Mono intensifies fight against COVID-19

By Wendilyn Grassesschi
Times Reporter


It might seem counterintuitive that just as the number of people testing positive in Mono County has finally slowed down this week, the county and Mammoth Hospital are advocating even more efforts to slow the spread of the virus.

For example, in the past week, the county has asked the state to consider a delay in Fishing Opener (this will be considered during an emergency meeting Thursday by the state); the county public health officer recommended wearing masks during any public outing; the county has extended the short-term rental restrictions to May 31.

A week earlier, Mammoth Hospital and other local authorities sent a request to the state, asking for permission to possibly establish “checkpoints” at the entrance to Mammoth, where incoming, non-local travelers could be stopped and educated about the dangers of covid-19 (see more on this below).

But when it comes to COVID-19, counterintuitive actions are often the “right” actions, medical authorities say, since the actual expression of infection, including the need for hospitalization, follows the date of infection by several weeks.

Thus, the relative decrease in positive cases noted above – which has held stable at 19 positive cases most of the week after climbing steadily up to this week – is most likely due to previous social distancing and other restrictions and easing up on them “too soon” will create the same problem all over again. 

That, along with Mono resident’s admirable “stay at home” actions have bought medical workers some much needed time, local emergency response team members said.

“Mono County has experienced a dramatic 55 – 70 percent decrease in the average mobility (based on distance traveled) of residents during the past few weeks,” the Mono County Emergency Operation Center Incident Command team said in an April 8 news release. “This puts Mono County near the top of the statewide “Social Distancing Scoreboard.” This necessary change in behavior combined with physical distancing (six-plus-feet from other people), frequent hand washing and covering your mouth and nose with a face covering in public should significantly reduce deaths and the impact on our very limited health care resources.
“The Public Health Officer (Dr. Thomas Boo) applauds Mono County residents for taking these measures very seriously and for all working together to defeat the indiscriminate spread of the virus,” they said. “The EOC continues to explore tactics and measures to flatten the curve, or in our case, how we can ‘crush the curve’ in Mono County, which we need to do because we have one of the highest per-capita rates of positive cases in California (in other words, relative to the county’s population, the county has one of the highest rates of positive vases in the state).”

The high rate of infections triggered what the EOC called “aggressive” measures, including one which has sparked more controversy than many of the rest; the call a few weeks back to establish a “checkpoint” at the entrance to Mammoth on S.R. 203. 

“One of the actions currently being pursued by the EOC is the implementation of intermittent checkpoints on State Route 203 and the Mammoth Scenic Loop in an effort to reduce the amount of non-essential travel through education, including the number of people coming to Mammoth Lakes for non-essential purposes,” the IC team said in the news release. “S.R. 203 is a state highway under the jurisdiction of the state of California. Only the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) can authorize a checkpoint that could be implemented by local law enforcement. Mammoth Hospital made such request to Governor Newsom and separately, Sheriff (Ingrid) Braun made the same request to the Caltrans District 9 office on behalf of the EOC on March 29, 2020. At this time, we have not received a formal response from the state.”

That request brought some pushback from the public, if the number of social media comments lighting up local pages are any indication. Strong pushback also came from the Mono County Board of Supervisors, which discussed the idea at length during their April 7 meeting.

“I understand why people are looking to a highway closure--we want to control whatever we can in this out-of-control situation,” said the chair of the board, Stacy Corless. “But the highway closure, like every possible action in this crisis response, is more complex and has more unintended negative consequences than you think. The good news is that there are other things we can control and do to stop the spread of this virus, and they are working. Let's focus on those things.”

Other supervisors also pushed back (in fact, all of them had some serious concerns) stating there were many reasons to not create such a checkpoint, including the lack of capacity to find the staff to maintain it, the fact that many Mammoth “essential workers” have out-of-state plates and work in other communities, the blowback from the public and potential visitors that they were already hearing about, and much more. They urged the EOC to focus more on doing more of the work that has so far been working; advocating for staying at home, wearing masks, etc. 

For its part, the IC team stressed that there was still a long ways to go before stating the virus was beat.

“We are cautiously optimistic that the lack of COVID-19 hospitalizations for almost two weeks means Staying At Home is reducing COVID-19 in the community, but it is too early to get our hopes up,” they said. “This is a very serious situation and now, more than ever, we must be vigilant about following guidance and directives in order to flatten the curve, to decrease the strain on our local health care system, and to save lives.”