COVID-19 This Week: San Joaquin Valley

  • Hosted by Kerry Klein, Kathleen Schock

A weekly roundup of the latest COVID-19 news for Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, and Tulare Counties in California’s San Joaquin Valley. We also include this in our other weekly podcast, Valley Edition. All this and more at www.kvpr.org.

California Governor Facebook Page

After 15 months of pandemic-related restrictions, California is back open for business. In downtown Clovis, reactions ranged from cautious optimism to elation.

“I still think we should keep our precautions, just to be on the safe side,” says emergency room nurse Angelica Martinez. She’s grateful she hasn’t contracted COVID, but knows the risks aren’t completely gone.

 

Madi Bolanos / KVPR

Next Tuesday, California is slated to reopen its doors following more than a year of pandemic-related restrictions. The state’s reopening system, known as the Blueprint for a Safer Economy, will dissolve, and businesses and houses of worship will be permitted to open without capacity limits or distancing restrictions.

Kerry Klein / KVPR

Last August, the state of California introduced a “health equity metric” in its method of evaluating progress in fighting COVID-19. Ostensibly, that meant the state would be grading counties not just on their countywide case rates, positivity rates, testing and (later) vaccine numbers, but also on all of those measures within their most disadvantaged census tracts.

Anne VanGarsse via Zoom

As of earlier this month, 127 kids aged 12 to 17 years old had died of COVID-19 in the United States. The number may pale in comparison to the more than half a million adults who’ve died so far, but because deaths among kids are so rare, the total is still high enough to rank COVID-19 among the leading causes of death among that age group.

 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, many basic questions about the virus have been answered, including how it spreads, how it responds to treatment, and how it affects the body. But even those lessons learned apply mostly to generally healthy people and those with the most common pre-existing conditions, and unknowns still abound for many population subsets—including pregnant women.

 

Kaweah Health Medical Center

For many of us, hospitals are pillars of communities, representing safety nets that we hope will always be there. But there’s no guarantee they will be. A new report estimates that California’s hospitals have suffered billions of dollars in losses in the last year, and that they could lose billions more before 2021 is through.

California Department of Public Health Open Data Portal

*Correction 4/24: This interview inadvertently implies that Eric Bream employs undocumented workers, which he does not.*

Kerry Klein

 

As of this week, more than a half million San Joaquin Valley residents have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. For some, that means being able to more safely visit grandkids or elderly parents, while for others it’s a ticket to spending more time in public or feeling more secure in person-to-person interactions at work.

Kerry Klein

The end of the pandemic may finally be approaching: With 1.2 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine administered in the San Joaquin Valley, 15 percent of adults have now been fully vaccinated, and another 12 percent have received at least one dose. Meanwhile, all Valley counties have now advanced out of the purple, most restrictive tier of the state’s reopening blueprint, signifying what is hopefully the last stretch in the return to normalcy for California’s businesses and places of worship before Governor Gavin Newsom plans to fully reopen the state’s economy in mid-June.

 

The early days of the pandemic were challenging for truck drivers. As other workers were told to stay home, truckers kept going, delivering food, clothing and cleaning supplies for stores and hospitals throughout the country. On the road for days or weeks at a time, many were fearful of bringing the virus back to their families, and the temporary closures of rest stops left them uncertain whether they’d find a safe place to use the bathroom or sleep.

Community Medical Centers

 

Like in so many places across the U.S., the coronavirus pandemic crept up on the San Joaquin Valley. Some of the region’s first official cases were linked to outbreaks on cruise ships that came into port in March, but as we later learned, the virus was already circulating long beforehand.

The Valley Fever Institute at Kern Medical

 

Even though COVID-19 has been the dominant public health threat for a year, first with a summer surge, then a winter surge, and now with the rollout of much-anticipated vaccines, other public health problems haven’t just disappeared.

Tulare County Sheriff's Office

 

Slowly and steadily, COVID-19 is loosening its grip on the San Joaquin Valley. New cases are dropping, intensive care units are becoming less impacted, and every day, thousands more people are being vaccinated against the virus.

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

Ever since the COVID-19 vaccine rollout began, every week has brought news of extremes, with success stories followed by supply problems and other hiccups in access and distribution. This week was no different, and included supply disruptions due to winter storms as well as an unexpected boost from the governor.

Early on in the pandemic, the state of California put an emphasis on equity in its pandemic response, requiring specific levels of testing and outreach in disadvantaged census tracts in order for counties to advance through the state’s reopening blueprint.

Now, obstacles to vaccine access have introduced the potential for new disparities, and newly published state data shows what many have feared: that the vaccine isn’t being distributed equitably among racial and ethnic groups.

When Governor Gavin Newsom stopped in Fresno earlier this week, he was widely anticipated to announce that Fresno would be the site of the state’s newest mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic. The clinic, which he had alluded to earlier in the week, is expected to be run in partnership between the state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and it would bring in thousands of vaccine doses each day beyond what the county already receives from the state.

 

So far, San Joaquin Valley residents have received nearly 200,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine—a sum that may sound high, but falls far short of the average per capita rate reported elsewhere in California. Plus, for the second week in a row, a low vaccine supply has kept many of the Valley’s mass vaccination clinics either open far below capacity, or closed entirely to people seeking to receive their first dose.

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.

Today, more people are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine than ever, and county health departments across the San Joaquin Valley have been building up the infrastructure at fairgrounds, schools, clinics and other sites in order to offer thousands of vaccinations each day.

Department of State Hospitals

In the months since the pandemic began, COVID-19 has taken a tremendous toll on hospitals, where bedspace is at a minimum and staff are overworked, and prisons, where tight living quarters and mixed enforcement of safety precautions

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