Mono County moves to most restrictive purple tier, Newsom warns of impending statewide shutdown

California hospitalizations hit near record highs; Projections show California ICUs will reach capacity by mid-December without more mitigation

Mono County has earned a spot in the purple tier of California’s blueprint for a safer economy, joining 52 of the state’s 58 counties in the most restrictive tier.  More than 99% of the state’s population live in regions with widespread COVID-19 infection. Inyo County was moved into the red “substantial” tier. 

“The red flags are flying in terms of the trajectory in our projections of growth,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said on Monday in a press briefing. “If these trends continue, we’re going to have to take much more dramatic, arguably drastic action.”

A more restrictive statewide stay-at-home order, similar to March, may be on the way later this week, Newsom said citing a rapid increase in serious cases of the coronavirus.

Hospitalizations in the state have hit near record highs, increasing two to three times in the past month. Without additional interventions current projections are showing that California’s ICUs will reach 112% capacity as soon as mid-December. 

At least six Mono County residents have been hospitalized over the past two to three weeks and are receiving care in Northern Nevada, according to public health officials. Over the past 7-day period there were 37 new cases of the coronavirus with a 9.5% positivity rate in Mono County. There was a third death a few weeks ago. 

“We are facing serious threats right now,” Mono County Public Health Officer Dr. Tom Boo said. “These measures, these restrictions that everyone is so sick of, will save lives. We have to bite the bullet and do what we can to protect each other and vulnerable people in our community.”

The increase in cases and hospitalizations came just ahead of Thanksgiving. The impact of the holiday are not yet determined, California Health and Human Services Director Dr. Mark Ghaly said on Monday, though he expects cases will continue to rise. About 12% of positive cases will be hospitalized two weeks after onset of symptoms, he said, and in the most serious cases death follows one week later.

Local health officials pointed toward social gatherings and residents returning from travel as the key driver of cases this fall. Now community spread is happening and “it is everywhere,” Dr. Boo said. 

While Mammoth Hospital remains un-impacted, regional hospitals in Northern Nevada and Southern California are filling up. The ability to transfer critically ill patient is a serious and growing threat. 

With movement into the purple tier comes more business and activity restrictions in Mono County. Effective Wednesday, December 2, restaurants, gyms, movie theaters, and places of worship are prohibited from indoor operations. Grocery stores are limited to 50% and retail is restricted to 25% maximum occupancy. Offices remain closed and social gatherings are restricted to outdoors only with a maximum of three households. 

After a minimum of three weeks in the purple tier, counties must have 7 or less new cases per week and a positivity rate lower than 8% for two weeks before to moving to the less restrictive red tier.

The “limited stay at home order” or curfew that Gov. Newsom announced last week for counties in the purple tier, now applies locally. Social gatherings and non-essential activities are restricted from 10PM to 5AM. Essential activities like work, picking up to-go food or grocery shopping, and walking your dog are okay. 

Link: Understand which businesses are open and closed under the four tiers

Mammoth Mountain lodging and food operations must comply with restrictions mandated in the state’s purple tier; however, the ski lifts remain unaffected, for now.  

Updated Dec. 2: After publishing this report, the state issued guidance for ski areas operating during covid. Mammoth Mountain is already complaint and is allowed to continue ski lift operations under the purple tier.

After opening weekend, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area adjusted its operations by adding lift line personnel for mask enforcement and created a mask zone with ample signage at the bottom of chairlifts. The ski area has also created its own coronavirus task force. Mammoth President Mark Brownlie said he communicates with the local health department daily. And while the ski area is the economic driver in the community, Brownlie said that during the pandemic, “the real governor is hotel occupancy.”

Last week Mono County updated its lodging order, providing further clarification. Short-term lodging, hotels and condos are restricted to 70% capacity on a weekly average. All other short-term rental properties are restricted to 70% capacity, but over a monthly average and must leave units vacant for 24 hours between occupancy with a minimum of nine days vacancy per month including owners and guests. 

And while the ski area intends to run chairlifts in the foreseeable future, an impending statewide stay-at-home order, makes everything uncertain for the local business economy. No one seems to know how that will roll out, exactly, but Gov. Newsom on Monday said that more details would be announced very soon, possibly within a few days.

Newsom recognized that additional rollbacks could have significant economic impacts and consequences, especially on small businesses. He announced new immediate assistance including temporary tax relief and $500 million dollars in relief with $25,000 cash grants for small businesses, nonprofits and cultural institutions.

Nearly 3 million Californians are set to lose federal unemployment benefit extensions on December 26 according to a recent Century Foundation report. While a biparitsan group of lawmakers is currently negotiating a stimulus, according to Washington Post reporting, it has been 249 days since the CARES Act passed.

The federal government “needs to do its job,” Newsom said adding that he has been in regular contact with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to advocate on the state’s behalf for federal relief as soon as possible with the incoming Biden administration.

Mono County Supervisor Stacy Corless said that she and other county officials have received plenty of angry and menacing messages recently regarding business restrictions and future shutdowns.

“The business community concerns are serious—we can acknowledge them, but we also have a primary responsibility to public health,” Chair Corless said at the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday.

While Mono County has the ability to be more restrictive than the state, so far, the county has not chosen to be. All of local restrictions are in-line with state guidance. 

“We don’t live in a bubble, we are part of something bigger,” Corless said. “What is at stake here are lives, human lives—lives of our community members. Let’s keep this in perspective and try to find a shred of understanding and kindness for each other.”

This Week in Mono County

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