On Thursday, April 9, 2020, Inyo County hosted a virtual town hall meeting to discuss the coronavirus. Officials from all healthcare facilities including, Toiyabe, Northern Inyo Hospital, and Southern Inyo Hospital, along with key figures from the City of Bishop and Inyo County were in attendance.
In total, twelve panelists were present during the discussion, with over 250 citizens tuning in to the town hall.
Inyo County Administrative Officer, Clint Quilter, served as the moderator, fielding questions from the public, and allowing each panel participant to give an update on where things stand when it comes to managing the COVID-19 crisis.
Southern Inyo Hospital CEO, Peter Spiers, was one of the first people to speak. Spiers, who has been in the Eastern Sierra for about eight months, talked about how he believes the community has enough strength and resolve to overcome the coronavirus pandemic. Spiers said, “I truly believe that by the grace of God, we have met this challenge with a resolve and commitment as a hospital. This is a unique place. From first day I was here, everyone was committed to making the hospital survive and thrive.”
Spiers also says the healthcare district has been taking a proactive approach since February to prepare for the pandemic. He went on to say, “We took aggressive measures starting in February, and made sure to screen all of our employees before they came to work.”
Chief Operating Officer of Toiyabe, Ethan Dexter, said that the health clinic is taking extra precautions when it comes to helping the public. Dexter remarked that all public health workers are sanitizing and wearing masks when doing wellness checks for patients.
Representing Northern Inyo Healthcare District during the discussion, was Dr. William Timbers, the newly appointed Interim Chief Medical Officer. Timbers gave a fifteen-minute PowerPoint presentation to attendees explaining the background of COVID-19 and told where things stand as far as the latest research on the virus.
After the healthcare officials finished speaking, Quilter turned the presentation over to local government officials from Inyo County and Bishop.
Bishop Mayor, Laura Smith, talked about the need for the city and the Eastern Sierra region to come together and embrace sacrifice for the greater good. Smith said, “City Council officials are elected by the people, and our hearts are with the people who are suffering. We need to band together as an Eastern Sierra community. That is how we are going to move past this problem.”
When it comes to sacrifices, Mayor Smith says the city will meet on April 13, 2020 to discuss what can be done to help the citizens of Bishop, even if it hurts the city fiscally. “There is going to be some sacrifice involved in order to combat this crisis. We are meeting as a city to see what sacrifices need to be made,” Smith remarked.
Chairman of the Inyo County Board of Supervisors, Matt Kingsley spoke after Mayor Smith, and commended the community for the job it has done helping those in need. The fifth district supervisor said, “I first wanted to recognize the efforts of our county staff, and the medical workers and volunteers around the community. Lunches are being served to kids and senior citizens, quilting clubs are making masks, and community activities are being organized like Easter Bunny drive-bys,”
Though pleased with the efforts of the community, Kingsley expressed displeasure with the fact that he can only provide a limited amount of help to his south county constituents during this pandemic. “My biggest frustration is not being able to communicate with my constituents. This is a great effort that we are doing in helping the community. But we have to realize that not all constituents have internet, so we have to find a way to help them.”
Inyo County Public Health Officer, Dr. James Richardson, was one of the panelists who had the most to say during the event.
To start things off, Richardson said, “As a public health officer, my goal is to protect the health of the citizens. Right now, the goal is to limit the impact of disease on local healthcare systems so they are not overwhelmed.”
Most of what Richardson discussed related to the importance of covering up with a cloth mask when going out in public, washing hands, and social distancing.
However, the Inyo County Public Health Officer stated that if an outbreak of coronavirus gets bad enough in the area, he will order the construction of alternative sites to help treat patients. “We are willing to develop alternative sites if needed along with increasing beds if things get bad.”
According to Dr. Richardson, there may be light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to life going back to some semblance of normal. “I have noticed recently in the latest predictive models, the estimation of deaths has gone down,” Richardson said. “I suspect in mid to late May, things will start lightening up. There may be an undercurrent of this virus in our community for a while though.”