COVID-19 · Fresno

Fresno Co. hospitals starting to see lighter coronavirus load

While still more impacted than last summer’s surge, Fresno County’s health care system is in a significantly better place than it was a few weeks ago, giving health officials hope that the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic is in the past. 

Fresno County has 500 total hospitalized COVID-19 patients (472 who have tested positive for the virus, 28 who are suspected of being COVID-positive), according to the latest count provided by the state. 

Of that total, 92 patients are being cared for in the ICU, and Fresno County has 12 ICU beds available. 

In early January, Fresno County had about 650 hospitalized patients, including over 120 of them in the ICU. 

While the current numbers are still higher than the surge that occurred last July and August, Fresno County Interim Health Officer Dr. Rais Vohra – whose day job is in the emergency room at Community Regional Medical Center in downtown Fresno – is confident that Fresno County is on the right trajectory. 

“I got to work in the emergency department midweek, and it was great,” said Vohra in a public health briefing Friday. “We saw a lot of different types of patients, including COVID patients, but there was a tangible change that I noticed just in the overall flow of how the department was doing at my hospital, and really the attitudes and the perspectives of the staff, which is so important for me to keep in touch with. 

“And I think that everyone in the health care system now feels like we are on a good trajectory. That the numbers are going in the right direction. There’s obviously just a lot of sick people still in the ICUs. There’s obviously a lot of worried families all over the Central Valley who have relatives that are either at risk or genuinely sick in our hospitals. But beyond that the number of new cases is certainly going in the right direction, and we hope that that translates into a good trajectory for the number of hospitalizations and ICU numbers that we’ll see here in Fresno County.” 

The overall case numbers in the county back up the thought that the county is on the right path and possibly out of the woods for good. Fresno County is averaging 597 new COVID-19 over the last two weeks, about 800 less than the peak in late December. 

The decreased number of hospitalizations and lower case rate comes in spite of the COVID-19 distribution in Fresno County being at a bit of a standstill. 

Fresno County had to close two of its mass-vaccination sites (Fresno Fairgrounds and Sierra Orthopedic Medical Center) this week due to the limited supply made available from the state. 

However, Vohra said the county is hopefully going to reopen the fairgrounds site next week for first-dose patients, which will ideally include the tier of people aged 65 and older. 

If the county is unable to reopen the fairgrounds site next week, the plan will be to get it up and running the following week, Vohra said. 

An official from Sierra Orthopedic Medical Center said the north Fresno site will reopen next week to distribute the second dose to patients who previously received their first dose there. 

Overall, Fresno County has received 99,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine from the state and is expecting an additional 14,000 on Feb. 2. 

“I think overall our case rates are going in the right direction, and that should give us all hope,” Vohra said. “Overall, we are vaccinating our most vulnerable and elderly and essential workers, and that should, again, be a cause just for a little bit of celebration. But we can’t let our guard down, and we can’t get reckless. We can’t cut corners around what we know is the good science that keeps people safe, and I hope that people take that to heart.”

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.