It is almost certainly safe to say the reality of America this week is completely different than just a week earlier.
And that reality is changing literally by the minute as officials from the local level all the way to the White House try to determine the best course of action when it comes to dealing with Covid-19, the coronavirus that has gripped the entire world.
“There is a lot of concern and a lot of fear,” said George Carroll, the public health service officer for Yosemite National Park.
That might be an understatement as the situation surrounding the virus changes minute by minute, maybe even second by second with new directives coming at citizens from almost every possible direction.
Though no cases of the virus had been detected in Mariposa County as of our press time on Tuesday, that doesn’t mean there aren’t major impacts, disruptions and confusion.
In fact, those are standard procedure here and around the globe.
Many questions remain as schools have closed, officials at Yosemite are struggling with how to proceed and local businesses and groups are determining the next steps forward.
One of the biggest issues facing local residents, and those across the country, is access to grocery stores. But it’s not getting to the store, it’s what is left on the shelves that is the biggest concern.
Pioneer Market in Mariposa is the major grocery outlet in the county and officials are struggling to keep up with demand.
That was the first word out of Pioneer Market owner Jason Dubberke’s mouth on Monday when asked what the situation has been like at his grocery store.
“It’s a feeding frenzy,” he said. “People are just going crazy. It’s everywhere. Here, we still have some product, but moving forward it’s going to be getting less and less.”
Dubberke said in talking to vendors, it has become clear they’re going to be allocating less in their shipments.
He said the store’s produce section already “cut our normal load in half.”
He said milk producers will only be sending gallons of milk right now, as it is more efficient at this point, rather than spreading themselves thin trying to produce the many varieties of milk products.
“Meat has yet to be said (how it will be affected). They told us it will be cut but haven’t said how much yet,” he added.
Dubberke said his store has already had to put limits on certain items, including water.
“Water, we are limiting to two cases of water for purchase,” he said.
He said if need be, other items will be limited as well.
“As we run out, we’re going to limit it,” he said. “We’ll take it on a week by week basis.”
When it comes to his employee’s safety, Dubberke said the store is “doing everything” it can, including cashiers and baggers wearing safety equipment.
“They wear gloves and they do wear masks, but that’s more personal if they want to or not. I’m not demanding it, but a lot of them are,” Dubberke said. “We are disinfecting and cleaning, too.”
Overall, Dubberke seemed to think the commotion which has taken place at grocery stores around the nation will calm soon.
“It’s just a panic,” he said. “I think in the next week or two this will simmer down … We’re going to hang in there.”
Health care situation
Of course one of the most important aspects of the national health crisis is health care.
This week, John C. Fremont Hospital in Mariposa implemented measures to prevent the spread of the virus as well as detect anyone who may be infected.
Starting Monday, anyone arriving at John C. Fremont Hospital is being questioned about symptoms while in the driveway.
Anyone with a life-threatening condition will be immediately directed to the emergency department.
If the condition is not life-threatening, persons will be guided to the “drive-through” screening area. The person’s temperature will be taken and you will be asked about respiratory symptoms.
If you do not have a fever or respiratory symptoms, you will be directed to your original destination (lab, clinic, imaging, ED, etc.).
If you have a fever and/or respiratory symptoms, you will be directed to your original destination and asked to remain in your vehicle and a nurse will come out and evaluate.
“Please realize that this is being done for both your safety and that of our other patients, residents and staff,” said Therese Williams, director of public relations and community outreach. “This process will take a few extra minutes, so please plan to arrive 15 minutes early to your appointment.”
Williams said Covid-19 tests are limited and only available if certain clinical conditions exist which you can check with your physician.
Tests are not in Mariposa, she said. A swab test is taken and it is sent to Quest Laboratories for Covid testing.
Williams said if residents of North Mariposa County need to be swabbed for Covid-19, they will need to visit John C. Fremont Hospital or visit another screening facility in Stanislaus County.
Mariposa County update
As Mariposa County Health and Human Services Agency Director Chevon Kothari said on Tuesday, the Covid-19 (novel coronavirus) pandemic continues to be a rapidly evolving and dynamic situation.
