What it’s like in California’s worst COVID hot spot as cases stay low elsewhere | #coronavirus | #kids. | #children | #schools



Jessica Sharkey has been teaching for 19 years. This one is the hardest.

Not only is the fourth grade teacher at Bishop Elementary School again facing a roomful of wriggling, masked kids every day, but as many as six have been absent in a given week, making it difficult to keep all students caught up as COVID-19 surges around them in rural Inyo County. The county has had the state’s the highest coronavirus case rate for much of the fall.

With challenges like having students out in quarantine for extended periods, Sharkey, whose school is in Bishop Unified School District at the northern end of the county, says the past several months have been “emotional and draining.”

“You know more is being asked of us and you don’t have more hours in the day,” said Sharkey. “You are trying to be here for all of these kids and be here emotionally and physically.”

Inyo, a vast, rugged county of 18,000 that adjoins the Nevada border and includes Death Valley, as well as eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada and towering Mount Whitney, has struggled like a number of California’s rural counties with the pandemic ravages that affect school kids and adults alike. In September and October, while much of the state saw cases taper off, Inyo’s case rate continued to soar — surpassing even the peak of last winter’s surge which in most places marked the worst period of the pandemic.

In October, the county reported a larger number of pediatric and adult cases, by far, than any other month. As of Wednesday, Inyo’s case rate has fallen to a seven-day average of 43 cases per 100,000 people per day, but it remains among the highest in the state, and is well above the state daily average of 12 cases per 100,000 people.

County hospitals, with 29 beds total, have struggled to appropriately isolate COVID patients, said the county’s Deputy Director of Public Health Anna Scott. Staff levels have been strained. With limited specialist and intensive care resources in the county, and neighboring rural counties struggling as well, severely ill patients have been transferred to hospitals as far away as the Bay Area, Los Angeles and western Nevada, officials said.

“Once we start getting a little strained in our hospital systems, we are concerned about can we move people out fast enough if we have higher severity cases that need a higher level of care,” said Scott.

It got so bad that on Oct. 26 the county’s public health officer imposed a mask mandate for nearly all indoor public settings for the first time since California’s statewide mask mandate was lifted in June. Such restrictions have been commonplace in the Bay Area and much of the state for months, but the mandate drew objection from some residents who complained at Board of Supervisors’ meetings about government heavyhandedness, often referencing conspiracy theories.



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