After Mono County recorded 37 new Covid-19 cases over the course of a week, California state officials moved the county into the most restrictive of their four tiers: Purple/Widespread Disease. The county also recorded a test positivity rate of 9.5%, which also exceeds the threshold for movement.
Mono joined 51 other counties in the Purple tier, which comprises 99.2% of the state’s population. 5 counties, including Inyo and Alpine, are in the Red tier and a single county, Sierra County, remains in the Orange tier.
The move comes as cases surge around the state and the country.
In the Purple tier, retail capacity is further reduced from 50% to 25%, restaurants may only seat guests outdoors, and grocery stores must keep capacity at 50%. Gyms and fitness centers, places of worship, movie theaters, and museums may only operate outdoors.
Additionally, the purple tier bears with it a limited stay-at-home order that requires all non-essential work and activities cease between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. All gatherings between members of different households are prohibited during those hours.
Per acting state public health officer Dr. Erica Pan’s press release: “activities conducted during 10:00 p.m to 5:00 a.m are often non-essential and more likely related to social activities and gatherings that have a higher likelihood of leading to reduced inhibition and reduced likelihood to adhere to COVID-19 preventive measures (e.g., wearing face coverings and maintaining physical distance).”
Counties must stay in their respective new tier for three weeks before they can move into a less restrictive tier. Mono County will need to reduceits caseload to 7 new covid-19 cases per week with an 8% positivity rate in order to return to the Red Tier, according to county health officer Dr. Tom Boo, speaking at Tuesday’s Mono County Board of Supervisors meeting.
“The state yesterday (Monday, November 30) indicated an intention to order some wider version of a stay-at-home order because of projections that Covid-19 cases are going to exceed the capacity of California hospitals to provide care in the next 3 weeks,” Boo said. December 19 is the projected date what that capacity will be exceeded.
The issue, Boo explained, is related to staffing capabilities. There simply aren’t enough nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, and other essential staff to care for hospitalized.
A new state health order would aim to be both effective and short, with 3 weeks as a best-case scenario, said Boo.
Supervisor John Peters, who has been involved with rural county representation through the California State Association of Counties, confirmed what Boo said about capacity issues after a call with state Health and Human Services director Mark Ghaly on Monday. Peters said that the state expects to reach 134% of ICU bed capacity in less than two weeks.
In creating new legislature, the state may take a regional or clustered approach that takes into account the vast differences in size, population, and resources that exist between counties.
“It’s not lost on the state that rural California looks a lot different than Los Angeles or Santa Clara county,” Peters said.
County Public Health Director Bryan Wheeler reported on testing. “A lot of people have been frustrated with the way the state is rolling out new testing options,” Wheeler said. “We’ve been told we’ve been approved [for access to the state’s new lab in Valencia] but we haven’t been told which phase we’ve been approved for, which doesn’t help much.”
Wheeler reported that he has been able to expand testing capacity for the county to 120 tests day or 600 per week. That increase goes into effect next week.
“It’s frustrating that we have had such limitations on testing,” Supervisor Jennfer Kreitz said on the topic, “I know the governor is very proud of all new testing he’s doing … here in Mono County, I feel we’ve been given the shaft.”
County officials are also working on updating enforcement standards and protocols that would “enact a whole new penalty citation regime” according to Mono County Counsel Stacey Simon. That includes higher fines for violations by businesses operators, the absence of a correction period to allow operators to rectify violations, and an expanded enforcement task force comprised of county staff.
Boo took time to again dispel rumors that the recent spike in cases is the fault of one particular group, saying “it’s locals, it’s visitors, it’s incoming employees, it’s everywhere.”
Wheeler took the reins on a discussion centered around local Covid-19 vaccine distribution. He confirmed that California will likely receive approximately 327,000 vaccines and while there’s still uncertainty about how those will be distributed, Mono County “will certainly get some.”
He explained that the smallest amount that can be ordered is a “pizza box” containing 975 doses and that initial orders would most likely be shared with Inyo County due to the low number of high-priority individuals in the county.
When Kreitz asked if that amount represents the true number of vaccines, as it is a two-dose injection, Wheeler responded that the vaccines short shelf life means it has to be used quickly and the 21-28 day period between injections is too long for doses to remain viable.
Translation: A second pizza box comes 28 days later
Two public comments, one from Jamie Schectman, asked about new restrictions that may affect lodging and local ski areas. Boo said, “If the state comes out with a stay at home order that tells people they should stay home and not travel for vacation or recreation purposes … then yes, I think Mono County EOC should take actions to restrict lodging again for the duration of the state’s stay at home order.”
State ski area regulations were released on Tuesday, December 1. While the guidance is extensive, it will not ultimately change much about how Mammoth or June Mountains operate for the season, as many of the recommendations and requirements are already in place. The examples given for restricting capacity are not mandated and are merely suggestions, with MMSA already opting to discontinue day-of ski passes and limiting passes in general. During Wednesday’s Mammoth Lakes Town Council meeting, Town Attorney Andy Morris said that, while the ordinances don’t explain how much a resort has to reduce its capacity, the guidance is “pretty industry friendly. I think they really kind of dodged a bullet.”
As of the current guidelines, ski areas will be able to operate in any tier.
In short, skiing is considered an essential outdoor activity. Duh. Of course!
Mammoth Lakes Town Manager Dan Holler gave Town Council a rundown of the current Covid-19 situation at that meeting. Holler touched upon revamping or reviving community assistance programs to assist residents with income or rent as well as food distribution.
“We fully expect to see some of that again, hopefully not at the same level,” Holler said.
He continued: “As we look through December and January and even into February, there’s a very high likelihood that these types of programs may make the difference between people having enough to eat, people being able to retain housing, and for businesses to be able to reopen or survive reductions in business.”
Holler also gave a pessimistic outward projection as far as ahead as next summer. “We fully expect not to be fully out of this at that point,” he said. “We are pretty sure we will have a substantial visitation challenge come April, May, and June, with the weather and opening our forests up.”
On Thursday afternoon, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a new regional stay-at-home order described as a “emergency brake” to decrease the spread of Covid-19.
Newsom’s decree breaks the state into five regions: Northern California, Bay Area, San Joaquin Valley, Greater Sacramento, and Southern California.
If a region’s ICU capacity falls below 15%, the stay-at-home order goes into effect for at least three weeks. All regions except the Bay Area are expected to hit that threshold in a matter of days.
This will close all bars, wineries, nail and hair salons, barberships, and other personal services.
Schools that have been given the go-ahead to remain open will be allowed to do so.
Retail stores will be afforded up to 20% capacity. Both Mono and Inyo counties have been placed into the Southern California region, which includes Orange, San Diego, and Los Angeles counties.
Non-essential travel has also been restricted, with hotels and motels now limited to only accepting guests travelling for an essential reason.
Enforcement is being delegated to local entities, but Newsom said that uncooperative counties would face consequences for their actions.
California has broken its own record for hospitalizaion five times over the course of five days; 8,831 people are hospitalized in the state. In addition, 112 people died in the state on December 2, up from 14 recorded deaths on November 2.
Another surge is expected following Thanksgiving.
Newsom also provided details about the rollout of the 327,000 doses of the Covid-19 vaccine.
There are three tiers of priority:
1. Acute care facilities, psychiatriac hospital facility hospitals, correctional facility hospitals, skilled nursing/assisted living facilities, paramedics/EMTs, first responders and dialysis centers.
2. Intermediate care facilities, home and community health care workers, public health field staff, primary care clinics, urgent care clinics, and correctional facility clinics.
3. Specialty clinics, lab workers, dental clinics, pharmacy staff.