SACRAMENTO — Comparing the COVID-19 vaccination endeavor to a “military operation,” California Governor Gavin Newsom said Monday he will press lawmakers for an additional $300 million to jumpstart the state’s lagging vaccine distribution efforts.
With more than 500,000 doses yet to be administered and millions more en route, Newsom promised the state will take a more aggressive approach in getting shots to residents.
Along with the $300 million request to be included in his upcoming budget proposal, Newsom said dental offices, drug stores and the National Guard will be used to speed up the vaccination process.
The governor is mandated to release his 2021-2022 budget blueprint by the end of the week. He said the funding would be earmarked for bolstering vaccine distribution and a new public awareness campaign.
During his pandemic briefing, Newsom acknowledged the state has a supply of more than 1 million doses but said officials are slowly working out the kinks involved with distributing supplies to the nation’s most populous state.
“The vaccines don’t arrive magically in some state facility,” Newsom responded to a question about the lagging vaccine distribution rate. “It’s like a flywheel; the first 10 to 15 days we’re going to slowly start building pace.”
California has received nearly 1.8 million doses but as of Monday just 454,000 shots have been administered. According to state data, Los Angeles County has received the most with 363,000 followed by San Diego (194,000) and Orange (99,000). The Democratic governor said 600,000 more doses are to be shipped in the coming days and that shipments of necessary second doses could arrive from pharmaceutical companies later this week.
Newsom’s update comes amid the darkest stretch of the state’s pandemic fight and as officials are bracing for yet another holiday-related surge of infections.
Nearly 4,000 deaths have been attributed to COVID-19 over the last two weeks and a record 21,128 people are currently hospitalized with the virus. Meanwhile, intensive care unit capacities remain at 0% in the southern and central parts of the state.
The explosion of new cases over the last two months has pushed California’s total to 2.4 million, outpacing Texas by more than 600,000. California now has the third most recorded deaths behind New York and Texas at more than 26,000.
To buffer the run on hospitals, Newsom said nearly 100 people have been transferred to temporary emergency care sites activated around the state. In addition, 1,300 state and federal employees have been deployed at the local level.
While Newsom touted data showing that residents’ movements over New Year’s Eve dropped 23% compared to last year, he said public health officials still expect another hospital surge. Newsom called this week “critical” and reiterated hospitalizations have increased sevenfold over the last two months.
“This is a deadly disease, this is a deadly pandemic,” Newsom said of the fact an average of 336 Californians have died every day over the last week. “It remains more deadly today than any point in the history of this pandemic.”
But people disregarded health orders to attend parties or travel in Los Angeles County, where health care workers are bracing for a new spike in hospitalizations over the next two weeks.
As of Monday, more than 1 in 5 Angelenos have tested positive for the virus, with 400,000 new infections just in the last month according to County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer.
“Assume that this deadly, invisible virus is everywhere, looking for a willing host,” Ferrer said Monday.
County officials reported 77 new deaths and more than 9,000 new infections — numbers that are artificially low due to a lag in reporting from the New Year’s holiday weekend.
Newsom said Southern California also saw the state’s first handful of cases of the new coronavirus variant first identified in the United Kingdom.
The threat caused by the coronavirus variant remains unclear, but scientists believe it’s more transmissible. British authorities say more than 1,100 new cases have been linked to the variant. On Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered a new lockdown.
A total of six people in San Diego and San Bernardino counties have been diagnosed with the new strain and one patient is hospitalized. Newsom said genomics testing is underway and that the state hopes to have a clear picture of the variant’s spread sometime this week.
“We’re contact tracing, our disease investigation is very aggressive in this space particular,” Newsom said.
— By Nick Cahill and Nathan Solis, CNS