California to Loan 500 Ventilators to National Stockpile as Crisis Deepens

Staff work in a ventilator-refurbishing assembly line at Bloom Energy in Sunnyvale, Calif., on March 28, 2020. (Beth LaBerge/KQED via AP, Pool, File)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — Citing a cache of unexpected new and refurbished units secured over the last few weeks, California Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday loaned 500 ventilators to help states overwhelmed by the pandemic like New York and Michigan.

California may have the fourth highest total of confirmed coronavirus cases of any state with over 14,000, but fortunately its network of 415 hospitals have mostly been able to withstand the pandemic’s early stages. Newsom said the state’s substantial buying power and the ventilator refurbishing efforts performed by hospitals and private businesses, have positioned California to intervene on others’ behalf.

“This is the state of California, we have an abundant mindset and we’re a well-resourced state,” Newsom told reporters. “I’d imagine everybody expects California to do more than most other states, and we’ll continue to try to do our best.”

The first-term governor updated the state’s pandemic response from the former home of the Sacramento Kings, which with the help of the federal government is being transformed from a basketball arena to a temporary hospital. Newsom says the site and several others across the state should be online in the coming weeks, well before mid-May when experts predict a peak in Covid-19 hospitalizations.

With cranes and construction crews whizzing in the background, Newsom spoke from a podium positioned near midcourt and thanked the Kings’ majority owner for opening up the 17,000-seat arena to sick Californians. He said Vivek Ranadive made the arena available before the state or feds even asked for it.

Ranadive, founder of Silicon Valley-based TIBCO Software, deflected the praise and called Newsom the “best governor in America.” 

“Governor, I’m an immigrant to this great country and I have great belief and faith in the ingenuity, resilience and determination of the American people,” Ranadive said. “I fully believe as bad as this invisible enemy is, thanks to your leadership we in California, we in America will triumph over this.”

Newsom said the state was able to identify the surplus ventilators over the weekend and after consulting with FEMA, decided it was best logistically to send the 500 units to the national stockpile and not directly to states. He pledged that if the crisis intensifies, the state could recoup the units if necessary.

“They’re conditioned on changing conditions here in the state; these are lent, not given,” Newsom said confidently.

Over 2,500 Californians are hospitalized with the virus as of Monday morning, including 1,000 in the intensive care unit, and the state’s death toll stood at 343. Officials say there are another 3,100 suspected Covid-19 hospitalizations and most confirmed cases are people between the ages of 18-49.

In Los Angeles County, the Covid-19 mortality rate climbed to 2.3% as officials announced nearly 60 new deaths over the weekend and Monday.

“It’s very important to us that if you’re elderly or if you have an underlying health condition you stay home except to go to medical appointments,” said Barbara Ferrer, LA County Public Health director. “When you’re out and about even for essential services, you put yourself at risk to become infected with Covid-19 and becoming seriously ill.”

As of Monday, the death toll in LA County stood at 147.

County health officials are investigating outbreaks at 109 institutions, including skilled care facilities, nursing homes, treatment centers, jails and shelters. Ferrer says there are 512 infected people across all the institutional settings, including both staff and residents, and 26 residents have died.

The county saw over 1,000 new confirmed cases of infection in the last 48 hours, bringing the total to 6,360 infected.

Ferrer said just like the rest of the country, LA County will see a surge of infected and dead. “If you have enough supplies in your home, this would be the week to skip shopping altogether,” she said.

LA County will convert the former St. Vincent Medical Center into a surge hospital to help treat those infected with Covid-19, county officials said.

An ongoing lawsuit in Los Angeles federal court has offered the public a glimpse into their local government’s response to the homeless crisis amid the Covid-19 outbreak. A court filing in the case indicates the supplier of handwashing stations for homeless residents had planned to pull its 50 stations after an employee servicing one of the sinks was stabbed by a hypodermic needle poking through a hose.

The city attorney’s office said only five stations have been removed and the city is working with the company to replace them while also keeping the company’s employees safe.

California officials expect cases to peak in Mid-May and have been scrambling to accrue millions of N-95 masks, thousands of ventilators and at least 50,000 additional hospital beds before the surge. Newsom said the state’s so-called phase 1 planning is on schedule and encouraged Californians not to get complacent and to continue staying home.

A silver lining of the pandemic has been the respite from Newsom and President Donald Trump’s notorious Twitter fights. The absence of one-liners and political rhetoric has produced a welcomed partnership between the nation’s most populous state and the federal government over the last few weeks.

The federal government has greatly buoyed California’s preparation efforts by delivering the USNS Mercy hospital ship and its 1,000 hospital beds to Los Angeles and directing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build eight supplemental hospital facilities. According to the White House, the federal government has additionally supplied California with over 800,000 N-95 masks, 2 million surgical masks, 2,000 medical station beds and committed nearly $900 million in federal funding.

The Trump administration has not provided the state directly with any ventilators but has delivered 170 to Los Angeles County.

Over the weekend President Trump, who often refers to Newsom as a “do-nothing governor,” even praised California for its response to the pandemic and said the state and its Democratic leader were doing a “fantastic job.”

Asked if California was trying to one-up the feds by donating the 500 ventilators, Newsom once again took the high route and said the decision wasn’t politically motivated. He noted the parties’ cooperation dates back to January, when California began accepting Americans repatriating from China.

“We brought them on to Air Force bases in the state of California and began the formal relationship, the formal partnership with the federal government,” Newsom said. “Over the course of months, the state of California has been preparing in a very deliberative way.”

While the state has apparently exceeded early benchmarks in terms of its medical supply stockpile, its testing response for the deadly virus has lagged. In the state of 40 million, just 126,000 people had been tested as of April 4.

Over the weekend, Newsom took accountability for the lagging totals and admitted the state’s difficulties testing residents across 58 counties.

To speed up testing, Newsom announced a task force and said state universities are ramping up testing hubs. In addition, he claimed a Stanford University serology test that will identify whether someone has Covid-19 antibodies could be ready to launch this week. 

“I have a responsibility as your governor to do better and do more testing in the state of California,” Newsom said.

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