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Governor Newsom, State Health & Emergency Officials Announce Release of Millions of N95 Filtering Facepiece Masks for Use in Low-Risk Health Settings to Address Shortages Caused by COVID-19

Date: March 3, 2020
Number: NR20-010
Contact: Corey Egel | 916.440.7259 | CDPHpress@cdph.ca.gov

Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approves California to use personal protective equipment in certain conditions
California Department of Public Health and CalOSHA release guidance for safe use of personal protective equipment that has been securely stored in a controlled climate in situations that do not involve confirmed COVID-19 patients
The state is mobilizing every level of government to prepare for and respond to spread of virus

SACRAMENTO – As the spread of COVID-19 has caused nationwide shortages of respirator face masks for medical professionals, the California Department of Public Health is taking steps to protect health care professionals on the frontlines of the fight against novel coronavirus. 

The Public Health Department today announced that it has received approval from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health to use some of its emergency planning reserves of 21 million N95 filtering facepiece masks in certain situations. 

The emergency planning reserves of N95 masks, some of which are past their manufacturer use-by date, have been stored in climate-controlled conditions that preserved the masks’ efficacy. The way the masks have been stored will prevent the degradation of elastic that slips around the ears, a key factor in the CDC and NIOSH’s approval. 

These masks are approved for use only in limited, low-risk circumstances, thus relieving pressure on the supply chain of unexpired masks for health care providers caring for confirmed COVID-19 patients and other high-risk situations for infectious diseases.

In tandem with this announcement, the Department of Public Health and CalOSHA both released guidance about:
• Which N95 masks may be safely used;
• Under what circumstances; and
• How health facilities can optimize use of expired masks to conserve unexpired personal protective equipment for confirmed COVID-19 patients and in other medically necessary situations.

The California Department of Public Health, along with the CDC, does not recommend that healthy people wear masks at this time. However, masks are recommended to limit the spread of disease for people who are exhibiting respiratory symptoms.

“California is working hard to ensure our health care system is in the strongest possible position to respond to this evolving  situation,” said Governor Gavin Newsom. “Critical to that effort is making sure health care workers have the medical masks and protective equipment they need to protect themselves while caring for patients. Our state is extremely grateful for the hard work and dedication of our health care workers in this time of expanded need.”

“Protecting the health and safety of the doctors, nurses, and other health care and dental care providers is a critical component of ensuring our public health at any time, and particularly now,” said Dr. Sonia Angell, Director of the California Department of Public Health and State Health Officer. “Releasing this supply of masks will help keep our health care professionals safe on the job.”

As California’s testing for COVID-19 at 13 state and county public health labs in the state ramps up, Dr. Angell stressed that faster testing of patients may lead to a more rapid increase in the number of confirmed cases reported. That is not necessarily a sign that the rate of infection is increasing, but that our ability to test more people more rapidly is leading to better detection.

While additional positive tests continue to be reported by county health officers, state officials emphasized that these reports show swift and robust action is being taken to detect cases early, isolate and care for patients, and trace contacts.

“The risk to the health of the general public in California remains low. We will continue to provide updates as this situation evolves,” said Dr. Angell. “At this time, the best way to protect your health is to practice good health habits like washing your hands regularly, covering your cough and staying home if you are ill. Also, if you have a fever and respiratory symptoms or other signs of COVID-19, call ahead. Calling your health care provider or local public health department first before seeking medical care allows steps to be taken to protect the health and wellbeing of patients, healthcare providers and the community at large.”

COVID-19 in California by the Numbers (as of 10 a.m. Pacific Time):
43 – Positive tests
24 – Cases of positive tests related to federal repatriation flights
19 – Cases not related to repatriation flights
  • 10 – Travel-related
  • 5 – Person to person
  • 4 – Community transmission
9,200+ – number of people self-monitoring who returned to the U.S. through SFO or LAX
49 – Number of local health jurisdictions involved in self-monitoring
13 – Labs with test kits
Thousands – Number of tests California is able to perform now
*All numbers as of 10 am PST and are subject to change; some information dependent on county reporting

How Can People Protect Themselves:
Every person has a role to play. So much of protecting yourself and your family comes down to common sense:
• Washing hands with soap and water.
• Avoiding touching eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
• Avoiding close contact with people who are sick.
• Staying away from work, school or other people if you become sick with respiratory symptoms like fever and cough.
• Following guidance from public health officials.

What to Do if You Think You’re Sick:
• Call ahead: If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and may have had contact with a person with COVID-19 or recently traveled to countries with apparent community spread, call your health care provider or local public health department first before seeking medical care so that appropriate precautions can be taken.

California’s Response to COVID-19:

We have been actively and extensively planning with our local public health and health care delivery systems. Here are some of the things we are already doing:
• As in any public health event, the California Department of Public Health’s Medical and Health Coordination Center has been activated and is coordinating response efforts across the state and preparing for possible community transmission.
• California continues to prepare and respond in coordination with federal and local partners, hospitals and physicians.
• California activated the State Operations Center to coordinate response efforts across the state.
• Governor Gavin Newsom requested the Legislature make up to $20 million available for state government to respond to the spread of COVID-19.
• The Public Health Department is providing information, guidance documents, and technical support to local health departments, health care facilities, providers, schools, universities, colleges, and childcare facilities across California.
• It is coordinating with federal authorities and local health departments that have implemented screening, monitoring and, in some cases quarantine of returning travelers.
• In coordination with the CDC, state and local health departments, we are actively responding to cases of COVID-19.
• The Public Health Department is supporting hospitals and local public health laboratories for collection and shipment of specimens for testing at CDC for novel coronavirus.
• The California Department of Public Health’s state laboratory in Richmond and 12 other public health department laboratories are now testing for the virus that
causes COVID-19.​​
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