Urgent help arrives in Central Valley with state strike force, $52 million

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The Central Valley is now the focus for a coronavirus crackdown coming from the governor's office state. A state strike force arrived in Fresno County Monday.

"Disproportionately this disease is impacting our diverse communities, disproportionately impacting the Latino community, disproportionately impacting the community in the Central Valley," said Gov. Gavin Newsom.

RELATED: California sees decline in COVID-19 cases, but not in the Central Valley

Coronavirus cases are spiking in the Central Valley and hospitals are running out of room for patients.

The state has identified this area as a trouble spot where they can send some very specific help.

"That's why our targeted interventions disproportionately are focusing on essential workforce, on farmworkers, on critical workforce of hospitality, of retail sector and the like," the governor said.

The governor sent a state coronavirus strike force into the Valley. Their first order of business Monday involved a daylong meeting with Fresno County public health officials, trying to identify gaps in services.

The team of at least ten people -- from CalOES,Cal-OSHA, the state public health department and other agencies -- comes with the knowledge they gained cutting the infection rate in Imperial County over the last couple months.

They bring $52 million for contact tracing plus isolation and quarantine.

"I think this is the issue: Our essential workers are struggling when they have cases to find places to isolate and quarantine," said Fresno County public health director David Pomaville.

The focus is on essential workers, especially farm workers, who have to physically report to work, often with little chance for social distancing.

Community leaders say those workers sometimes fear losing their jobs if they call in sick, and they're sometimes hesitate to cooperate with government officials.

"There is a lot of distrust because of the dominant anti-immigrant narrative that existed before COVID," said Fresno Unified school board member Veva Islas.

That's why the strike team is already engaging with community-based organizations, like the Economic Opportunities Commission.

The EOC pitched a plan to a strike team member for bringing the testing to the farm workers.

"We are constantly bombarded by phone calls asking 'Where do I get tested?' 'Where is the free testing?'" said EOC health services director Jane Thomas.

The $5 million EOC plan would provide rapid testing for farm workers, so they'd get results the same day.

They'd also help with food and housing for people who test positive and need to isolate.

Imperial County's test positivity rate is now one-third what it was when the strike force went there.

Time will tell if the same model leads to similar success in the Central Valley.
Copyright © 2021 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.