In Eastern Madera County, during the second week of physical distancing and widespread mandatory stayhome orders, people were grateful for the needed rain and welcome addition to the Sierra snowpack, while still struggling to adjust to new ways of life without going to school and, for many, work.
Madera County cases of Covid-19
UPDATE #2 3/26/2020: On March 26, 2020 Madera County Department of Public Health reported the first death of a Madera County resident due to COVID-19.
The male in their 60s suffered from underlying health conditions and passed away at Madera Community Hospital. He tested positive for COVID-19 on March 23, 2020 from what was believed to be person-to-person transmission.
To date, Madera County has had a total of 10 cases including three new cases confirmed on March 26, 2020. The three new cases are person-to-person contacts of the March 19, 2020 confirmed COVID-19 case.
UPDATE 3/26/2020 : As of March 25, 2020, Madera County Department of Public Health (MCDPH) has confirmed one new Madera County case of COVID-19. This case is still pending investigation and the transmission type is unknown at this time. This brings the total number of cases in Madera County to seven (7) including six (6) active cases and one (1) recovered case of COVID-19. Two of the seven cases are now hospitalized.
MCDPH Communicable Disease Investigators worked closely with Madera County Sheriff, District Attorney and Probation investigators to identify and trace close contacts and were successful in interviewing 147 of the identified contacts within 24 hours. All contacts were quarantined and symptomatic individuals were tested, according to MCDPH, which added that more positive cases are anticipated in the upcoming days and weeks. There are five total confirmed cases of Covid-19 currently in Madera County, with three currently requiring hospitalization, and one recovered case. The case count is updated Monday – Friday by 10 a.m. at www.maderacounty.com/covid19.
Madera County Superior Court
If you were looking for a solid reason to avoid jury duty in Madera County, note that all civil trials, case management conferences and mandatory settlement conferences that were scheduled between March 17 and April 3 are continued for eight weeks from the original scheduled trial date. One civil department will remain open to hear requests for emergency temporary restraining orders, emergency probate matters and all statutorily mandated hearings. To see other measures taken by the Madera County Superior Court, visit the website: www.madera.courts.ca.gov.
Schools in Eastern Madera County
Schools in all four districts of Eastern Madera County remained closed this week, along with the Boys & Girls Club of Oakhurst. This includes the Bass Lake, Chawanakee, Raymond and Yosemite school districts.
“Based on updated information issued by the Madera County Public Health Department, and Governor Newsom, Yosemite Unified is extending school closure in order to protect our community and help flatten the infection curve,” noted Yosemite Unified School District’s (YUSD) superintendent, Glen Billington. “The earliest school would resume is April 20 after the scheduled spring break.”
All state testing has been canceled for the current school year.
YUSD is home to Yosemite High School, Coarsegold Elementary, Rivergold Elementary, alternative schools and designated home schools. During the closure, district personnel will continue to provide meals to students and have expanded pick-up locations, reported the missive from Badger Country. Review and enrichment materials are being distributed to students, and teachers are reaching out regularly to check-in and offer support, remaining available during school hours for consultation via email and phone — just call the school.
“Please don’t hesitate to call or email your child’s teacher if you have academic questions or concerns,” Billington added. “Staff is also here to support you and your child. As our community continues to confront the realities of this crisis, we need to support each other. We are all in this together.”
In addition, YUSD Nutrition Services is providing an opportunity for area families in the Bass Lake and Yosemite school districts to pick up lunch and breakfast Monday-Friday at locations which include Yosemite High School and Coarsegold Elementary.
In the Bass Lake Union School District (BLUSD), which includes Oak Creek Intermediate in Oakhurst and Wasuma Elementary in Ahwahnee, superintendent Randy Seals made the decision to have the district office and all school offices closed for this week. School closures have been extended indefinitely.
“All things considered, things are going very well. Many of the technological advances that we’ve put in place over the past three years allow almost all of us to work remotely,” Seals explained. “Because of this, we are able to keep our employees home during this health emergency, yet we are able to continue working to take care of the needs of our students, families, staff and community.”
