Why California Sent Ventilators to New York and Other States

ImageGov. Gavin Newsom during a tour of the Bloom Energy Sunnyvale campus on March 28. Bloom Energy is a fuel cell generator company that has switched over to refurbishing ventilators.
Credit…Pool photo by Beth Laberge

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It’s not enough to declare a trend, Gov. Gavin Newsom said in his daily news briefing on Thursday. Don’t make it your headline, he cautioned.

The number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care units across the state had decreased to 1,132 from 1,154 the day before, he said — a 1.9 percent decline. Slight, to be sure.

“Nonetheless,” he said, “it is encouraging.”

After sharing that news, the governor sought to allay concerns from officials in some counties, including Riverside, that the state’s move to loan ventilators to other states left California’s own hospitals in a precarious spot.

“It was the right thing to do and it was the responsible thing to do as Americans,” he said. “We can’t just sit on assets when we could save lives.”

He said that over roughly the past month, California’s hospital system had increased the number of ventilators in its hospitals to 11,747 from 7,587.

[Read more about trends to watch in coronavirus statistics.]

At the moment, he said, the hospital system was using 31.89 percent of the available ventilators, which means that more than 8,000 ventilators were currently unused, not including the state-owned ventilators that have been sent across the nation.

Mr. Newsom added that he’s “not naïve.” The state has a mutual aid system to ensure that each county has more than enough ventilators as they need at any given time. He emphasized that the state was working to continue to refurbish and find more ventilators in the meantime.

“It’s all part and parcel of a broader strategy,” he said.

[See our map of coronavirus cases in California by county.]

Earlier this week, voters across the country watched with a mixture of horror and admiration as Wisconsinites waited for hours in long, haphazardly spaced lines, many wearing masks — but some not — effectively risking lives, to vote.

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For California’s secretary of state, Alex Padilla, the images were less surprising than they were flashing red signs that election administrators have their work cut out for them in the coming months.

“Wisconsin should not be a preview, it should be an alarm,” Mr. Padilla told me. “What happened on Tuesday was absolutely avoidable.”

Mr. Padilla estimated that California will receive roughly $35 million from the federal coronavirus relief package from the $400 million for elections around the country, plus a 20 percent match required from the state. That won’t be enough, he said.

The state is working with California’s counties to encourage as much voting by mail and early voting as possible without making it onerous to cast an in-person Election Day ballot. It’s also important, officials have said, to maintain same-day registration.

[Read more about how California’s top-two primary system works.]

That means dealing with a range of challenges, like finding larger polling places where it’s possible to space out booths — senior homes are not a good idea, for instance, Mr. Padilla noted — and getting enough personal protective gear to protect poll workers. And then there’s the matter of the poll workers themselves.

“How do we replace the seniors and retirees that have made up the Election Day work force?” he asked. Even by November, the danger posed by Covid-19 will not have completely passed, particularly for vulnerable older workers.

Mr. Padilla said his office was looking into ways to reach out to people who have recently become unemployed.

Still, he said that California was better positioned than many states. Millions of Golden State voters already receive mail-in ballots without having to request them and can vote in person starting 10 days before Election Day, under the Voter’s Choice Act.

And while new voting centers in Los Angeles County were dogged by long lines on Super Tuesday, experts said that was probably because officials rolled out several major changes to the county’s voting systems at once.

A spokesman for the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder’s office said in an email that the county was “exploring the feasibility of sending every registered voter” a vote-by-mail ballot for the November election and that the office was working on a report analyzing what the county can do to prevent the long lines in the future.

And late last month, the governor ordered that every voter in the 25th Congressional District will get a ballot in the mail ahead of a special election on May 12.

That’s where residents are set to decide who will fill the vacancy left by Katie Hill until the results of the November election determine her full-term successor.

  • There are 10,521 public schools in California. Today, our partners at the University of California, Berkeley, Graduate School of Journalism tell the story of the one school that hasn’t shut its doors: Outside Creek Elementary in Tulare County, where 21 students from kindergarten through eighth grade have been showing up to learn in person.

[Read more here.]

  • Here are some ideas for celebrating holidays this weekend. We hope you can enjoy them. [The New York Times]

We’re continuing with our remembrances of those lost in the coronavirus pandemic. (If you’d like to share memories of a Californian you knew who has died, please email us at CAtoday@nytimes.com.)

Today’s piece, about Marylou Armer, was written by Hannah Ricker, a reporter at U.C. Berkeley’s journalism school:

At the Santa Rosa Police Department, Marylou Armer was a detective known for meticulous, leave-no-stone-unturned investigations of domestic violence and sexual assault. But what also set her apart was a bottomless reserve of compassion for victims.

“She was very human in a profession that isn’t always that way,” Stephen Bussell, a fellow Santa Rosa police officer and close friend, said. “In law enforcement, there can be a tendency to be robotic, but she was extremely passionate and empathetic.”

Detective Armer died on March 31, the first police officer in California who died of complications from the coronavirus. One of eight Santa Rosa police employees to test positive for Covid-19, she was hospitalized after developing flulike symptoms. She was 43.

On April 2, the governor’s office said flags at the Capitol would be flown at half-staff in her honor.

She began her career 20 years ago as an evidence technician and worked her way up.

“She was always that person who made people feel connected,” said Kris Capeheart, a friend and field evidence technician at the department, which is in Northern California. “She took the time to make everybody feel special.”

Her friendships ran deep and she often vacationed with colleagues in far-flung corners of the world, including Thailand and Peru. “She knew how to have fun, she wanted to meet people, and she wanted to learn cultures,” Ms. Capeheart said. “She was my rock.”

Detective Armer is survived by a husband and daughter.

[Read more about those we’ve lost here.]

California Today goes live at 6:30 a.m. Pacific time weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: CAtoday@nytimes.com. Were you forwarded this email? Sign up for California Today here.

Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, went to school at U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter, @jillcowan.

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.

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