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Northern Inyo Hospital Preparing for ‘Surge’ of COVID-19 Cases

Northern Inyo Hospital gave its weekly COVID-19 update on Monday afternoon, March 30, 2020, with Dr. Stacey Brown taking the lead in updating the media.

“We have eight total positive cases of COVID-19 in the county. Six of the eight cases were confirmed at NIHD, while Toiyabe confirmed the other two. In addition, thirteen of the eighty-one total tests administered are pending,” Brown told members of the media.

There is good news for Inyo County when it comes to testing. The Rural Health Clinic Director said the hospital is receiving coronavirus testing results from a LabCorp facility based in Phoenix, which will greatly reduce the amount of time it takes to determine if a patient has the virus. On average, test results will be available in 2-3 days. Up until recently, NIHD had to send their samples to a testing location in North Carolina, which took about seven days on average for the hospital to receive the results.

Brown also added that testing is expected to get even faster in the coming weeks when the FDA approves use of a high-tech machine called the “Cepheid Xpert Xpress SARS-CoV2 test.”

The RHC director spoke about the new machine saying, “The hospital is still waiting for approval for our in-house COVID testing machine that will be able to do tests in an hour. Approval for testing should happen by around mid-April.”

This does not mean that testing will be available for the general public. Brown says the new testing system will target essential workers first, then vulnerable populations second. “We are going to follow a priority scheme, so the testing for the general public is going to be reduced.  If it looks and smells like COVID, it is probably COVID, so we are not going to use those tests on general public. We are saving the tests for healthcare workers, first responders, and critically ill patients. They are priority number one. Next would be high risk individuals like people with underlying medical conditions and older people.”

Antibody testing is expected to be readily available across the country soon as well. This type of testing will be used to see if those who have already had COVID-19 have built up an immunity to the virus.

Inyo County already has its fair share of coronavirus cases, but Brown expects a surge of cases to happen in the near future. With that being said, Dr. Brown says the hospital is doing everything it can to prepare.  “We are looking at a surge plan for when things get much busier. Right now, though, we are working well within our capacity as a hospital.”

Though there is an expectation from local medical professionals that there will be a vast increase in cases, Dr. Will Timbers, who works in the hospital’s Emergency Room, says the general public is doing a nice job of staying home. This is lessening the amount of viral cases, and also preventing other acute injuries not related to coronavirus. “There are two things that I think should be said,” Timbers remarked. “I think the community at large should be commended for staying home. We have seen a drop in acute injuries also, because people are not going out and instead electing to stay home.”

Mammoth Hospital Seeking Medical Equipment Donations

Mammoth Hospital is asking for donations of medical personal protective equipment (PPE) and other equipment to help with its treatment of COVID-19 cases.

The hospital is requesting donations of N95 or surgical masks, unopened boxes of nitrate gloves, oxygen tanks and oxygen concentrators that plug into the wall and unused vacuum cleaner bags.

Hospital employees will be at the Cast Off to collect donations on the following dates:

  • Monday, March 30 between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
  • Wednesday, April 1 between 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.
  • Friday, April 3 between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Mammoth Hospital is also looking for volunteers to sew masks. Anyone wishing to volunteer should send a private message to the hospital here.

Teamwork and Preparation Most Important in NIHD’s Response to COVID-19

It is an overused analogy, the war against novel coronavirus, but as any employee at Northern Inyo Healthcare District will tell you, the battle is real. Ironically, it is a battle most have prepared for throughout their respective careers.

“Every team member brings something to the fight,” says Dr. Stacey Brown, Medical Director of NIHD’s Rural Health Clinic and current Vice Chief of Staff. “Every department plays a role.”

For NIHD Board President Jean Turner, the show of teamwork fits right into the District’s operational design. “When I came onto the Board, I was told our basic structure is that of an inverted pyramid,”
Turner says. “Leadership at the bottom, the workforce at the top. The top is where the real work goes on; it’s where things really matter. If I wanted our community to remember one thing at this point in time, it’s this: Our staff is disciplined, well-trained, and ready for this challenge.”

