Stay-at-Home order extended amid grim ICU projections

Tourism is closed in Mono County, Mammoth Chamber advocates for reopening

At the end of the three-week minimum waiting period, the California Department of Public Health announced that the stay-at-home order will continue in the Southern California region until further notice.

Though the region is far from the 15% remaining capacity it needs for the order to be lifted, other parts of the state have seen flattening of cases this past week, indicating that mitigation efforts are working. 

“The plateau is what we hoped for—frankly, we are pleased to see a little bit of a plateau,” California Health and Human Services Director Dr. Mark Ghaly said in a briefing Tuesday. “The trends have started to come down, but it is not enough—people can’t let up their guard.”

Still, most of the state’s regions are on lockdown with the exception of Northern California, which has 27.9% remaining ICU capacity. As of Tuesday, Southern California and San Joaquin Valley ICUs are at 0.0%, the Bay Area is 10.4% and Sacramento is 19.1 %.

The extension of the order is notable for Inyo and Mono counties during the busy holiday season as the short-term nightly lodging ban for recreation purposes will continue for the foreseeable future. Other restrictions include 20% capacity limits on retail stores, and restaurant are closed for table service. 

Read: Tourism is closed, Skiing is open

Despite nationwide pleas to stay-at-home this holiday season, more than 1.1 million people boarded airplanes on Wednesday, December 23, according to TSA. It was the busiest travel day since the start of the pandemic indicating that many Americans are not following CDC recommendations.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN on Sunday that the worst is yet to come, pointing to holiday gatherings for the anticipated surge. “It is really quite troubling,” Dr. Fauci said. 

Dr. Ghaly echoed the nation’s leading public health experts, saying that the state is bracing itself for upcoming holiday infections. “The threat of the surge upon a surge is real,” he said. “Much of what we are dealing with is avoidable. It can be stopped if we collectively make decisions to stop it.”

Mammoth Chamber advocates for reopening, some businesses threaten to defy state orders 

Last week the Mammoth Lakes Chamber of Commerce circulated a petition asking that local officials advocate to remove Mono County from the Southern California region even though the state has not indicated this is a possibility. The petition also threatened to violate state mandates if the order was not lifted at the end of the minimum three-week waiting period, which was December 28. 

While the county does not have the legal authority to lift the stay-at-home order, the Board of Supervisors and Mammoth Town Council held an emergency special meeting last Wednesday to discuss the Chamber’s request and listen to the community’s concerns. 

Speaking on behalf of the Mammoth Lakes Restaurant Association, Brandon Brocia, the owner of Bleu and The Eatery, said the restaurant community is frustrated with lack of opportunities and avenues. 

“Hope—hope for a bailout is not a business plan, we don’t operate on hope,” Brocia said. “We cannot function without tourist activity. We are being forced into a position where we have to make really drastic decisions.”

Despite the Chamber’s threat to “join the ranks of those violating orders,” Brocia said that it was not the intention of the restaurants. “We don’t want to go rogue,” he said.

John Morris, the president of the Mammoth Lakes Lodging Association, said the stay-at-home order was not working and that “a ton of people are in town who are not second home owners.” Keeping tourism lodging closed was “forcing people into illegal rentals,” he said.  

Morris also suggested that the unemployed workforce could be driving the spread of coronavirus. 

“Our business closures and layoffs will increase the chance for our unemployed and underemployed folks to gather and spread covid,” Morris said without evidence of this claim. 

Later, Andrea Walker, the owner of Stellar Brew, reiterated the false narrative that unemployed workers were driving the local surge saying that if businesses are not keeping people working “the unemployed population is able to freely move around and gather.”

While mixing of households indoors is spreading the virus, as of yet, neither local health officials nor leading infectious disease experts have indicated that the unemployed are driving the surge more than anyone else.

The majority of public comments in the meeting focused on lodging. Frustrated short-term rental owners claimed their rentals were safe and that “people from Los Angeles need a place to get away for mental health.” Some claimed the Town’s enforcement was “unfair” or “unconstitutional.” 

One caller offered “no sympathy for the Airbnb owners who refuse to rent to locals” pointing out that short term lodging was responsible for driving the real estate market up, sometimes pushing residents out, and raising the cost-of-living for the workforce. 

