Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday offered assurances that the state will have enough ventilators to “meet the needs” of Californians stricken by the novel coronavirus based on the state’s projections of the outbreak.
The governor said California hospitals reported that they are currently using only 31% of the ventilators they have, meaning 8,000 of the breathing machines are available for future COVID-19 patients who might need them. That number does not include the ventilators in the state stockpile, he said.
Newsom’s comments come after some officials from counties scrambling to procure ventilators expressed surprise over the governor’s decision earlier this week to lend 500 of the devices to New York, New Jersey, Illinois and other COVID-19 hot spots facing shortages.
The governor defended that decision, saying it was the “right thing to do” and emphasizing that the ventilators will be returned to California when needed.
“We can’t just sit on assets when we can save lives and help our fellow Americans, so I just want to clear up any anxiety in that space or any ambiguity or any misinformation,” Newsom said during his daily COVID-19 briefing in Sacramento on Thursday.
Newsom said that one reason California can afford to spare ventilators, at least for now, is because the vast majority of Californians have heeded orders to stay at home and, when they go out for essential purposes, they have also maintained the recommended social distancing from others.
That has helped slow the spread in infections as well as the number of hospitalizations and deaths, he said, allowing California to avoid the paths of hot spots such as New York and Italy. State health officials expect the coronavirus peak to hit the state sometime in May.
Riverside County officials expressed concern earlier this week after learning the state had rejected the county’s application for 500 ventilators without explanation. Although Riverside County has an adequate supply of ventilators now, local health officials predict that all 512 of the ventilators at hospitals in the county will be in use by April 26.
Santa Clara County, which has been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, is offering a $1,000 bounty for each device it receives and has ordered companies with the devices to report their inventory to the county.
Newsom said the state has continued searching for ventilators to add to its stockpile. He previously announced that about 1,000 additional ventilators are currently being refurbished by Bloom Energy, a Silicon Valley fuel-cell company.
The governor said the California Emergency Medical Services Authority constantly monitors the availability of ventilators statewide, and has positioned stockpiles of the medical devices strategically around the state so that they can be rapidly delivered to hospitals and medical centers that need them.
Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency, said the state also keeps a close eye on rural hospitals that have only a limited number of ventilators, knowing that even a small increase in coronavirus patients might push them past capacity.
State officials are “checking in with them continuously, making sure that we prioritize their needs so that every hospital has enough to be able to serve the surge that we anticipate,” Ghaly said.
Newsom on Thursday also announced a new program to subsidize the cost of hotel rooms for healthcare workers and other essential personnel, some of whom may fear returning home to their families because they have been exposed to the virus.
More than 150 hotels throughout the state, including major hotel chains, have agreed to provide the accomodations under the state’s bulk purchasing reduced rate. In some cases, the hotel rooms will be provided free of charge.
Several major airlines also are offering free air travel for people signing up for the California Health Corps, a program that Newsom announced in late March to expand the state’s pool of healthcare workers by signing up recently retired providers, those in the process of getting a medical license in the state, and students enrolled in medical or nursing schools.
Newsom also said that more than 86,000 people have signed up for the Health Corps and 350 of those applicants have been accepted.
“So 350 people have been interviewed, vetted. We’ve identified spots for them,” he said.