California to loan 500 ventilators to national stockpile

Coronavirus

California Gov. Gavin Newsom updates the state’s response to the coronavirus, at the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services in Rancho Cordova Calif., Tuesday, March 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, Pool)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Monday the state would loan 500 ventilators to the national stockpile for use by New York and other states experiencing a crush of coronavirus-related hospitalizations, even as he said the nation’s most populous state needs to find more ventilators of its own.

The loan comes after California’s hospitals added more than 3,000 ventilators to their supplies through refurbishing old or broken ones and buying some new. In total, California hospitals have more than 11,000 ventilators, a boost that Newsom said made the state comfortable to share its supply.

“We’re very proud to be able to extend a hand of support with those 500 ventilators and send them back east,” Newsom said during a news conference. But he said the state is “not naive” to its own needs.

“We need to continue to procure more ventilators,” he said.

Newsom’s decision follows Oregon and Washington committing to transfer ventilators to New York. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said the state will return more than 400 ventilators of the 500 it got from the federal government. Inslee, a Democrat, said his statewide stay-at-home order and weeks of social distancing led to slower rates of infections and deaths in Washington, which saw the first serious coronavirus outbreak in the country.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, meanwhile, said 140 ventilators would be sent from her state to New York because Oregon doesn’t need them right now.

“The state of Oregon and the state of Washington are leading by example,” Vice President Mike Pence said Sunday.

California has been hunting for ventilators to boost its own supply for weeks. Officials requested 10,000 ventilators from the national stockpile, though it has received none. Los Angeles got 170 ventilators from the stockpile, though many were broken. Newsom had previously said California had 4,252 ventilators. His spokespeople did not immediately respond to questions Monday about whether that is separate from or in addition to the roughly 11,000 ventilators at the hospitals. The state expects to hit its peak of cases sometime in May.

Hydrogen fuel cell manufacturer Bloom Energy has dedicated a portion of its production plants in California and Delaware to repairing old ventilators. As of Monday the San Jose-based company had repaired 1,000 ventilators, and a spokeswoman said it has the capacity to refurbish 2,000 per week.

Virgin Orbit, billionaire Richard Branson’s company that makes rockets, has developed a prototype for a “bridge ventilator” designed to help patients breathe until they can be put on a traditional ventilator. The company is awaiting federal approval before it can begin mass producing the model, which was developed in partnership with researchers at the University of California, Irvine.

Newsom touted both as part of California’s efforts to procure ventilators. Asked Saturday if California would share medical supplies with other states, Newsom told reporters the state was “working day and night to find new ventilators.” But, he said, if the state was in a position to share medical supplies or to team up with other states to bulk purchase such supplies “absolutely, unequivocally we will do that.”

While the federal government hasn’t given California any ventilators from the national stockpile, it has sent other supplies. As of last week, California had received roughly 837,000 N-95 masks, 1.31 million gloves, nearly 2 million surgical masks, as well as face shields, surgical gowns, coveralls and 2,000 medical station beds, according to the White House.

California has recorded more than 15,000 cases of COVID-19 virus infections and at least 320 deaths, according to the latest data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. New York, meanwhile, has more than 123,000 cases and more than 4,000 deaths.

“If we need them back in a few weeks, we’ll get them back,” Newsom said of the ventilators the state is sharing. If Californians continue aggressive social and physical distancing, it will give the state time to obtain all of the ventilators it needs, he said.

“We looked at our modeling, we looked at conditions on the ground, and we feel confident about our capacity to meet our needs, as we support the needs of others,” he said. For most people, the 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.

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