Inyo County Supervisors Call Out Gov. Newsom

(The following letter, shown here in its entirety, was sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom on March 9, by the Inyo County Board of Supervisors. The original received by KIBS/KBOV News was on County letterhead showing the Seal of Inyo County)

March 9, 2021

Governor Gavin Newsom

1303 10th Street, Suite 1173

Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear Governor Newsom:

As Chairman of the Inyo County Board of Supervisors, I write today to express appreciation for the work and hard positions that the Governor’s office and the California Public Department of Public Health have had to take to keep Californians safe and healthy through this long pandemic. Likewise, throughout the various stay at home orders and industry closures, Inyo County Public Health and our Board of Supervisors have sought to protect our residents, uphold the Governor’s orders, and take all necessary precautions – no matter how unpopular or difficult those precautions may be.

However, as vaccines become more widespread and numbers across the US drop, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the County to convince residents and businesses to continue to abide by the restrictive closures that California continues to mandate for counties in the Purple Tier. This difficulty is amplified by the fact that big businesses, such as Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, supermarkets, and big box stores, are allowed to continue operating, but small businesses, such as our locally-owned restaurants and mom-and-pop movie theater, are forced to close. Inyo County has been diligently enforcing the state’s COVID-19 rules and restrictions and has even gone so far as to obtain a temporary restraining order to shut down a restaurant that refused to comply with the prohibition on indoor dining. But we are becoming increasingly concerned that, unless the state begins to relax restrictions on counties in the Purple Tier, outright defiance of the state’s rules will become so widespread that our capacity for enforcement, which is already stretched to the breaking point, will simply collapse.

We therefore urge the State to look at the issue of COVID-related closures and restrictions from a pragmatic perspective and not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. The State has asked our local small businesses to sacrifice so much that many feel that they are at the point where they simply have no choice but to defy the rules and see what happens. Backing small businesses into this corner serves neither the economy nor public health and results only in an underground, unregulated reopening process in which neither the State nor the County has the authority or the legitimacy to enforce any COVID-19 precautions. We implore you: please do not allow those floodgates to open here in Inyo County. Show our local small businesses that you’re listening to them by making some good-faith modifications to COVID restrictions, and in turn, they will listen to you. In particular, we ask that the State take a serious look at the prohibition on indoor dining and the mandatory closure of movie theaters in the Purple Tier. In addition, we ask that the State include provisions for early access to indoor dining and theatres for those people that can demonstrate that they have been vaccinated. These two industries have been particularly devastated by the State’s closure orders.

We note that the State recently proposed a modification to the criteria for a county to move from the Purple to Red Tier. However, given Inyo County’s very small population (approx. 18,000 people) this modification is essentially meaningless. Under the current criteria, Inyo County must have a case rate of no more than 7 cases per 100,000 to move into the Red Tier. Adjusted to match our population, this means that Inyo County must have a case rate of less than 1.26 cases – i.e. less than 8.82 cases per week. Under the State’s new proposal to permit a county to move into the Red Tier with a rate of 10 cases per 100,000, Inyo County would have to sustain a case rate of less than 1.8 cases – i.e. less than 12.6 cases per week. As this math demonstrates, regardless of whether 7 or 10 cases per 100,000 forms the threshold for a move to the Red Tier, Inyo County could see entire sectors of its economy continue to be shuttered by a mere 9 positive tests in one week.

Therefore, in addition to requesting that the state reconsider its ban on indoor dining and its closure of movie theaters for counties in the Purple Tier, the Board requests that the state loosen the metrics for small counties to move from the Purple Tier to the Red Tier. The standards that are currently in place are neither fair nor logical for very small counties such as Inyo County, and the recent modifications to the Red Tier standards do not meaningfully respond to Inyo County’s unique position. As this State has recognized time and again, given California’s 58 unique counties, this pandemic cannot be solved with a “one size fits all” approach, and we therefore implore you to consider solutions that take into account “small denominator” counties, like Inyo County.

Sincerely,

Jeff Griffiths, Chair Inyo County Board of Supervisors