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County Health Officer Explains the Why of Emergency Declaration

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Photo of Dr. Rais Vohra, Fresno County interim public health officer
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With Fresno County declaring a state of emergency to handle the COVID-19 outbreak, the county’s top public health official has this advice:
Engage in basic hygiene (like washing hands), stay home if you are sick, and practice social distancing — spreading out in public areas.
County health officials announced Saturday night that a second person has been diagnosed with the new or novel strain of the coronavirus.


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“Taking this step now is the right action, because it will ensure we have the local resources, the state and national support, and the organizational flexibility to address the many challenges that are still to come,” said Dr. Rais Vohra, the public health department’s interim health officer, at a news conference Sunday morning.

More Cases Expected

“COVID infection is no longer a milestone we can talk about it in the future tense in our community. That moment has arrived.”Dr. Rais Vohra, Fresno County Public Health
Vohra said the latest case is travel-related, but did not specify where the person went. The only information available is that the individual returned home last week and developed symptoms. A recovery is expected.
But Vohra said that he expected many more people to be diagnosed this week — “possibly dramatically.”
“COVID-19 is here,” Vohra said. “COVID infection is no longer a milestone we can talk about it in the future tense in our community. That moment has arrived.”
The goal now is to prevent the community spread of the disease.
“This is a hard decision, because we are social animals and love to interact,” Vohra said. “Whenever you break up crowds (and limiting contact), all of those actually do help. Every little step counts. We know this is how that germ travels.”
Vohra said the risk to the general public is low. While most people will recover, Vohra said that seniors and those with underlying medical issues are at higher risk.

Why COVID-19 is Different

Vohra explained why COVID-19 is different than other flu strains and previous public health emergencies.
Mainly, it is because it is a new virus.
“It seems to be just as contagious as influenza,” Vohra said. “People don’t have immunity. Because we don’t have a vaccine, we really are working without those safeguards, unlike influenza.”
It is unknown how long the state of emergency may last.

Economic Activity Encouraged

Already, many other entertainment venues have canceled or postponed shows. Sports at all levels have practically shut down.

Nathan Magsig

“Do not be frightened by this. People still need to be going out, buy groceries, shop.” — Fresno County Supervisor Nathan Magsig
Local leaders, though, encouraged people to shop and eat out at local restaurants to keep the economy flowing.
“Do not be frightened by this,” Fresno County Supervisor Nathan Magsig said. “People still need to be going out, buy groceries, shop.”
Magsig encouraged going to local shops to help minimize the economic impact of many different closures.
“Don’t just go into a hole and isolate yourselves. You can still live your life. You just need to be more vigilant by washing your hands and covering your cough,” Magsig said. “But, make sure you’re out there spending your money.”
Mayor Lee Brand said his office has been constantly monitoring the coronavirus threat.
“We are going to get through this. We’ll work together. Do not panic. Life will get back to normal. Be patient,” Brand said.
Brand said he is not recommending the shutdown of restaurants or movie theaters at this time.
Movie theaters remain open, but at least one chain is restricting access to half capacity in order to allow for social distancing.
At least one grocery store in Clovis was observed restricting access inside the store, with a line forming to enter.

What an Emergency Entails

The emergency declaration, according to County Administrative Officer Jean Rousseau, is mainly to help the county access federal and state resources.

The emergency declaration, according to Fresno County Administrative Officer Jean Rousseau, is mainly to help the county access federal and state resources.
Rousseau said the declaration will help relax purchasing rules.
“Right now, we are having a hard time getting gloves, antiseptic wipes, face masks,” Rousseau said. “It gives us extra powers to do whatever is necessary to address the issue.”
Neither Rousseau nor Magsig anticipates more drastic measures such as mandated coronavirus testing or shutting down private businesses.

Emergency Government Meetings

Brand said the Fresno City Council will hold an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss COVID-19.
The Fresno County Board of Supervisors will hold an emergency meeting Tuesday to confirm the state of emergency declaration through a vote.
The Clovis City Council moved its regularly scheduled meeting Monday from its chambers at City Hall to the Senior Center to allow for more social distancing.

David Taub has spent most of his career in journalism behind the scenes working as a TV assignment editor and radio producer. For more than a decade, he has worked in the Fresno market with such stops at KSEE-24, KMJ and Power Talk 96.7. Taub also worked the production and support side of some of TV sports biggest events including the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals and NASCAR to name a few. Taub graduated from the University of Michigan with dual degrees in communications and political science. You can contact David at 559-492-4037 or at Send an Email