During a visit to Fresno on Wednesday, Governor Gavin Newsom said vaccinating the Central Valley against COVID-19 is a “top priority.”
Though Newsom was widely expected to announce a new federal government-partnered mass vaccination clinic in the city during his stop at the Fresno Fairgrounds, he instead shared that the state had selected a COVID-19 testing site at Reedley College to be converted into a community vaccination clinic.
The transition of the Reedley site marks the first in a statewide effort to offer vaccines at what are currently testing sites run by the state partner OptumServe. “This is the beginning of an effort to streamline, to focus, to reenergize,” vaccine efforts, he said, particularly with a focus on equity. “We are falling short of our goals of making sure that we truly are being equitable in the distribution, administration of this vaccine…we have to do more.”
Although some conflicting numbers were shared during the media event, Fresno County Community Health Division Manager Joe Prado confirmed afterward that the Reedley clinic, which could open for vaccinations as soon as February 18, is slated to begin by delivering 600 doses each week. “Our focus will be of course in the rural area, 65 and over population,” he said, building off of the information received when residents fill out the county health department’s vaccine interest form.
Unlike a mass vaccination clinic run in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which would provide thousands of vaccines per day in addition to the county’s allocation from the state, Prado said the Reedley clinic’s doses will draw from the county’s allocation. Despite the fact that supply shortages have forced the county to scale back its already-existing clinics, Prado says he’s grateful for the state’s support in opening another in Reedley. “We need to build our distribution system out even more,” he said. “This is key that we are able to put more assets in rural areas, and we can see how functional it’s going to be.”
During Wednesday’s event, Newsom said he’s “proud” of Fresno’s leaders, calling out the mayor and county supervisors as well as state and federal legislators for making equity a priority in its efforts to combat the virus. Last summer, the county partnered with a coalition of dozens of community organizations known as the COVID-19 Equity Project to distribute information in multiple languages as well as conduct contact tracing and outreach in underserved communities.
Newsom also praised the county’s Food & Ag vaccination Initiative, which so far has vaccinated close to 3,000 farm workers. Fresno was one of the first counties in the state to vaccinate food and ag workers, though the initiative was a pilot project that is nearing its end.
When asked why the state didn’t prioritize food and agriculture workers higher in its priority list for the vaccine, Newsom said he did provide other services for them, including 80 hours of sick leave and accommodations during quarantine through the state’s Housing for the Harvest program.
In turn, local leaders including Mayor Jerry Dyer and Congressman Jim Costa praised the governor for his leadership, all while a small handful of protesters chanted “recall Newsom” from behind a chain link fence.
As for when and where the state would be opening a mass vaccination clinic in partnership with FEMA, Newsom said details would be forthcoming. “When we have that information, I’ll provide it,” he said.