California scrambling to obtain 1 billion gloves, other virus protection gear

(Photo by Scott Heins/Getty Images)

California is scrambling to obtain protective gear for healthcare workers and first responders, reaching out worldwide and working with locals to ratchet up production as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps through the nation’s most populous state.

The state is trying to acquire about 1 billion sets of gloves and hundreds of millions of gowns, surgical masks and face shields, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday. Groups throughout the country were trying to help too, including a group of nail salon owners in San Mateo County who rounded up thousands of masks. 

“It’s going to take an heroic effort” to procure the personal protection equipment, or PPE, needed to prepare for an expected surge in COVID-19 cases, Newsom said.

Among other things, he said the state would charter flights from China with gear and had heard from companies wanting to use 3-D printers to make surgical masks.

He also discussed working with other governors to strategically leverage buying power for supplies while making sure California doesn’t exploit its size at the expense of smaller states that may have difficulty obtaining equipment.

In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti said an Anheuser-Busch beer plant in Van Nuys will produce bottles of hand sanitizer. Another plant in Baldwinsville, New York, will also do so.

Newsom’s announcement came as California added hundreds more coronavirus cases to its total. A tally by Johns Hopkins on Monday counted nearly 2,200 cases and 40 deaths statewide.

Earlier Monday, Los Angeles officials announced plans to expand coronavirus testing, promising up to 5,000 tests a day by Friday, significantly ramping up an effort that has lagged nationwide amid the outbreak.

In contrast to President Donald Trump’s projection that the crisis and its impact on the economy would last weeks rather than months, Newsom is planning for a 90-day surge of cases. He said new calculations show California, which has 75,000 hospital beds, could need an additional 50,000 beds.

“We clearly are operating under a different set of assumptions,” Newsom said. But, he said, the many conversations he’s had with Trump and the “significant support and resources” California is receiving alongside Washington and New York “suggests an understanding, very directly by the president himself, of the unique challenges we face in our states.

“I have no trepidation that whatever he decides to do from a national prism will get in the way of our efforts here at the state level,” Newsom said.

The Democratic governor touted public-private cooperation to bring in medical supplies and open new hospital beds, including a Navy hospital ship destined for Los Angeles and two Army field hospitals opening in Riverside and Santa Clara counties. Six more are planned and the eight field hospitals will be able to serve 2,000 patients.

To address potential staffing shortages, Newsom said he would consider waiving some graduation requirements for fourth-year medical students and nursing students who were doing clinical rotations when the outbreak arrived to more quickly get them into the field. He also suggested retirees might pitch in.


Associated Press writers Adam Beam in Sacramento, Janie Har and Juliet Williams in San Francisco, Christopher Weber, Stefanie Dazio and Michael R. Blood in Los Angeles and Julie Watson and Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report.