Political fights, confusion reign in U.S. coronavirus hot spot – Los Angeles Times

Kern County has become one of the worst coronavirus hot areas in the country, with infections spreading quickly through food processing plants, farming neighborhoods and other locations in Bakersfield and little rural towns.
The response to the crisis has been obstructed by growing fights in between state and local authorities, with Kern County leaders grumbling that they have actually been stymied by blended messages and governmental red tape.
The state has done a bad job clarifying who is supposed to enforce state-mandated constraints on services and neighborhood gatherings, and has actually sent out confusing– and often contradictory– assistance from multiple agencies reacting to the crisis, stated Kern County Public Health Services Director Matt Constantine.
” We spend a lot of our time translating and seeking explanation,” Constantine stated.

” We know theres a lot happening with the state. We hope theres a time coming soon where we can help the neighborhood and collaborate remain safe, but that hasnt taken place.”

Brian Ferguson, a spokesperson for the California Governors Office of Emergency Services, stated the state interacts routinely with Kern County about taming the outbreak and that “the finest, fastest and most direct kind of enforcement [of public health guidelines] is always at the local level.”
Kern County is one of the reddest places in liberal California. Its history is woven with the plight of Dust Bowl refugees who came to operate in the fields and brought their conservative, deeply spiritual views with them, and it is the famous birthplace of the Bakersfield noise and Merle Haggard.
Doubts about the state and the coronaviruss shutdown orders are common. 2 Bakersfield medical professionals have amassed national attention as part of a group called Americas Frontline Doctors, which made a widely shared video promoting hydroxychloroquine as a cure for COVID-19 and saying masks were inefficient. It was retweeted by President Trump and later eliminated by Facebook, YouTube and Twitter for containing false information.

Matt Constantine, Kern County Public Health Services Director

Registered nurse Debbie Davidson takes a test sample at the COVID-19 screening website at the Kern County Fairgrounds on Thursday in Bakersfield.
( Brian van der Brug/ Los Angeles Times).

Farmworkers Alma Guedea, left, and Armando Bravo evacuate newly collected grapes on Thursday in Delano, Calif.
( Brian van der Brug/ Los Angeles Times).

Farmworkers Jose Eme, right, and Blas Hernandez load newly collected grapes onto a truck in Delano, Calif.
( Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times).

Hernan Hernandez, director of the California Farmworker Foundation.

” Were that susceptible population that required attention.”.

Nurse Debyron Pearson explains how to gather a sample at the COVID-19 testing website at the Kern County Fairgrounds in Bakersfield.
( Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times).

Ferguson stated enforcement of health orders is finest done at the local level by health departments and police. The state, he said, coordinates with regional jurisdictions when there is a “space or absence of resources” and in dealing with serial culprits.
Because early July, when the strike teams were formed, the state has made 991,696 contacts with businesses throughout California via in-person sees, telephone call and emails and carried out 1,128 enforcement actions, he included.
Law enforcement authorities in Kern County said they are motivating voluntary compliance and education rather than imposing state orders.
” There are absolutely concerns on whos enforcing what. I believe thats throughout the board, no matter what county youre in,” said Sgt. Robert Pair, a spokesman for the Bakersfield Police Department.
Pair said he thought the state had actually “taken the lead in enforcement.” He knew of one case, early in the pandemic, in which the county health department asked Bakersfield authorities to handle a health club that refused to close.

The rural, agricultural Central Valley has turned into one of the locations hardest hit by coronavirus in the U.S, with the infection spreading quickly amongst low-wage, mostly Latino important employees, consisting of those working in agriculture and food processing. In Kern County, COVID-19 cases have been reported at Primex Farms, a pistachio farm in Wasco and Bakersfield-based carrot giants Bolthouse Farms and Grimmway Farms.
On Sunday, Kern County had the second-highest per capita infection rate in California, behind Merced County, with 723 cases per 100,000 people over the last 2 weeks, according to The Times coronavirus tracker. By comparison, Los Angeles County had 297 cases per 100,000 individuals over that exact same period.
As of Sunday, Kern County had actually confirmed 26,570 cases and 204 deaths.
In recent weeks, Gov. Gavin Newsom has targeted the Central Valley for extra resources to fight the infection, including so-called “strike teams” and the allocation of some $52 million to improve testing, tracing and seclusion procedures.
Navigating the states various firms has actually been a quagmire, stated Constantine, the public health director.

” We know theres a lot going on with the state. We hope theres a time coming quickly where we can assist the community and coordinate stay safe, however that hasnt happened,” he stated.
In early July, Constantine received an e-mail from the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency saying a “multi-agency state enforcement strike group” would be visiting Kern County companies to assist enhance compliance with health orders and to work with the county to “utilize enforcement to address companies who are declining to comply with safe reopening guidelines.”.
The e-mail, which was shared with The Times, instructs county officials to call the states Department of Industrial Relations to report particular organizations that required to be examined.
Constantine received a separate email from the California Governors Office of Emergency Services with contacts for multiple firms along with a “central e-mail address” for counties on the states coronavirus see list to request help dealing with particular sectors or companies. Another email about on-site enforcement originated from the state health department.
The Kern County health department has gotten numerous problems about services violating health orders, Constantine stated. Given that April 6, the county has actually sent 539 first-warning letters to companies and 120 second warnings. It has actually reported 37 businesses that decline to comply to the state strike team given that July, he stated.
What occurred to those problems?
” We do not know,” Constantine said. “Thats the coordination that we require.”.
Ferguson, the spokesman for the Governors Office of Emergency Services, told The Times that concerns about county-specific enforcement actions need to be sent to strike group agencies straight. The states department of public health referred The Times back to Cal OES. The states Labor and Workforce Development Agency and its Department of Industrial Relations did not react to queries about what took place to the Kern County problems.
Inquired about county leaders aggravation over having to handle multiple companies, Ferguson stated: “That seems like a coordination issue rather than an L.A. Times story.”.

