Jurisdictions around California have seen spikes in Covid cases in recent weeks, raising concerns that the state as a whole is beginning to lose ground in the fight against Covid-19.
On Wednesday, California reported its highest daily Covid-related death toll, 149, since May 19. Los Angeles County accounted for 61 of those deaths, it’s own highest daily toll in nearly a month.
Statewide testing capacity has been reduced across the board, as officials are now only asking those who are displaying symptoms, work in “high risk environments,” or have been in contact with someone who has been exposed to get tested.
As counties in Southern California begin to shutdown businesses like bars and eliminate indoor seating at restaurants, Disneyland opened to the general public on Thursday, July 9, after a four month hiatus.
In addition, the federal government is asking that all schools be open to students come the fall, a prospect that has school boards, teachers, and parents wary of the potential pitfalls of reopening those facilities.
In spite of the spikes and new concerns, Mono County has been packed with tourists from all over the state and region.
The county has opted to keep the Emergency Operations Center up and running in some capacity while beginning the process of diverting specific resources, such as the community support branch, back into the county’s overarching control.
Mammoth Lakes Fire Chief Frank Frievalt, representing the EOC at Tuesday’s Mono Board of Supervisors meeting, reported that the county had seen an uptick in Covid cases.
From July 2 through July 9, there were 9 new confirmed cases in Mono County, putting the total at 49 since March. Frievalt called the situation a “delicate balance,” noting that “As you reopen, the standard work of business and government starts to increase too. A lot of my EOC staff is stretched a little thinner between requirements on their day jobs.”
Frievalt also pointed to what he saw as real opportunity for the business community to lead the charge in educating the public about Covid-19.
He reported that lag times in testing are beginning to “creep up” as the county sees a shortage in rapid testing capacity.
In terms of local behavior, Frievalt reported “we’re certainly seeing an elevated concern from citizens who’ve worked hard locally to have us avoid a lot of this, and we’re just trying to balance scarce resources with the ability to keep this thing contained.
Public Health Program Manager Bryan Wheeler took over from Frievalt to talk about the recent cases in the county.
Wheeler reported that in addition to the new confirmed cases, the county is also monitoring “several individuals of interest” who are considered to be presumptive positive for Covid-19. From those positive tests, the county has traced 30 contacts.
“Members of the service industry and the Hispanic community continue to be at a higher risk,” Wheeler told the board, noting that those two groups account for most of the cases in Mono County. He also explained that several restaurant and hotels have been implicated as potential hotspots for infection, although none were explicitly named.
Wheeler estimated that those in the current case spike would have been infected in early June, as symptoms began between June 24 and 27 for many of the new positive cases. He also reported increased instances of household spread between family members or roommates living in close proximity.
He gave a brief risk assessment of activities in the service industry, starting with takeout/delivery (low risk, low contact) at the bottom, outdoor service in the middle due to decreased close contact, and indoor in-person service as the most risky.
“Everyone has their mask off to eat and they’re talking,” Wheeler summarized.
Tom Boo, County Health Officer, added that “we certainly expected an increase in cases with an increase in economic activity and movement.”
“Although this increment seems rather sharp and somewhat alarming to me,” Boo said, “I think we need to complete the investigations of the existing cases and see what happens over the next week or so before drawing any conclusions.”
“I share Bryan’s concerns about some of the service industry establishments that have been impacted … but overall our metrics still look okay.” Boo referenced the low percentage of positive test results (around 3%) and Mammoth Hospital’s continued efficiency as markers that the county isn’t underwater yet.
The Board’s Covid update was instigated in part by letters sent in by constituents asking that they consider enacting new measures to keep Mono County residents safe.
Colleen Moxley, a Mono County resident and nurse at Northern Inyo Hospital, expressed concern about public backlash to Covid mitigation efforts, writing, “What has happened to the Health Officer in Orange County [who resigned after being subject to intense harassment] was appalling. And locally to see Dr. Thomas Boo who is doing a great job and working hard to keep us all safe – to have local residents create a petition against him is atrocious.”
Moxley asked that business owners be held accountable, citing instances where she had visited businesses where directives were not being followed.
“Our community needs you to put public safety first, Moxley wrote, “Employees and customers of said businesses are at risk. We need to open our businesses but thoughtfully. I believe the directives in place make sense however, if they are not enforced, they are not protective.”
Another letter, this one from Ann Gimpel and Diane Eagle Kataoka explicitly asked the Supervisors to reverse the opening process in Mammoth Lakes and unincorporated Mono County.
Gimpel and Kataoka write: “So many people come up here from the LA area, and these people are flooding into Mono County. That wouldn’t be so bad if they followed the rules and wore masks.
But they do not wear masks. In truth, no one enforces either physical/social distancing or mask wearing. Many will place a mask that only covers their mouth, which is almost worthless. Tourists become belligerent when requested to put on their masks or lift them up from their chin.”
The letter references a purported incident at the Vons in Mammoth Lakes where a local asked a tourist to where a mask up only to have the tourist threaten to pull out a gun.
The authors include text from a proposed amendment being considered by the town council of Taos, New Mexico that would mandate face coverings and social distancing, with violations of the orders considered a petty misdemeanor.
“Without teeth, no edict, law, or proclamation is worth the paper it’s written on,” Gimpel and Kataoka wrote.
As of July 9, Mono County has had 49 total cases with eight new cases, four of which came on July 5. A Mono County press release stated, “All confirmed cases are residents of the Mammoth Lakes and surrounding area region.”
The same press release mentioned the rising cases in California which has led to Governor Gavin Newsom to increase restrictions in certain counties. On July 9, Newsom announced that California had its single highest death toll related to coronavirus with 149 new deaths. Newsom did ask that people focus on the 7 day mortality rate, which is 73 lives lost each day.
Inyo County had two new cases in the last week bringing the total to 35 cases. 26 of these cases have recovered and there has been one death. There are eight cases pending.