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In State’s Eyes, Fresno County Isn’t Close to Reopening



Side by side images of Gov. Gavin Newsom, left, and interim Fresno County Health Officer Dr. Rais Vohra
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Testing doesn’t appear to be an issue. Nor is housing the homeless or having the hospital capacity to handle a surge in COVID-19 cases.

But, if Fresno County wants to reopen, state officials say it must flatten the coronavirus curve and not have any pandemic-related deaths for 14 consecutive days.

Vohra said the state wants to see only seven new cases per day in Fresno County. Right now, the county is recording between 30 and 40 new cases daily.

Without satisfying those two benchmarks, the state won’t let the county open more businesses.

Meanwhile, 17 counties have received the green light from Gov. Gavin Newsom to reopen many parts of their economies. The nearest county to receive approval is Mariposa, which got the OK on Wednesday.

Tuesday Call With the State

Dr. Rais Vohra, Fresno County’s interim health officer, and others on his team talked with state officials Tuesday.

“The real disqualifiers for us here in Fresno County is that, according to the state, we just haven’t flattened the curve,” Vohra said. “What they’re looking at is new cases per day, and (zero) deaths over a two-week period.”

Vohra said the state wants to see only seven new cases per day in Fresno County. Right now, the county is recording between 30 and 40 new cases daily.

“These are really hard metrics,” Vohra said. “They’re quite restrictive.”

He added that the state made it clear there was little or no wiggle room on those requirements.

Fresno District 2 City Council Member Mike Karbassi gets a COVID-19 test on Wednesday at UHC’s office at Herndon and Milburn avenues. Free testing sites are opening up throughout Fresno County. (GV Wire/Jim Jakobs)

Fresno Teams with Other Valley Counties

Nonetheless, Vohra said he will continue to press the fight to ask the state to allow the county to reopen some businesses under closure orders.

In fact, Fresno and other nearby counties are working on a joint letter to send to Newsom. Health officers in Fresno, Madera, Stanislaus, Kings, and Tulare counties have talked at length about approaching the state in unison.

“We’re just hoping that doesn’t fall on deaf ears and (it) helps to advance this conversation,” Vohra said. “That we learn from them and that they learn from us about what our needs are and how we can move forward together.”

The county believes it can meet the required 1,500 daily COVID-19 tests in a matter of weeks. And, it already has the capacity to house 15% or more of the homeless population.

As to whether the state is open to allowing certain specific parts of Fresno County to reopen, the answer so far is no.

“I think they’re just looking at the county as a unit. Which again, it’s problematic. But that’s how the state is looking at it right now,” Vohra said.

Governor’s Stage 2 Reopening

According to the Governor’s COVID-19 website, a county that has met certain criteria in containing COVID-19 may consider increasing the pace at which it advances through Stage 2 of the roadmap to modify the stay-at-home order.

Here’s what can be open in stage 2.

Early Stage 2: California is now open with modifications.

  • Curbside Retail
  • Manufacturers
  • Logistics
  • Childcare for those outside of the essential workforce
  • Office-based businesses (telework remains strongly encouraged)
  • Select services: car washes, pet grooming, and landscape gardening
  • Outdoor museums, and open gallery spaces and other public spaces with modifications

Here is what some counties have been approved for, and what Fresno and its regional partners are seeking approval for:

  • Destination retail, including shopping malls and swap meets
  • Dine-in restaurants (other amenities, like bars or gaming areas, are not permitted in Stage 2)
  • Schools with modifications