Inyo County reported its ninth Covid-19 death on Wednesday, the 8th death in the county since the beginning of August. Between the period of August 4-17, testing revealed 83 new Covid-19 cases; the overall number of cases since March sits at 149.
A big part of the jump is tied to an outbreak at the Bishop Care Center that began earlier in the month; at least 14 staff and 30 residents have tested positive for Covid-19.
The increased numbers were sufficient for the state public health department to place Inyo County on the statewide Covid monitoring list on Monday, August 17, retroactive to August 6. Key factors in that decision: a positivity rate of 12.7% and an adjusted average of 325 cases per 100,000 residents. The threshold for the monitoring list is 100 cases per 100,000 residents OR 25 cases per 100,000 residents and an 8% positivity rate.
Counties on the state monitoring list must close indoor dining, all personal care businesses (salons, massage parlors, etc.), and undertake efforts to identify vectors and mitigate spread.
On Tuesday, Inyo County Health and Human Services Director Marilyn Mann told the Inyo County Board of Supervisors that “we continue to have positive cases coming out of that outbreak and, more recently, have experienced some additional deaths.”
“It’s a sobering reality to what can happen with this virus,” Mann added. “It does put into perspective that while so many people experience mild to moderate symptoms, there are those that do not.”
Deputy Public Health Director Anna Scott explained the spike in cases, noting that 58 of 83 new cases from August 4-17 were from the Bishop Care Center, with the remaining 25 coming from communities in Inyo County.
Scott noted that the majority of new cases were concentrated in Northern Inyo County, adding that officials are noticing increased community transmission and spread throughout the entire county.
The culprit for increased community spread, according to Scott, is people on the move.
“We are seeing some trends in individuals who are coming back positive who had gone out of our county and visited with individuals,” she told the Board, “We have in some cases seen people coming to our area, particularly people coming and staying with friends in the area, that have potentially led to some of those cases in Inyo County.”
Like neighboring Mono County, Inyo County has experienced delays in test results due to swamped laboratories around the country, with some results taking up to three weeks to come back. Scott reported that the lag time has gone down, although the county is hoping that it can be reduced even further.
Dr. James Richardson, Inyo County Public Health Officer took over from Scott to highlight some of the facts about Covid-19 that make it such an elusive and difficult-to-corral virus. Chief among his points: data indicates that between 10-20% of the people who transmit the virus to others are responsible for 80% of the overall cases.
“This is how it differs from the flu,” Richardson explained, “The flu doesn’t have this transmissibility rate…we’re dealing with a different disease and have to attack it differently. We have to stay constantly one step ahead of transmission.”
Richardson also referred to the “super spreader” phenomenon, where an individual with a large amount of the virus enters an enclosed, crowded space and proceeds to unknowingly infect a large number of people. He highlighted the importance of consistent masking across the board, especially indoors, to combat large group transmission.
In addition, he explained that the time between an individual becoming contagious and presenting symptoms creates an additional threat, as people have no idea that they’re spreading the virus at the time.
He expressed hope at the possibility of an inexpensive, in-home rapid test, a concept that he claims is “on the horizon”.
In response to potential criticism that the pandemic will be over before the test is available, Richardson said, “I’m not so sure. We’re gonna be in this at least through the fall and winter.”
Inyo County schools have transitioned to online learning for the fall at the very least, a decision agreed upon by Richardson and school officials. According to Richardson, 180,000 children were diagnosed with Covid-19 between July 9 and August 6, prior to schools opening doors. “People think that children are immune, that they get the disease and do well,” Richardson said. “There’s evidence that some of them don’t do that well.”
*The University of North Carolina and Notre Dame started the school year on campus but have since been forced to close down in-person classes due to Covid outbreaks.
Inyo Board Chair Matt Kingsley expressed his additional worries about the transition to online learning, stating “I’m particularly concerned about the distanced learning with our economically challenged families … it’s just really apparent to me that some families are not going to be able to have their kids successfully educated here for awhile.”
If Inyo County can lower Covid-19 numbers below the state’s monitoring threshold and be removed from the monitoring list, schools have the option to begin in-person classes for children with signed waivers.
