PARAMOUNT, Calif. -- Gov. Gavin Newsom laid out more details of his administration's pandemic emergency response package, which he says is focused on "keeping schools open and the economy moving" as COVID-19 cases surge.
Newsom visited one of the state's 50 mobile COVID testing sites in Los Angeles County on Wednesday. He said his package will help ramp up vaccines, boosters, statewide testing, and increase medical personnel.
"We're going get through this,'' said Newsom. "This is going to be a challenging period. It is a challenging period for so many folks."
On Saturday, Newsom proposed $2.7 billion in new COVID spending as part of his newest budget proposal, including a request for $1.4 billion in emergency funds to bolster testing capacity and accelerate vaccination and booster efforts.
Newsom said there are already 6,288 permanent sites operating throughout California, many of which are placed in rural areas. He said at the moment, about 90% of Californians live within a 30-minute drive of a testing site.
"It's not insignificant. It shows what's been done, but it also shows where the gaps remain," he said. "We don't want to see these lines."
His plan will also help support frontline workers and strengthen the health care system. Part of that includes bringing in outside help. Newsom said over the last several weeks, 2,363 contracted staff has been brought in from out-of-state. He said another 1,250 are on the way.
"We are providing flexibility to facilities as it relates to how they use that staff, and we recognize how weary that staff is now," said Newsom.
State health authorities announced over the weekend that hospital staff members who test positive but are symptom-free can continue working.
California's Department of Public Health said the new policy was prompted by "critical staffing shortages." It asked hospitals to make every attempt to fill openings by bringing in employees from outside staffing agencies.
Also, infected workers will be required to wear extra-protective N95 masks and should be assigned to treat other COVID-positive patients, the department said.
5 reasons you should not deliberately catch omicron to 'get it over with'
"We did not ask for this guidance, and we don't have any information on whether hospitals will adopt this approach or not," said Jan Emerson-Shea, a spokesperson for the California Hospital Association. "But what we do know is that hospitals are expecting many more patients in the coming days than they're going to be able to care for with the current resources."
Emerson-Shea said many hospital workers have been exposed to the virus, and are either sick or caring for family members who are.
The 100,000-member California Nurses Association came out against the decision and warned it will lead to more infections.
Newsom and other state health leaders "are putting the needs of health care corporations before the safety of patients and workers," Cathy Kennedy, the association's president, said in a statement. "We want to care for our patients and see them get better - not potentially infect them."
Plus, California is now making it easier for school districts to hire teachers and other employees amid staffing shortages brought on by the latest surge.
Newsom said he signed an executive order to allow schools more flexibility in staffing decisions like giving additional hours to substitute teachers and rehiring recent retirees for short stints. The order expires at the end of March.
"We need to keep our kids in person instruction safely in school," he said. "That is our priority, and it will continue to be."
Newsom said he hopes to expedite a hiring process that's typically time consuming and allow school districts "to keep our kids safely in person for the remainder of the year and get through this next three to six or so weeks."
The California Teachers Association, which represents some 300,000 educators statewide, said it recognizes the need for hiring flexibility and urges school districts "to focus on substitute teachers, recent retirees and student teachers."
"The executive order is by no means the answer to long-term staffing shortages, and we look forward to working with the governor, lawmakers and the education community in rebuilding our educator pipeline, which has been devastated by this pandemic," association spokesperson Lisa Gardiner said in a statement Tuesday.
Newsom also said the state was working on getting more COVID-19 tests to schools. Millions of test kits were sent to families but millions more were not, and there have been long lines at testing sites.
Newsom's visit comes as a legislative committee in the state Assembly advanced a bill on Tuesday that would replace California's private insurance market with a plan paid for by the government. But the proposal is still a long way from becoming law. It faces strong opposition from the state's powerful business interests. And even if it becomes law, voters will have to approve a massive income tax increase to pay for it.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.