Newsom plans to tap emergency fund for $1.4B in protective equipment

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SAN DIEGO — Gov. Gavin Newsom plans to use $1.4 billion from a state emergency fund to bring in millions of pieces of protective gear for front-line workers in the coronavirus pandemic.

The funds would allow for a surge of 200 million masks each month: 150 million N95 masks, and 50 million more surgical masks. The spending will also go toward contracts for other personal protective equipment — often referred to as “PPE” — such as gowns and face shields.

The gear will be available to health care workers but also other front-line employees, Newsom said, such as grocery store workers. It will be distributed to cities and counties based on how severe the need is there, and Office of Emergency Services Director Mark Ghilarducci mentioned San Diego by name as one location that would be given priority because of its population and density of cases.

A request to tap into the California Disaster Response Account to pay for PPEs was submitted to the state legislature Wednesday, the governor said in his daily media briefing. Newsom called the spending a “big, bold bet.”

“We need to go boldly and we need to meet this moment without playing small ball any longer,” the governor said, adding that California’s need for and ability to acquire PPEs is “second only to the United States itself.”

The emergency fund is administered by Cal OES, and Ghilarducci said his team has begun to “build a sustainable pipeline,” that can consistently bring in the equipment from a variety of sources. That includes contracts with private manufacturers, help from non-governmental organizations and aid sent from the federal government via FEMA.

Asked if the plan to buy the equipment so aggressively would leave other states or even the federal government with too few to go around, Newsom said the state was working not just to buy existing equipment, but to pay for and facilitate new production. “We are helping increase supply,” he said.

The governor also shared that the National Guard had just delivered hundreds more pieces of equipment to states with acute needs. California has previously sent PPEs to New York and contributed to the national stockpile.

As he does each day, Newsom shared the most recent data from the state’s official count of cases, which typically lags behind independent counts that use different accounting methods.

California’s coronavirus tally

Newsom said California has 16,957 confirmed COVID-19 cases, and 1,154 are being treated in intensive care units — a 4.2% increase from the day before. In all, 4,714 people are in the hospital due to coronavirus.

The governor said he was saddened to report one of the state’s highest death totals from a single day: 68 people died of coronavirus over the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 442 in California.

Calif. not yet seeing racial disparities

Newsom also addressed a growing conversation in national coverage of the virus: disparities in race in terms of how many people contract COVID-19, the treatment they receive and whether or not they survive.

Newsom said there is “nothing more frustrating than the systemic” inequities in healthcare, and shared that the state has been able to more finely divide the demographic breakdowns in recent days to look for trends.

While he warned that the percentages were only based on a limited sample size — about 37% of the total cases in the state — he said that so far coronavirus cases roughly mirror the demographic breakdown of the state.

Around 30% of the positive cases from the sample were Hispanic, 6% were black and 14% were Asian. Those percentages are roughly in line with each group’s proportion of California’s population, suggesting that there may not be a measurable racial disparity in the state’s coronavirus cases as there have been in other states.

However, Newsom again cautioned against drawing complete conclusions when the state had less than half of the full data set to work with.

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