The District’s fight against coronavirus began in mid-January. For weeks, Infection Preventionist Robin Christensen, RN BSN HIC, kept an eye on what was transpiring in China. On January 28, she called the first team meeting to talk about coronavirus and its potential impact on NIHD and the community. Everyone in the room knew the odds, had watched the numbers coming in from China.

“It is safe to say we wished for the best, but as healthcare workers, we always prepare for the worst,” Christensen says. “It’s who we are; it’s what we do; it is what the community expects from us at a time like this.”’

As the NIHD team developed needed plans, they carried on with providing day-to-day care. Hallway conversations and internal emails began to refer to coronavirus more frequently. The District conducted a pandemic disaster drill on February 13. The tipping point came March 6 when a two-hour coronavirus meeting gave way to a day-long review of staffing levels, supplies, policies, plans, and shared concerns.

The group met the next afternoon again for several hours. They got a late start, beginning at noon. It gave those who volunteered to help at the Eastern Sierra Cancer Alliance’s Blue Ribbon Walk & Run a chance to meet their commitment. For many at NIHD, it was the last “normal” day of the month.

NIHD initiated an internal Incident Command on March 10 and continues working under it today. Incident Commands use a standardized approach to direct, control, and coordinate emergency response. More importantly, it brings people together to reach a common goal.

Like her co-workers, this was not the first time Allison Partridge, RN MSN, worked under an Incident Command. Partridge, the Director of Nursing for the Emergency and Medical-Surgical departments, knows the system well and aids Chief Nursing Officer Tracy Aspel in keeping the daily meetings on task.

Partridge now spends much of her days working with others to put together workflows for the departments that will be most affected. With guidance from Infection Preventionist Christensen, Partridge
and others closely watch the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the California Public Health Department for direction. No area or service escaped review.

“We track daily our current availability of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and the recommendations for use,” Partridge says. “Additionally, we have made modifications in how we provide services and how visitors access the campus. All of these measures are in place to protect our teams and community. We encourage all employees to adhere both while at work and at home to the recommendations issued by national, state, and local government.”

Carefully crafted plans address the care of Patients Under Investigation (PUIs). Partridge says the standardized workflows are based on the patient’s level of care, whether that be critical care at the hospital or self-isolation at home. Care of multiple positive COVID-19 patients within the hospital remains an area of concern for the small 25-bed hospital.

“A great amount of planning and preparation has gone into every action, and it’s still ongoing,” Partridge says. She notes that just this week, the team was searching every square inch of the facility for places to place more beds. No space is overlooked. An unused and unfinished room located in the two-story hospital was turned into a four-bed safe patient care area within hours.

As for staffing, the level is adequate at this time. The District is working closely with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Union on staffing plans should the virus take hold of the community.

As non-essential services are scaled back, staff in those areas become available for use in others. Nurses and caregivers were surveyed to see if they would be OK to serve in other departments they were cross-trained to work in. Recently retired nurses may be considered for voluntary return to bolster staffing numbers. The dedicated care given by generations of NIHD nurses is legendary in the community.

They were also asked who would be willing to work with critical coronavirus cases. No one will be asked to step into a situation they are uncomfortable with — and to date, no one has opted out.

As for the physicians, Dr. Brown and Dr. William Timbers, NIHD’s Chief of Staff, are relying on the aid and advice of many of the District’s Medical Chiefs – Dr. Richard Meredick (Orthopedics), Dr. Charlotte Helvie (Pediatrics), Dr. Sierra Bourne (Emergency), and others. The Medical Support Staff office issued emergency credentials for other physicians in the area should their aid be required at bedsides.

The Rural Health Clinic team launched drive-in coronavirus testing well before some larger, urban hospitals did. The move was based on when the RHC offered drive-in flu shots more than a decade ago.
“Hometown health care can work anywhere, even in the big city,” Dr. Brown smiles.

Dr. Brown’s reliance on RHC Directors Paul Connolly and Jannalyn Lawrence, RN, is evident. Both work closely with the District’s outpatient clinics and played critical roles in clearing barriers for drive-in testing. When offered kudos for the work, Lawrence scoffed. “One Team, One Goal,” she says, incurring the closing line of the District’s mission statement.

