As Hospitals Struggle, Fresno Leaders Reject Stronger Push on Masks, COVID Vaccines
With local hospitals again under severe strain due to surging COVID-19 cases, Fresno County’s top health official stood before the Fresno County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday advocating for a stronger public response, including mask and vaccine mandates.
“I really think that more can be done by Fresno County to require masking indoors and to require vaccine verification for employees and to do a formal program of weekly testing for those non-vaccinated,” said interim health officer Dr. Rais Vohra.
His suggestion was rejected by three board members, while two others remained tight lipped on the issue.
Vaccine Doses and Transmission Rates Both up in Fresno County
As vaccination rates in Fresno County climb, transmission rates for COVID remain at a peak — seriously impacting Fresno County’s healthcare system.
“Our system is still paralyzed and is at a standstill, as we’re trying to move a huge number of patients through this healthcare system that is completely overwhelmed,” Emergency Medical Services Director Dan Lynch said at a recent media briefing.
With 42.3 cases per 100,000 population, and a 10.8 positivity rate, Fresno County is experiencing significantly higher infections than other metropolitan areas in the state.
Vohra suggested masking to keep the rate of infection and hospitalizations down.
“The more indoor masking we have going on, the more disease gets driven down below 5% positivity rate which is now at 10% to 11% positivity rate,” said Vohra.
Related Story: First Responders Nationwide Resist COVID Vaccine Mandates
Health Officials Suggest Stricter Safety Protocols
In the meeting, Vohra suggested several changes that county leaders could implement through “aggressive education and media coverage.”
Some of those measures include campaigning for stricter protocols like requiring masking indoors, educating community members on how to wear masks properly and seeking out employers and elected officials to help push the message across that vaccines and masks are safe, and effective.
“We definitely need to intensify indoor masking, whether that should be a recommendation, or a requirement, or a mandate or a policy – that’s really something that we can discuss, said Vohra.
Vohra said other counties across the state that have passed masking mandates are now seeing a decline in cases. However, he also acknowledged that the COVID surge in the San Joaquin Valley lags behind other regions in the state.
Related Story: While Valley Hospitals Confront Soaring COVID Costs, Feds Sit on Aid
Supervisors Question Mandate Effectiveness
Supervisor Nathan Magsig agrees that vaccines are effective, but said he does not support mandates.
“With a mandate, if there is no evidence that clearly demonstrates that you are somehow going to prove that it is going to move that surge in a direction or shows a curve in the next 7 days, I become a bit skeptical of a mandate for the sake of a mandate,” said Magsig.
He said he has faith that Fresno residents will make decisions that are in the best interest for themselves, their kids, and their loved ones.
Supervisor Buddy Mendes agreed with Magsig, saying, “people have choices, people are free.”
Board Chairman Steve Brandau congratulated Fresno health officials, proclaiming they have been doing an “excellent job” and promised he would look into ways of showing appreciation for healthcare workers working through the latest surge.
However, when it came to a masking mandate, Brandau, added his voice to those opposed to the intervention.
“Like Supervisor Magsig, I am not really inclined to look at the mask mandate side of these issues, although I understand the case for it,” said Brandau.
Related Story: COVID Surges in Fresno. No Hospital Beds Available.