That was confirmed by Mariposa County’s Health Officer, Dr. Eric Sergienko, who is pulling double duty by also serving as the public health officer of Tuolumne County. He provided the Mariposa County Board of Supervisors with his latest update surrounding the coronavirus.
The good news is Sergienko said Mariposa County remains free of any confirmed cases of the virus. He described Mariposa County as being in a containment phase.
“As a county, we are in containment. We have not yet identified a case within the county,” said Sergienko.
He said there have been five negative tests in Mariposa County. There are seven tests pending.
But then there was the bad news: he also reiterated the virus could be here soon.
“It could be minutes, it could be hours, it could be days. It will happen and we need to be ready for that,” Sergienko said.
Sergienko said if a case is to present itself locally, the plan would be to isolate the case and then track down and quarantine “any of the contacts” that person may have had.
“That will allow us to slow the spread of disease,” said Sergienko.
Sergienko said the sheriff and district attorney’s office have been asked to be ready to assist with “contact tracing,” by lending their skilled investigators to find those who may have come in contact with someone carrying the virus.
“That will increase our capacity to stay in containment as long as possible,” Sergienko said.
Sergienko then referenced the recent guidelines from Gov. Gavin Newsom, who asked that all California restaurants close their doors to dine-in customers, and that gyms and movie theaters also close their doors.
“At this point in time, as long as we remain in containment, as long as we’re maintaining social distancing, I feel like gyms should stay open,” Sergienko said, “again, maintaining class sizes to 10 or less and maintaining good hygiene by wiping down equipment and whatnot.”
Sergienko also felt the same way about the closing of bars as well as the switching of dine-in restaurants to takeout services.
“I would ask that those facilities move toward that, but understand that if it takes them a day or two or more, that’s something we will not enforce until we move from containment into mitigation,” Sergienko said.
Part of the reason Sergienko was in attendance at the board meeting was to encourage the passing of a special declaration.
A few days prior, on March 13, Sergienko had declared a local public health emergency in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The declaration allows county officials to put measures in place to mitigate the spread of and impacts of Covid-19 in the county.
At the conclusion of Sergienko’s presentation on Tuesday, the board did officially vote 5-0 to adopt a resolution ratifying Sergienko’s initial declaration of a Covid-19 local public health emergency in Mariposa County.
Kothari also addressed the board on Tuesday, providing additional information. She said there were 4,661 confirmed cases in the U.S. and 85 deaths as of Tuesday morning, with 11 deaths in California.
She said 51 percent of the Covid-19 cases in California are in the Bay Area.
Kothari said the governor issued executive guidance on Monday regarding additional funding opportunities to prevent evictions, keep utilities on and more, and the county is keeping tabs on that.
Kothari said one thing county officials are discussing is food distribution.
“We know as people start to shelter in place, especially our vulnerable community members, they’re going to need food,” she said. “What we’re looking at is how do we get groceries out to the community?”
She said officials are looking at partnering with local businesses on food distribution efforts. Some options include having hubs in which community members can come pick up groceries, as well as home delivery. She also said officials are looking into expanding the local meals on wheels program for seniors.
She said the Mariposa Senior Center is physically closed, but is offering drive thru meals. People can call ahead and then pick up the meal.
“This applies to folks other than seniors, too,” she said.
County officials are also looking into how to best deal with the homeless population, which is “especially vulnerable” due to congregate living situations at shelters.
“We have quarantine protocols in place and several solutions we will put into effect when we do see a case, which we have not yet,” she said.
Overall, she said she was proud of the position the county is in.
“I feel proud of the fact we’ve been prepping for this through our disaster planning over the last few years and we are in a good position, putting in some proactive strategies and mitigation strategies to be prepared,” she said.
There are informational resources for those with questions or concerns about the coronavirus.
One resource is a county-staffed coronavirus information line at (209) 259-1332 which is open to calls Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
More information can also be found at www.mariposacounty.org/1592/COVID-19-information. Persons can also email COVID-19 specific questions to the Mariposa County Public Health department at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Coronavirus symptoms include: mild to severe respiratory illness, fever, cough and difficulty breathing. If symptoms develop, individuals should stay at home to limit exposure to others.
To reduce the spread of Covid-19, wash hands regularly with soap and water; avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands; avoid close contact with people who are sick; and cover sneezes or coughs with a tissue, and then throw the tissue in the trash.
