Fresno County responds to COVID-19 in rural communities, hopes to add 3 testing sites

Fresno County is working to bring three additional testing sites to rural communities.
FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- For 16-year-old William Gomez, the burden of the loss of his father, Guillermo, is difficult to bear.

"Without him we're basically nothing," Gomez says.

Joined by his mother Elvia, the grief-stricken teen says his dad epitomized joy. The 39-year-old farm worker and sole provider for his family spent years picking fruit in Fresno County before becoming a tractor operator. His loved ones are still unsure of how he contracted COVID-19, but they want to make sure other families don't face the same tragedy.

"After he got intubated, we called him every day to make sure they put his phone next to his ear so he could listen to our voices so that he could have the strength to get out of the hospital alive," Gomez says.

That day would never come.

After 6 hard-fought weeks in the hospital, Guillermo lost his battle.

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According to data collected by Fresno County, Latinos are disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus.

Fresno County Department of Public Health Program Manager Wayne Fox says, "The number of positive tests that we've had - about 30% have been in our rural areas."

Outside of the City of Fresno, county data shows the zip codes hardest hit by the pandemic include Mendota, Raisin City, and Parlier.

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Fox says, "A big majority of people in that area are farmworkers and there are a lot of positive tests in that area."

While there is currently no way to track the connection between positive cases and occupations, the county is working to bring three additional testing sites to rural communities.

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Because of how vital agricultural workers are to our nation's food chain, Nisei Farmers League president Manuel Cunha says they wanted to stay one step ahead of the virus by collaborating with employers to space out work and break areas.

He adds, "Homeland Security, Sheriffs Department and Police are not going to be there in those clinics. They're not going to be there. They're not going to be that inhumane."

They will even visit the fields and packing houses to hand out personal protective equipment and sanitizers for workers and their families at home.

"We don't want a crisis in our industry and that's why we're doing everything," said Cunha, "If there are no workers, there's no processing or harvesting so that means a farmer can harvest but only very little."

On top of making sure workers understand their rights and benefits, Cunha says they encourage everyone to get tested and notify their employer if they feel sick. Now he's calling on the county to make sure testing sites accommodate agricultural worker hours.

Cunha adds, "They have a right and they deserve to be taken care of and be given the same type of healthcare as everyone else."

Pediatrician Dr. Christian Faulkenberry says the UCSF Fresno COVID-19 equity project is bringing testing and other health screenings to underserved areas in Fresno, specifically communities of color.

She adds, "We're seeing our rates going way up and it's going to take all of us to make a difference."
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