A Covid outbreak at the Marine Warfare Training Center (MWTC) north of Bridgeport could toss Mono County into a sea of purple.
Even without the MWTC, Mono may be seeing red.
In any event, Mono County has petitioned the state for an exemption to its Covid-colored standards this week after 98 new cases of Covid-19 came out of the Mountain Warfare Training Center (MWTC) last week.
The argument for leniency? The base is isolated within the county and remains very much self-contained as a hotspot and therefore is not representative of the county as a whole. This gives hope that the adjudication filed by the county, asking the state to exempt the base’s numbers from its Covid calculation, could be accepted.
But wait, there’s more!
There has also been a recent increase in Covid-19 cases unrelated to the Marine base. The county recorded twelve new
cases of Covid-19 last week. While this is not enough to topple the county into a more restrictive tier, it is a definite cause for concern. County public health officials have stressed the importance of keeping local numbers low, however, the relative growth in cases may signal more on the way. Covid cases are spiking nationwide, with nearly 150,000 new cases recorded Wednesday.
Renown Hospital in Reno, often the destination for patients flown out of Mammoth Hospital, reported on Wednesday afternoon that it would be reopening its parking garage emergency care facility due to a surge in cases. The unit was opened earlier in the pandemic but never used.
At the Mono County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, Public Health Officer Tom Boo and Public Health Director Bryan Wheeler explained that the county was in the process of filing an adjudication by Wednesday to be reviewed by the state. If granted, Mono County would not be held responsible for the base outbreak. If rejected, Mono County would likely be pushed into the most restrictive tier (purple) on California’s framework due to high positivity and case rates, the two metrics measured by the state to determine a county’s tier. Mono County’s positivity rate for October 24-31 was 14.71%; the week before was 8.55%. Both are high enough to necessitate movement to Tier 1.
“As you can see,” Wheeler said, “We’re currently trending in the wrong direction, or the less desirable direction.”
Tier 1, widespread disease, would remove in-person dining as a whole and force many non-essential businesses to close. Tier 2, substantial disease, would cut many capacities down to 25% and ultimately require local businesses to close due to the impossibility of serving customers outdoors in many capacities.
Wheeler reported an increase in calls to the 211 nurses hotline from symptomatic individuals, with 18 calls on Monday alone, a number, Wheeler said, that is similar to the calls the hotline received during a case spike during the summer.
In response to a question about the presence of the flu in the area, Wheeler responded that there had been near-nonexistent flu cases so far, noting that the free flu clinics had proven to be a massive success.
Regarding adjudication, Boo explained that he, Wheeler, and other local officials had participated in a call with California Department of Public Health officials last Friday to discuss the outbreak at the MWTC and advocate for it not to count against the county.
“We were basically making the case that moving to a more restrictive tier would not help and the economic hardship would be unwarranted,” Boo said. As for how state officials responded, Boo believed that the pitch was well received and the officials in question were receptive to the plea.
Boo also discussed the recent news that pharmaceutical company Pfizer had reported 90% success rates with its potential Covid-19 vaccine. The vaccine would require two doses 28 days apart, and is said to be very fragile, requiring extremely cold temperatures for storage and transportation.
Initial availability, he explained, would be reserved for frontline workers (EMTs, nurses, hospital staff, doctors) and high-risk individuals and could be available by mid-winter. Larger scale vaccinations would most likely begin in summer 2021. He said the county does not currently have the required freezer capacity to store the vaccine, adding that the two-step nature of the vaccine could mean some people neglect to get the second shot, thereby negating potential immunity.
Supervisor Jennifer Kreitz asked Boo about the timeline for the state’s decision on tier adjustments. Boo replied the tier movement would be effective immediately once the state makes a decision, although the adjudication request adds in a mandatory seven day buffer on the final decision.
Kreitz also asked about where the non-MWTC cases were coming from.
“A lot of cases seem to be related to travel and just getting together,” Boo reported, factoring in new seasonal employees as another possible cause. He and Wheeler stressed that the new cases in question are not a single cluster but multiple separate individuals.
During public comment, Jamie Schechtman, owner of June Pie and the T-Bar, asked how a tier change might affect local lodging operations and the ski industry as a whole.
“The tier system does not directly affect lodging at all, Boo explained, nor is there consideration for where ski resorts fit in the structure.” The state is currently putting together guidance for the ski industry.
The county will know the results of the adjudication appeal by next week at the earliest.
Additional spikes in California, particularly in the southern part of the state, also worried Wheeler and Boo, as Southern California is a primary drive market for the region.