Seals says that students, families and staff have been amazing through the first couple weeks of school closures.
“Our maintenance staff sprang into action to sanitize our schools, which allowed our instructional staff to come into school for a day or two in order to prepare curriculum packets and instructional activities for our students. Those were disbursed over a two-day period to families who were remarkably understanding and patient throughout the process. We’ve been so impressed at the manner in which (our) community has responded so far.”
Teachers, meanwhile, have scrambled to prepare academic enrichment packets for students.
“The collaboration and teamwork to get the job done on behalf of our kids was inspiring,” Seals continued. “That mindset has been unwavering from the very start of all this. Our teachers are led by dynamic principals who’ve done a great job at building a sense of family and community within our district’s schools.”
In a message to families, Seals further noted that BLUSD parents and families should consider the possibility of schools remaining closed through the summer break.
“We are not ready to make that final determination at this time,” the superintendent concluded. “We simply don’t have enough information yet. Conditions continue to change very rapidly each day. Still, in an effort to operate with full transparency, I… suggest to you that we may not be able to return to school until the fall.”
In O’Neals, Chawanakee Unified has adjusted the school calendar by moving Spring Break to April 6-13, and classes are canceled through that period. In Raymond,
O’Neals and North Fork, schools remain closed and the districts have set up meal availability at locations which can be found on district websites.
Sierra Ambulance Service
Serving Eastern Madera County, Sierra Ambulance Service has experienced a downturn in the number of calls recently, according to the organization’s general manager, Edward Guzman.
“People seem to be self-regulating,” said Guzman. “There’s been a drop in 911 activity by as much as 10 to 20 percent.”
Guzman speculated that the closure of businesses including bars, restaurants and the casino may have led to fewer calls in the last couple of weeks. He’s not suggesting, however, that people hesitate to call for services when needed during the pandemic.
“For any medical emergency call 911,” Guzman stressed. “We are not limiting access to emergency calls. When in doubt, call.”
The team at Sierra Ambulance asks that people who do need to call tell the 911 operator if they are having any flu-related symptoms as outlined by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and if they have traveled anywhere, not just outside the country.
“It won’t slow down our response but will help us decide if a mask is required for our responders.”
Memberships to the nonprofit Sierra Ambulance are available for $65 annually and allow members to be covered for an ambulance call with no additional out-of-pocket expenses.
Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino
The Chukchansi Economic Development Authority (CEDA) and the management team at Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino announced on March 20 that the property would temporarily close through March 31.
“The closure is required by the Tribe’s compact with the State of California, which mandates that the casino be operated in compliance with the Tribe’s federally-approved gaming ordinance,” a CEDA statement reported .“ The ordinance, as well as National Indian Gaming Commission regulations, requires that the facility be operated in a manner that adequately protects the public health and safety. Based on the current health emergency, the CEDA board has determined that a temporary closure is required.”
The casino closure will be re-evaluated as the board remains in communication with national and local health officials, the statement specified.
Grocery stores, restaurants and businesses respond
Around the foothills, stores are re-thinking the notion of customer service in this stay-at-home age.
In Oakhurst, Vons announced special shopping times for seniors and at-risk individuals, from 6–9 a.m. Tuesday and Thursday. Raley’s let the public know they have special “Senior Essentials” bags of groceries available from $20–35, packed with pantry staples like oatmeal, soup, tuna and peanut butter along with fresh items like bananas, potatoes and apples. Grocery Outlet experimented with physical distancing, limiting the number of open registers with cones and tape and Plexiglas. The fruit stand on the north end of Oakhurst just past the new hotels on Highway 41 has been lauded for its ability to keep fresh items available during the closures, and the Gnarly Carrot in North Fork will take orders online and meet customers in front with full bags.
All over Eastern Madera County, and across the country, businesses are busy rethinking customer service.