Read: How the pandemic has amplified cost-of living challenges in ski towns

Another caller made false assertions about science and said that anyone who was scared of the virus “can just stay home” and “everyone else can go out to restaurants.” 

Some complained about lack of enforcement because it was unfair to those who were following rules. Others expressed frustration that Bishop was not enforcing the lodging ban and tried to leverage Bishop’s non-compliance as reason for Mono County to relax state orders locally. 

Mammoth Finance Director Rob Patterson, who is currently leading the town’s code enforcement team, said the town has and will issue citations, though education is the first step. 

“Our goal is to gain compliance, so we have the best possible chance of getting the virus under control and getting open as soon as we can,” Patterson said.

The state has continuously threatened to withhold critical emergency dollars from counties that blatantly defy state orders. Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state is working with OSHA, the Alcohol and Beverage Control, and other licensing boards on compliance and enforcement. 

“The overwhelming number of people are doing the right thing,” Gov. Newsom said. “But there are notable people that are not, they’re thumbing their nose and they’re putting communities and businesses at risk.”

After more than three hours, the Board of Supervisors and Town Council voted unanimously to start advocating to remove Mono County from the Southern California region when local metrics improve. In his closing comments Supervisor Bob Gardner reiterated that local officials do not have the legal authority to end the shutdown.  

“I am certainly sympathetic to the impact on the businesses and the individuals in the community, but we need to do better,” Supervisor Gardner said.  “Once our numbers get in better shape, we can make a strong case to be excluded from the region, but that has to based on progress. We need to stay the course and get case numbers down so we can get through this.”

The Town of Mammoth Lakes currently has one of the highest concentrations of new cases in the state with 1,310 per 100,000 residents in the last two weeks. Over the last 7-day period Mono County has confirmed 93 cases of the coronavirus. The current 7-day positivity rate is 27.9%, which is significantly higher than the state average 11.4%. There have been four deaths in Mono County to-date. 

There is one new covid-positive patient at Mammoth Hospital. It is unclear if there are any Mono County residents hospitalized at regional facilities. As of December 28, Northern Nevada staffed hospital beds are currently 81% full, an improvement from 87% the previous week. Mammoth Hospital CEO Tom Parker said that Renown Hospital in Reno is accepting transfer patients on a case-by-case basis. 

Federal, state and local assistance is on the way

On Sunday, the president signed the second coronavirus relief bill into law. The $2.3 trillion dollar package includes a federal unemployment extension plus $3000 additional, a one-time $600 payment to people who make less than $75,000 annually, more small business grants, and an eviction moratorium.

Last week the Town of Mammoth Lakes voted unanimously for another round of local businesses assistance for a total of $700,000 funding this year. This is in addition to state funding offered this fall that offered immediate cash assistance of up to $25,000 for small businesses as a stop-gap for when more federal aid would become available. 

Read: California EDD preparing for federal unemployment provisions

The Mammoth Lakes Food Bank distributed an estimated $750,000 worth of food this year, Mammoth Lakes Tourism Director John Urdi said. The food bank was supported by MLT and private donors. Costs were offset by Vons and Grocery Outlet perishable food donations and wholesale pricing through US Food Service.

MLT is now working with IMACA on food distribution. Donations are being accepted through the Mammoth Lakes Community Foundation and funds will be given to IMACA 

Rental assistance for Mono County and Mammoth Lakes residents is still available. Applications can be submitted online or in-person through Mammoth Lakes Housing

COVID-19 vaccine arrives in Mono County

The first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Mono County on December 21 and Mammoth Hospital began vaccinating 300 of its frontline healthcare workers according to California Department of Public Health guidelines for the 1-a group. 

Mono County Public Health also received a limited supply of the Moderna COVID- 19 vaccine and will commence immunizing additional people categorized in Phase 1-a by the CDC. 

As more vaccine is allocated public health officials will expand vaccination to other essential personnel and the community, focusing initially on adults aged 75 and older, and higher risk people with pre-existing conditions. 

The general public is part of the Phase 2-3 roll-out, which is anticipated to be in spring and early summer of next year.

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In the midst of movement and chaos, keep stillness inside of you. –Deepak Chopra