While the local effort to combat Covid-19 continues to produce encouraging results, Mono County did not enter the red tier this past week as previously anticipated. The culprit: an adjusted 7.2 case rate per 100,000 residents, .2 above the threshold for moving into the red tier.
“One or two cases can actually make a huge statistical impact and prevent us moving to a less restrictive tier,” said Mono County Public Health Director Bryan Wheeler at Tuesday’s Mono County Board of Supervisors meeting.
In this particular instance, one case was added to the county’s list due to timing and another came from the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport during routine screening.
Wheeler expressed a hope that the county can argue that the adjudication received in late 2020 during the large outbreak at the base would establish a precedent that would have the recent MCMWTC case removed from the county’s overall caseload. That would in turn bring the case rate down to 6.1, good enough for movement into the red tier.
Despite a slight uptick in cases from the previous week, the test positivity rate remains far below thresholds and Wheeler expressed a belief that the county is still headed in the right direction.
As it turns out, the county may be headed to the red tier sooner anyways. California has instituted a new metric for vaccination that will change the requirements for movement between tiers.
Once 2 million doses have been administered to residents living in the hardest-hit quarter of the state, as measured by the Healthy Places index, the Blueprint for a Safer Economy will be updated with less stringent requirements.
Counties in the purple tier will be allowed to have up to 10 new cases per day per 100,000 residents and still move into the red tier.
That first milestone is expected to be hit by the end of this week or the first days of next week. There would be a 48-hour delay between the announcement and implementation so if the state announced that it had reached the milestone on Saturday, then the new guidelines would go into effect Monday and Mono County would subsequently be placed into the red tier.
Once 4 million doses have been administered to the designated population, counties with fewer than 5.9 new cases per day per 100,000 residents will be eligible to move into the orange tier and counties with a rate below 2 new cases per day per 100,000 residents may enter the yellow tier.
The goal in adding breathing room to the tiers is to have “an overall effect of allowing counties to loosen health restrictions at a somewhat accelerated, but still responsible, pace” per the state’s press release.
Wheeler also announced that the county’s vaccination clinics were still achieving high rates of jabs, with Monday’s clinic at Mammoth High School administering 635 doses to county residents.
As of Thursday, March 11, the county had administered 6,058 first doses and 4,264 second doses. Last week those numbers were 4,699 first doses and 4,173 second doses administered.
“There’s only about 800-900 individuals left in the database,” Wheeler said, “so with the vaccine that I am picking up in Inyo (a full Pfizer case of 1170 doses), that’s enough vaccine to vaccinate the rest of the individuals who indicated that they are interested in a vaccine.”
He added that the county has set up some large clinics next week to aid in the sprint towards fully meeting demand in the county.
And, he announced, Rite Aid pharmacy in Mammoth has received a limited supply of the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine, enough to administer 5 per day. As Mono County continues to quickly vaccinate residents, Wheeler said, there is an expectation that vaccine priorities will be further expanded as “We are ahead of the state at this point.”
When the priorities do get expanded, seasonal employees without identification that lists them as county residents will be eligible to receive a vaccine provided their employer writes a letter certifying that they live in the county and are employed here.
Wheeler also stressed the importance of outreach to the Hispanic population as they as a group have been underserved in the push for vaccination and most systems do not cater to residents who speak Spanish as a first language. To that end, there is hope that if the vaccine supply remains steady, the county may be able to host some walk-in clinics, no pre-registration required.
The push comes as the state transitions all counties to a third-party system called MyTurn for registering residents, a change that could disrupt the groundwork and infrastructure that have made Mono County so successful in its vaccination program.
Supervisor John Peters, who represents Mono County on the California State Association of Counties, said “It’s going to be tough for rural counties to switch to a third party administrator when what we’re doing is working.”
Alpine County became the first to return to the yellow tier this week. 20 counties total are now in the red tier and 3 are in the orange.
Inyo County has a rate of 29.4 new Covid-19 cases per day per 100,000 residents and a 7.1% positivity rate. That rate puts Inyo near the top of the list for California.
Inyo Health and Human Services director Marilyn Mann said at Tuesday’s Inyo County Board of Supervisors meeting that the county has administered a first dose to approxmately 4,000 residents. That represents about 20% of the county’s population.
“We’re trending towards building that herd immunity we keep hearing about and wanting to have in place,” Mann said.
The county plans to hold a large-scale vaccination clinic on Saturday, March 13 that will get 1,018 residents their second dose of vaccine.
The next focus, she said, was getting doses out to the county’s rural communities. That effort, she said, will be aided by the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson vaccine) that is easier to store and only requires one dose to achieve affectiveness.
On a national level, President Biden announced Thursday that that by May 1, all American adults will be able to sign-up for a vaccination appointment and be vaccinated by the end of the month.
By July 4, Americans should be able to gather in small groups.
4,000 additional troops will be deployed to assist with the effort and the federal government is going to set up a website and call center to help people find appointments.
In addition, the list of individuals eligible to administer vaccines is set to expand to include dentists, veterinarians, and medical students, among others.
The announcement came hours after Biden signed a $1.9 trillion recovery package aimed at ramping up vaccination efforts, opening schools, and distributing financial aid to middle- and low-income families.
Most Americans can expect to receive a $1,400 payment from the government, with the first wave added to bank accounts starting this coming weekend.
Analysis from the Urban Institute, based out of Washington D.C, estimates the package will reduce the overall poverty rate by more than a third.
The CDC reported that 33.7 million Americans have been fully vaccinated, good for about 10% of the total population.
The news comes as the national death toll tops 530,000 citizens and more than 29 million cases reported.