Mono Denied; Move to Red Tier Thwarted by a Data Error - for Now

Wendilyn Grasseschi
Times Reporter

Mono County was fully expecting to move to the Red Tier this week following weeks of plummeting Covid-19 cases but a single case attributed to the Marine base near Coleville might have scuttered the move for at least a few more days.

Although the county was working hard to get the data error fixed (this was a state error, not a county error), at press time, the county was still in the Purple Tier.

The news had an immediate impact on many businesses who had planned on opening partially under Red Tier conditions, and it scuttled plans for Mammoth Middle School to re-start some in-person teaching next week and Mammoth High School to start the following week.
The county must be in the Red Tier before it can open the higher grades to in-person training. At press time, it was unclear when the two schools might start in-person teaching. Lower grades are already doing some in-person teaching; that will continue.

As noted in previous reporting, the county has had a waiver for counting Marine Corp Mountain Warfare Training Center base cases for many months; an agreement reached with the state because the base, while located in Mono County, has its own medical systems and essentially quarantines its own personnel.

This week, however, a Marine Base case made it onto the state database and skewed it enough to bring the case rate per 100,000 above the 7.0 number required, up to 7.2 percent. Without the case, the county would have been at 6.1 cases per 100,00 – meeting the requirements to enter the Red Tier.

“This is when the date gets interesting,” said Mono County’s Public Health Director Bryan Wheeler on Tuesday, updating (a frustrated) Mono County Board of Supervisors. “We are at 7.2 percent of positivity... and that keeps us in the Purple Tier.” He explained the reason was the one Marine Base case and assured the supervisors the county was moving fast to get the data issue resolved. “So, moving forward, what we have done is remind the state of our adjudication of the military cases; we sent a letter to them, we told them this should be removed,” he said.

The problem points to the challenges small counties face; one single case has an outsized impact on the overall case rate per 100,000 people, which means smaller county’s thus get penalized much more quickly for each single case, than say a county with population of millions. Although a group of rural counties, including Mono and Inyo, has been lobbying furiously for the entire pandemic to change the way rural county data is assessed, so far, the state has not been responsive, county officials said this week. Wheeler emphasized the problem.

“And this shows up just how precarious our situation is due to our small population where just one or two cases can make a huge difference and push us back into a Tier,” he said.

At press time, there was no clear answer as to when the county might get into the Red Tier but Wheeler said there might be some relief coming soon; the state could change the case rate number from seven to ten within a few days.

Should that occur, the county could go to the Red Tier without a long wait, he said. ...

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