“My clients have to re-imagine their offerings during this time,” suggested Oakhurst web developer Jennifer Moss of Moss Webworks, who cited an example.
“Local wine bar Yosemite Wine Tails is now offering home delivery. Other verticals like insurance and finance are encouraging their customers to do business on apps or over the phone.”
People are doubling down and learning how to use online tools like Zoom for teleconferencing and Trello for team collaboration, Moss added.
“If businesses have some downtime use it to renew and redesign your website and marketing materials. Be ready for when it picks up again. I think in the long run it will benefit businesses to have these skills.”
Hungry for more? The Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce is maintaining a comprehensive list of all the restaurants and related establishments who are providing curbside service or delivery of meals under these most unusual conditions. Visit the Chamber’s page on Facebook for more information.
Not to be outdone, the Oakhurst Sunrise Rotary club will offer the second of two free drive-through dinner nights at the Oakhurst Community Center on March 27 from 5–7 p.m., for families who can use extra assistance. The meal includes a burger, coleslaw, fruit and a cookie.
In Bass Lake, many of the recreation area’s campgrounds, remain open with this alert on the recreation. gov website:
“This location will remain open for arrivals at this time. Local managers are committed to the health and safety of recreational visitors and staff. We are following guidelines from our agency and the CDC regarding Covid-19, closely monitoring the situation and responding to current conditions. Please continue to monitor this page for status updates.”
Meanwhile, on the north shore of Bass Lake, one local resort says they have taken a massive hit overall.
“Last year was our best year by far and we were on pace to beat it,” said Mark Choe, who manages operations for The Pines Resort.
“We had record bookings in March, April and May, with groups, meetings or weddings scheduled nearly every day. Now, they are canceled pretty much through May. We lost a huge amount of revenue. The first thing to go was international business, then all our meetings. With stay at home orders and Yosemite closed, there are a lot of reasons to cancel.”
Choe, whose parents have owned the popular lakeside establishment for a decade, said they all understand it’s important to do what can be done for the community and their employees, while also doing what they can to survive this unexpected downturn.
“We are making tough decisions,” Choe said, noting that The Pines Resort is one of the biggest employers in the area. “In the last two weeks, we have made a new business plan every day because things kept changing. We’re committed to being adaptive and making decisions as quickly as possible.”
While Ducey’s is closed for dining in, the business quickly released to-go menus designed by Chef Jonathan Frabotta, as well as introduced affordable family meals offered in four themes for $40 which provide enough servings for a family of 4-5 people.
Food can be picked up in the restaurant, delivered to the car, or for locals, Ducey’s will now deliver to your door (within a 20 minute drive). More than 20 minutes away by map app? No problem. In Oakhurst, a Ducey’s rep will meet customers in the parking lot of the local visitors’ bureau on Highway 41, Visit Yosemite Madera County. In North Fork, the designated meeting spot is the mini-mart.
“We have already sold over 150 meals and we hope to keep this momentum going, so we can continue operating in this new reality,” said restaurant manager Tony Diaz. “We priced the new meals as affordably as possible for everyone.”
The Pines Resort is open to those who wish to stay, with new rules in place.
“Keeping the doors open is important to the community,” said Choe. “So we mitigate risk with zero room ‘remakes’ until 72 hours has passed. No one goes in before then.”
Risk management continues with minimal human interaction because of the outdoor window in Pines Village, which enables registration and check-out.
While there have been, officially, no lay-offs, Choe said they have greatly reduced or cut employee’s hours and shifts and The Pines provides work as they can. The federal government, Choe feels, is “trying hard,” but many of the programs they offer in order to relieve staff at places including his are not easy to implement.
“They are expecting employers to keep paying wages but what if a business, any business, runs out? We need operating funds.”
Twice a week, Choe pens a careful update to staff and managers in an effort to reduce anxiety and allow them to regain what little control is available in this trying time.
“We have had enormous support and positive feedback and love from the community on the family meals and keeping the The Pines Village Market stocked. Our staff are like heroes.”