California has placed Mono County on its coronavirus watch list because of a surge in cases in Mammoth Lakes, a center for tourism and outdoor recreation in the eastern Sierra Nevada.
The surge is largely linked to the town’s restaurants, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.
Kern County in the Central Valley, where hospitals are strained to capacity, also was placed on the list, Gov. Gavin Newsom confirmed Friday.
The state is closely monitoring case numbers and places counties on the watch list if infections are too high, triggering increased restrictions in an effort to prevent local health systems from being overwhelmed. Thirty-five of 58 counties are on the list.
Mono County, with about 14,200 residents, has far fewer cases than the state’s major population centers. But it had 40 people test positive for the virus over the last two weeks, raising the infection rate to 8.03% and the seven-day average from July 12 to July 19 to 11.32%, the Times said. One person is hospitalized.
Overall, 84 people have tested positive, including 79 in Mammoth Lakes, and there has been one death.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested. Studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.
Kern County on Friday reported more than 1,000 new cases, for a total of nearly 13,400. There were eight new deaths for a total of 123.
Health officials said the outbreak is filling hospital intensive care units, and ambulance services are receiving record numbers of calls. Officials planned to hire ICU nurses from around the country to help and had requested 10 ambulances from state “strike teams,” the Bakersfield Californian reported.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
Restaurants have been connected to 65% of the new confirmed cases in Mono County, according to the county.
The coronavirus has an incubation period up to 14 days, so it’s possible some of the increase dates to the Independence Day holiday. But authorities do not point to that period exclusively.
“We don’t believe July 4 was a primary catalyst, just a considerable number of visitors seeking solace in the Eastern Sierra,” Mono County public information officer Stuart Brown told the Times.
Restaurant workers will now have to wear personal protective equipment such as surgical or N95 masks, instead of simple cloth face coverings, at least 30% of employees must be tested between July 22 and July 28, and all must be screened before each shift.
A lack of compliance will lead to orders closing establishments starting with a 72-hour period and lengthening for repeated violations.
Other California counties are trying to put some bite behind public health orders as hospitalizations and positive tests for the coronavirus continue rising in many parts of the state.
Los Angeles County, the state’s largest, recorded rising hospitalizations along with nearly 2,000 new cases for Thursday and 44 additional deaths.
“Overall, our public health conditions remain fragile,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said at an afternoon briefing where he said the number of hospitalizations is at the highest level since the start of the pandemic.
However, Garcetti said it was encouraging that the county’s COVID-19 transmission rate and 7-day percentage of people testing positive for the virus seemed to be stabilizing.
On Thursday, public health officials said that beginning at the end of August, businesses that repeatedly violate health orders could lose their business licenses for a month and face fines of up to $500.
On Friday, Alameda County reported its COVID-19 caseload had topped 10,000. It was the ninth county and the first in the San Francisco Bay Area to reach that milestone, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Public health officials blamed the soaring caseload on people holding parties and gatherings at Lake Merritt in east Oakland and in other public spaces, the Chronicle said.
Elsewhere, California State Parks banned public parking on narrow Yankee Jims Road in the middle of Placer County gold country within Auburn State Recreation Area to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposures after social-media-fueled surges in the number of visitors.
Last weekend, there were more than 300 vehicles parked in an area with legal room for only 12. In addition to virus concerns, authorities raised the issue of emergency access especially in the event of a fire in the area about 40 miles (64 kilometers) northeast of Sacramento.
Similar crowding of trails and wilderness areas has occurred elsewhere during the pandemic as people seek outlets for activity. In Los Angeles County, for example, reservations are now required to enter popular Eaton Canyon in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.
California this week surpassed New York as the state with the most confirmed cases. More than 9,700 cases were added Thursday, bringing the state total to more than 425,000. The 159 deaths reported Wednesday marked the state’s highest daily total for the second day in a row. The state has now recorded nearly 8,200 deaths.