Later, as Director of Nursing Partridge studies the endless worklists that paper the walls of Incident Command, she agreed with Lawrence. “Teamwork has played a huge role in managing every aspect of this situation,” she says. “This collaboration has taken place across all disciplines and has included a multiagency approach across Inyo and Mono counties. This great work truly exemplifies our mission of ‘One Team, One Goal, Your Health.’”

Meanwhile, as another day ends for the District team, Infection Preventionist Christensen is in her office. It is quiet in the usually bustling hallway; the result of the District’s temporary telework plan. Almost 80 employees are working from home, practicing social distancing.

Laying across Christensen’s desk are signs of a community lending its support to its healthcare workers: Packages of the valued N95 masks recovered from businesses and home garages, plus several handcrafted face masks. The handcrafted masks, with bright patterns of cacti, cats, and paisley, are especially touching
to Christensen.

NIHD is looking into options that could allow the homemade masks to be used as covers for approved personal protective equipment. That would occur if, and only if, NIHD’s supply of approved masks is
depleted. The covers would help keep the N95 masks free of transferred hand oils, possibly extending the life of the N95s.

“One team,” Christensen says, circling her index finger, gesturing from east to west, north to south. “It’s all of us in the community. Together, we will get through this.”

NIHD BIlling Office Temporarily Closed to the Public

Per Governor Newsom’s Declaration, Northern Inyo Healthcare District announces that due to the COVID-19 virus, the NIHD Billing Office, which accepts payments from the public, will temporarily close to patients. The office will remain open to receive telephone calls for billing questions and payments. Hours are Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The direct telephone number is (760) 873-2190.

Payments may also be made by:

  • Mail: NIHD, Credit and Billing Office, 150 Pioneer Lane, Bishop, CA 93514,
  • Telephone: (760) 873-2190, or,
  • NIHD’s website: www.nih.org

Correspondence and Documents may be sent one of two ways:

  • Mail:NIHD, Credit and Billing Office, 150 Pioneer Lane, Bishop, CA 93514, or
  • Email:credit.billing@nih.org

These measures are to keep you, our customers, as well as our employees, at minimal exposure to the virus by social distancing. Stay home, be safe.

Mule Days Release Statement About COVID-19 Crisis

In 1970, Bishop Mule Days Celebration rose from humble beginnings to bring a world-class mule show to the Eastern Sierra. We have become the premier mule show in North America. Our annual event brings visitors from all walks of life: RV enthusiasts, campers, equine enthusiasts, contestants, celebrities, fans and friends. Mule Days has endured through recessions, high fuel prices, devastating equine diseases and the loss of many dedicated, dear friends and volunteers. Our all-volunteer Board has continued to promote the legacy of our founders: “Anything a horse can do, a mule can do better.” And, we have continued to promote and enhance the local community and tourism-dependent economy. Mule Days has become a vital part of our local economy by bringing packed hotels and campgrounds during a time that had previously been slow, foot-traffic and visitors raising revenues in our local businesses and government. Mule Days is estimated to bring multi-millions of dollars in direct spending to the Bishop area. For a tourist-driven economy, this equates to $7 million in economic value for every $1 million spent. Our humble show is honored and proud to be such a vital part of our local economy.While Mule Days has succeeded, Tri-County Fairgrounds has been struggling. The State has cut much of the funding for county fairs leaving them struggling to remain open. Unfortunately, this has resulted in many fairs closing. Mule Days has long been a partner of Tri-County Fairgrounds providing much needed capital improvements, sponsorships and assisting with repairs. Mule Days is the single largest financial contributor to the Fairgrounds. Mule Days provides labor and facilities for hosting the State High School Rodeo Finals and the Tri-County Fair. Despite our partnership and the fair hosting events generating much needed income and city and county TOT funds, the fairgrounds is struggling. The reality is, Mule Days cannot exist without Tri-County Fairgrounds and Tri-County Fairgrounds cannot exist without Mule Days. The economic and social benefit of Mule Days and Tri-County Fairgrounds cannot be replaced and should not be ignored. Mule Days is primarily a volunteer-run event; but, we do have a few employees who rely on the success of our event for their income and benefits. Mule Days is a private, not-for-profit entity and may not be eligible for the stimulus programs related to this pandemic. While we recognize the economic and social benefits of our event, we are cognizant of the impact such an event can have on the health and welfare of the citizens of our small community. Mule Days has been contacted by many contestants, participants and fans. We have heard your concerns and agree the well-being of our community is paramount. To that end, Mule Days is giving the local, state and federal government time to address this pandemic. We will continue to do our part to produce a quality event while it is our hope, solutions will be forthcoming and we can ultimately move forward.In the meantime, Mule Days continues to monitor the situation. We realize the decision to continue with our 51st event may be taken out of our hands. If such a decision is made, we will do our mule-minded best to save Mule Days and the fairgrounds for the future. We want to assure our competitors, fans, campers, RVers, ticket holders and volunteers we have a policy in place to ensure refunds will be made fairly and appropriately. We have also developed a procedure whereby reservations and payments are fully credited to our event in 2021 – our “pay-it-forward” option.

