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More than two dozen California counties have asked for permission to loosen their stay-at-home orders beyond what the state allows.

But Fresno County is not one of them — yet.

That changes today. County health officials have a call scheduled with state authorities in an attempt to change some of the benchmarks required for reopening.

Governor’s Guidelines Too Strict?

“The number of deaths in the county is going to be a barrier for us,” said Dr. Rais Vohra, interim Fresno County Health Officer.

Many rural counties with few coronavirus cases are eager to jump ahead of Gov. Gavin Newsom and get started on recovering from a statewide stay-at-home order that has been in place for nearly two months.

But Fresno County officials say one of the governor’s guidelines isn’t fair: no COVID-19 deaths for 14 consecutive days.

“A lot of our cases are coming from (nursing homes). They’re not the only place, but that is a special exceptional environment,” said Vohra during a Monday news conference. “We could maybe have a different way of measuring our progress that’s not related to those facilities.”

“We could maybe have a different way of measuring our progress that’s not related to those (nursing) facilities.”Dr. Rais Vohra, interim Fresno County Health Officer

At least 16 cases in the city are associated with recently reported COVID-19 outbreaks at a pair of Fresno nursing homes. The facilities are operated by Dycora Transitional Health & Living.

In Kern County, which has nearly 1 million residents spread out over 8,000 square miles, officials say they can’t meet the requirements on deaths and infections because of an outbreak at a skilled nursing facility that has accounted for 60% of the county’s deaths. The 184-bed facility now has more than 100 confirmed cases, according to The Bakersfield Californian.

Variability Within the County

Senate Republican Leader Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) was mentioned by Newsom during his Monday COVID-19 update.

She’s asking for flexibility for Kern County by using “regional variability in the reopening plan.”

Vohra says his office shares some of the same opinions as Grove because of the counties’ similarities.

“Even if we don’t make all of those metrics that the governor laid out late last week, we would still feel comfortable moving forward,” Vohra said.

“Even if we don’t make all of those metrics that the governor laid out late last week, we would still feel comfortable moving forward.”Dr. Rais Vohra

In addition, San Diego County said in a letter to Newsom on Monday that it was requesting “autonomy to reopen additional economic sectors based on clear, consistent, and achievable metrics.” It said some criteria, such as no COVID-19 deaths for 14 days, were unrealistic for large counties.

Newsom left open the possibility of relaxing the benchmarks, answering a question during his Monday news conference with “We’re open to argument, interested in evidence.”

Newsom’s Metrics

Newsom announced last week his benchmarks for reopening counties. They are:

  • No more than 1 COVID-19 case per 10,000 people over the last 14 days
  • No COVID-19-related deaths in 14 days
  • Able to support essential workers who are exposed or become sick from the virus
  • Able to provide disinfectant supplies and protective gear for essential workers
  • Testing 2 people per 1,000 within their population for COVID-19
  • 15 tracers per 100,000 residents
  • Able to house at least 15% of their homeless residents
  • Hospitals must be able to support a surge of 35% and provide PPE for their healthcare workers
  • Nursing facilities must have more than 14 day supply of PPE before a county moves further into modifications

Fresno County has 70 contact tracers. The state says a county of Fresno’s size should have between 150 and 250. Fresno County Public Health Director David Pomaville says he’s already set aside money to make that happen.

Fresno County is doing 700 to 900 COVID-19 tests a day. That number needs to be closer to 1,500 a day. It’s something the county believes is possible with the new testing sites at Fresno City College and Sanger. Hospitals are also running their own tests.

Vohra, who works for Community Medical Centers, says some of the tests are coming back within four hours. That’s much better than the multiple days it took for results a few weeks ago.

Vohra promised an update on Wednesday after making his case to the state.

 

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