Tourism is closed, Skiing is open

Mammoth Mountain will continue to operate chairlifts as the Southern California region is placed under stay-at-home orders

Thank you for reading Mono County Weekly. This newsletter is local COVID-19 news reported by me, Monica Prelle, a local journalist—so you can stay informed on the issues that are important to our mountain community. 

If you like what you read, please subscribe and consider sharing with people who care about the region as much as you do. Your support is essential to growing the newsletter’s readership and keeping independent local journalism going. 

Tourism is closed, Skiing is open

Mammoth Mountain will continue to operate chairlifts as the Southern California region is placed under stay-at-home orders

MONO COUNTY, Calif.— Inyo and Mono counties were officially ordered to stay-at-home today in response to rapidly increasing Covid hospitalizations across the region. Southern California ICUs currently have less than 12% remaining capacity, according to the California Department of Public Health. 

The new regional order is effective Sunday, December 6 at 11:59 PM and will last for a minimum of three weeks. Nevertheless, the chairlifts at Mammoth Mountain will continue to operate.

“The bottom line is, if we don’t act now our hospital system will be overwhelmed,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a press briefing on Thursday. “If we don’t act now, we’ll continue to see our death rate climb and more lives lost.”

The stay-at-home order will also take effect in the San Juan Valley region, which has 8% remaining ICU capacity. The Bay Area region has 20% remaining capacity and has chosen to implement the stay-at-home order ahead of the state.

Earlier this week, the governor presented grim projections showing that California’s hospital system would be over capacity by mid-December or early January without additional mitigation.

After the three-week minimum stay-at-home period and once Southern California regional ICU projections improve, counties will be reassigned to the appropriate tier based on local cases and positivity rate under the state’s blueprint for activity. Mono County is currently in the most restrictive purple tier while Inyo remains in the red.

Learn more: About the new Regional Stay Home order

The ski area will stay open despite the stay-at-home order, as skiing and snowboarding were among a list of approved outdoor activities for mental and physical health; however, food and beverage operations and tourism lodging will be closed. 

“We recognize, as does Governor Newsom, that outdoor recreation is essential to Californians’ mental health and we will continue to provide skiing and riding for our guests,” Mammoth spokesperson Lauren Burke wrote in an email. “The mental health piece of it is very real for all of us.”

The new regional order restricts non-essential travel statewide as well as lodging for leisure and vacation travel. Personal services and salons must close, and retail will be limited to 20% capacity. Restaurants must close outdoor service, but are permitted to serve takeaway or delivery.  Overnight stays at campgrounds are not allowed.

Outdoor recreational facilities like the ski area and ice skating rink can operate without food and drink, or alcohol sales. Additionally, schools and child care services, critical services, and non-urgent medical and dental care are allowed to remain open with preventative measures.

Read: How the state mandate relates to Lodging Facilities in Mono County

Cases of the coronavirus have nearly doubled each week in Mono County for the past two months. Over the last 7-day period there have been 61 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus with a 29% positivity rate, up from 9.4% over the previous 7-day period. 

As of Thursday, there were two new hospitalizations for a total of eight in the past few weeks. Some Covid patients have been discharged while others were transferred to regional hospitals, according to Mammoth Hospital CMO Dr. Craig Burrows.

Critically ill patients “seem to be doing okay,” but Dr. Burrows declined to give more details citing patient privacy. He reminded residents that 8,000 feet is the last place anyone wants to be on a ventilator and said that transferring patients is becoming more challenging. 

Northern Nevada hospitals, where most critically ill patients are transferred, have less than 10% remaining capacity, according to the Nevada Hospital Association.

More on Ski Area operations: Last week CDPH issued its COVID-19 guidance for ski areas. Among other regulations, ski resorts may not sell day-of lift tickets, but chairlifts can operate in all tiers of the state’s blueprint.  Mammoth President Mark Brownlie confirmed that Mammoth Mountain is already compliant with the state guidelines and that the health and safety of the local community are the ski area’s top priority.

After releasing the guidelines, CDPH told SFGATE that ski resorts are required to minimize capacity, though the metrics are left to the ski resort to determine. Brownlie declined to offer capacity limits saying the real governor of tourism is lodging. 

Note to the readers: The coronavirus has brought unprecedented hardships to our community and the world. Reliable and trustworthy news is as important as ever before. If you see value in the reporting that I am doing, please support local independent journalism with a suggested payment of $1 per article.

Your contribution is not a charitable donation, it is payment for the work I am doing, which will enable me to keep reporting important information during this public health crisis. Your support is essential to keeping independent local journalism going.

If you like what you read, please consider sharing with people who care about the region as much as you do. Thanks again for your ongoing support.

One of the cultural elements of the ski industry, given the weather volatility, we have a very resilient culture that adapts quickly to the unforeseen. — Rusty Gregory