Gov. Newsom calls for $1.4 billion in emergency COVID-19 spending as omicron variant spreads

By Sophia Bollag

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Gov. Gavin Newsom on Saturday called for California lawmakers to approve $1.4 billion in emergency COVID-19 money as the omicron variant surges.

Most of that money would go to expanding hospital surge capacity and increasing testing, including by expanding the hours at testing sites and sending millions of rapid tests to local health departments, community clinics and schools.

Newsom’s call for additional funding comes as testing demand outstrips supply in California, resulting in long lines at testing sites and longer wait times for results.

On Friday, the Democratic governor started sending 200 members of the National Guard to help staff testing sites to add capacity for walk-in appointments, manage crowds and backfill staff who catch the virus and must isolate.

The highly infectious omicron variant now accounts for at least 80% of COVID-19 cases in California, according to Newsom’s office. The state’s daily case rate has skyrocketed, and more than 1 in 5 tests are coming back positive, according to state data.

Newsom would also use the money to speed vaccination efforts, including by fighting misinformation about vaccines and partnering with ethnic media outlets, according to the governor’s office.

Newsom plans to seek an additional $1.3 billion for COVID-19 response later this year in the 2022-23 budget, which takes effect July 1. He is also calling for the Legislature to create a new COVID-19 supplemental sick leave policy for front-line workers who contract the coronavirus or have to care for an infected family member.

“From day one California has taken swift and direct action to battle COVID-19 with policies that have saved tens of thousands of lives, but there’s more work to be done,” Newsom said in a statement. “Our proposed COVID-19 emergency response package will support our testing capacity, accelerate vaccination and booster efforts, support front-line workers and health care systems and battle misinformation.”

On Monday, Newsom will announce his full budget proposal for the 2022-23 fiscal year, including plans on how to spend an estimated $31 billion surplus.

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