Race to vaccinate more people continues as COVID-19 surge overwhelms Central Valley hospitals

CBS47 News

FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. (KGPE) – As hospitals in the Central Valley continue to battle through this latest COVID-19 surge, the effort to vaccinate more people continues.

More than 400 patients with COVID-19 are hospitalized in Fresno County, per state data. And 92 are in the ICU.

Dr. Mohamed Fayed works at Community Regional Medical Center in pulmonary disease and critical care medicine.

Fayed said Wednesday morning that of those being admitted into the hospital, 86% are unvaccinated. And in the ICU, the impact of not being vaccinated is felt even more.

“Personally, the people that I’ve seen in the ICU, since I work in the ICU, are all unvaccinated. All of them,” Fayed said.

Per Fresno County’s latest data, 63% of those 12 years old and older in the county are vaccinated with at least one dose. While the county leads the Central Valley with vaccination rates, it lags behind other parts of the state.

Per San Francisco County, 87% of those 12 years old and older are vaccinated with at least one dose. In LA County, per the County of LA Public Health, 75% of those in the same age group are vaccinated with at least one dose.

“You could talk about communities of color, you could talk about socioeconomic disadvantages, access to healthcare,” said Dr. Kenny Banh, the director of the UCSF Fresno Mobile HeaL COVID-19 Equity Project. “There’s a lack of healthcare infrastructure in the Valley. There’s not enough providers, not enough health systems.”

UCSF Fresno offers testing and vaccines at the UC Merced Fresno Center in front of Fashion Fair Mall at no cost.

The demand for testing at the site has risen significantly in the last couple of weeks. Banh said they’re administering around 500 tests a day, and on some days, around 600. And he added that the positivity rate is up to 20% at the site, meaning one in 5 people are testing positive for COVID-19.

On Wednesday around noon, the line for testing was significantly longer than the vaccination line. Despite the demand for testing, Banh said the wait time averages around 20 minutes.

Banh said they’re vaccinating around 115 people a day. Now the effort continues to reach people who are still hesitant through mobile clinics.

On Wednesday, a vaccine clinic in partnership with UCSF Fresno took place at Fresno City College, where students completed their vaccine series — this as the vaccine mandate at the college kicks in.

And at Clovis Community Thursday, a clinic is also planned with a $150 voucher incentive for students who are enrolled.

“I think it’s a bit of an incentive, but it’s probably more of us saying thank you for those who did that,” said Gurdeep Hebert, the dean of students at Clovis Community.

The clinic will take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“We want to make sure that especially as we’re going back to school and life, that we make it as easy and accessible and get to those groups because they’re not only gonna get sick and have the risk for COVID and all that goes with it but also the risk for spreading is really high amongst that group,” Banh said.

As this surge continues to strain the hospital system in the Central Valley, those seeing the impacts of low vaccination rates are asking the public once again to do their part.

“The vaccination rate versus the unvaccination rate, this will really make a huge amount of impact on us specifically and to the hospital. The more people who get vaccinated, I think the less hospitalization you’re gonna see,” Fayed said.

Banh also works in the emergency department at CRMC.

“I wish that you could follow me around in my different jobs, working in the ER, in the hospital, out here. I think the general public doesn’t really get to see that. They don’t see the filled emergency rooms, they don’t see the ICUs that are packed, the people waiting in the hallways. A lot of people want it to be over, I get the fatigue. I’m tired of COVID, I don’t want to be out here talking about it. I wish that I didn’t have to be but yet here we are, so how do we get past that point is really where we’re at,” Banh said. “We know we’re at crisis in hospital ICU levels, we know the best way to prevent this is with increased vaccination rates.”

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