Fresno County Interim Health Officer Dr. Rais Vohra signed a health order Thursday effectively mirroring the directive from California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision on Wednesday to close indoor operations in a variety of businesses for most of the state in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Vohra followed Newsom’s lead and ordered Fresno County to close indoor operations at restaurants, wineries, tasting rooms, movie theaters, family entertainment centers, zoos, museums and cardrooms, and the order directs those sectors to conduct business outside if possible.
The order also requires all brewpubs, breweries, bars and pubs to fully close all operations until the state gives the green light to reopen, which Newsom indicated would be three weeks.
In his COVID-19 briefing Thursday, Vohra said the order addresses the recent uptick in positive coronavirus cases seen in the county and state.
“I really think that this is a good idea,” Vohra said. “This shows that we’re actually looking at the data on a real-time basis, and as data indicates that some of the metrics that we pay attention to – such as positive case counts, the positivity rate of the testing that we do and some of the feedback that we get from our medical providers and some of our hospitals – that all of that factors into the decisions that we make on a day-to-day basis.
“And this is, in my opinion, the right step to take at this time to continue to protect and safeguard the health of the public throughout our county.”
Vohra said the county will work with businesses to help them understand the order and make sure that they make changes as soon as possible.
“We’re really expecting compliance, and we’ve had nothing but great relationships with our partners in these industries,” Vohra said. “We’re hoping that they understand the need for making these changes. Whenever there’s gray areas, we’ll certainly work with them to make sure that they are in compliance with the state mandate that was released earlier this week.”
The order said that any violators could be subject to imprisonment or a fine of up to $1,000 per violation per day.
As Newsom announced Wednesday, the state has assembled a “strike team” of state agencies – including the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and CalOSHA – to enforce the state’s order.
Sources told The Sun later on Wednesday that Fresno will serve as a hub for one such strike team.
Fresno County Public Health director David Pomaville said the county has not been in contact with the state about enforcing the orders, but he fully expects those agencies to be active in the business community.
“We do communicate fairly often with both CalOSHA and ABC – there’s just a lot of overlap in the regulatory programs, but as far as the strike team mobilization, we’ve not been notified that they’re specifically going to be here,” Pomaville said. “But, again, they have regional offices here in Fresno, so I would expect that they would be out.”
Vohra also discussed the challenges of activating the county’s alternative care site – located at the Fresno Convention Center – if necessary.
The alternative care site holds about 250 beds, but Vohra fears the county will not have enough people to staff it.
“The difficulty will come with staffing,” Vohra said. “It’s not just the number of spaces or beds that you have, you have to have people that actually staff and take care of the patients. And that’s where we really anticipate we’re going to run into some challenges, because by definition at the time that we open up that alternative care site, it will basically mean that we’ve gone through all the surge protocols and the expansions that the hospitals themselves are able to offer.
“And so by definition, we will have staffing shortages at the time that we need to activate the alternative care site.”
Vohra said the department over the next few weeks will look into the possibility of asking the state for extra help and resources to staff the facility, if the case numbers rise and overwhelm hospitals.
Fresno Co. coronavirus numbers
Fresno County reported 337 new positive cases Thursday out of 1,913 tests performed, making the positivity rate 17.6%.
Thursday’s positivity rate is much higher than usual for the county. The department reported a 6.6% positivity rate on Tuesday and a 9.7% positivity rate Wednesday, and for the last few weeks had hovered around 8%.
Fresno County has reported 5,626 total positive cases, with 4,244 currently active. The county reported two more fatalities, bringin the total to 77.
From data provided by the state, last updated Wednesday, Fresno County had 125 coronavirus patients hospitalized, including 32 in the ICU.