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Fresno, Tulare, Kings Counties On State’s COVID-19 Watch List

Fresno County Department of Public Health
Fresno County Interim Health Officer Dr. Rais Vohra briefs the media during a conference call on June 8, 2020.

With a total of more than 200 deaths and 8,000 cases tallied so far, the burden of COVID-19 continues to grow in the San Joaquin Valley and foothills. This week, the rise in numbers has put three Valley counties on the state’s watch list.

The state’s goal for each county is for less than 8 percent of all COVID-19 tests to turn out positive, a measure called the “positivity rate.” But in Fresno, Tulare and Kings Counties, the positivity rate is above 10 percent.

Tulare and Fresno Counties also contain some of the state’s worst hit nursing homes, and an outbreak at Avenal State Prison has spiked the numbers in Kings County. As a result, all three counties are now among the nine counties subject to what the state public health department calls “targeted engagement,” a process involving heightened communication with state health officials to bring those markers back down.

In a press call earlier this week, Fresno County Interim Health Officer Dr. Rais Vohra said that while the rising numbers are “sobering news,” he’s optimistic the increased scrutiny will bring support. “I’m seeing this as really a very positive development, that we may be able to leverage more attention and resources from the state,” he said, including an additional free testing center, more protective equipment for front-line workers, or better accommodations for those quarantining away from families.

As for whether this could endanger the reopening of gyms, barber shops and bars slated for Friday in Fresno and all other Valley counties, Vohra said it’s a concern, and that he’s awaiting clarification from the state.

Kerry Klein is an award-winning reporter whose coverage of public health, air pollution, drinking water access and wildfires in the San Joaquin Valley has been featured on NPR, KQED, Science Friday and Kaiser Health News. Her work has earned numerous regional Edward R. Murrow and Golden Mike Awards and has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Environmental Journalists. Her podcast Escape From Mammoth Pool was named a podcast “listeners couldn’t get enough of in 2021” by the radio aggregator NPR One.