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California Gov. Newsom On His State's Ongoing Pandemic Preparations


The state of New York has passed a grim milestone. Seven hundred thirty-one New Yorkers died from the virus on Monday, marking the deadliest day of the epidemic there so far. And as New York continues to try to care for large numbers of critically ill patients with limited equipment, other states are sharing their supplies. Here's California Gov. Gavin Newsom yesterday.


GAVIN NEWSOM: Today we announced 500 ventilators from our cache will be sent to the national stockpile to be immediately distributed to states in need.


So far, California has seen only about a tenth of the cases hitting New York state and far fewer deaths. The worst of the state's epidemic may be yet to come. In the Central Valley, case numbers are rising quickly. In Los Angeles, local officials have recommended people even skip trips to the supermarket this week. California Gov. Gavin Newsom joins us now to talk through his state's preparations for the weeks ahead.

Thanks for being here, Governor.

NEWSOM: Great to be with you.

SHAPIRO: You're building makeshift hospitals all over the state. You gave your speech yesterday in one of them, an old basketball arena. Can you just give us an idea of what that looks like statewide? Where are you putting all these beds?

NEWSOM: Well, everywhere we can find a location that was ideal. We found an old arena that the Sacramento Kings used to play in. It will provide up to 400 beds, and we were able to quickly turn it around. It'll be up and running just in days. It's one of many assets all up and down the state we've been able to identify. We've had the ability now to lock down 4,613 additional care sites or what we call alternative care sites to help decompress the hospital system and allow for the surge of patients if some of our modeling turns out to be accurate.

SHAPIRO: So even as you're preparing for the surge of patients, as we mentioned, you are lending hundreds of ventilators to the national stockpile. Are you confident that if your state does have this spike in cases as projected you will have the resources you need?

NEWSOM: I am confident in this respect. What we've been successful at doing in the state of California is bending the curve, buying us time. We're seeing modest and moderate growth on a daily basis. We're seeing incremental increases, tragically in the loss of lives, the number of positives, but most importantly, in the context of our planning, the number of people ending up in our hospitals, in our ICUs.

When we look at the totality of our ventilators and our inventory and we look at the modeling over the course of last month and we look forward in the next few weeks, we're confident that we can lend a hand to others in need not just on the ventilators but potentially with procurement opportunities to do more to provide N95 masks, gowns, coveralls and other personal protective gear.

SHAPIRO: What do you think made California more successful at slowing the increase in cases than other states have been?

NEWSOM: At this stage, it's still too early - I mean, by any stretch of the imagination. I think people are writing about this state as if we've somehow figured out the magic solution or there's a magic answer to that question. The reality is, though, we were the first state to do the stay-at-home order. Even before we did the stay-at-home order, we had a stay-at-home order for all of our seniors - 5.3 million seniors 65 and over.

And we were very aggressive in socializing this crisis when we were the - one of the first to deal with it by bringing back these repatriated flights from overseas back in January, where we had six flights - we worked with the Trump administration and the CDC to bring those American citizens into California, begin the quarantine process. That highlighted the issue and really brought our energies and focus to bear perhaps a little bit earlier than some others.

SHAPIRO: You talk about working with the Trump administration and the CDC. It's no surprise that California has had a very antagonistic relationship with this White House. How would you describe the relationship today? Are you getting what you need from the federal government?

NEWSOM: Well, we're involved - just to create context and reinforce - frame your question, we're involved in 68 lawsuits with the Trump administration. And we bought - not been shy in any way, shape or form protecting the values of the state, protecting our diverse communities, our environment, our health care. And we've stood up.

That said, from Day 1 - and that Day 1 happened with - in the case of California's relationship with Trump, in January. All I can say is the president has returned phone calls. He's been easily accessible. And every specific ask that we've had, from bringing the USNS Mercy into California to getting 2,000 medical stations, has been granted by the administration. So I can only speak for myself. I can only speak for California. The relationship has been strong.

SHAPIRO: That's really remarkable. I want to ask you about testing. California has tested more than a hundred thousand people, and this is a state of 40 million. How many tests do you need to be doing to have an accurate sense of the spread of this disease?

NEWSOM: Millions more. We're up to 157,800 as of today. We're going to start significantly increasing our capacity to test, and that's very encouraging - not just the traditional PCR tests, which are the swab-based tests, but now with the serology and the serum tests, the blood-based tests, that we finally got - Stanford Medical Center finally got approval from the FDA to begin those protocols within the state of California.

So we are going to start seeing significant increases in the testing, and that will help us not only in terms of providing a baseline for community surveillance to really understand the spread and the nature of this virus, but also as we begin to process protocols to getting people back into society and back to some semblance of normalcy.

SHAPIRO: How long do you think it'll take to get California to where it needs to be in terms of volume of testing?

NEWSOM: I think I could speak not only for myself but for governors all across the country - is it can't happen soon enough. We're getting the point-of-care tests. We've - obviously doing more on the serum blood-based tests. But we are continuing to be supply constrained, particularly on not only the diagnostic side, which is the reagents side - these RNA extraction kits - but increasingly on the ability to actually conduct the test from the outset, which is the media and the swabs themselves.

We're now doing some modest 3D printing of swabs in the state of California. But as that capacity for supplies grows, then we'll be able to more substantively answer that question. But we simply aren't where I would like to be, but we have a real strategy to get there. But it's in the millions of tests, ultimately, that substantively is an answer to your question, not in the hundreds of thousands.

SHAPIRO: I also want to ask you about the economic impact of all of this. As you know, if California were a country, it would have the world's fifth-largest economy. And right now, tourism is shut down. Hollywood is shut down. Restaurants are shut down. Beyond the federal relief package, are there things you need to do now to make sure that California doesn't bear the economic scars of this crisis for years?

NEWSOM: Well, 2.3 million people, just since March 12 - I'll repeat that - 2.3 million from March 12 have filed for unemployment insurance. This is simply without precedent in our state's history. I'm putting together a new budget for the state of California at a January budget. I'm revising that budget, and we're putting out projections over the next three years that will be rather jaw-dropping in terms of the magnitude.

We're going to need more federal support well beyond - let me say this respectfully but also responsibly - and I'm not someone that looks for handouts. I think California could be the most resourceful state in our nation in this recovery. And at the same time, I'm saying this. We're going to need substantial increase in a fourth stimulus above and beyond what they're currently even offering in order to protect the state and the most vulnerable citizens in the state and to protect cities and counties that have been entrusted to do the same.

SHAPIRO: California Gov. Gavin Newsom, thank you for speaking with us today.

NEWSOM: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF ODESZA SONG, "HOW DID I GET HERE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.