SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — Hoping to get food flowing from fields to those in need, California Governor Gavin Newsom said Wednesday farmers and ranchers are rushing to provide up to 21 million pounds monthly to overburdened food banks.
Spurred by the statewide ban of on-site dining, California’s $50 billion agricultural industry has seen a 50% drop in commercial demand in recent weeks. With limited ability to sell produce and meat products, Newsom said more than 120 producers have begun divvying their hauls to food banks which have simultaneously seen a 70% demand during the pandemic.
Newsom said the partnership includes tax breaks for farmers and will be facilitated by federal grants and philanthropic donations.
“The announcement today is to work with the ranchers, work with the farmers to connect them to the food banks and do so in a way that jumpstarts our capacity to deliver nutritious food,” Newsom said during a briefing.
The state has already delivered 900,000 “food boxes” filled with fresh California produce and meat products in recent weeks with the help of a $20 million emergency grant. Each box contains enough to feed a family of four for 3-4 days, and Newsom says up to 200 more farmers could sign up for the program.
Newsom applauded the California Department of Agriculture for prioritizing the existing program and striving to assist both farmers and nonprofits.
“Our farmers this year have gone through quite a shockwave like all of us have, but they’re working every day to continue the kind of bountiful nutritious productivity that is a hallmark of California,” said Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
Newsom also announced recipients of California’s food assistance program, CalFresh, can now buy products online from Amazon and Walmart. He said the change will allow up to 4 million Californians more opportunities to buy in bulk and that more vendors are expected to join the program.
The pandemic has caused unprecedented stress on California’s unemployment reserves, with Newsom stating Wednesday the state has received 3.7 million claims since March 12. He said the state has already paid out $6 billion and expects the number to rise as gig workers and self-employed Californians are now able to file for unemployment.
Unsurprisingly the state’s unemployment website has routinely buckled due to the added strain, causing further anxiety to Californians fresh out of work.
The governor said he is “deeply aware” of the problematic website but promised the state was “trying to get its arms around the unprecedented volume” created by the pandemic.
“We went from 2,500 applications a day just a few months ago, to just yesterday 235,000 applications,” Newsom said of the surge.
Counties reported a total of 78 new coronavirus deaths overnight, bringing the state’s death toll to 1,887. Hospitalizations and intensive care patients increased slightly, and Newsom said the state’s available ventilator inventory is 10,500.
In Los Angeles County, over 22,000 infected citizens mean “physical distancing will be our new normal for quite some time,” according to county Department of Health Services director Dr. Christina Ghaly.
On Wednesday, 56 new deaths were reported along with 1,541 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 infections according to LA County Public Health. In total, 1,056 are dead and 22,485 Angelenos are infected.
Officials have begun discussions on relaxing stay-at-home orders in the coming weeks for the county’s 10.4 million citizens, but stress physical distancing and face masks will still be part of everyone’s lives.
Nearly everyone in LA County would contract Covid-19 if physical distancing was removed heading into summer, according to public health officials.
“If we were to pare that back the situation would be dire,” said Ghaly.
As state officials brace for a gradual reopening of the California economy, director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer said everyone should continue to act like the virus is still being spread among their community.
“If we fail and we reopen as we need to and we’re not able to do a really good job on physical distancing, a really good job on infection control, a really good job on testing, tracing contacts, and isolating and quarantine, we will see a spike, because there is still a lot of infection in our communities,” said Ferrer.
This would be the year to get a flu shot, she said, so people can better manage the upcoming flu season to avoid a second outbreak of Covid-19 in the fall and winter.
The rate of infection currently spreading throughout LA County is highest among low-income communities. This is especially true for Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders and black residents, Ferrer said, calling the trends “troubling and great concern” for health officials.
The data also suggests more affluent communities have great access to testing, which means health officials will need to ramp up testing in low-income neighborhoods.
California is now processing over 20,000 tests per day and Newsom said he will give an update on ongoing contact tracing efforts at his Thursday briefing.