Governor Gavin Newsom said California would significantly increase COVID-19 testing capabilities, adding that it “had” testing gaps in the state, making it difficult to track the deadly virus. At a press conference on Saturday, Newsom announced the creation of a task force that it says will aim to increase the number of daily tests in the state by five by identifying supply shortages and adding test sites.
The announcement comes as California continues to see a dramatic increase in the number of people hospitalized for the virus, with 2,300 patients in the state. An additional 3,267 people hospitalized are suspected of having COVID-19, but are awaiting test results.
Overnight, the number of coronavirus patients in California intensive care unit beds increased by almost 11% to 1,008 people.
In total, Newsom said that 126,700 people have been tested in California, a state of nearly 40 million people. Of those who have been tested, 13,000 are awaiting results.
“The test space has been a challenge for us and I have it,” said Newsom. “And I have a responsibility, as governor, to do better and do more testing in the state of California.”
Public health experts have said that widespread testing is essential to the state’s efforts to accurately assess the number of people infected and where the virus is spread. However, testing has lagged across the country. For those who could be tested, delays in the labs resulted in delays in the results, which was also frustrating for Newsom.
Newsom announced Saturday that it has formed a task force of private and public leaders and said it was confident that the group would face testing challenges in the state.
“We are now in a position where I can confidently say it is a new day,” said Newsom.
Newsom said the state is working in partnership with universities, hospitals, laboratories and test companies to increase the number of test sites across the state, reduce delays and ensure the availability of more accurate and more up-to-date on the number of COVID-19 cases.
The newly created task force will be chaired by Paul Markovich, president and CEO of Blue Shield of California, and Dr. Charity Dean, deputy director of the state Department of Public Health.
State officials have worked hard to add more hospital and intensive care beds to cope with the expected increase in coronavirus patients. State modeling suggests that California will need 50,000 new hospital beds by mid-May. To meet this demand, the state is asking that recently retired medical providers, licensees from other states, and medical school students join the all-new California Health Corps.
Newsom said on Saturday that “an impressive number of people” – some 79,000 people – have registered with the state health body’s website.
The state is also launching a website, covid19supplies.ca.gov, to allow individuals and businesses to donate, sell and offer to make essential medical supplies, such as N95 masks and test equipment. Supply shortages have been blamed for inadequate testing in the state, while the lack of masks, gloves and gowns has left essential health workers unprotected from the virus.
In addition, Newsom said it hoped the state-run website would help fight rampant fraud. Kaiser Permanente said on Friday that he was cooperating with a federal fraud investigation involving a high-profile deal for 39 million N95 masks that never materialized. Newsom said the state was working with the FBI on a number of allegations of fraud involving medical supplies.
“People are taking advantage of all of us right now, and say they are going to deliver something literally that they are unable to deliver or have never intended to deliver,” said Newsom.
The new state task force is collecting data to better understand the materials testing supply chain, said Markovich of Blue Shield. What they do know, he said, is that supplies are scarce.
“There are several states and countries that require the same materials at the same time,” said Markovich.
Understanding where the shortages are and being able to move test supplies faster to areas where they are needed will be a top priority for the task force, said Markovich. The task force will also monitor new testing capabilities to ensure the latest advances are used, he said.
On Saturday, the state announced a partnership with Stanford Medicine to launch the first invented serological test in California. Serological tests use blood samples, instead of secretions taken from the throat and nose, to determine if a person has anti-COVID-19 antibodies. This month, Germany could start large-scale serology tests, while the United Kingdom has ordered millions of antibody tests that can be done at home.
Stanford’s serology test is slated to roll out next week and will help the state increase its testing capabilities, said the dean of the state’s public health department. However, the test was still awaiting federal government approval on Saturday. Newsom said it expects the test to be approved “within a few hours”.
Newsom said that despite the state’s difficulties in conducting adequate testing, California was leading in other areas, including its stay-at-home order, which the governor says will stay in place . Newsom declared the order should be applied by persuasion, not punishment. But he recognized that local governments are enforcing law throughout the state.
Los Angeles prosecutors on Friday laid criminal charges against four companies, accusing non-essential stores of refusing to close. A paddleboarder was arrested Thursday after ignoring the rescuers’ orders to get out of the water on an enclosed beach.
“The state is always ready to do more,” said Newsom. “And I just want to encourage people, don’t force us on this.”
Newsom said he understands that people have been asked to radically change their lifestyle and stay indoors.
“We cannot let cabin fever come in, we cannot allow people to gather again on benches, on our beaches and in our parks,” said Newsom. “Let’s keep the line.”
Newsom said it received an SMS from a good friend on Saturday morning asking for advice on how to prevent his teenage son from going to a party with friends. He said he had offered to take care of it for her.
“Give me his cell phone [number], I’ll call it, “said Newsom.