It was about this time last year that doors began to shutter around the Eastside and events were cancelled.
In a matter of hours, Elevation Mammoth went from full steam ahead to cancelled while other organizers looked on in uncertainty.
In the March 14, 2020 edition of The Sheet, Kevin Green, Mammoth Lakes Yoga Festival organizer said, “I feel like I’m watching a category five hurricane that I know is gonna land … I don’t think people are where they need to be in terms of what might be coming.”
At that time, most events were still tentatively on, with contingency plans in place to postpone.
Ultimately, just about everything was cancelled – except the Bishop fireworks.
A year later, with successful local vaccine rollout and low transmission, organizers are optimistic that their events can come back, albeit with a few changes.
On Thursday, March 11, the Mammoth Lakes Chamber of Commerce hosted a meeting for event organizers with Mono County Public Health Officer Tom Boo present to answer questions and give a rundown on current guidance.
Boo was frank about how much he was able to say on the matter, explaining that “I really don’t have any answers for people about what’s going to be permissible or allowable this summer and fall.”
“The vaccines are proving really great and really effective so far,“ he said, “I think we will see progressive allowance of more activites, maybe tied to vaccination status.”
The concept of a “vaccine passport” has been thrown around as an idea for ensuring that activities don’t become superspreader events, although that proposal carries a number of additional questions.
Boo ran through current gudiance from the CDC: people who are fully vaccinated (meaning two weeks after the second dose) can gather in small groups with no need for masking or social distancing.
The CDC also okayed small gatherings between vaccinated and unvaccinated people provided those who are not vaccinated are not considered at high risk for the virus.
Medium and large gatherings are still off-limits, although Boo said the CDC has not established what “small” “medium” or “large” means.
“It’s progress but probably not what the people on this call are looking for,” he said.
According to Boo, California is expected to issue some new guidance on gatherings on either March 19 or 22, with the caveat that the state doesn’t often meet its internal deadlines.
Sandra DiDomizio, owner of Green Fox Events, asked if it was possible for the county to ease restrictions on gatherings if the state is slow to issue guidance.
“Local jurisdictions are allowed to be stricter than the state but never more lenient,” Boo said.
He continued: “If it was up to me, I might go ahead and permit restaurants the option of indoor dining … I’d be inclined to give restaurant operators permission for greater capacity if they were able to verify the vaccination of customers or a high level of vaccination in staff.”
That said, a business cannot require staff to be vaccinated as the currently available vaccines were approved for emergency use by the FDA.
Boo said that he had a progessive stance on utilizing vaccination status “as a way to permit more social and economic activity” but his suggestion to Dr. Erica Pan, state epidemiologist, went unanswered.
His take on the matter was pretty simple. He theorized that a large gathering or festival might require guests to prove that they’ve been vaccinated. That approach would incentivize more people to get a vaccine and would ensure greater safety for attendees.
One difficulty remains. Event organizers can plan and sell tickets based on their county’s current tier status but if that county were to change to a more restrictive tier at the time when the event took place, the more restrictive guidlines would go into effect.
That could mean retracting tickets and offering refunds or canceling the event altogether.
California’s most restrictive tier requirements are expected to change in the coming week. The state has said that when it is able to vaccinate 2 million individuals considered to be at increased risk of Covid-19, the metrics for leaving the purple tier will change. The current threshold to leave the purple tier is 7 cases/day/100,000 residents; that will change to 10 when the 2 million threshold is reached.
When that happens, asked Bleu/Eatery owner Teresta Brocia, could someone host an indoor gathering/event at 25% capacity?
Mammoth Lakes Town Manager Dan Holler stepped in to say that if the event were at a restaurant, the guidance for restaurants would apply.
DiDomizio gave a hypothetical scenario to Boo of three weddings, one in May, one in July, and one in September, asking what his guidance might be for each.
“I’m guessing May would probably be optimistic,” Boo answered, and for July and September, “It would probably be reasonable to plan for a larger wedding.”
Event organizers were also given a chance to speak about their plans moving forward.
John Eickman, part of a group that recently acquired the June Lake Triathalon, said that he and his partner were planning to go ahead with the event after pulling off endurance events around the country in 2020.
Eickman said that he was encouraged by the state’s guidance that placed emphasis on outdoor non-contact activities.
“We very very very much want to do Bluesapalooza,” said Mammoth Brewing Company owner Sean Turner, “It’s all dependent on what restriction will be [in place] come the first week of August.”
Turner said that he and his team haven’t made a final decision beyond expressing a desire to host the festival, noting that the decision is dependent on the level of restrictions on the county this summer as well as the amount of time they will have to put everything together.
Michelle Tomaier, director of special events at Mammoth Mountain, said that MMSA is in the same boat as Turner.
Currently, MMSA has plans to host the Mammoth Motocross event in June, an effort similar to Bluesapalooza in terms of timeline and planning.
“We need this long runway in order to plan and adjust as we see fit,” Tomaier said.
In terms of organizing sporting events, Boo said, the biggest restrictions would be on the crowd, not the competitors.
Mammoth Lakes Public Information officer Stu Brown said that the Town currently plans to host some form of 4th of July celebration this year.
The Sheet spoke with Mule Days president Kevin Bigham about the organization’s plans to move ahead with the celebration this year.
Bigham said that while many factors are continually shifting and changing, his organization is working with the Tri-County Fairgrounds to pull the event together.
Some notable changes: no concerts are planned and the opening night supper and barbeques have been cancelled.
Bigham wasn’t sure what the spectator presence might look like, given changing guidelines.
Like Bluesapalooza and Motocross, Mules Days requires intenstive planning; any disruptions or last-minute changes may doom the venture.
He explained that they are running an esepcially tight budget this year, making the event a make-or-break of sorts.
“If we don’t make enough money this year, it’s very difficult for us going forward, if not impossible,” Bigham said, “We’re in the same situation as many businesses in town … I think Bishop needs this.”