Nearing overload in coronavirus pandemic, Mono County sheriff has a message: Stay out

Vehicles drive through the Eastern Sierra town of June Lake. The sheriff of Mono County has a plea for the city dwellers who usually drive both its winding mountain roads and its economic engine: Stop coming.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

The sheriff of Mono County, home to beloved getaway spots including Mammoth Lakes, has a plea for the city dwellers who usually drive both its winding mountain roads and its economic engine: Stop coming.

With eight confirmed coronavirus cases and a hospital with 17 beds and four ventilators, Mono County Sheriff Ingrid Braun said Friday night that officials are nearing their capacity to handle the outbreak and need outsiders to stay away.

“Don’t come here,” Braun said. “If we get much more, it’s just too much of a stress load.”

Although the county is still in single digits on cases, she said, that number translates to the highest per capita rate in the state — nearly double that of San Francisco, the next highest.

“If you factor in the fact that all of the cases are in the Town of Mammoth Lakes, population [about] 8,000, the rate is more than triple,” Braun said.


Braun, a former Los Angeles County law enforcement officer, said residents of the mountain county are taking social distancing measures seriously and staying home.

“It’s surprisingly cricket quiet,” she said.

But second home owners in the vacation area, along with those seeking rentals to ride out the virus in mountain seclusion are a worry. Across California, people living in urban areas have been heading to smaller towns in the hopes of escaping exposure to the infection.

That kind of movement carries the virus with it. Experts have warned that it also poses just the kind of risk Braun is worried about: small hospitals overwhelmed as travelers bring COVID-19 infections with them.

Braun’s plea comes after a week of the county trying gentler measures. Now, the county is pushing for checkpoints on roads to make sure travel is essential, and locals only.

Sam Roberts, a Mammoth Lakes resident and president of the nonprofit group Friends of the Inyo, last week said people in the area were anxious because visitors from L.A., about 300 miles away, continued to come despite social distancing measures.

“When driving up from Los Angeles, travelers make several stops along the way — for gasoline, for food, to stretch their legs. Trouble is, they could be picking up the virus and bringing it into town with them,” Roberts said.


The threat posed by the virus seemed to have eluded massive crowds of rock climbers from across the nation who as recently as last weekend still crowded bouldering hot spots just west of the Sierra Nevada town of Bishop, about 45 miles south of Mammoth Lakes.

Defying social distancing, hundreds camped together in the backcountry and piled into local restaurants and watering holes, putting themselves and the community at risk for infection.