Governor pulls COVID emergency brake: Mono County sees new restrictions

Cases in Mono County have increased 400% in the past few weeks, per health officials; Gov. Gavin Newsom accelerates tier assignment in response to rapidly increasing cases of the coronavirus.

MONO COUNTY, Calif.— Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday announced new restrictions in what he called “pulling the emergency brake” in response to widespread and rapidly increasing cases of the coronavirus.

Daily cases in the state have doubled in the last 10 days, Gov. Newsom said. It is the fastest increase since the beginning of the pandemic. 

“We are seeing community spread broadly now throughout the state of California,” Newsom said. 

Covid hospitalizations in California have increased 48% with a 38.8% increase in ICU patients in the last 14 days. The seven-day positivity rate is 5.2% statewide.

“We’re moving from a marathon to a sprint,” Newsom said. “We need to be more aggressive, more surgical, more targeted.”

The governor’s “emergency brake” announcement means that state has made changes to how they manage tier assignments, becoming more aggressive to curb the surge.

Counties will now move back after one week, not two weeks, and counties that move back also must make changes within 24-hours instead of the previous a 72-hour wait period. Additionally, the state will make tier assignments in real time, rather than reviewing once weekly. 

Mono County has moved back into the red “substantial spread” tier while 41 counties, accounting for 94% of the state’s population, are now in the most restrictive purple tier of the state’s blueprint for a safer economy. 

Newsom also announced a new statewide mask mandate that requires Californians to wear a mask anytime they are outside their homes, with a few exceptions. Masks are not required when people are outside and more than six feet apart from others.

State Health and Human Services Director Dr. Mark Ghaly urged Californians to reconsider how they engage with friends and family to keep transmission rates low. He discouraged mixing households indoors and recommended keeping interactions short.

Though the joint-travel advisory announced last Friday with Oregon and Washington is not a mandate or a travel ban, Dr. Ghaly recommend staying local and limiting travel to short drives, two to three hours. If Californians must travel out-of-state the advisory urges residents to quarantine for 14 days before and after travel. 

In Mono County, after a relatively quiet fall, cases of the coronavirus increased 400% over the last three or four weeks, according to Public Health Officer Dr. Tom Boo. AS of Tuesday, over the past seven-day period there were 24 new confirmed cases with a 19.8% positivity rate, moving Mono County into a more restrictive red tier. 

While most of the cases are in Mammoth Lakes, health officials say other parts of the county are also seeing substantial community spread. 

New restrictions limit restaurants to 25% capacity for indoor dining and gyms to 10% indoors. Other indoor businesses and religious services are also more restricted in capacity. Mono County schools are not currently impacted by the new tier assignment; however, schools must close in counties with widespread infection in the purple tier. 

It seems the California Department of Public Health did not consider the outbreak at the Marine Corp Mountain Warfare Training Center when reassigning tier status, otherwise Mono County would have seen even more restrictions. The county has updated its coronavirus web portal to separate the data. 

Link: Understand California’s criteria for tier status and restrictions

Nevertheless, cases have been doubling every week in Mono County and if the trajectory doesn’t change the county can expect to be in the most restrictive purple tier within a week, Public Health Director Bryan Wheeler said. 

Early on in the pandemic, spikes of the virus correlated with increases in tourism, however that is not the case right now. The new restrictions came just after Mammoth Mountain Ski Area opened for the winter season, but community spread was already happening and cases were already being confirmed. 

Through contact tracing the public health department is pointing to household spread, indoor social gatherings, and residents returning home from traveling as the key drivers in spread of the virus. 

“This is a function of how we are operating as a community—and we are failing,” Mammoth Lakes Mayor Bill Sauser said.  “This is not the people coming to our community doing this to us. We are doing some stupid things, but if we buckle down and work together on this as were early on, we can flatten this curve.”  


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