California Offers Hotel Rooms to Beleaguered Health Workers

California will use its bulk hotel booking program to offer free or discounted stays for health and other front-line workers who are afraid to go home and expose their loved ones to the novel coronavirus.

(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — California will offer free or discounted hotel stays to health care workers who are exposed to Covid-19 infected patients and fear spreading the virus to loved ones at home, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced Thursday.

“I’m pleased to announce an effort to directly support those health care workers, those front-line heroes, by providing them stipends and vouchers,” Newsom said during his daily press briefing.

The state will extend its bulk hotel room purchasing program, previously exclusive to California state government workers, to health care workers and first responders. The program includes 150 hotels in California. Low-wage workers will be eligible for 100% reimbursement, and higher-paid workers will get discounted stays, Newsom said.

The governor recounted stories of health care workers sleeping in cars overnight or spending their own money on hotel rooms to avoid going home and potentially exposing family members to the virus.

Newsom said the program will allow health care workers “to not worry about being out of pocket or worry about another night sleeping in their car so they can stay closer to people with needs in their community.”

The governor also applauded four airlines – United, Southwest, Alaska and Delta – for offering free airfare to health care workers who want to come to California to help the state respond to a surge in Covid-19 patients.

“I want to thank the airlines that have stepped up,” Newsom said.

The governor also defended his decision to share the state’s limited supply of ventilators with other states, saying California has a “moral and ethical imperative to save lives.”

According to Newsom, the state is only using 39.2% of its 11,747 ventilators, leaving more than 8,000 unused. The 500 ventilators being loaned to other states can be reused, and Newsom said the states assured him the ventilators will be returned to California.

“We can’t just sit on assets when we can save lives and help our fellow Americans,” Newsom said.

The governor also announced that although fishing season has been delayed in California, it will not be canceled. He said the state’s Fish & Wildlife Department was overwhelmed with phone calls yesterday from people concerned about the situation.

The state delayed the opening of ocean salmon fishing season, scheduled for April 4, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Other recreational fishing seasons are expected to be delayed as well.

“Just know we are not ending the season,” Newsom said. “We just want to delay it a little bit, and work with the counties to address the surge of interest and need to keep everyone safe.”

Additionally, the governor announced that 18,309 people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in California, an 8% increase since Wednesday. The governor also reported 50 new deaths since Wednesday, bringing the total number of Covid-19 fatalities statewide to 492.

The state saw a 4.1% increase in Covid-19 hospitalizations over the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 2,825. However, the number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care units dropped by nearly 2% to 1,132 patients.

The state also released a breakdown of Covid-19 infections and deaths by race.

Latinos, which make up 39% of California’s population, accounted for 30% of Covid-19 infections and 29% of deaths. Black residents comprise 6% of the state’s population and accounted for 6% of Covid-19 infections and 3% of deaths. Asians make up 15% of state’s residents and accounted for 14% of infections and 16% of deaths. White residents comprise 37% of the state’s population and accounted for 37% of infections and 43% of deaths.

Nearly a quarter of all Covid-related deaths in Los Angeles County involve elderly residents at nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

LA County Public Health officials announced 25 new deaths Thursday, bringing the county’s death toll to 223. Two health care professionals and one employee at a homeless shelter have died due to the virus, but the spread of the deadly infection is most prevalent among the elderly who have underlying health conditions and are living in nursing homes.

In total, 51 residents at these facilities have died according to Public Health director Barbara Ferrer. There have been at least one or more infections at 155 institutional settings, including nursing homes, shelters, treatment centers and jails. Overall, 716 positive cases have been reported including 343 residents and 373 employees and 23% involve elderly people in nursing facilities.

In total, 7,955 LA County residents have tested positive for the virus. Health officials saw 1,045 new cases in the last two days, including 20 homeless people, over 320 health care workers, 27 employees with the LA County Sheriff’s Department and 14 LA County Fire Department employees.

Meanwhile, 1,894 patients who tested positive needed to be hospitalized – a slight uptick in recent days, Ferrer said. Health officials say 20% to 35% of all hospitalized patients are on ventilators due to the respiratory infection.

This week, LA County rolled out free testing for residents without the need for a doctor’s order. But Ferrer said if someone is symptomatic, they should take the precaution to isolate themselves and not come into close contact with others.

“Please, please don’t wait for confirmation that you’re positive to begin your self-isolation,” Ferrer said during the daily county update. “You actually need to self-isolate at the moment you started having symptoms.”

There is no timeline on when health officials expect to lift the stay-at-home order in LA County.

“This new reality we’re living in is not forever. But we do need to stay the course for the next few weeks,” Ferrer said.

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