sick. [It’s most important] being in communication with the people,” said Fifth district supervisor, Matt Kingsley. At a later point of the Inyo Supes, Kingsley pointed out the majority of people he knows are elderly. During public comment, Bishop resident, Philip Anaya told the Inyo Supes he was training with the U.S. Census Bureau for 3-weeks to be a community fields supervisor for the Bishop area, with 20 people under his supervision. The main thing that bothers Anaya is when people tell him it is low risk, he said. “I’m worried about it and I’m trying to do something about it. It’s one thing to have knowledge in this evolving question, I don’t know enough about,” said Anaya to the Inyo Supes. Anaya told the Supes that before April 1, the U.S. Census Bureau will have their leave and update operation, which he explained is having the census enumerators going to residential areas to determine whether it is a residence or not, then speaking to the resident and then handing them a sealed census form. Anaya outlined this procedure is a risk for spreading transmission. Kingsley let Anaya know the Inyo Supes is not the deciding bureau but told Anaya that he had a good point and brought up a valid concern, he said. Anaya told the Board he has recently resigned from his position with the U.S. Census Bureau.
Griffiths gave the Bishop City Council a similar report to Marilyn Mann’s on Monday, with the goal everywhere to slow the transmission of COVID-19 until summer—he told the council that later in the year there will be a vaccine and better treatment, he said. At a previous Inyo County Board of Supervisor’s meeting, Griffiths asked Marilyn Mann, “Does there come a time when there shouldn’t be public gatherings?” It’s “not currently be advised, but the federal government would be the one [to decide],” she said.
On Thursday, March 21 at 4 p.m., Marilyn Mann will give an update to the media on the everchanging situation.