Kings County

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.

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

When news of the pandemic first reached the men incarcerated at Avenal State Prison in central California, inmate Ed Welker said the prevailing mood was panic. “We were like, ‘Yeah, it’s going to come in here and it’s going to spread like wildfire and we’re all going to get it,’” he said. “And that’s exactly what happened.”

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. 

 

Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

 

More than six percent of Californians have now contracted COVID-19 since the pandemic began, but in one San Joaquin Valley county, the case rate is almost twice as high.

@oaklandabosol on Twitter

As COVID-19 infections continue to rise throughout the San Joaquin Valley, they’re also ravaging the Valley’s prisons. That’s why two advocacy groups have planned protests this weekend outside prisons in Kings, Fresno and Kern Counties.

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

Ed Welker is relatively new to Avenal State Prison. He’s been incarcerated there only since March. But when he was recently moved to a new dorm in a different yard, he saw a familiar face. “One of the officers that are working right now in the building that I’m in, in the 2 yard, is the regular building officer over on the 5 yard, where I just came from,” he says.

Families United to End Life Without Parole

On a bright afternoon in June, a group of protesters wearing masks gathered in a dusty parking lot outside a prison in rural Kings County. One of them held a megaphone up to a cell phone. “My name is Jacob Benitez, I’m an inmate calling from Facility F right here at Avenal State Prison,” crackled the voice on the other end of the call.

Laura Tsutsui / Valley Public Radio

A museum housed in a former Carnegie Library has closed its doors because it can no longer keep up with the terms of its lease. 

The Hanford Carnegie Museum Nonprofit leased the Carnegie building from the city of Hanford for 45 years. The nonprofit was required to maintain and insure the building, but that’s been costly to do for a century-old structure.

CA Dept of Corrections

As the COVID-19 caseload continues to fall in San Joaquin Valley communities, the opposite trend has been happening inside Avenal State Prison: With more than 2,500 cumulative cases, the facility now has the dubious honor of being the state prison with the highest cumulative case count. More than 250 men currently have active infections, and five have died.

 

Families United to End Life Without Parole

Although businesses are reopening, reports of new cases of COVID-19 are still on the rise throughout the San Joaquin Valley. You can find up-to-date information for your county here. Below is an update for the week of June 15-19, 2020.

The outlook

Fresno County Department of Public Health

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.

Govenor Gavin Newsom Facebook

Many people have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, but some have found assistance through a multi-million dollar state government program called Expanded Subsidized Employment, or ESE. However, Governor Gavin Newsom’s revised budget proposal cuts the funding to that program. 

Central Valley Meat Co.

 

Rural Kings County has seen a large spike in COVID-19 cases over the last two weeks. The majority of those cases can be traced back to the Central Valley Meat Company in Hanford.

As of Wednesday, Kings County reported 211 cases of the coronavirus; 138 of them are connected to the meat packing facility, which is still operating.  County Supervisor Doug Verboon says he’s not surprised by the spike.   

It got into the facility, said Verboon. “Someone got the virus and took it into the workplace and it spread pretty fast there.”

Courtesy of Adrianne Hillman / Salt + Light Works

In most cities, people who live on the streets can find some relief staying for a night or two at a shelter. But in 2018, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found that Tulare and Kings counties have the highest rate of unsheltered, chronically homeless individuals for counties of their kind in the nation. 

Andrew Nixon - file photo / Capital Public Radio

A recently published study says that Native American students in California experience suspension rates that are twice as high as the state average. The same study also found that expulsion rates of those students are particularly high in Kings County. 

Laura Tsutsui / Valley Public Radio

Steel tycoon and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie built libraries all over the U.S. with at least 14 of them in the Central Valley. Today, only a handful of those original buildings remain. One of them is in Hanford. There’s now a museum inside, but its future may be at risk.

On this week’s Valley Edition: We return to 1619, the first year enslaved Africans were brought to the shores of Virginia. Four hundred years later, what are the repercussions of this brutal institution? 

Also the National Science Foundation has picked up RadioBio, a podcast produced by students at UC Merced. Scientists at the top of their fields explain everything from flying lizards to T-cells.

And will Hanford’s historic Carnegie Museum remain open? We visit the Kings County city to learn more.

Monica Velez / Valley Public Radio

When Lewanne Osborn moved to the foothill community of Springville 53 years ago, the population was around 900, she said. Flip to the year 2000, and the population went up to 1,092, according to census bureau data. But 10 years later the population declined to 934. 

“In my own mind I just don’t feel like it’s an accurate number,” Obourne said. “I have seen incredible growth, houses going up everywhere, new communities that used to be just nothing but hillside and grassland.”

 

Laura Tsutsui / Valley Public Radio

Vice President Mike Pence came to the Central Valley Wednesday to discuss the new trade deal with Mexico and Canada. The event was part campaign rally, part policy talk. 

The speech was held at the Doug and Julie Freitas & Sons Farms in Lemoore, 40 minutes south of Fresno. It was presented by America First Policies, a right-wing non-profit group. Pence was the keynote speaker to a crowd of at least 400. 

Pages