New­som’s mask deal shows ten­dency for big plans, few de­tails

Times Standard (Eureka) - - NEWS - By Kath­leen Ron­ayne

SACRA­MENTO » Cal­i­for­nia Gov. Gavin New­som’s an­nounce­ment was au­da­cious: On a na­tional news show, he said the state had just inked a deal to buy 200 mil­lion masks monthly, a mas­sive haul amid the in­ter­na­tional scram­ble for pro­tec­tive gear needed in the fight against the coro­n­avirus.

“As a na­tion-state, with the ca­pac­ity to write a check for hun­dreds of mil­lions, no bil­lions, of dol­lars, we’re in a po­si­tion to do some­thing bold and big,” New­som told re­porters the next day.

The an­nounce­ment sur­prised many state law­mak­ers, and Cal­i­for­nia took the un­usual step of pay­ing half the cost up front. One week later, de­tails of the $1 bil­lion deal with Chi­nese com­pany BYD are limited — the con­tract has not been made pub­lic, though New­som’s emer­gency ser­vices direc­tor said it would be soon.

The mask deal, and how New­som an­nounced it, il­lus­trates the first-term gov­er­nor’s ten­dency to make big pro­nounce­ments with­out all de­tails in place, or be­fore his ad­min­is­tra­tion is ready to share them.

Law­mak­ers will be­gin over­sight hear­ings Thurs­day to learn more about the deal and New­som’s spend­ing dur­ing the pan­demic af­ter they halted their ses­sion last month and gave him broad au­thor­ity to spend. He’s spent nearly $2 bil­lion.

Demo­cratic state Assem­bly­man Richard Bloom, a bud­get com­mit­tee mem­ber,

said de­tails of the BYD deal “are very murky.”

“One thing that I am con­cerned about is the lack of di­a­logue be­tween the ad­min­is­tra­tive and leg­isla­tive branches of govern­ment about emer­gency ex­pen­di­tures,” Bloom said in a state­ment.

New­som “has moved swiftly and ag­gres­sively to pro­tect hu­man life and help Cal­i­for­ni­ans meet un­prece­dented chal­lenges,” his spokesman Nathan Click said in a state­ment. He added, “be­cause of those

ef­forts and the ac­tions of mil­lions of Cal­i­for­ni­ans who are stay­ing home, Cal­i­for­nia has be­gun to flat­ten the curve and has even been able to as­sist other states that are in much worse shape.”

In an­other big claim, New­som last month praised a “heroic ef­fort” by Tesla founder Elon Musk to do­nate at least 1,000 ven­ti­la­tors to Cal­i­for­nia hos­pi­tals and said Musk would work with the state’s hospi­tal as­so­ci­a­tion and other groups to de­liver them.

But on Wed­nes­day, state spokesman Brian Fer­gu­son said the state had not heard of any hospi­tal sys­tems re­ceiv­ing ven­ti­la­tors from Musk or Tesla. Cal­i­for­nia Hospi­tal As­so­ci­a­tion spokes­woman Jan Emer­son-Shea said the or­ga­ni­za­tion played no role in dis­tribut­ing ven­ti­la­tors. Tesla spokesman Kam­ran Mum­taz did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to an email seek­ing com­ment.

New­som has also of­fered con­flict­ing in­for­ma­tion on plans to house home­less

Cal­i­for­ni­ans vul­ner­a­ble to the virus. When he is­sued an ex­ec­u­tive or­der last month that he pro­moted as a 60-day evic­tion mora­to­rium, ad­vo­cacy groups said it didn’t ad­e­quately pro­tect tenants. They won ap­proval of a more iron-clad mora­to­rium from the state’s Ju­di­cial Coun­cil

New­som speaks daily about the state’s re­sponse to the out­break, giv­ing hour­long pre­sen­ta­tions re­plete with num­bers he re­cites with pre­ci­sion. He is dyslexic and mem­o­rizes most of his pre­sen­ta­tions.

“One of the down­sides of speak­ing ex­tem­po­ra­ne­ously is you may get some of the de­tails wrong, es­pe­cially when you are speak­ing for an hour straight,” said Kim Nalder, a professor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at the Cal­i­for­nia State Univer­sity, Sacra­mento. But, she said, “he’s def­i­nitely pro­ject­ing a sense of com­pre­hend­ing the sit­u­a­tion and ag­gres­sively ad­dress­ing the is­sues.”

Cal­i­for­nia, the most pop­u­lous U.S. state, has fewer in­fec­tions and deaths than New York and sev­eral other states. More than 25,000 Cal­i­for­ni­ans have tested pos­i­tive for the virus and nearly 800 have died. For most peo­ple, the virus causes mild or mod­er­ate symp­toms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, es­pe­cially older adults and peo­ple with ex­ist­ing health problems, it can cause life-threat­en­ing ill­ness and death.

Six coun­ties in the San Fran­cisco Bay Area were the first in the coun­try to im­pose stay-at-home or­ders, and New­som fol­lowed with a statewide di­rec­tive.

Karin Michels, chair of the epi­demi­ol­ogy depart­ment at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Los An­ge­les’ Field­ing School of Pub­lic Health, said Cal­i­for­nia has been aided in its virus fight by cul­tural fac­tors like its low-den­sity hous­ing, younger pop­u­la­tion and res­i­dents’ over­all health. But she said the gov­er­nor de­serves “a lot of credit for be­ing quick.”

RICH PEDRONCELL­I — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

On Tuesday Gov. Gavin New­som dis­cusses an out­line for what it will take to lift coro­n­avirus re­stric­tions dur­ing a news con­fer­ence at the Gov­er­nor’s Of­fice of Emer­gency Ser­vices in Ran­cho Cor­dova.

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