Second Death In Mono
Like Inyo County, Mono County was reminded of the human toll of Covid-19 this week, as a second county resident lost their life to the virus. The resident was identified via contact tracing and admitted to Mammoth Hospital with worsening symptoms; a slight improvement preceded a rapid decline in condition that resulted in her transferral to Northern Nevada Medical Center where she passed away on August 17.
In a press release, Mammoth Hospital CEO Tom Parker wrote, “Our hearts go out to the loved ones of this patient as we are saddened by the recent loss of another one of our community members,” says Mammoth Hospital CEO Tom Parker. “This is another tragic loss for a tight-knit community such as ours and our deepest condolences go out to those close to her.”
The death comes as Mono County appears to be cautiously on the other side of its Covid-19 spike. Mono County Administrative Officer Bob Lawton told the County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that only one test out of 68 came back positive over the weekend as Public Health department transitions from contact tracing to community testing. The full extent of the current Covid-19 situation in Mono County won’t be known until more extensive community testing is completed in the coming weeks.
Mono County Public Health Officer Tom Boo reported that if Mono county can maintain positivity rates below the state threshold for more than three days, it will be removed from the state monitoring list.
What exciting new changes will that bring? Almost none, according to Boo, who explained that the only immediate change is school openings that would come a full two weeks after removal.
Said Boo: “It doesn’t matter if we’re off the watchlist. Once we’ve been on it, all the indoor sectors that had to shutdown remain closed.”
He described the state’s guidelines as “frustratingly indefinite.”
To answer the questions presented by the owners of Simply Massage in their letter to the Board last week: no one knows when businesses can reopen. The state don’t seem to have gotten that far yet.
Although with larger counties, like San Diego County, coming off the state watchlist earlier this week, that could change very soon.
Mammoth Lakes Town Council sat in on another COVID-19 update from Town Manager Dan Holler at its regular meeting Wednesday.
The uptick in cases has leveled off, with 162 official cases as of August 19 as opposed to 160 the week before – a net increase of two.
The State threshold to be off the State monitoring list is three consecutive days below a couple of key metrics related to positivity rate.
The cases per 100,000 resident positivity rate must be below 100 and as of Wednesday’s Town Council meeting, that number is about 107. Mammoth Lakes alone has a test positivity rate of 182 which totaled together with the unincorporated areas of the County blend to the 107 number.
The positivity rates as a percentage of testing has also gone down. The State requires a rolling two-week average to be below 8%. Early August’s positive rate was 8.72% but from August 10-16, the rate had fallen to 1.54%.
“I think some thought that if we were off the State’s monitoring list for three days, then [the affected] businesses could open up. That is not the case,” said Dan Holler. Counties that have been off the monitoring list for the requisite three days still need State approval before opening businesses that were previously shut down.
In other COVID related news, the USFS Welcome Center kiosk has been opened and the Trail host program has begun to roll out. Both programs were created to alleviate the recent surge in tourism.
On the amount of people utilizing the Trail Hosts, Holler said, “It’s dependent on when you are up there. In the first hour or so, we saw 50 people.”
The Town is continuing it’s rental assistance program as Mammoth Lakes Housing Board President Kirk Stapp continues to sign $500 checks for those affected by the financial impact of the pandemic. Council urged Town Staff to continue funding this, for now, through the Community Block Development Grant (CBDG) and possibly donations.
The Town is also continuing it’s business assistance program which will soon be finishing up round two and doling out around $100,000 to local businesses.
For the next round, Sandra Moberly, Community and Economic Director for the TOML, told Council, “I anticipate we will have a little bit less than $100,000 for round three. If I had to just guess, I’d say maybe around $70,000. But don’t quote me on that.”
As the seasons change, Councilman John Wentworth told council that there will be a community wide meeting sometime in October where the question, “what will winter look like in Mammoth Lakes?” will be answered. This is much needed as outdoor dining, as mentioned by multiple council members, won’t last too much longer.
Additionally, Mayor Pro Tem and acting Public Health Officer Lynda Salcido, mentioned a desire to mandate masks in public in Mammoth Lakes, saying it could help prevent COVID-19 as well as the upcoming seasonal flu.