Mule Days wishes to thank our community, fans, competitors, volunteers and attendees for your patience and understanding while we work through this unprecedented time of uncertainty. Your dedication to our beautiful American mule is our strength.

-Mule Days Board of Directors

Local Businesses Have Teamed Up to Deliver Groceries for Free

Local businesses are joining forces to deliver groceries to Owens Valley residents during the COVID-19 crisis.

Manor Market, Steve’s Auto & Truck Parts, and Pilot Thomas Logistics have decided to establish a grocery delivery system. Manor Market is supplying the food, Steve’s Auto & Truck Parts is delivering the orders, and Pilot Thomas Logistics is providing Steve’s Auto & Truck Parts with the fuel.

Owner of Manor Market, Kyle Oney said a lot of customers were asking for home delivery in an effort to reduce their chances of being exposed to coronavirus. “We were having requests from people because they are scared during this time. They wanted home delivery and curbside services,” Oney said.

Oney expressed that he was not keen on the idea of having his employees deliver groceries. “We were worried about the delivery aspect, because of the liability of the vehicles without having the proper insurance coverage. Steve’s Auto Parts are kind of quiet right now, so they contacted me and offered to use their drivers and vehicles. So far, it is working out really well and it is a great thing for the community.”

Steve’s Auto & Truck Parts Owner, Robert Dowers discussed how he came up with the idea to help people out during this pandemic. “I got the idea because I had some elderly friends called me who are stuck in their house. One day, I offered to drop off some stuff on their door step. Then I got the idea to reach out to Kyle to see if he wanted to have us do delivery. We have delivery vehicles and are taking advantage of our resources. We are doing whatever we can for people in this time of need.”

After hearing about the service Robert Dower’s company is providing for local residents, Jim McDade, Owner of Pilot Thomas Logistics found out about the efforts from his wife, who works at Manor Market. McDade felt inspired to do what he can to help out, so he is donating the fuel to Steve’s Auto & Truck Parts.

“My wife works at Manor Market and told me what Steve’s was doing. I offered to jump on board, because they are doing this out of the goodness of their heart. Bishop is pretty tight knit community and supporting each other is what we do. When an opportunity arises to help out, I thought it was the right thing to do,” McDade remarked.

Oney said they didn’t have a lot of time to put together the plan. “We are kind of learning as we go along, we threw this together really quickly, but we want to make sure we get this right. We enacted an email address for orders and it is called orders@manormarketbishop.com.”

To put the icing on the cake, delivery is completely free.

Inyo Public Health Officer Gives Coronavirus Update

Inyo County Public Health Officer, Dr. James Richardson talked to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday afternoon. Richardson gave an update on where things stand relating to coronavirus locally.

“We have been having meetings with local healthcare providers and various industries in the county relating to coronavirus.” Richardson said.

There have been rumors circling around the Owens Valley of local individuals having COVID-19, however, Richardson made sure to debunk those myths. “There have been rumors of positive cases, but right now we have no positive cases.”

Though there are no confirmed cases in Inyo County, that does not mean there are not any hurdles for the Department of Public Health to jump through. Currently, there is a personal protective equipment shortage in the Eastern Sierra.

We are short on supplies of PPE, N-95 masks, and we have expired masks we are using in the meantime. We are ready as best as we can.”

Richardson talked about some of the steps his department is taking to curtail cases of novel coronavirus. He highlighted the four plans in place to deal with an incoming viral crisis: prevention, containment, mitigation, and lock down.