In April, the City Council in the oil town of Taft pressed to resume businesses ahead of the state-mandated timeline. The towns mayor penned a letter with 4 Kern County supervisors and state Senate Republican Leader Shannon Grove of Bakersfield, asking Newsom to empower county health officers to figure out when they could resume.

Constable Youngblood said it made no sense to him to punish organizations and unmasked individuals while the state is launching countless inmates, consisting of violent transgressors, to curb the spread of COVID-19 in prisons.
In mid-May, Youngblood posted a video to his Facebook page in which he stood in uniform in front of his Texas longhorn bull, Buford, and said his deputies patrolling the streets did not seem to be getting contaminated.
” I believe that herd resistance might be the trick to this,” Youngblood stated. The camera zoomed in on Buford. The constable added: “And thats no bull.”.
Critics of aggressive stay-at-home orders have required herd immunity, the concept being that ultimately a sufficient percentage of the population will have endured COVID-19 and end up being immune, in turn protecting the rest of the uninfected population by disrupting the spread of the infection. But herd resistance would cause massively increased death tolls, health experts state.

Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood told The Times that although he motivates masks and social distancing, his department is not implementing state orders limiting events or services or needing facial coverings in public.
” Were not going to be the mask cops. Were not going to be the church authorities. Were merely not,” Youngblood stated.
He figured the state most likely wants Kern County were not part of California due to the fact that it is so conservative.
” Weve constantly been kind of the odd man out in the state of California,” he said. “People have their own beliefs.

Youngblood told The Times he stands by the video, and “I have my beliefs, however Im simply a tap-dancing monkey with a badge on and not a professional.”.
In another video prior to Memorial Day, the sheriff said that although businesses were starting to reopen, it “doesnt suggest the infection is gone.” Individuals still needed to socially distance and wash their hands “because we dont want to go backward.”.
Jay Tamsi, president of the Kern County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, stated companies are trying their finest to stay up to date with state, city and county guidelines and guidelines, but “its a lot to take in.”.
On top of the guvs standards, dining establishments need to make an application for separate city and county allows to offer food outside, even while indoor dining is prohibited, Tamsi said. In recent days, he said, numerous organizations that belong to the Hispanic Chamber were cautioned or cited for not having correct permits– although they implemented social distancing, other and mask-wearing safety requirements simply to stay open.
He added that the states requirement that barbershops, nail beauty salons and restaurants run outdoors is ruthless in the Central Valley, where temperatures hit 112 degrees today.
Late last month, the Delano-based California Farmworker Foundation, dealing with the county and Good Samaritan Hospital, began providing mobile COVID-19 screening to farmworkers at their worksites in the fields.

Its being done, in part, to cut through the confusion of setting up a test, which includes browsing government websites in English and having trustworthy internet and an e-mail address, said Hernan Hernandez, director of the California Farmworker Foundation. For individuals who lack legal migration status, it can feel like too big a threat to provide individual details to the state, he stated.

Hernandez and county authorities said community spread, specifically in multifamily housing and at family gatherings, has actually been a significant problem. After the economy largely reopened around Memorial Day, Hernandez began as soon as again seeing quinceañeras, baptisms and household suppers in farmworker neighborhoods, even as individuals tried to be careful at work.
” The Latino culture, we operate as a collective,” Hernandez stated. “We see a lot of neighborhood activity. We love to celebrate with bands, and it got to the point where people were putting bands in living spaces, attempting to be subtle. You look outdoors and see a lot of cars and trucks.”.
Hernandez said that while “were lastly seeing that coordination” with local and state officials and community companies, the state ought to have focused on the Central Valley much faster due to the fact that of its demographics and poverty line.
” They might have seen this coming,” Hernandez stated. “We knew this valley was going to be a hot area. We need a lot of resources. We require a lot of education. Were that susceptible population that required attention.”.
Times staff authors Sean Greene, Rong-Gong Lin II and Iris Lee contributed to this report.

” Weve constantly been kind of the odd guy out in the state of California,” he stated. The Kern County health department has gotten hundreds of complaints about services breaking health orders, Constantine stated. Since April 6, the county has sent out 539 first-warning letters to organizations and 120 second warnings. It has actually reported 37 organizations that refuse to comply to the state strike team given that July, he said.
The states Labor and Workforce Development Agency and its Department of Industrial Relations did not respond to questions about what occurred to the Kern County complaints.

Farmworker Javier Salazar, right, enjoys menudo and warm tortillas with colleagues in a field during a lunch break from gathering grapes on Thursday in Delano, Calif.
( Brian van der Brug/ Los Angeles Times).