Inyo County sees ‘spike’ in COVID-19 cases

Terrance Vestal
Managing Editor

Inyo County saw a spike in its confirmed COVID-19 cases over the last two weeks, bringing the cases of the virus to a total of 32 as of Tuesday morning, Marilyn Mann, director of the Inyo County Health and Human Services Department, said Tuesday.
Mann, reporting virtually to the Inyo County Board of Supervisors, said the county has been seeing an increase in positive COVID-19 cases as the county sees more movement in its communities.
On May 28, the county was holding steady at 19 cases and since then there has been an additional 13 cases with the most recent one confirmed Tuesday morning, Mann said.
According to the county’s situational updates, the county had 24 cases on June 15. Deaths due to COVID-19 in Inyo County remains at one, with 18 cases recovering, according to the county’s June 29 situational update. The update shows total tests administered, 1,187 (Northern Inyo Healthcare District, Southern Inyo Healthcare District and Toiyabe); tests positive, 31 (32 as of June 30); and tests negative, 1,125. The majority of cases, 20, have been between the ages of 19-49.
No current cases have been hospitalized though they and those who might have been exposed have been quarantined or self isolated, Mann said.
Mann said the county is seeing this “spike” in cases in part because of “people not fully following the guidelines of avoiding gatherings and engaging in some non-essential travel.”
She said four of the last 10 cases have been a result of family and friends visiting from out of the area and attending gatherings.
Two other cases were from people traveling to other areas where there were “hotspots,” she said.
“So it’s a good time for us to remember that we are still subject to having additional restrictions imposed upon us by the state,” Mann said. “And it’s important for us to continue to be vigilant in maintaining distancing and maintaining mask use, as well as avoiding gatherings.”
She said the county Health and Human Services Department has been looking at the issue with the county attorney regarding enforcement strategies, while realizing her department is not an enforcement agency.
“We are looking at working with our partners to identify what are some effective strategies” to get better compliance with COVID-19 preventative measures, Mann said.
Mann pointed out that the state recently ordered some counties that have had some “alarming trends” in their COVID-19 cases to close their bars again.
On June 28, California Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted: “Due to the rising spread of #COVID19, CA is ordering bars to close in Fresno, Imperial, Kern, Kings, Los Angeles, San Joaquin, and Tulare, while recommending they close in Contra Costa, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Stanislaus, & Ventura.”
“We just need to be vigilant about avoiding unnecessary travel and following those recommendations,” Mann said. “I think we’ve gotten the message of how important hand washing is. But I think we still need to remember that maintaining social distance and using our cloth face coverings and avoiding gatherings with non-household members continues to be an effective way of reducing our risk of exposure.”
Fifth District Supervisor and Chairman Matt Kingsley asked Mann if she knew whether the state had evidence about bars being a catalyst for new cases.
“I know we have some new cases here in Lone Pine and I don’t think they’re necessarily tracked to a bar,” Kingsley said. “Is the governor targeting whatever the problem is, or is he picking bars as the first thing to close because it was the last thing to open?”
Mann said she thought, in part, that there has been a challenge for bars to comply with public health requirements and “it’s not surprising that after drinking a few alcoholic beverages, you’re not necessarily making the best decisions.”
The fact that the state issued guidance for opening bars, which had been identified as one of the higher risk venues, was interesting in and of itself, Mann said.
“But for our county, we’ve not traced any of our cases to my knowledge to exposure through the bar venue,” she said. “That’s not to say that it can’t happen because we’re starting to see some community transmission.
Mann pointed out that of Inyo County’s confirmed cases, three were people traveling from out of the area through Inyo County who just happened to get sick in Inyo County.
“So there is that potential for spread, especially in venues like bars where it might be difficult for bar owners to have their customers be fully compliant after a few alcoholic beverages,” Mann said.
She said other factors weighed in on the governor’s decision to close bars in those counties, such as cases hospitalized versus capacity, testing rates, the availability of personal protective equipment and other metrics.
Kingsley said a constituent in his district is concerned that bars might be punished for an increase of cases in Inyo County when bars aren’t necessarily responsible for the increase.
Mann said she believes the governor and the California Department of Public Health are looking at bars more as venues for larger gatherings where there could be a greater potential for virus exposure and spread.
“They’re looking at what venues are going to increase that risk of accelerated spread,” Mann said. “So it may not necessarily be the fact that it’s tied to bars in those counties but that those venues increase the risk of spread.”
Mann said one of the metrics Inyo County is keeping close track of is if Inyo County experiences five new cases who are not related within a one-week period.
“What that does is it has us stop and look at information, such as, where are those five unrelated cases and what was the origin of exposure, to the extent that we can,” Mann said. “That’s a metric that has us stop and look and take a measured response. We’re not at a point where we’re going to say we need to close X, Y and Z.”
Mann said rather than having the worry of the state looking over the county’s shoulder, “I think it’s imperative for us to be our own watchdogs, which is what I think we’ve been spending a lot of time and effort behind the scenes trying to do.”
She said as far as enforcement, the county continues to worked diligently at trying to find effective ways to have communities and businesses voluntarily comply with the recommendations and public health orders.