Richardson discussed how testing is the most important thing public health officials can do to prevent an outbreak of coronavirus. “We are trying to do our best to contain any new cases in Inyo County, and we are doing our best to implement testing. We need to test those who are positive [for COVID-19] and isolate them from the public.” Richardson said.

In the present, testing is not as effective as it could be according to the Inyo County Health Officer. There is currently a long wait time to see if a person has contracted coronavirus. “Right now, we are looking at ways to get back quicker test results. We were sending them to LabCorp, but we found out they send the testing back east, so we are working on getting results back quicker.”

In the near future, testing will be conducted in California, which will allow for faster results.

The most ideal situation according to Richardson, would be localized testing. “If we had testing at a local level, we would be able to confirm cases within a few hours to just one day.”

There is no timeline as to when localized testing of COVID-19 will be a possibility.

What Effect Will Coronavirus Have on Local Schools?

Novel Coronavirus is now considered a pandemic according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Public gatherings are being canceled worldwide including concerts, sporting events, church meetings, and even school.

Though there have been no confirmed cases in the Eastern Sierra, that isn’t stopping officials from mulling over the idea of suspending school.

Inyo County Superintendent of Schools, Barry Simpson has been talking to the Inyo County Department of Public Health, to see what direction districts should be taking relating to the possible postponement of school.

Simpson said, “Canceling school is being discussed as a potential measure, but that action is not imminent right now.”

If a local case of COVID-19 is reported, that could obviously change the entire situation as far as measures taken by the Inyo County Office of Education. The superintendent added, “We will determine if there are cases in the area, and we will act accordingly.”

Any decision to cancel school will likely come via instruction from the Inyo County Department of Public Health. However, Simpson says a decision to close areas of education comes down to the individual school districts. “When it comes to closures, it happens locally by each school district, meaning Big Pine, Owens Valley, Bishop, and Lone Pine, superintendents have to make that choice. My job is to make sure everyone has the right information so the districts can act accordingly.”

Spring break is happening next week for students, and the Inyo County Superintendent has instructed district staffs to thoroughly clean all rooms at each school. “We are diligently cleaning schools right now, but the break will allow us to increase the cleaning of all our facilities.” Simpson told KIBS/KBOV News.

The county is also looking at ways to continue education if kids are prohibited from going to school. Though Simpson acknowledged that online education is not ideal due to some students not having access to internet, it that may be one of the only options available if students are forced to stay home.

Superintendent Simpson will meet with other district superintendents and public health officials on Thursday to discuss the next steps as coronavirus cases sweep through the world.

Bishop Knock Off Local Rivals in Inyo County Showdown

The Bishop Broncos took care of business against the Lone Pine Golden Eagles Tuesday afternoon, beating their local rivals 11-0 in five innings.

Just like so many times last year, the first inning for Bishop was fantastic. Steve Omohundro’s team scored eight runs. Lone Pine Pitcher, Kris Nelson started the inning out walking a few batters. The senior was missing his pitches high early in the inning. Bishop quickly took advantage of the walks, driving in multiple runs.

Nelson didn’t receive much help from his defense in the bottom of the first. In total, Lone Pine committed five errors on plays that should have been routine in just one inning. The Eagle outfielders were having trouble fielding fly balls, which would have gotten Mike Button’s team out of trouble before it was too late.

Ace Selters, who started the game for Bishop on the mound, pitched just two innings. It was quite apparent that Selters is poised to have a breakout year in his Junior campaign. The pitcher struck out five batters in two innings of work.

Billy Mckinze took over pitching duties in the third inning, and had quite an impressive showcase. The lefty threw for two innings, giving up just two hits, and striking out three batters.

Going in to the bottom of the fourth inning, Bishop were up 9-0 against the Eagles. Manager, Steve Omohundro put in some of the reserves to give them some game experience. One of the standout hitters was Andrew Steedle, who did not register any hits going in to Tuesday’s game. Steedle saw a pitch from Nelson and ripped it into left field, driving in two runs, and giving Bishop an 11-0 lead.

 

Jake Frigerio closed out the game for Bishop, and struck out one batter in the fifth inning to ensure the game did not go the distance.

