Newsom defends California lending 500 ventilators to other states and announces aid for medical workers


Calling it “the right thing to do,” Gov. Gavin Newsom defended his decision Thursday to lend 500 ventilators to states struggling with rising COVID-19 infections.

The governor also announced plans to fund travel and hotel costs for health care workers needing to self-isolate away from home. He said more than 50 of the “nicest and finest hotel chains in the world” are taking part in a state program giving “deep discounts” to medical professionals — and lower wage workers can receive full reimbursement.

Across California, more than 18,300 cases of COVID-19 have been reported and 492 patients have died as of Thursday, according to state officials.

To aid in the response, United Airlines has offered to give free round trip tickets to medical workers in the state’s newly launched Health Corps who need to travel to their assigned facility, Newsom said. Alaska, Southwest and Delta airlines have all also joined the state’s efforts.

More information on travel and shelter resources for medical workers can be found here.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has donated $25 million to pay the Health Corps members, who will be paid as part-time state employees and get deployed to federal medical stations. So far, 86,516 people have applied.

A total of 350 future corps members were expected to receive letters of acceptance Thursday, Newsom said.

As the state gathers thousands of professionals for the frontlines of the health crisis, it is also securing millions of sets of protective gear such as N95 masks among other crucial supplies.

And California continues to collect and refurbish ventilators — its own hospitals scrambling to prepare amid fears of shortages. However, Newsom said the recent decision to lend hundreds to the national stockpile was necessary “to save lives” elsewhere in the country. He pointed to the desperation of facilities in places like New York, which saw another 799 deaths in just the last day.

Still, that decision came to the surprise of local governments in Riverside and Santa Clara counties, according to a report Wednesday by the Los Angeles Times. The state recently denied Riverside County’s request for 500 more ventilators, the newspaper reported.

“I understand and respect what the governor is doing. But are we going to be able to get the assistance that we’re going to need in a week or two weeks out?” Riverside County Supervisor Kevin Jeffries told the Times.

On Thursday, Newsom said the state’s hospital system alone has more than 8,000 ventilators currently not being used. In other words, he said, the state’s system is using less than a third of its available ventilators. While California’s health system is trying to prepare for an expected surge in cases, the situation is more dire in states where infections are climbing at a more rapid rate, Newsom said.

“Our curve is not bending like other states,” Newsom said, explaining California has managed to delay an expected peak in infections through social distancing efforts.

“We cannot just be sitting on assets when we can save lives of fellow Americans,” he said.

Newsom said California managed to secure another 4,000 ventilators in about the last month. He indicated the state will prioritize smaller hospitals in rural areas that may have as few as just a handful of ventilators.

“It is precisely those hospitals we really are hyper-focused on as a top priority,” Newsom said.

Maryland, Delaware, Nevada the District of Columbia, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands will receive the ventilators from California, the White House said earlier this week. Oregon and Washington have also lent ventilators to the national stockpile.

Leaders around the U.S. have criticized the bidding wars among states trying to buy crucial supplies, from 3M N95 masks to ventilators, amid fears of overwhelmed hospital systems. In the state hit hardest, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been asking for more ventilators for weeks.

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