As coronavirus spreads, Newsom works to secure hospital beds, find rooms for homeless
California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed emergency legislation Tuesday to provide up to $1.1 billion in funding to fight COVID-19 in the state. Image courtesy of the California Office of the Governor

California Gov. Gavin Newsom in the past 36 hours has announced a slew of measures to combat coronavirus, including placing the state’s National Guard on alert, devoting money to secure hospital beds, trailers and shelters for homeless residents and signing orders to peg $1 billion to slow the spread of the deadly virus.

As of Tuesday night, Newsom said 598 people had tested positive for the novel coronavirus — a 21 percent increase from Monday. Santa Clara County alone has confirmed 175 cases of coronavirus, known as COVID-19, and six people have died. About 12,500 people have been tested for COVID-19 throughout California, though 3,215 of those tests have not yet yielded results. Newsom said that process that can take up to six days.

Meanwhile, the governor’s office preparing for a potential influx of infected residents who may need hospitalization, and has made headway on addressing the more than 100,000 homeless residents statewide with little or no protection against the virus.

One homeless Santa Clara County man in his 50’s has already died due to the virus, officials said this week.

On Wednesday night, the governor announced setting aside $150 million to get unhoused residents a place to stay. Cities and counties will split $100 million to provide shelter and emergency housing, while the remaining $50 million will be spent on 1,309 trailers and to lease hotel and motel rooms, where unhoused residents will have “a door, a key and a lock with as much support we can provide under the circumstances,” Newsom said during a Facebook livestream.

State officials are working to predict how the virus will spread and the need for hospital beds in the coming weeks. One model, which estimates that 20 percent of those who contract the virus will need hospitalization, suggested the state would need about 19,500 beds — far more than what is currently available.

Newsom’s office will announce the purchase of two “large hospitals” — one in Northern California and one in the southern half of the state on Friday.

State officials have also asked the Department of Defense to deploy the Navy’s Mercy hospital ship off the coast of California and send two mobile hospitals to the state. If approved, the ship and the mobile hospitals could add around 2,000 beds as well as manpower to the state’s resources.

The news comes shortly after the governor announced he’d signed emergency legislation to provide up to $1 billion in funding to help slow the spread of COVID-19. “This money will provide more hospital beds and medical equipment to help hospitals deal with the coming surge and it will help protect those who are most at risk,” Newsom said. “I am grateful to the Legislature for their quick action.”

The emergency funding package includes $500 million, with allowable increases of up to $1 billion, to increase hospital bed capacity and medical equipment in the state, support cities to provide beds for unhoused residents, clean daycare facilities that haven’t closed and provide services to those isolating at home as well as hospitals and nursing homes.

Also in the funding package: $100 million for public school funding, though most have shut down, and to provide protective equipment for schools that are still open.

The governor also placed the state’s National Guard on alert Tuesday to prepare for “humanitarian missions,” like distributing food, supporting public safety efforts and “ensuring resiliency of supply lines,” according to a news release.

Meanwhile, Newsom has signed other executive orders in response to the fast-spreading virus, including loosening the rules around how local governments handle public meetings to allow lawmakers to dial in virtually. He also said students, who likely won’t return to school before summer, can avoid taking missed tests from this year.

“These kids don’t deserve to be tested with all the anxiety, the social and emotional stress associated with these schools shutting down,” Newsom said.

Follow along with San José Spotlight’s real-time coronavirus coverage on our LIVE BLOG here.

Contact Janice Bitters at janice@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter.

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