From a batting perspective, one thing is very clear: Braeden Gillem is now a power hitter. Last year, Gillem got on base mostly through ways of finesse. He did a nice job of getting walked or putting the ball into gaps between the infielders last season. However, if Tuesday’s game is anything to judge Gillem’s season on, he will have a good chance to hit a few balls out of the park. During two of his at bats, the Junior drove the ball deep into the outfield.

Bishop get High Desert League play started next week against a tough Rosamond opponent, who are considered to be one of the favorites to win the league.

Inyo County to Break Ground on New Bishop Building

Inyo County officials and representatives from Wolverine/Inyo LLC will officially break ground on the Consolidated Office Building in Bishop this Friday, March 6, 2020. The public is invited to attend the ceremony – an occasion at least 10 years in the making – at the site of the future building at 1360 N. Main St. (north of Grocery Outlet). The groundbreaking begins at 10 a.m. and will include light refreshments and remarks from County officials and principles for the developer, Wolverine/Inyo LLC. “After some time in the making, we’re excited to bring all of Inyo County’s Bishop departments together into one single structure,” said developer Jim Leslie, principle of Wolverine Interests. “The new municipal building will promote efficiency and pride in the community.”

”Our current Board as well as past boards of supervisors have worked for over a decade to make this building possible,” Board Chairperson and Fifth District Supervisor Matt Kingsley said. “This building is not a monument to county government, but rather an efficient and simple building that will save future generations millions of tax dollars and provide consistent and comfortable working space for our county employees.”

The two-story, 42,000 square-foot building will house in a single location the Bishop operations of approximately 16 departments currently spread across 8 separate locations in the City of Bishop, including Probation, Health & Human Services, Administration, County Counsel, Information Services, Risk Management, Parks, Motor Pool, Solid Waste, Child Support Services, District Attorney, Environmental Health, Veterans Services, Sheriff, UCE Farm Advisor, and the Public Administrator-Public Guardian.

The Independence and/or Lone Pine locations of these same departments will remain in Independence and Lone Pine with their current staff. The Board of Supervisors has been adamant that the new building in Bishop not result in the relocation of any staff or services from the southern end of the county.

The project has been in the works since 2010, when the County determined that renting office space all over the city for its Bishop-based programs was neither financially sustainable nor in the best interest of the public and its employees. With ever-increasing rent and repair and maintenance costs at the different sites – some of which are beyond their useful life and not conducive to healthy, productive working environments or efficient service delivery – the County landed on a plan to build a new facility to better suit the various departments’ needs, improve customer service, and save taxpayer money over the long-term.

“Not only will the new building provide a better environment for our constituents and employees,” said District 2 Supervisor Jeff Griffiths, “but we will also save millions of taxpayer dollars in the years to come.”

The County entered into an exclusive negotiating agreement with a developer in 2011, and after several public meetings in 2013, directed staff to move forward with negotiations. Those negotiations stalled out, but were resumed in 2017 and resulted in more favorable lease terms and pricing for the County. County Administrator Clint Quilter and the Board of Supervisors give much credit for the successful negotiations to County Counsel Marshall Rudolph.

“Mr. Rudolph was able to work through some difficult legal situations and worked with the developer to come up with innovative, outside-the-box solutions to move the project forward,” Quilter said.

He and the Board also credited real estate consultant Allan D. Kotin for his expertise in conducting several cost analyses and presenting the Board with options for moving forward with the project. They also noted the tremendous effort put into steering the project forward by former County Administrator Officer Kevin Carunchio, who worked on the idea of a Consolidated Office Building with the Board and public for 8 years.

The Board approved a Build-to-Suit Lease Agreement with Wolverine/Inyo LLC on January 15, 2019. Per the agreement, Wolverine/Inyo LLC will develop the property to the County’s specifications, and receive lease payments from Inyo County over a 20-year period. Title to the property transfers to Inyo County at the end of the 20-year lease. Cost analyses were conducted on other potential locations in Bishop, including the old Kmart Building and the Cottonwood Grove center. These analyses identified the Consolidated Office Building as the best value. The building is expected to generate substantial savings in general. The County will begin saving money over its current leased facility, including maintenance and utilities, in 7 years and lease payments will go away entirely in 20 years