Slab City is a refuge for those looking to escape society, but can they escape a pandemic?

Slab
Photo: Omar Ornelas

SLAB CITY, CALIF. — In some ways, an isolated outpost on society’s edge may seem like an ideal place to ride out a deadly pandemic that spreads through human contact.

Yet fear among Slab City’s approximately 1,500 wintertime residents is growing. Although “Slabbers,” as they call themselves, take pride in their resilience, many worry that COVID-19 may prove impossible to outrun.

The pandemic has challenged some norms of this rather abnormal place.

Many Slabbers, even in ordinary times, are not keen on heeding authority or taking leaders’ words at face value. The deadly virus has divided residents over whether to follow or flout government guidelines on social distancing. Plus, what meager income there is to be had often comes from tourists, and shying from contact may mean less water or food on the table.

“I’m extremely concerned that Slab City could become a hotbed,” said Andra Dakota, a German-born Slabber who runs the Slab City dog rescue. “We have some who are very strict and on lockdown, but a portion of our Slabbers, who suffer from meth addiction, live hand-to-mouth or live under a tarp, isn’t social distancing. We have such vulnerable people here — elderly, disabled or people on medication that compromises their immune system.” — The Desert Sun

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