Calif. Scrambles to Obtain Virus Protection Gear

The state plans to charter flights from China loaded with supplies.

Gov. Gavin Newsom updates California's response to the coronavirus, Rancho Cordova, Calif., March 23, 2020.
Gov. Gavin Newsom updates California's response to the coronavirus, Rancho Cordova, Calif., March 23, 2020.
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, Pool

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California is scrambling to obtain protective gear for healthcare workers and first responders, reaching out worldwide and working with locals to ratchet up production as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps through the nation's most populous state.

The state is trying to acquire about 1 billion sets of gloves and hundreds of millions of gowns, surgical masks and face shields, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday.

“It's going to take an heroic effort" to procure the personal protection equipment, or PPE, needed to prepare for an expected surge in COVID-19 cases, Newsom said.

Among other things, he said the state would charter flights from China with gear and had heard from companies wanting to use 3-D printers to make surgical masks.

He also discussed working with other governors to strategically leverage buying power for supplies while making sure California doesn't exploit its size at the expense of smaller states that may have difficulty obtaining equipment.

In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti said an Anheuser-Busch beer plant in Van Nuys will produce bottles of hand sanitizer. Another plant in Baldwinsville, New York, will also do so.

Newsom's announcement came as California added hundreds more coronavirus cases to its total. A tally by Johns Hopkins on Monday counted nearly 2,200 cases and 40 deaths statewide.

Earlier Monday, Los Angeles officials announced plans to expand coronavirus testing, promising up to 5,000 tests a day by Friday, significantly ramping up an effort that has lagged nationwide amid the outbreak.

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting all areas of government, a reality underscored by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye on Monday ordering a two-month suspension of all jury trials in California superior courts.

Newsom also announced he would close parking lots at dozens of beaches and state parks to prevent the spread of coronavirus after large groups flocked to the coast and mountains to get outdoors on the first weekend under the state's stay-at-home order.

Local officials had already moved to close parking at the state's best-known beaches in Malibu, Santa Monica, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco to curb crowds. Parks in scenic Marin County, north of San Francisco, were closed and access was restricted to many of the trails in the Santa Monica Mountains that run through Los Angeles County.

Newsom's order extends to about 40 parks in five counties, including Topanga State Park in Los Angeles County, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve in San Diego and Sonoma Coast State Park north of San Francisco.

Newsom reaffirmed he wants to continue using social pressure, not police enforcement, to get people to maintain safe spacing. But with some parks experiencing record number of visitors under sunny skies last weekend, he said the “soft closure” was intended to “help you help yourself.”

“Normally that would light up my heart to see tens of thousands of people congregating down in Malibu and other parts of our beautiful state,” he said. “One cannot condemn that, but one can criticize it. We need to practice common sense and socially distance.”

In contrast to President Donald Trump's projection that the crisis and its impact on the economy would last weeks rather than months, Newsom is planning for a 90-day surge of cases. He said new calculations show California, which has 75,000 hospital beds, could need an additional 50,000 beds.

“We clearly are operating under a different set of assumptions,” Newsom said. But, he said, the many conversations he’s had with Trump and the “significant support and resources” California is receiving alongside Washington and New York “suggests an understanding, very directly by the president himself, of the unique challenges we face in our states.

“I have no trepidation that whatever he decides to do from a national prism will get in the way of our efforts here at the state level,” Newsom said

The Democratic governor touted public-private cooperation to bring in medical supplies and open new hospital beds, including a Navy hospital ship destined for Los Angeles and two Army field hospitals opening in Riverside and Santa Clara counties. Six more are planned and the eight field hospitals will be able to serve 2,000 patients.

To address potential staffing shortages, Newsom said he would consider waiving some graduation requirements for fourth-year medical students and nursing students who were doing clinical rotations when the outbreak arrived to more quickly get them into the field. He also suggested retirees might pitch in.

Meantime, the Navy hospital ship Mercy departed San Diego on Monday for Los Angeles to treat non-coronavirus patients. The 1,000-bed ship is expected to be ready to receive patients in less than a week, Capt. John R. Rotruck said.

“We definitely have a sense of urgency,” Rotruck said.

Doctors can perform surgery in nine operating rooms and the ship will be able to treat intensive care patients.

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