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Newsom Brings News of New Valley Vaccine Site. Big FEMA Site Plans Still on Hold.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom came to Fresno on Wednesday to slake the region’s thirst for bigger supplies of COVID-19 vaccinations for the Central Valley, but for some observers the glass he brought was only half full.

“We’ve had very advanced conversations with the (Biden) administration.” – Gov. Gavin Newsom on a possible FEMA vaccination site for Fresno

Newsom announced at a Fresno Fairgrounds news conference that an OptumServe testing facility at Reedley College will start providing 600 weekly vaccine doses later this month.

But he said a much anticipated, large-scale Federal Emergency Management Agency community vaccination site, similar to sites announced for Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, and Santa Clara, is still on the drawing board.

We are committed to working with the Biden administration to land on a date, because I know you want a date for when we have a mass vaccination site here in the Valley,” said Newsom. “We’ve had very advanced conversations with the (Biden) administration.”

On Tuesday, several sources told GV Wire℠ that Newsom would soon announce that the Save Mart Center will be designated as a mass vaccination site where up to 6,000 vaccines could be administered daily. The Save Mart Center is being eyed because of its size indoors, ample parking, and ease of accessibility.

“It really helps us to plan better and really evaluate our doses.” – Fresno County community health manager Joe Prado on Newsom’s commitment to provide a three-week vaccine availability projection

The push to get more vaccines into the community is becoming more acute as Newsom announced a new variant was just found in the state Wednesday morning. “We have the first reported cases of South African variants. Two cases have been reported through Stanford, one in Alameda County and one in Santa Clara County,” the governor said.

One major commitment the governor made Wednesday was to provide at least a three-week projection of how much vaccine counties will receive.

That’s exactly our resolve,” Newsom said in a response to a question from GV Wire℠.

Fresno County community health manager Joe Prado said county health officials can plan better with more accurate, longer term information on vaccine availability.

“It really helps us to plan better and really evaluate our doses,” he said.

City, county, and state officials attended the news conference at the Fresno Fairgrounds Wednesday. From left to right, Fresno County Supervisor Buddy Mendes talks with Fresno City Mayor Jerry Dyer. County Administrator Jean Rousseau stands next to Supervisor Nathan Magsig. (GV Wire/Jahz Tello)

Reedley OptumServe Site

“It’s important to get them (rural ag workers) vaccinated because of the pathogens they come across in the nature of the work that they do.” – Sen. Melissa Hurtado, D-Sanger

The Reedley College site is currently run by OptumServe as a COVID-19 testing location. The county hopes to designate three days next week to administer 200 vaccine doses a day at the current walk-up location.

The initial focus for vaccination efforts there will be on people age 65 and older. “We’re going to be communicating with individuals who submitted their interest form,” Prado said.

The intent is to reach out to individuals who live in the immediate Reedley area first before opening it up to the wider community.

Sen. Melissa Hurtado, D-Sanger, was standing next to Newsom as he talked about the new vaccination site at Reedley College. She said getting rural area residents protected from the coronavirus is deeply personal for her because both her parents worked in poultry plants.

“Our agriculture employees have been extremely important to our food supply chain,” said Hurtado, who represents the Reedley area. “It’s important to get them vaccinated because of the pathogens they come across in the nature of the work that they do.”

Hurtado doesn’t want health care investments in the Central Valley to be limited to Wednesday’s announcement or a future announcement of a FEMA site. “We need to start investing in the Central Valley because we’re ground zero for pathogens jumping from animals to humans very much like COVID-19,” she said.

The vaccine doses for the site will come out of the county’s current allotment. Just this week, the state released 19,000 doses to Fresno County. A week ago that number was 8,000.

California has partnered with OptumServe to provide free, confidential testing statewide for quite some time. Tests are available for everyone, including underserved communities and individuals who are at high risk. Ten of these testing sites are operating now in Fresno County.

Prado says the county will evaluate how the Reedley site functions when it’s conducting both testing and vaccinating, with an eye to expanding to other sites in the county’s rural areas.

FEMA Site Not Restricted to Just Fresno

“We’re not limiting it based on where you live.” – Cal-OES State director of Crisis Communication Brian Ferguson on a possible FEMA site in Fresno

Prado says a FEMA and California Office of Emergency Services (Cal-OES) site would be a huge plus. “not only for Fresno County, but for the Central Valley overall.”

Brian Ferguson, Cal-OES state director of crisis communication, said vaccinations would not be restricted to residents in the Fresno area.

“We wouldn’t want to do a limitation based on where you live,” he said. “If you live in the region, and you’re in a target group and you need the vaccine, we want you to be able to get it.”

GV Wire℠ asked Ferguson whether residents from Merced or Visalia could drive to a mass vaccination site in Fresno and get inoculated, once the site opens. “Yes,” he responded. “We’re not limiting it based on where you live.”

In theory, he said, someone could drive from Oakland to Fresno to get vaccinated. “But, you’d probably have to drive past four or five mass vaccination sites in other places in order to get here,” Ferguson said..

5 Million Vaccinated

Newsom met with an 85-year-old former farmworker who became the 5-millionth person in California to be vaccinated for COVID-19.

The woman, identified as Maria from Reedley, received the dose at the Fresno Fairgrounds on Wednesday morning. She said she was scared at first, but now she’s educating the farmworker community about the safety of the vaccine.

She just received her second Pfizer shot. She’s here with her husband as well,” said Newsom.