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.

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

Valley Children's

 

A month after COVID-19 infections began to surge following the Thanksgiving holiday, the virus continues to devastate the San Joaquin Valley. Hospitals are reporting more patients with COVID-19 than ever, intensive care units continue to report only a handful of open beds each day, and hundreds of healthcare workers who could otherwise be caring for patients or staffing medical facilities are currently unable to work after either testing positive for the virus or entering quarantine following a close exposure.

Community Medical Centers

The first batches of the COVID-19 vaccine arrived in the Valley this week, and for many of us, the milestone represents a light at the end of a very long and traumatic tunnel. Healthcare workers with high patient exposure will be the first to receive this initial delivery of 17,000 doses, and the Valley is slated to receive tens of thousands more by the end of December.

Kaweah Delta Health Care District

Five days into a regional stay-at-home order, COVID-19 infections in the San Joaquin Valley are soaring and hospitals are scrambling to make space on floors already crowded with flu patients. On Thursday of this week, the California Department of Public Health estimated that intensive care units in the San Joaquin Valley reported fewer than 2 percent of their beds were available, all while more people are dying of the virus than they have in months.

For months, even as other parts of the U.S. hit record after record for newly reported COVID-19 cases or the number of patients being treated in hospitals, virus infections in California and the San Joaquin Valley had been holding steady. In the last few weeks, however, the numbers suggest our local bout with the pandemic has taken a turn for the worse.

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

More than 3,300 inmates and staff have tested positive for COVID-19 at Avenal, which is the highest total of any prison in California and possibly in the entire country. So far, the virus has killed eight of the prison’s incarcerated men.

City of parlier

 

After many weeks of holding steady, COVID-19 cases are once again on the rise, not just in other parts of the country, but also statewide and here in the Valley. Daily new cases are at the highest they’ve been since early September, case rates and positivity rates are increasing, and all Valley counties—other than Madera and Tulare Counties, which are already in the “widespread” tier of the state’s reopening blueprint—are in danger of retreating back to more restrictive tiers.

Adventist Health

Nearly eight months in, the COVID-19 pandemic is still looking grim: Nationwide, the virus has killed more than 230,000 people, and this week, for the first time, more than 100,000 cases were reported in a single day. Twice.

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