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Among COVID-19 challenges facing county officials: Lack of communication with state strike teams

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The Kern County Department of Public Health held its weekly press briefing Thursday morning, touching all the bases we’ve come to expect — hospitalizations, continuing to rise steadily; assistance for small business in the form of forgivable loans and free protective equipment; the dire need for antibody-rich blood plasma from those who’ve recovered from COVID-19 and more.

But something new has emerged, too: frustration with the state’s lack of communication and collaboration with their partners in this fight, county government.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s so-called strike teams, the multi-agency squads enforcing the state’s coronavirus-fighting restrictions, have been in Kern County a number of times since their creation this spring. How many times, we don’t know — and Kern County officials can’t say with any certainty either. Because they don’t know.

Communication is in short supply and collaboration almost nonexistent. So says Kern County Chief Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop.

“The relationship between governments, particularly local governments and state governments, or whether it’s local state or federal, there’s a bit of a gap, and coordination is not always where you want it to be,” Alsop said at Thursday’s briefing. “So, yes, I think that there’s always room for improvement, certainly in dealing with this pandemic and everything that’s involved with it. We would like to see coordination improved.

” …We would like more and more frequent and probably more quality and detailed communication, maybe more proactive communication from the state,” Alsop said.

The roles of state and county governments are at least somewhat defined. The state’s strike teams wield the power to fine and-or suspend or revoke licenses — essentially putting businesses out of business. County governments have been assigned the role of public education. But the twain seems not to meet often, and Alsop is not the only chief county administrator in California who is frustrated by that. Officials in Monterey County, to name one, also recently expressed frustration over the modus operandi of that area’s state strike team — unannounced, uncoordinated visits.

“Our position is that we communicate to the best that we can with the state,” Alsop said. “Yes, there’s always room for improvement.”

You know the saying … there’s no “I” in team. Well, from all appearances, when it comes to the governor’s strike team, there’s no “county” in team either.

KGET reached out to state officials — including alcohol beverage control and the state occupational safety and health administration — but by air time had not received a response.

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