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Large Crowds at SJ River Park Led to COVID Outbreak, Supervisor Says



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Over 1,000 people crowded into Skaggs Bridge Park on the San Joaquin River last weekend led to a cluster of COVID-19 cases, Fresno County Supervisor Brian Pacheco said this week.

“There was a person there — I’m sure there were multiple people there — that had the virus,” Pacheco said. “And now, there are many people infected today because of that.”

With weekend temperatures in the Valley expected to approach 110 degrees, county officials say they will step up educational efforts in hopes of preventing additional spread of the highly contagious disease. Fresno County currently has one of the highest COVID-19 infection rates in California and is on the state’s monitoring list because of its case load and limited hospital capacity.

Pacheco revealed the information at a news conference Wednesday announcing the hiring of hundreds of additional contact tracers to help get the county’s outbreak under control.

Health Department Investigating

Fresno County Health Director David Pomaville confirmed that investigators from his department have been in contact with people who believe they may have been infected at the Kerman-area park, but no firm data is available yet.

“We have anecdotal information about the transmission at the park, Pomaville said on Friday. “It’s not unlikely  that did occur based on the number of people that were there, and we are currently investigating that.”

A Twitter user posted a short video clip on July 27 showing a crowded parking lot at Skaggs Bridge Park and noted a lack of masking and social distancing.

Arambula Calls Park Crowding a Failure

Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula said conditions at the park reflect on the Board of Supervisors. He’s been a strong critic of the county’s response to COVID-19.

“The Skaggs Bridge Park mess reflects the failure of the Fresno County Supervisors to put a solid education and communication plan in motion weeks ago to help fight this once-in-a-century pandemic,” Arambula said. “Scientists and public health officials have advised us what to do, and that includes a consistent, steady message to people about the dangers of COVID-19.”

Arambula said the county’s announcement earlier in the week of a $5.5 million contract for COVID outreach and education is a step in the right direction.

“We are planning to have at least one deputy stationed there this weekend.”Fresno County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Tony Botti

“My hope is that Fresno County leaders – by  finally sending out trusted messengers to communicate with all diverse segments of our county and in multiple languages — has initiated an effort that will make a difference and prevent mass gatherings, whether it’s at Skaggs Bridge Park or any other location in our county,” Arambula said.

Fresno County Response

Public information officer Jordan Scott said the county has been hard at work throughout the pandemic delivering critical health messaging.

“However, the situation at Skaggs Bridge has much less to do with messaging and education – of which there is no shortage – as it does with individual responsibility,” Scott said. “It’s quite evident from the regular abuse visitors have hurled towards our staff trying to enforce restrictions and provide education, that the public has the info and simply refuses to comply.”

Fresno County Sheriff’s Office

While Pacheco said sheriff’s deputies visited the the park and blocked off some areas in an effort to reduce crowding, there are no plans to close the park. Sheriff’s department spokesman Tony Botti said deputies will continue to monitor the popular recreation spot.

“We are planning to have at least one deputy stationed there this weekend,” Botti said. “It will be to enforce illegal parking, unruly behavior or any other call for service that comes our way. We will not be involved in any crowd control.”

Botti says it’s up to the county’s public works and parks departments to determine how many people can go in at one time.

Limits on County Park Usage

County parks capacities have been reduced to 50% since May. Officials say the policy is designed to promote social distancing.

The county has also posted signs throughout the parks system to educate visitors on COVID-19 and encourage the use of masks when distancing can’t be achieved.

A sign at Skaggs Bridge Park advises visitors of parking limitations. (GV Wire/Jim Jakobs)