Newsom Calls Californians to Volunteer as Shutdown Drags On

Ways to serve include supporting food banks, donating blood, delivering meals to seniors and checking up on neighbors.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli,File)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — Courting an army of volunteers, California Governor Gavin Newsom on Tuesday urged healthy residents to fill in gaps at food banks and nonprofits overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic.

California food banks have lost 70% of their staff in recent weeks and Newsom pushed those capable to sign up on a new state website that will connect volunteers to causes of their choice.

“There is so much inside of us in terms of our capacity to give and serve,” Newsom said.

The goal of the volunteer website is to consolidate the registration process and allow Californians to choose from a variety of nonprofits. Newsom said the volunteer effort will be headed by California’s chief service officer — a former U.S. Navy officer, JAG member and city mayor.

“If you’re healthy and you can make a difference in your community we need you at food banks, we need you giving blood, we need you delivering meals and we need you to join now,” chief service officer Josh Fryday said.

For those anxious about or unable to leave home, Fryday said Californians could still make a difference by volunteering as 211 operators or helping with senior outreach efforts. He also encouraged younger residents to create volunteer videos and share them on social media.

Like he’s done almost daily over the last several months, Newsom introduced the new initiative during a press update live on Twitter. He’s used the briefs to announce mandatory shelter-in-place orders, prompt a surge of new health care workers, tout substantial ventilator and mask deals and most recently a partnership with tech companies to provide laptops and internet access to students.

Newsom also relayed the latest coronavirus totals, noting that both hospitalizations (3,365) and the numbers of intensive care patients (1,241) increased over 3% overnight. California now has over 33,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases along with 1,268 deaths.

After granting Newsom control of a $1 billion emergency relief fund last month, lawmakers have begun clamoring for a larger role in the state’s response. In a pair of recent oversight hearings, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle criticized the governor for a lack of communication and said they felt blindsided by the various initiatives announced during his media briefings.

Perhaps the most contentious announcement has been a $1 billion deal the Democratic governor made with a Chinese automaker for N95 and surgical masks. Details have largely been kept from both lawmakers and the public, with the administration claiming they should be kept secret until the supplies are actually secured.

Newsom addressed the lawmakers’ concerns Tuesday, telling reporters his phone lines have been open since the crisis started. He said he holds biweekly meetings with the Senate and Assembly leaders and that he’s talked directly with 63 lawmakers from across the state.

“I have deep respect and deep understanding of the anxieties many members of the Legislature feel,” Newsom said. “I get they are overwhelmed with questions on a daily basis and they need answers, and we’re trying to do everything in our power to be responsive.”

As for the controversial mask deal with BYD Auto, Newsom said he hopes the masks will begin arriving in the coming weeks. The state has delivered more than 46 million masks so far to counties and Newsom claims the BYD deal could provide up to 200 million masks per month if needed.

The statewide lockdown has been in place for over a month, but officials in areas that have been mostly spared from the virus — including San Luis Obispo and El Dorado counties — have begun asking Newsom to loosen restrictions.

Newsom said he’s received phone calls and letters from local officials and promised to give them a progress report Wednesday on the state’s 6-point “reopening roadmap.”

“Everybody has a different timeline,” the former mayor of San Francisco said. “That’s the challenge; many parts, one body of a state as large as ours.”

The state is also preparing to take the leap of expanding on federal guidelines and advising hospitals to test people without symptoms, according to a memo released over the weekend by public health officials.

The document outlines a testing prioritization flowchart for providers to consult when determining whether to administer a Covid-19 test. Health care workers and nursing home patients not showing symptoms are listed in the second tier, in contrast to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which lists people without symptoms as “non-priority.”

The state’s flowchart — which will be reassessed each week as the crisis persists — essentially gives doctors more sway in determining who to test as supplies continue to increase.  

Newsom says improved testing and tracing capabilities will be a critical factor in his decision to lift or loosen the statewide order. The state is currently testing around 14,500 people per day and Newsom expects the total to rise as more testing is done in rural areas and homeless shelters.

In Los Angeles County, health officials said Tuesday an average of 10,000 people are now being tested for the novel coronavirus daily after additional testing sites were added countywide.

LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said at a press briefing 89,000 residents have been tested so far. Officials continue to target symptomatic and asymptomatic residents for testing as well as those with underlying health conditions. 

Ferrer said the county saw 46 new deaths over the last 24 hours, bringing the countywide death toll to 663. Eighty-nine percent of the deaths involved people with underlying health conditions.

With 1,400 new confirmed cases, LA County has seen a total of 15,140 residents who’ve tested positive for the virus. A quarter of them have been hospitalized at some point, Ferrer said. 

Of the 1,739 people currently hospitalized, 18% are on ventilators, Ferrer said.

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