Agriculture · COVID-19 · Fresno

Fresno Co. kickstarting ag worker vaccinations by end of January

Although California remains in the first phase of its COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan – which solely involves health care workers – Fresno County is taking steps to prepare for the vaccine rollout to the agriculture industry in the next phase. 

Joe Prado, a division manager with the Fresno County Department of Public Health, said Friday during a media briefing that the county is setting aside 3,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine to start vaccinating ag workers the week of Jan. 25. 

The county is looking at a few different models for distributing the vaccine to ag workers, and the initial rollout of the 3,000 doses will help the county and the various groups in the agriculture industry determine the best methods for distribution. 

“The reason why we want to do this is because we are looking towards the food and ag employees in February and March,” Prado said. “We know it’s not a one size fits all. We know we have to be very diverse in how we actually vaccinate our population.” 

However, in the meantime Fresno County has run into an issue with its freezer that is used to store the Moderna vaccine doses. 

Prado said the county had to take the freezer – which is brand new – offline Friday morning because it was not working properly. 

“We were able to move all of our doses over to our backup freezer and still keep them as a viable vaccine,” Prado said. 

With the county taking steps to fix the broken freezer, Prado said the department of public health will be unable to receive next week’s Moderna vaccine doses. 

Instead, the county will ship the doses directly to the health care providers who are able to receive them. 

“This really speaks to the importance of why we pushed to have so many medical providers approved to manage vaccine, because we want to be able to direct shipment to them and not be a storage facility,” Prado said. 

San Mateo Co. hospital offers aid

With Fresno County hospitals continuing to bear the brunt of the winter COVID-19 surge, a San Mateo County hospital is lending a helping-hand, offering extra ICU bed space for potential patients transfers. 

Fresno County currently has 640 hospitalized patients who have tested positive for COVID-19, as well as an additional 22 patients who are suspected of having the virus. 

Of that total, 102 of those patients are currently being cared for in the county’s ICU beds. 

While San Mateo County has a smaller population, under 800,000, the area has not taken as hard of a hit as the Central Valley. San Mateo County hospitals are currently housing 188 COVID-19 patients, which include only 15 individuals in the ICU. 

Fresno County Emergency Medical Services Director Dan Lynch said a hospital in Redwood City – he declined to specifically name the hospital – told Fresno County that it has a full-scale 10-bed facility that San Mateo County helped pay for that is currently not being utilized. 

“They’re offering them to us to use,” Lynch said. “I’m sure that they’ve gone to other counties as well that are having hardships.” 

Lynch said he has contacted two hospitals in Fresno County who are struggling with ICU space to let them know about the offer from the San Mateo County hospital. Lynch said the Fresno County hospitals will coordinate directly with the San Mateo County hospital directly to transfer ICU patients, which is a complex process. 

“When you start thinking about the idea that we’ve got ICU beds available in another area, these are usually the most critical, the most complicated, complex patients that you’re trying to deal with in a facility, and it’s not just an easy process to move that type of a patient,” Lynch said. 

“It is a risky move when you’re moving them for a long distance. We do have the teams ambulance-wise to do that safely, as safely as possible, but there’s still a risk. And then the secondary part is you’re moving them away from their family, and there is still a decision to be made whether or not that occurs. So we won’t move patients against their will, of course. There’s a lot of different components that come into that.”

Daniel Gligich
Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.