Newsom Secures 200 Million Medical Masks Per Month for California

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — Despite emerging indications efforts to stem the spread of the coronavirus are working, California Governor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday said the state will continue its $1 billion quest to scour the world for medical supplies.

A man wears a mask to protect himself from the coronavirus while running in front of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge along the Embarcadero on Sunday. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

In recent weeks, California has bypassed the alarmingly deficient national stockpile and used its budget reserves to buy wholesale directly from China and other countries. Newsom said the state has secured a deal for 200 million N95 and surgical masks per month until the crisis subsides.

“We have been doing our part over the course of the last number of weeks to punch above our weight,” Newsom said during a daily briefing.

Wednesday’s briefing followed an appearance on MSNBC where Newsom announced the mammoth deal for masks, which will be handed out to the state’s health care workers and other essential employees like grocery store cashiers.

Newsom, who often refers to California as a “nation state,” said the deal reflects the state’s extraordinary buying power and will help stabilize the medical supply chain for the foreseeable future. The mask haul will cost nearly $500 million and the governor has asked the Legislature to dedicate $1.4 billion in total for medical equipment.

“That’s not an insignificant amount of money, but we’re dealing at a time where we need to go boldly and we need to meet this moment without playing small ball any longer,” Newsom told reporters.

California has certainly been hit hard by the virus with over 17,000 cases and 442 deaths as of Wednesday, but its rosy reserves have positioned Newsom and lawmakers to act boldly and swiftly over the last month.

Prior to the pandemic, Newsom was plotting the next state budget with a record-breaking $21.5 billion surplus built on an extended period of economic growth and the fiscal shrewdness of his predecessor, Governor Jerry Brown. While the ambitious January budget proposal has been torn to pieces, the surplus has granted Newsom the opportunity to guide the state’s emergency response without penny pinching.

Along with the push for protective equipment, the former mayor of San Francisco has dished out $150 million to help house homeless residents, $42 million directly to prepare hospitals for patient surge, a $50 million small business loan program and nearly $10 million to reimburse counties for their early inmate release efforts.

The multifaceted response, including the nation’s first statewide stay-at-home order, has quickly transformed California from the first state with a documented case of community spread to role of helper and distributor. 

“We have heard from other governors and it’s been quite favorable because they understand we are helping increase supply, not taking away a limited number of supplies,” Newsom said.  

Newsom applauded the “heroic” efforts of the state’s National Guard and said Wednesday that crews were delivering hundreds of ventilators to states like New York, Illinois, Maryland and Nevada. Crews are also performing volunteer and wildfire prevention in California after being activated by Newsom in March.

The Democratic governor said as California continues to stockpile its own supplies, it does so with the intention of sharing when possible.

“As we scale up, as these supplies arrive, as we see more certainty, we’ll be in much better position to help support the efforts of others,” Newsom said.

Asked whether the enormous procurement effort was an indictment of the Trump administration’s pandemic response, Newsom once again shunned an opportunity to criticize the president. Newsom said California is working “hand in glove” with the federal government and that the monthly deal for masks was not political or an attempt to usurp authority.

Optimism is growing following lowered death projections in recent models used by Newsom’s administration and the feds, but Newsom urged the state’s nearly 40 million residents to remain inside on Easter weekend — in spite of a forecast of glorious weather statewide.

“Let’s not step back, let’s continue to move forward as we have as a state in ways that should make all of us proud,” he said.

For the first time Newsom gave information about the racial makeup of Covid-19 patients, though he cautioned the state has only verified data for 37% of the confirmed cases.

Newsom said the information is tracking similarly to the state’s overall demographics, with 30% of verified cases involving Hispanics, 14% Asian Americans and 6% black residents. The breakdown for Covid-19 related deaths was similar to the confirmed cases, and Newsom said state employees are working tirelessly with county officials to gather more statistics.

White residents make up 37% of the verified cases, Newsom’s office said.

Officials in Los Angeles County announced the deaths of 29 people — the biggest single-day leap in deaths for LA County since the health crisis began — bringing the death toll to 198.

Health officials also announced 621 new positive cases, bringing the county’s total to 7,530 cases. At present, the mortality rate stands at 2.6% in the county.

So far there have been no deaths among the homeless population, but health officials want to avoid a scenario where older people living on the street and those with underlying health conditions become infected.

Interim director Heidi Marston with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority said the rapid expansion of the county’s housing program into motels and hotels is a collaboration between LA County and the state of California.

Sites will be spread across the county, with 405 rooms available as of Wednesday morning and another 400 beds at 12 sites by next week. About 300 rooms have been occupied, said Marston.

“Our dedicated teams are working around the clock to help preserve the health of all of our housed and unhoused neighbors,” Marston said.

Approximately 59,000 people are homeless in LA County, with some 16,500 living in cars or RVs. The rest live in crowded homeless encampments and are unable to self-quarantine if they develop Covid-19 symptoms.

Health care workers and security will be present at the motel and hotel sites to provide daily medical screenings. Officials expect anyone who agrees to enter the program to abide by the county’s initiative to self-isolate.

According to LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer, 324 health care workers have tested positive for Covid-19 and two have died. Nurses are the most likely to test positive and become infected, followed by physicians, paramedics and EMTs, Ferrer said.

While additional testing sites come online and LA County reports there are no shortages of available ventilators, health officials still expect the peak to hit later this month when hospitals will see a surge of patients infected by the virus.

“This is not easy,” said Ferrer. “Please know what we’re doing right now is saving lives. The lives of those people most vulnerable, the lives of those you love and your life. We’re going to get through this together LA County and I’m grateful for all you’re doing.”

Meanwhile in Riverside County east of LA, 84 elderly patients at a nursing home were removed from their facility after staff did not come to work for a second day.

Riverside County Public Health spokesperson Jose Arballo said in a press conference that 34 patients tested positive for Covid-19 at the Magnolia Rehabilitation and Nursing Center and the county staffed the facility for a little over a day before moving all the patients to other nearby facilities.

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