Assemblyman says he wears a mask in public

Assemblyman Vince Fong (R-Bakersfield) endorses following Kern County's health and safety guidelines as the quickest route to economic recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Fong gave his message as guest speaker at the Ridgecrest Chamber of Commerce virtual "luncheon" Tuesday.

"I encourage everyone to follow the guidance issued by the Kern County public health," Fong said during the well-attended virtual Google meeting. "I wear a mask when I go out to public and private buildings. And I encourage everyone to wash their hands and to distance and do all the things that will limit the spread of COVID."

He added, "We have to do everything we can do to minimize our risk of getting COVID and to limit the spread of COVID in our community. That is the only way that we are going to get our economy fully reopened."

Slowing the spread of COVID-19 and growing the economy should not be mutually exclusive,  Fong said. 

Some people have created a "false choice," Fong said, mainly, " 'You either shut everything down or you grow the economy.' I think that in some ways we have to do both."

"I do believe that we need to look at all the data, but I believe our economy can and should be open," Fong said. 

He added that he has not seen any data that links the spread of COVID-19 to any particular industry. Instead he said, "my data shows that spread of COVID in a community is based on gatherings, family gatherings." 

Also, the data shows COVID-19 is spreading among young people, Fong said.

There have been predictable surges after each holiday: Memorial Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day and now likely the Fourth of July -- presumably linked to large gatherings, Fong said.

A shift in strategy for surge: from securing ICU beds to providing staff

The strategy to treat the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted since the beginning of the pandemic, Fong said.

In a nutshell, he said, "the rise in cases in Kern County is still a challenge for staffing but not for beds."

Early on the strategy was to "buy time for our medical system and our hospitals to prepare. They have done so. We have ICU beds, we have surge capacity. We have ventilators. So we are prepared for this surge. But this new surge has created a new dynamic in which we now have to deal with our medical staffing and the potential shortages of that."

In areas such as Bakersfield and Fresno and other parts of the state the challenge has become maintaining hospital staff to care for patients, he said.

"We need to have a certain number of nurses to maintain ratios to take care of the patients,” Fong said. 

Part of the difficulty is that when hospital staff is exposed to COVID-19, they have to take time off to be tested and cleared to re-enter the workforce, Fong said. 

"What's happening is that as more patients are coming into the hospital, to have a nurse or medical professional that's out for five to six days to wait for their test results, that's creating a challenge for the hospital," he said.

The problem is partially solved by bringing in traveling nurses, but with the demand throughout California there is an issue with adequate supply of personnel.

One solution is deploying rapid testing to clear nurses and medical professionals within a 24 to 48 hour period.

The state of the economy, schools and unemployment woes 

Fong also weighed in on California's economy in general. The effects of the business closures are made worse by what he described as poor communication on the part of Governor Gavin Newsom.

"I am sure a lot of you guys are trying to track what was happening yesterday," Fong said, referring to the initial announcement that Kern County was on the list for more business closures, prior to the announcement clarifying that it was not.

"Governor [Newsom] could communicate better with the business community," Fong said. "There needs to better signposts on criteria."

However, due to the rate of increase in hospitalizations, Fong does expect Kern County to be placed on the monitoring list for three consecutive days of not meeting the governor's metrics, most likely on Saturday, he said. 

All the back and forth is in his opinion creating uncertainty for the business community, Fong said.

“What the governor is doing is creating more uncertainty,” Fong said. “My view is we need to give businesses as much certainty as possible to recover."

Fong also talked about the hot-button issue of whether to reopen schools, saying children learn better in person and that he supports reopening schools in a five-day schedule while implementing best practices in sanitation and masking.

Finally, Fong called problems with the EDD unemployment benefits program reflects "a broken system. We are not prepared for this influx of individuals getting unemployment. [EDD's] utter failure in dealing with the bare minimum is just atrocious."

A major overhaul of EDD is needed, Fong said. He asked people having difficulties accessing their benefits to contact his office for help. 

Fong’s email is 

assemblymember.fong@assembly.ca.gov and phone number is 661-395-2995.