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Send Us Help, Vohra Says, As Feds Tag Valley COVID Hot Spot



Photo of Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator
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White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx called out the Central Valley as a COVID-19 hot spot earlier this week.

Fresno County’s interim health director addressed her concerns during a Zoom call with the media Friday afternoon.

Though Dr. Rais Vohra is not pleased with the Valley’s notoriety, he sees it as an opportunity for the federal government to deliver additional aid to save lives and stop the coronavirus spread.

33 Coronavirus Deaths Since Tuesday in Fresno County

Vohra’s comments came as figures released Friday showed that COVID-19 is spreading at a high rate through the county.

There have been 33 coronavirus deaths this week and 1,091 new cases since Tuesday. As the county recorded 4,863 test results over that span, that is a positivity rate of 22.4%

What Birx Said

Birx outlined new areas of concern in a private phone call with state and local officials Wednesday, according to a recording of the call obtained by the Center for Public Integrity.

Birx said that Nebraska and California have moved into the red category, with more than 10% of tests coming back positive. She said Los Angeles may have seen improvements but that there’s significant movement of the virus in California’s Central Valley.

The dashboard California uses to update COVID-19 hasn’t been reliable the past few days making it difficult to determine exactly where the Valley stands. For example, the state data indicates that Fresno County has seen a 10.9% decrease in COVID-19 patients over the past two weeks.

Because of the data issues, the Fresno County Department of Health is looking at those numbers with a grain of salt. Late Friday, the state announced the glitch was resolved — at least sort of.

Fresno’s Top Doc: ‘It Stings’

“It stings a little bit to be called out at the national level,” Vohra said. “That’s not what you want to make the national news for.”

Vohra sees a silver lining though. He says Fresno’s neighboring counties are experiencing the same trends so that may bolster the argument for more federal aid.

“I’m hoping that this extra attention and scrutiny will actually translate into increased resources for helping us do testing and helping us really take care of people in a better way,” said Vohra.

A United Health Centers provider takes a COVID-19 test to the parking lot for a mobile test in northwest Fresno in May. Fresno County interim health director Dr. Rais Vohra hopes the federal government will provide more test funding after Dr. Deborah Birx called the Central Valley as a coronavirus hot spot this week. (GV Wire File)

State Data Issues

A technical glitch that has plagued the data system the state relies on to make decisions about reopening businesses and schools has been fixed but it could take up to 48 hours to get the numbers updated, California’s top health official said Friday.

“We apologize. You deserve better, the governor demands better of us and we are committed to doing better.” — Dr. Mark Ghaly, California health and human services secretary

California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said that up to 300,000 records might have been backlogged — but not all of them are coronavirus cases and some may be duplicates.

California reported 8,436 new confirmed cases Friday and surpassed 10,000 deaths from the coronavirus.

“We apologize. You deserve better, the governor demands better of us and we are committed to doing better,” Ghaly said.

County health officials say they’ve been flying blind, unable to conduct robust contact tracing or monitor health factors without timely information — especially at a time when parents are on edge about school plans.

Five Days Without Updates

Ghaly said the problem began with a computer server outage July 25 and was compounded by the state’s failure to renew a 2-year-old certificate for an intermediary for one of the nation’s largest commercial labs, meaning the state did not receive updates for five days from Quest Diagnostics.

He said he learned of the magnitude of the data backlog late Monday afternoon, though others in the department were aware of it earlier.

(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)