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California Gov. Gavin Newsom on responding to coronavirus early

California was among the first U.S. states to report cases of the novel coronavirus. Despite aggressive efforts to contain the spread, it now has around 17,000 confirmed cases and 450 coronavirus-related deaths. Governor Gavin Newsom joins Judy Woodruff to discuss why his state acted on COVID-19 early, its current levels of critical medical supplies and when stay-at-home orders might be lifted.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    States across the country have taken aggressive measures to lessen the effects of COVID-19, some more successfully than others.

    California was among the first to report cases of the virus. Today, the state has around 17,000 confirmed cases and roughly 450 coronavirus-related deaths.

    To help us understand where his state stands right now, I'm joined by California Governor Gavin Newsom.

    Governor Newsom, thank you very much for joining us on the "NewsHour."

    California, 40 million people live in your state, and yet, at this point, if I read the numbers correctly, you have only about a 10th the number of cases of New York, which has half as many people as California does.

    How do you explain that?

  • Governor Gavin Newsom:

    You know, look, my heart goes out to everybody on the East Coast, particularly in New York, New Jersey and elsewhere.

    And, at the end of the day, I can only equate for what we have done. We were able to move a little earlier than some, for one reason, that we have been at this from this get-go, January of this year, when we started bringing in repatriated flights from mainland China.

    A number of states didn't want those flights coming into their state. We brought six of them in. And we started working with the Trump administration, CDC and others. And it really generated a lot of interest in the virus, a lot of consciousness in the virus.

    And, of course, we had that Grand Princess cruise line that did the same. And, as a consequence, I think the people of this state really started to familiarize themselves with the issue a little before perhaps even others.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You are clearly — you must be getting some of the equipment that you need, because it's been reported you're lending, what is it, 500 ventilators to states like New York that need them right now.

    It's been reported some of your local officials in California say they are going to be needing these things. How do you make decisions like that?

  • Governor Gavin Newsom:

    We make them on an as-needed basis. And there's no greater need in this country now, more acute need, than the states that we sent these ventilators to, not just New Jersey and New York, but Illinois.

    We sent some to Maryland, D.C. and to Nevada. And at the end of the day, we just can't sit on a cache in a storage facility of these ventilators, when we know they quite literally can be used to save lives today.

    They are on loan. The governors made it clear, if we need them back, they will send them right back. But here's the good news, our current capacity within our hospital system. As I'm talking to you at this moment, we have over 8,000 ventilators that are not being used within our hospital system, and hundreds more in our state warehouse.

    And so, as we see the growth — and we are seeing a growth in the number and the utilization increase — we will deploy ventilators as needed.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, do you think — I mean, is it your sense that this conundrum, this difficulty that every governor says he or she is having difficulty, getting the equipment, the essential equipment they need, does that seem to be getting under control?

  • Governor Gavin Newsom:

    No, it's not where it needs to be, candidly. I will say that.

    But I also will say this. Yesterday, we announced a major deal where we now are the impetus for helping create a new supply chain in China by getting a warehouse facility — a manufacturing — excuse me — facility up and running.

    We're committing, the state of California alone is committing to $1.48 billion of purchases, close to $1.5 billion of purchases, in new contracts that we were able to source, not only in China, but elsewhere.

    So we're using our purchasing power, not only to compete for existing PPE stock, but also help create new supplies that could ultimately help more of us across this country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    California's economy.

    I read that, what, 925,000 Californians in a recent week, just this past week, applied for unemployment benefits. When will those individuals be able to get the help they need?

  • Governor Gavin Newsom:

    The $600 federal contribution, the additional $600 that's being made available for the next four months, those checks start going out this Sunday.

    Our unemployment capacity is about $450, on the high end, a month, added to that $600. That's a weekly — excuse me — a weekly check. Those checks will start going out in real time.

    We have a three-week turnaround in the best of times. We still think we're capable of doing that now for up to 2.5 million people that have filed for unemployment since just March 12 in the state of California.

    We have put 800 new staff to address the needs of a system that is now simply overwhelmed because the magnitude of this crisis.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Governor, are you even beginning to think about when you might be able to lift the stay-at-home order?

  • Governor Gavin Newsom:

    We are. We're doing that concurrently.

    Meet the moment, address the crisis head on, buy us time. We have done that. We have seen that we have been able to bend the curve, which buys us time to do two things. That's increase supply, alternative care sites beyond the hospital system, create slack within the hospital system by reducing the total number of patients for nonelective surgeries, reprioritize, reposition our work force, and significantly add to our PPE.

    All of that has given us time to prepare. That said, we also are taking the time to prepare for a new normalcy, where we have to maintain our vigilance and obviously not be complacent. And we're trying to figure out where those spots will lie, what we can do first.

    And we have got a whole team working 24/7, but that will be determined on the basis of two things, individual behavior, people still practicing physical distancing, and continuing to stay at home, and, number two, on the reality of the virus and the health directives coming from the counties, not just our state officials.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Governor Gavin Newsom of California, thank you very much. And we wish you the best as you continue to deal with this.

    Thank you.

  • Governor Gavin Newsom:

    Thanks for having me.

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