KATHLEEN RONAYNE and ADAM BEAM
Associated Press
SACRAMENTO (AP) — California will spend nearly $1 billion to purchase up to 200 million masks a month to boost the state’s stockpile of protective equipment during the COVID-19 outbreak and could act as a supplier to other Western states, Gov. Gavin Newsom said.
“We’ve been competing against other states, against other nations, against our own federal government” for personal protective equipment, Newsom said Tuesday night on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show. “We decided enough is enough.”
He said the state has signed multiple contracts with an unidentified consortium of nonprofits and a California-based manufacturer to obtain the masks, which will be made overseas.
The order will include about 150 million N95 masks, which are tight-fitting and designed to protect against particles in the air. The other 50 million masks will be surgical masks, which are loose-fitting and protect against fluids.
“We’re going to see supplies at that level into the state of California and potentially the opportunity to export some of those supplies to states in need,” Newsom said.
California taxpayers will pay $495 million upfront for the masks. The state will pay more as other shipments arrive, with a total estimated payment of $990 million, according to a letter the Newsom administration sent to the Legislature.
Newsom signed an executive order on Tuesday eliminating sales and other taxes on masks, gloves, eye protection, gowns and other materials needed to protect public health amid the coronavirus crisis. It applies to such materials when they are sold to or purchased by the state
The money is coming from a portion of the $1 billion aid package the Legislature approved last month, plus another $1.3 billion disaster response emergency fund.
California has already ordered $1.4 billion worth of personal protective equipment and distributed 41.4 million N95 masks. But the state has had trouble finding enough masks to meet the needs of its nearly 40 million residents. One shipment from Texas had to be sent back because the masks carried mold, Newsom said.
In Santa Clara County, where the U.S. had one of its first confirmed COVID-19 cases, public health officials are so worried about a shortage of protective gear that they have ordered businesses and individuals to tell the government if they have stockpiles of more than 5,000 gloves and 500 masks. The government promised to keep the figures confidential.
“We can’t rely solely on our state and federal government. We have to turn locally to see what capacity for inventory exists here in our county,” said Dr. Jennifer Tong, hospital surge capacity branch chief for the Santa Clara County Emergency Operations Center.
Likewise, Newsom said the state can’t rely on the federal government, which has sent the state about a million masks so far.
“That’s not an indictment, not a cheap shot. At the end of the day, they don’t have the masks at the national stockpile,” Newsom said.
California has more than 17,600 COVID-19 cases and has seen more than 450 deaths, according to data complied by Johns Hopkins University. Intensive care hospitalizations have been growing at a slower rate than experts had anticipated, leading Newsom to donate 500 ventilators to other states.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.