California lends out 500 ventilators as Santa Clara County seeks more
Chris Wilder, Valley Medical Center Foundation CEO stands outside of Valley Medical Center in San Jose to ask for ventilator donations. Board of Supervisors President Cindy Chavez, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and Silicon Valley Leadership Group CEO Carl Guardino are were also part of the effort to drum up supplies. Photo by Katie Lauer

South Bay residents got seemingly contradicting accounts Monday from local and state officials about how stocked California’s ventilator cache is in the face of COVID-19, a potentially deadly respiratory illness that is spreading across the state.

Santa Clara County officials stood outside Valley Medical Center in San Jose on Monday afternoon to plead for ventilator donations that would fill a projected deficit in the local hospital system. Officials offered a $1,000 reward for the machines even if they are broken, underlining the region’s need.

But at the same time, California Gov. Gavin Newsom was finishing a news conference announcing the state would likely have more than enough of the life-saving machines to serve every Californian who needs one. In fact, California has loaned 500 ventilators to the federal stockpile to be distributed to other states with immediate need, like New York, Newsom said.

“We are confident in our procurement of thousands of additional ventilators, the first 500 arriving as early as tomorrow,” Newsom said. “The moral and ethical responsibility of providing the resources in real time to those most in need is why we thought it most appropriate to send those.”

If the state needs the ventilators later, Newsom said the loan comes with provisions to bring the machines back to the state. The state has increased its supply of ventilators from nearly 7,600 to more than 11,000 in recent weeks, he added.

So far, 14,336 people statewide have tested positive for the novel virus and 343 Californians had died from the disease. But New York has become the epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S. with 131,239 confirmed infections and 4,758 deaths, according to the New York Times. 

Santa Clara County emerged as an early hotspot for the virus in California, though Los Angeles County now has more infections. As of Monday, 1,224 people had tested positive and 42 had died from COVID-19 in Santa Clara County.

Local officials are trying to slow the spread of the virus by sheltering the county’s homeless population, starting with those who have the virus or  medical conditions. So far, 13 homeless residents have tested positive for COVID-19 and one homeless person has died from the virus in the county.  All of the 13 homeless residents who have the virus — along with their families — have been housed, county officials said Monday.

Local hospitals are currently using 217 ventilators and 435 more are available, said Board of Supervisors President Cindy Chavez. Santa Clara County is seeking another 1,000 ventilators, looking to places like colleges, universities, elder care facilities, oral surgical centers and others that may have machines in storage or out of use.

“These are expensive, high-tech pieces of equipment, but we know that they are out there,” Chris Wilder, Valley Medical Center Foundation CEO said Monday. “We know that there are people who – if they’re incentivized a little bit to give – their ventilators can be refurbished and put to use on the front lines.”

Buying time

The call for ventilators comes nearly three weeks after the Bay Area was the first in the nation to issue a “shelter in place” order to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which can be passed without symptoms.

State officials soon followed to “buy time” to bulk up on protective supplies, ventilators, hospital beds and personnel ahead of a projected influx of patients that is expected to peak by mid-May.

“This allows us to do the kinds of things that frankly some other parts of this country weren’t able to do because they were overwhelmed,” Newsom said.

California officials are trying to drum up 50,000 additional hospital beds on top of the existing 75,000 dispersed throughout 416 hospitals in the state to meet that expected need.

Existing hospitals will add more than 30,000 of those new beds, but state leaders are also working with local and federal government officials to secure temporary facilities where people can be treated for COVID-19 and other illnesses.

As of Monday, California had secured 4,613 beds in temporary facilities across the state, including 250 at the Santa Clara Convention Center and another 220 at Seton Medical Center in Daly City, which was previously slated to shut down. State officials are also in negotiations to secure another 5,005 beds throughout California, putting the state “well on schedule,” Newsom said.

Though infections are currently running at the low end of the state’s models and projections, Newsom urged residents to continue to be cautious in the face of the contagious virus.

“The models mean nothing if we begin to step back and change our behavior by getting cabin fever and no longer practicing physical distancing,” Newsom said Monday. “If we continue to hold the line then these models will continue to buy us time because you, by definition, are bending the curve.”

Anyone in Santa Clara County with a ventilator to donate can contact Valley Medical Center Foundation at (408) 885-5299 or vmcfoundation@hhs.sccgov.org.

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

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