California to Spend $1.4 Billion on Protective Gear

State Also Begins to Break Down COVID-19 Statistics by Race

Air National Guardsmen from California's 146th Airlift Wing deliver 200 ventilators to Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, NY. | Credit: CA Natl Guard

The data issued by the State of California on Wednesday included for the first time a racial breakout of COVID-19 positive cases and deaths by race. That same day, Governor Newsom made the astonishing announcement the state would play “no more small ball” and would spend $1.4 billion on protection supplies.

Newsom prefaced his talk by thanking the National Guard, which was flying 100 of the state’s ventilators to New York, New Jersey, and Illinois. They were sending another 50 ventilators to Maryland, D.C., and Delaware, and driving 50 to Nevada. Under questioning from reporters, Newsom pointed to those loaned ventilators as evidence of the collaborative nature of California’s move to acquire 500 million pieces of personal protective equipment per month.

“We’re in a position to do something bold and big that could be a catalyst to increase supply and ultimately increase the capacity to procure with more certainty,” Newsom said. “As a nation-state with the capacity of writing a check for millions, no, billions of dollars,” he said, California was “stepping back from running and chasing after equipment, running into walls or each other.” 

Working through nongovernmental organizations with ties to China and Chinese suppliers, some through previous climate-change work, said Newsom, the state was on track to receive 150 million N95 masks per month, 50 million surgical masks, and gowns, gloves, and face shields.

Newsom denied his “nation-state” was stepping in where national leadership was leaving a void, saying the work against COVID-19 could not proceed without FEMA or the White House, with whom California was coordinating. As for the other states, his emergency task force was working with theirs: “We’re all in this together,” he said, and his top emergency manager, Mark Ghilarducci, said California was building an “air bridge” with China and coordinating with the national prioritization of counties most heavily afflicted with COVID-19. One piece of new equipment arriving from FEMA, said Ghilarducci, was a machine to sterilize previously used N95 masks, up to 80,000 per day.

Regarding the new breakdown of COVID-19 cases and deaths by race, Newsom emphasized heavily that not even 40 percent of all cases could be analyzed so closely. Nationally in recent days, a disproportionate number of deaths in the African-American community was recognized in many states, such as Louisiana. In a report from The Guardian, 70 percent of deaths came from the black community, which made up only 32 percent of the population.

In New York, which now has the most COVID cases in the world, only 63 percent of all cases were broken down by race: 28 percent of those who died were African Americans, who are 22 percent of the population, according to a report in USA Today. Latinos, who are 29 percent of the population, represented 34 percent of deaths. Asians, who make up 14 percent of the population, represented 7 percent of deaths.

A report in the Los Angeles Times cited Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 20 percent of African Americans could work from home, while the percentage was 30 percent for Caucasians and 37 percent for Asian Americans. As well, the Times found that African Americans were 60 percent more like to be diagnosed with diabetes than whites and were 40 percent more likely to have high blood pressure. Both conditions can complicate symptoms gravely for COVID-19 patients.

Newsom said he had 10 people tracing information back to hospitals and coroner’s offices to determine the race of those who had died and who were infected. By Thursday, the state was able to report on 54 percent of cases and 53 percent of deaths: Highest were whites, who are 37 percent of the state’s population, 34 percent of COVID cases, and 38 percent of deaths. Next were Latinos, who make up 39 percent of the populace: 30 percent of cases and 26 percent of deaths. Asian Americans, at 15 percent of the state, represented 13 percent of cases and 18 percent of deaths. For African Americans, who are 6 percent of the state’s population, the totals were 7 percent of cases and 8 percent of deaths.

In Santa Barbara County, such a breakout of race information has yet to be compiled, but “this is absolutely something our team has been working on,” said Public Health spokesperson Jackie Ruiz.

Dave Moore, who is a pastor with Santa Barbara New Covenant Church, said he took part in a White House conference call this morning with a thousand other African-American faith leaders. “The leading underlying health condition that puts those who test positive for COVID-19 at risk for death is hypertension,” he said of their conclusions, “something that disproportionately affects our community.” Being told to wear a mask, he said, could endanger black lives in some parts of the country, yet another example of how authorities who say “we’ve come to do you good” fall far short of that goal.

The prevalence of the disease in some black communities wasn’t creating a buzz that he was aware of, said Moore, but many were aware of and outraged that “black and brown bodies comprise much of our essential labor force, and live in high-density housing,” which contribute to what’s happening in New York City, Michigan, Louisiana, and Illinois.

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