In addition to the excellent article submitted by Avo Nesesian, Sierra Wave was given permission to post the following link to another excellent article on the same topic by journalist/writer Monica Prelle:
MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. — Just over two weeks ago Mammoth Mountain Ski Area closed indefinitely. The announcement, which a time traveler from a few months ago might not believe, came as a surprise to skiers who live in ski bum bliss and a relief to residents who pay attention to the news.
Mono County now has the unfortunate distinction of having the highest per capita COVID-19 rate in California, according to the National COVID-19 Interactive Map.
Within the last week, four patients became critically ill and at least two were transferred to Reno. The increase in severe COVID-19 cases suggests that a “crushing wave of very sick people is coming soon,” Public Health Officer Dr. Tom Boo said. “The reality is extremely alarming.”… (Click on link in title of article to be taken to complete article.)
Original Article Submitted by Avo Nersesian Geography Teacher at Pierce College Below:
It may come as no surprise that Mono county is a tourist destination, with its central hub and economic lifesource, the town of Mammoth Lakes, consistently swelling to four or five times its local population throughout their skiing season. That all came to a screeching halt when Mammoth Mountain Ski Area officially announced on Sunday March 15th that it would be closing all operations.
Six days later, on March 21st we received news of Mono county’s first confirmed case of COVID-19. Since then, 5 more cases have been recorded, one of whom is in critical condition at Reno’s Renown Hospital. (Update: 13 positive cases as of Sunday, March 29)
Per Governor’s order, the entire state of California, including of course Mono county, has been on complete lock-down since March 19th, and according to the Mono County Health Department, “The accelerating numbers of recognized and suspected infections demonstrates more clearly than ever that we have an epidemic in the Mammoth area.”
What we haven’t really heard is that Mono county leads the state in number of cases per capita, with now 6 confirmed cases (3/29: 13 cases reported) for its meager population of 14,000, not even enough people to fill a Manhattan block. Moreover, remember that the number of confirmed cases is nowhere near the number of actual cases; labs are overwhelmed and testing is sorely lacking, so not everybody containing the virus has been tested for it. For now, testing has been limited to those symptomatic individuals in need of care.
You might be wondering why this tiny frontier town leads the state in cases per capita. One thing to consider is just that: its tiny population. The Eastern Sierra region of California hosts the lowest population densities in the entire state, due chiefly to the grandeur of the Sierra Nevada (the tallest mountain range in the lower 48 states), effectively cutting the state in half, limiting travel east-west. To this day, during winter months this mighty mountain chain is impassible east-west for some 300 miles.
Now, as previously stated, Mono county is also a tourist destination. So, instead of its tiny isolated population acting as a safeguard against contagions, it becomes a vulnerability. Year round, hundreds, if not thousands, of tourists roll through highway 395 on a daily basis, coming from all corners of the state and the country at large. Many more arrive through the air via Mammoth Yosemite Airport, the region’s main flight ground. United Airlines, the airport’s sole public liner, did not cease flights from Denver and San Francisco until March 20th, and still continues to offer daily flights to and from Los Angeles, three of the hardest hit cities in the country.
Steve Graves, Professor of Geography at CSUN and creator of the National COVID-19 Interactive Map says, “Tourism is probably a driver of the rates we see in Mono County.” An exceptionally low population density combined with ease of travel to and from highly infected areas could possibly help explain why Mono has become the state’s most highly infected county.