Emails reveal back-and-forth between Newsom admin., Fresno Co. over Reedley lab response

The emails reveal, among other things, how Reedley city officials were largely left in the dark by state and local officials over how to respond to media inquiries about the illegal, Chinese-run lab.

The California Department of Public Health has adamantly denied it did not muzzle Fresno County’s public communications regarding the secret Reedley biologics lab. 

Emails obtained by The Sun offer greater clarity into the CDPH’s involvement, including a request that Fresno County to not reveal that law enforcement was investigating the lab. 


The backstory: During Tuesday’s Fresno County Board of Supervisors meeting, Supervisor Nathan Magsig said the California Department of Public Health told Fresno County to not put out a press release that the county had drafted in regards to the Reedley lab. 

  • Fresno County Public Information Officer Sonja Dosti provided different information to The Sun following the meeting, clarifying that the county had crafted a holding statement to provide to any media that asked about the story. 
  • Dosti said the state did not force Fresno County to omit any details in its holding statement, instead offering recommendations for what the county should say. Other Fresno County officials told The Sun that the state’s involvement was more coercive than presented. 

CDPH crafts the statement: Emails between the CDPH and Fresno County reveal that the state made contact with the county on March 24 to connect regarding the situation in Reedley and the surrounding investigation. Ali Bay, the Deputy Director for the Office of Communications at the CDPH initiated the contact between the state and the county. 

  • Dosti asked Bay if she had a draft of the holding statement that they could review and possibly amend. 
  • On March 28, Bay sent the CDPH’s approved holding statement, which reads as follows: “CDPH is working with local, state and federal partners, as well as law enforcement authorities, to assess the situation at the warehouse and the Department’s Food and Drug Branch has launched an investigation into the manufacturing practices of the unlicensed company that was doing business from that location. This is an ongoing investigation that will take time to resolve and we are therefore unable to share additional details.” 

Reedley’s messaging would have differed from state’s: Nearly one month later, on April 24, Dosti reached out to the CDPH saying several agencies would be at the lab the following week and would be wearing personal protective equipment. She said her assumption is that they would stick with the CDPH statement if any questions arise until further notice. 

  • On April 26 Bay told Fresno County employees that the state would not add anything to the initial statement because of the active investigation. 
  • FCDPH Assistant Director Joe Prado emailed Reedley City Manager Nicole Zieba asking for her input. 
  • Zieba responded: “Fascinating that I now see this was created way back in March….thankfully no local media has come to the City’s door about it, or our message would have looked a bit different.” 

CDPH tells Fresno County to omit details: A Fresno County Public Health spokesperson reached out to Bay asking her to review the holding statement after the county revised it with input from the City of Reedley. 

  • Bay responded on May 1 with edits to the county’s revision, suggesting that the county remove the warehouse’s address from the statement and not mention personal protective equipment or law enforcement, “as we believe it could unnecessarily cause concern and questions.”

What they’re saying: Thursday, Bay sent the following statement to The Sun: “CDPH never asked Fresno County to withhold a press release on this issue, a fact that has already been corroborated by the county’s public information officer, and the claims being made by a county supervisor that the state asked for a news release be withheld are patently false. In fact, as is often the case in investigations involving multiple agencies, CDPH worked closely with the county to draft a holding statement should questions arise, and helped ensure that information was accurate and didn’t interfere with the state investigation, which is still underway. The state has worked side by side with local and federal authorities to protect public safety and public health throughout the course of this ongoing investigation and helped swiftly shut down the unlicensed warehouse.”

  • Magsig shot back at state public health officials, telling The Sun that email records demonstrate they exerted wide influence in how the County handled media response.
  • “Ultimately the County of Fresno followed the direction of both our state and Federal partners and there are email communications from March and April about what we the County should relay to the public and things that we should not,” Magsig said. 
  • Magsig pointed to the April email by Zieba  noting her surprise at the state’s reticence in its statement.
  • “Really the CDPH and other state agencies and federal agencies should be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with us when this became public knowledge. Instead, they left the County and City of Reedley to fend for ourselves. That really shouldn’t happen,” he added. 
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