Mono County Director of Public Health Bryan Wheeler gave a Covid-19 update at the latest Board of Supervisors meeting on August 17.
The county continues to trend upwards in cases, with 1,126 positive cases, a 30-day increase of 7.5%, a case rate of 23.5/100,000 as of the week ending on August 7.
There have been at least 26 breakthrough cases in the county.
The county is still in the “high transmission zone” with over 14 new cases daily, putting it in the CDC’s threshold for requiring masking in all indoor public spaces.
Despite an influx of visitors testing positive in a number of Mono County facilities, Mammoth Hospital remains in “good” status with no current hospitalizations for Covid.
Transferring hospitals have shown limited ICU capacity for both Covid and non-Covid services.
The Delta variant is still the dominant strain in California, which poses the biggest threat to Mono County.
“We expect to see a bump in cases from Bluesapalooza, where there were a lot of people and not a lot of masking, despite being outdoors,” said Wheeler.
Due to the current surge in cases, the public health nurse hotline is temporarily back in place, available Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. To access, dial 211.
Wheeler went on to urge the public to get vaccinated, saying that “every person who is unvaccinated is a potential variant factory. And eventually, one of these variants could bypass the vaccine altogether, which would put us back at ground zero. And I don’t think any of us have the stomach to go there again.”
Booster shots are soon to be recommended for a select group, including those who are immuno-compromised, have malignancies, transplants, or advanced/untreated HIV, or individuals on immuno-suppressant drugs.
The update came two days before Mono County opened its schools for the 2021-2022 school year.
The current protocol for the school year is to require masking for all students indoors. There will be no distance guidelines. Students will be required to wear masks at all times except for when eating and when outside.
While weather permits, cafeteria seating will be moved outside to further reduce risk of transmission.
Wheeler anticipates cases, which means quarantines and isolations, and potential short-term closures. However, the utmost goal of the county is to keep schools open.
The update followed a contentious School Board meeting in Bishop on Monday, August 9, where residents passionately displayed opinions both for and against the upcoming masking protocol in Bishop schools.
The Board received hundreds of emails prior to the meeting, voicing opinions from both sides of the issue.
The meeting was held both on Zoom and in person. This was the School Board’s first attempt at a “hybrid-style” meeting, where both forms of communication were in effect.
The community members who showed up in person were mainly opposed to the masking mandate, and were protesting the School Board’s decision to make their children wear masks.
The community members who Zoomed in were mainly in support of the mandate.
Things got heated. Dozens of community members stepped up to speak out against masking, arguing that the mandate in schools is a violation of their civil liberties – that the choice to wear a mask should be a family/personal decision, and not one decided by the Department of Public Health.
Others argued that there is not sufficient evidence that masks help to mitigate Covid transmission.
Still, others argued that Covid does not affect the pediatric population/there has not been enough research done regarding the pediatric population and therefore the Board shouldn’t make a decision that hurts their childrens’ mental health.
Those in favor of the mandate mainly argued for trusting the advice of current scientific experts.
The meeting went on for many hours.
The Board came to a 3-2 split vote in favor of moving forward with the mask mandate for the 2021-2022 school year.
“We are certainly a divided community right now, as I am sure is the case everywhere else,” said Bishop Schools Superintendent Katie Kolker.
While the Bishop schools will be requiring masking indoors, there will be no distancing, no more temperature checks, and no masking required outside.
Students will be given as many opportunities as possible to spend time outside and enjoy each others’ company without wearing masks.
“The bright side is that, if universal masking is in place, kids don’t need to quarantine if they have been second-handedly exposed to Covid, which means they will miss less time in the classroom,” said Kolker.
A similar tone of opposition was present in the town of Mammoth the evening before Mono County schools reopened.
This included a “Parents and Students Freedom Rally” that was held in front of the Mammoth Lakes Farmer Market, where community members exercised their first amendment rights in opposition to the county’s mask mandate.
The lightly attended rally was followed by a march through town to Mammoth Lakes High School.
Despite opposition, Mono County schools will move forward with its mask mandate for the foreseeable future.