Valley's COVID-19 surge has White House task force concerned

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The Valley's recent surge in cases has caught the attention of one of our nation's top doctors.

White House Coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx identified the Central Valley as an area of concern in a call with state and local health officials.

Valley public health directors are saying this comes as no surprise.

The surge in cases is something that they've been tracking and trying to control since early July.

RELATED: Coronavirus: Tracking Central California COVID-19 cases

While they say they wish the Valley were getting national attention for better news, this is an opportunity to get advice from around the country on how to combat this virus.

Madera County's public health director, Sarah Bosse, says the Valley presents unique challenges.

"There are some big puzzles that we need to piece together," she says.

The team is concerned about language and literacy barriers, gatherings, congregate living, and essential workers in the ag industry.

"They continued to work, and we continued to provide important agricultural food supply to the rest of the country, so everyone is interested in the Central Valley continuing to be able to work, but what does that look like in COVID when people don't necessarily have the resources," says Bosse.

One success story for rapid contact tracing - Madera's Public Health Department teamed up with an unlikely partner: the sheriff's office. Their teams already knew how to investigate people's contacts. But now, instead of stopping crime, they are trying to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

"We are easily able to leverage that experience to fight a different criminal, that is, COVID," says Madera County Sheriff Tyson Pogue.

Adds Fresno County's public health officer, Dr. Rais Vohra:
"We need to think outside of the box and see how can we meet people where they are, and address their needs."

Vohra says they feel supported by the governor's task force at the start of what he calls a months-long intervention.

"I'm very proud of my team but my team is exhausted and we're running out of ideas," he says. "We're fighting a war and really this is humans vs virus."

The county is now working with law enforcement to see what help they can provide.

"We hope everyone rises to the occasion steps up and lift the Central Valley out of this crisis and onto the road to recovery," says Vohra.

When it comes to everyone doing their part, in addition to wearing masks and social distancing, be engaged. The health department is revamping its website for more community engagement, saying the community and public health need to work together as a team.
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