Inyo County considers COVID quarantine crackdown on individuals

Terrance Vestal
Managing Editor

Meaghan McCamman, assistant director of the Inyo County Department of Health and Human Services, said Tuesday that Inyo County continues to see elevated numbers of new COVID-19 positive cases that could lead the state to tighten up economic restrictions on the area.
As of Tuesday, according to the county, there were 256 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 31 active cases, 15 deaths attributed to the virus and 210 resolved cases. This compares to Mono County’s 346 confirmed cases and 12 deaths.
McCamman, speaking at a virtual Inyo County Board of Supervisors meeting, said the elevated number of cases has Inyo County trending toward the red tier (substantial) from its current tier status of orange (moderate).
The tier system is part of California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy and is based on a county’s positivity and testing rates, among other factors.
On Tuesday, the state’s Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly announced that 11 counties would be moved back to more restrictive tiers as California contends with a fall surge in virus cases.
Ghaly noted that this week marked the first time that no counties moved forward into a less restrictive tier.
“We anticipate, if things stay the way they are, that between this week and next week, over half of California counties will have moved into a more restrictive tier,” Ghaly said at a Tuesday press conference.
McCamman said Inyo County managed to skirt reassignment and will remain in the orange tier through next week at least.
“Though, according to our numbers, we probably should have been in the red tier,” she said.
McCamman said the state underwent a recent data system conversion and county staff suspects that’s why some of the county’s cases are not currently showing up in the state’s system.
“Regardless of the reason, we’ve squeaked by one more week and manage to stay in the orange as of right now,” she said.
McCamman reiterated that the county is seeing increased positive case numbers, adding that there is “a huge number of increased close contacts who need to go into quarantine.
“We’re seeing a lot of people go to work, go to school and go out and about on the town while sick,” she said. This includes individuals who have been isolated because they have tested positive for the virus.
McCamman said, as with businesses that continually violated public health orders, the county has wanted to take a “partner-first” approach to people who are breaking their quarantine and isolation orders.
“We call them over and over and over again, assuming that there must be some misunderstanding or directions or they’re unclear on what they’re supposed to be doing,” she said. “We are reaching a point now where we’re seeing some folks who we feel are running through our warnings and running through our requests and running through our reiterations and entering a phase where we need to start warning people of potential penalties for breaking quarantine and isolation.”
McCamman said Health and Human Services has started working with county counsel on the issue and has included the Inyo County District Attorney’s Office.
“We do think that we’re going to have to start down this road as we’re seeing some people, not everyone, of course really running amok on quarantine or even when they’re positive and supposed to be in isolation,” she said.
Anna Scott, Inyo County Health and Human Services deputy director, said while the county continues to work with the state on data discrepancies, that issue hasn’t impacted what the county is doing locally as far as trying to contain the virus through isolations and quarantines.
Scott said the Health and Human Services Department is “feeling the workload” because many of the county’s positive cases also have quite a few contacts that have to be monitored.
“We often will have a lot of people to quarantine out of each positive case, much more than we were seeing months ago,” Scott said. “So, still a lot of work to do.”
Second District Supervisor Jeff Griffiths said that he was supportive of taking a stronger approach to people breaking quarantine.
“It seems like the minimum that we can do to contain this,” he said. “And it’s so important from a public health standpoint, but also the keep our schools and our businesses as open as they can be. People know, so we can educate the people, but at a certain point, if they’re putting everyone’s health and our economy at risk, we have to take stronger action.”
Fifth District Supervisor and Chairman Matt Kingsley called the situation “frustrating” while pondering the source or sources of community spread.
Scott said, to the extent that the county can identify what sources are being seen, in a significant amount of cases there will be one person in a household who will typically spread the virus to other members within the household. Members of the household are given instructions on how to take precautionary measures.

‘Stay home if you’re sick’
However, some sources of infection continue to be workplace exposure for essential workers where potentially a coworker may have come to work ill, not necessarily knowing that they were positive for COVID while still being infectious, Scott said.
She said in looking through the county’s database that some of the spread may have come from social interactions where no definitive link has been established.
“We are seeing some younger people especially who are getting together on the weekends, we had a few parties happen around Halloween that we’re finding out about now,” Scott said regarding sources of infection.
Scott said she has heard statewide that as gathering guidelines have loosened up a little bit, people are loosening up on their prevention measures as “COVID fatigue” sets in.
Scott said health officials are trying to drive home the message that even if people narrow their main contacts to a couple of other households, “everybody really should be wearing a face covering during any of those interactions and interacting outside as much as possible.”
Scott said as it gets colder interacting outside will be more difficult to do so prioritizing face coverings and some of the other measures that we’ve been talking about for months should be a priority.
“I think we’re starting to see some fatigue around those measures, which we all understand,” Scott said. “But we’re really trying to drive that message home not only locally but statewide because what we’re seeing is that people are getting together more often, not taking the proper precautions, and we’re seeing some of that spread in social interactions as well.”
McCamman pointed out that flu season already is underway and when people have the sniffles or stomach aches or similar symptoms sometimes they just assume that it’s a “normal illness.” Then they go to work or they go to school and it turns out to be COVID and they’ve potentially infected their colleagues or fellow students.
“I would just implore people if you feel just a little bit sniffley, please stay home and stay away from others,” McCamman said.