Dora Garza, 82, walks out of the Madera County Health Department on a windy day in February. She’s just received her first dose of the vaccine and she says the shot was quick and painless.

“It didn’t hurt and I would like everybody to get it that you know, needs to have it,” she says.

Garza says she got the vaccine because she has a younger sister who’s been hospitalized with COVID-19 for the past two months. 

Nella Van Dyke and Magdalena Wojcieszak

Free speech, as enshrined in the First Amendment, is central to what many consider to be the American experience. But the debate over the limits of free speech has been ignited by how the use of social media contributed to the January 6 riot and violent attack on the U.S. Capitol. To better understand this issue and the rise of misinformation and conspiracy theories, Valley Edition Host Kathleen Schock spoke with Magdalena Wojcieszak,  Professor of Communication at UC Davis and Nella Van Dyke, Professor of Sociology at UC Merced.

Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio


Farmworkers in the San Joaquin Valley are facing limited access to resources during the pandemic, according to the second phase of the COVID-19 Farmworker Study funded by the California Institute of Rural Studies. 

Community organizers, like Erica Fernandez Zamora, conducted 63 in-depth interviews with farmworkers across the state. Most are struggling financially. 


Fresno County Sheriff's Office

Dr. Venu Gopal served as the sole forensic pathologist for the Fresno County Sheriff's Office in 2020. During that year he performed roughly 350 autopsies and 500 external exams, all while managing the pressure of working through a pandemic. In acknowledgment of his service to the community, Dr. Gopal was named the 2020 Fresno County Sheriff’s Office Employee of the Year.  Valley Edition Host Kathleen Schock spoke to Dr. Gopal about what it was like to shoulder that responsibility.


And now it’s time for StoryCorps San Joaquin, edited conversations from the mobile 2020 tour in Fresno and Bakersfield documenting the stories of Valley residents. Today Jeff Bowman tells StoryCorps facilitator Ava Ahmadbeigi about childhood summers spent with his pioneering grandmother, Billy Murphy. At age 46, she became the first woman to operate a fire lookout tower in California, 8,000 feet up in the San Bernardino National Forest. That was shortly after WWII and she did it for the next 23 years. 


On this week's Valley Edition: Restaurants have had to ride the wave of pandemic shutdowns and reopenings for the past ten months. We look at how one business in Madera is surviving and what’s happening to its employees.


Plus, when a local newspaper closes shop, how does that affect voting behaviors and political corruption? 


And we’ve got another segment of StoryCorps San Joaquin. A grandson remembers his  pioneering grandmother who spent her summers living and working in a fire lookout station.

In a surprise move this week, Governor Gavin Newsom lifted shelter-in-place orders for our part of the state, even as San Joaquin Valley residents continue to die of COVID-19 by the hundreds each week. The decision came as a surprise to health officials in at least Fresno County, who said they appreciate that case numbers are finally trending in the right direction but warned against reckless behavior that could drive them back up again.


It’s just before the 5 p.m. dinner hour and tickets are starting to print out in The Vineyard’s kitchen. 

Customer Robert Fischer waits to pick up his dinner order at the dining room entrance. 

“Oh we’ve got the special tonight. We’ve got the calzone, so I can’t wait to get home to dig into that,” he says.


He says he orders takeout twice a week to support Madera restaurants. He’s been coming to the Vineyard for 15 years and wants to make sure it stays. 


Dympna Ugwu-Oju, Jonathan Mehta Stein, PEN America and Paul Myers

When a local newspaper is forced to reduce its reporting staff or shut down altogether, research shows there’s a huge impact on the community it serves. Often, voter participation goes down, while government borrowing goes up.

City of Madera Facebook Page

The Madera County Sheriff’s Department declared a local state of emergency Wednesday due to worsening weather conditions. It also issued an evacuation warning for residents above Road 225 and Cascadel Road, near the Creek Fire burn scar area. 


The county, which previously dealt with the Creek Fire, is now bracing for another potential natural disaster. National Weather Service Meteorologist Scott Row says flood warnings have been placed on Madera county as well as neighboring Fresno and Merced counties. 


Madi Bolanos / Valley Public Radio


Advocates say meeting farmworkers at their workplace to distribute vaccines is the best way to ensure all farmworkers get the vaccine. Fresno County began it’s soft rollout of vaccines to farmworkers on Monday, with 50 ag workers receiving their first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine at their workplace, Pappas Family Farm in Mendota. 

In addition to onsite workplace vaccine centers, County officials said in a press conference at the site, the local health department is working with rural clinics to distribute the vaccines. 


Soreath Hok

Valley Public Radio listeners will notice a new voice on the airwaves, reporter Soreath Hok. Her coverage of local government, politics and other local news can be heard on Valley Edition, and within local news breaks in Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She has worked in radio, television and digital media for the last 16 years both in the San Joaquin Valley and in Sacramento. 

Fresno Alliance

So many people have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Fresno County Jail that the total number of cases now exceeds the entire incarcerated population.

According to the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office, nearly 4,000 inmates and staff members have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic started, a total that the New York Times ranks as the largest of any single correctional facility in the country.


In the past few weeks, Fresno police have been called to break up anti-mask protests at businesses like Trader Joe’s and Sprouts. At a news conference Monday, Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer spoke about a weekend protest at Sprouts, which resulted in one person being cited.

He says officers can only intervene by issuing a citation for trespassing. After that, violators who refuse to cooperate will be arrested. 


Employees of Pappas Family Farms in Mendota received their first round of COVID-19 vaccines Monday.  

Melesio Medina is one of 50 employees who received the vaccine. He’s worked as a mechanic at Pappa’s for five years. Medina said the vaccine means he can continue to provide for his family. 

“It’s a great opportunity. There's people out there that were fighting for it,” Medina said. “They want it, so I’m just grateful I gotta take it.” 

Kern County Public Health Department Facebook Page

The Kern County Board of Supervisors is considering furloughing employees classified under non-safety in order to save $1.67 million. Social workers and other public health professionals in the county are pushing back. 

Alicia Aleman has been a domestic violence social worker with the county for over 13 years. She said the pandemic has caused huge mental health stresses for people dealing with job loss, school closures and COVID relief. 


Fresno Philharmonic

For 2021, the Fresno Philharmonic is presenting a series of online performances in their Digital Masterworks Series. Each concert will premier on YouTube, and will later be broadcast on Valley Public Radio on the 2nd Tuesday following each YouTube premier. Join host David Aus and conductor Rei Hotoda for this series of special broadcasts. 

2021 Fresno Philharmonic Digital Masterworks Broadcast Schedule on KVPR FM89:

UC Merced

When wildfires burn in our national parks, we naturally worry about the forest. But what about the photographs, maps and documents that tell the stories of our parks? How do we keep those important archives safe?

FM89’s Alice Daniel spoke with Emily Lin, librarian and head of digital curation at the University of California Merced about moving records from Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks to the university during last September's intense wildfires.

On a Thursday afternoon in mid-January, Woodland Elementary School’s cafeteria is transformed into a vaccine center. The room is sectioned off into check-in points with nursing staff and a waiting area for newly-vaccinated staff members. 



Bill Peterson, 78, is greeted by a nurse as he walks in. He holds onto his health information packet as he walks up to the cafeteria stage, behind the curtain. Nurses are stationed there with vaccines. Peterson sits down, joking with them before he rolls up his sleeve. 

Community Medical Centers


Fresno County has the capacity to administer at least 30,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine weekly, according to county health officials, and yet its two mass vaccination clinics will not be open to new appointments next week. The recent revelation of no national vaccine stockpile has disrupted local supply, in Fresno and throughout the San Joaquin Valley.