Yosemite National Park changes
One of the most critical economic components for Mariposa County is Yosemite National Park, and changes there have major ramifications.
Those were apparent on Monday evening when Aramark, the concessionaire at the park, announced the closing of lodging and food facilities.
In a letter from Amanda Lee, a general manager for Yosemite Hospitality, it stated Aramark “received instructions” from the National Park Service that “all lodging and food and beverage units will be closing …” It went into effect at noon on Tuesday.
The closure, according to the letter, will be in effect until March 31 “at which time the National Park Service will re-evaluate.”
That was confirmed Tuesday when Michael Griffin from Yosemite Hospitality confirmed the closure of the iconic Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite Lodge and Wawona Hotel. All food outlets, too, will be closed with the exception of the Village Store.
“The restaurants are closed and being fully cleaned,” he said.
Griffin said the Village Store remains open “to support the community.”
He did say they are “monitoring crowd control” to keep in line with the federal guidelines of not having crowds of more than 10 people.
A major announcement, too, was that shuttle service in Yosemite Valley has been scuttled as of Tuesday.
The gas stations and stores at El Portal and Wawona remain open because they provide services to the community at large. The medical clinic is still open in the park, as well.
The closures will almost certainly have major impacts — especially on the employees who work in Yosemite.
It remains unclear whether those employees will be paid or put on furlough, which happened during the most recent government shutdown.
The move also comes at a critical time when employees are being hired as the park prepares to ramp up for the busy tourist season. The park annually draws around 5 million visitors, though that number could be greatly curtailed this year because of the pandemic sweeping the globe.
An Aramark employee, who asked to remain anonymous, said a general manager for Aramark said employees could cash out their vacation and sick pay. No mention was made if current employees will be paid.
The employee said an inquiry was sent to the human resources director for Aramark who “took the questions under advisement.”
The employee said Aramark officials were going to send out a sheet of information for employees addressing the many issues.
Another major question is about housing.
The memo from Lee said employees coming back to the park “will need to make changes to your traveling schedules as we will not be permitting people to check into housing until we have a confirmed opening date with the National Park Service.”
The employee said some people have lived for 30 years or more in the park but he was told they can stay until March 31, but “there were no promises after that.”
An email was sent to Debra Rockwood, a representative for UNITEHERE! Local 19, the union which represents many park employees but there was no response by our press time on Tuesday afternoon.
Officials from the park are conducting daily telephone briefings, however, no questions are allowed during those briefings. Park officials have not said why they are not taking questions. That was confirmed on the call Tuesday, when no questions were allowed.
On Monday, park officials announced the entry stations will not be manned because a safe distance cannot be maintained between visitors and park personnel.
Acting Superintendent Cicely Muldoon also said the visitors center, museum, theater and Ansel Adams Gallery are all closed.
“The game has kind of changed underneath our feet,” said Muldoon.
On Tuesday, Kevin Killian, chief ranger at Yosemite, said the park remains open, but “in order to be protective for public safety,” they are “encouraging online resources to pay entrance fees.”
Killian said campgrounds are open with online reservations only.
“The health and safety of our visitors, employees, volunteers, and partners at Yosemite National Park is our number one priority. The National Park Service (NPS) is working with the federal, state, and local authorities to closely monitor the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) situation. We will notify the public when we resume full operations and provide updates on our website and social media channels,” said Jamie Richards, public information officer at the park.
He did say law enforcement, custodial, other essential operations remain functional. Killian said they will be posting updates regularly on Facebook and Twitter updates.
Jeff Crow of NatureBridge said the campus is now closed, though staff members are being allowed to stay in housing.
There will be no students on the campus until at least June, he said, and possibly longer.
NatureBridge is a national organization which offers outdoor experiences to students, including at the campus in Yosemite.
As or our press time on Tuesday, Mariposa County Superior Court Judge Michael Fagalde said they are assessing the impacts and will follow the direction of the state court system as well as local officials.
“We are absorbing all the information that his been flying at us,” said Fagalde. “We are waiting to see what impacts there will be on the jail, district attorney’s office, probation and human services before we do anything different,” he said.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
California Department of Health
Mountain Crisis Services
California Office of Emergency Services