Cost of fighting COVID in California: $ 12.3 billion
By Barbara Feder Ostrov, CalMatters
CALIFORNIA – The fight against COVID-19 in California has cost taxpayers at least $ 12.3 billion since the start of the pandemic.
That’s more than the gross domestic product of 50 nations. More than the value of the Dodgers, Yankees and Giants combined. Almost double the profits of General Motors last year. Enough to give every Californian $ 313.
And that doesn’t include $ 110 billion from the federal government to increase unemployment checks, and billions more in federal stimulus funds, rent assistance, and business loans shut down for much of last year.
SState finance officials summed up government costs of about 40 categories and came up with an estimate of $ 12.3 billion for the “total direct emergency pandemic response” between 2020 and 2022.
What did our federal and state tax dollars buy?
Trucks of N95 respirators and surgical masks desperately sought after by healthcare workers at the start of the pandemic, purchased under a controversial $ 1.4 billion deal.
Hundreds of millions of plastic gowns and gloves.
Extra beds in hospitals.
Medical interpreters to handle hundreds of languages.
Student laptops are suddenly launching into distance learning.
Temporary workers to trace the contacts of infected people and respond to hotlines inundated with unemployed Californians seeking benefits.
One of the highest prices was in state prisons, where 227 infected prisoners died and the fight against COVID-19 cost nearly $ 1.6 billion. Other big prizes include testing for the virus, at over $ 1.8 billion, and $ 1.1 billion in lab equipment for overburdened public health labs.
The $ 12.3 billion may seem like a lot to one state. But University of Southern California economist Adam Rose sets out the big issues: He estimates the cost of lives lost to COVID-19 in the United States could exceed $ 6.2 trillion, with an impact overall additional $ 5,000 billion. The economic burden of the pandemic far exceeds that of the Great Recession, Rose said.
More than 63,000 Californians have died from COVID-19.
“If you save 1,000 lives, you save $ 10 billion. If you didn’t do anything at all, the situation would be much worse, ”said Rose, who studies disaster economics. “You’re going to pay one way or another.”
A flourishing graphic
Much of the money spent in California has come – or is to come – from the federal government. To put that into perspective, Congress approved more than $ 5,000 billion in COVID-19 relief spending – more than all federal spending in 2019.
The hiring and training of new case investigators and contact researchers cost $ 233 million in public funds. Some of that money went to Allison Busch-Lovejoy, a Caltrans analyst, who said she was “volunteering” last year to help trace COVID-19 cases in the Los Angeles area in the part of an $ 8.7 million training program, run by UCLA and UCSF health experts, to help overwhelmed county health departments.
“It challenged me as a human being,” said Busch-Lovejoy, who lives in Humboldt County. “It was hard work talking to people who were very sick, sometimes in the hospital, always a challenge to honor whoever you were talking to.”
Nearly $ 1.4 billion in federal and state funds supported California’s mass vaccination campaign, which, after a difficult deployment, has seen more than 20 million Californians fully immunized.
Initially, this money funded the operations of mass vaccination clinics that could serve thousands of people in one day and the problematic $ 50 million MyTurn vaccine appointment and tracking system.
Yet vaccine progress has been uneven statewide, with vaccination rates lagging in rural counties, low-income communities, and among black and Latino Californians. Now federal and state government money is being used to reach people who have been hesitant or unable to access the vaccine, through home vaccination campaigns, phone banking and special events. .
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This month, local and state health officials hosted an immunization clinic and festival before a football game at PayPal Park Stadium in San Jose. The first 155 people to be immune received a pair of free tickets to an exhibition match between two popular Mexican soccer teams.
The event drew Rosa Vargas and her boyfriend, Isidro Velazquez, from Madera in the San Joaquin Valley. Velazquez, who has already been vaccinated, said he sees this as a good opportunity for Vargas to finally get vaccinated – and also get two free tickets to the sold-out match.
Dr Gerardo Solorio Cortes, a Gilroy-based primary care physician overseeing the pop-up clinic, felt the festival funds were well spent as it attracted hundreds of people, almost all Latinos. “What better way to get people vaccinated? ” he said.
A pop-up vaccination clinic sponsored by the California Department of Public Health was held prior to a soccer game at PayPal Park on July 7, 2021 in San Jose. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters
Food banks in California have received approximately $ 230 million in state and federal cash grants, as well as canned food deliveries from the USDA. It was a much needed boost for Silicon Valley’s second harvest, which saw demand for its food double at the start of the pandemic.
“We had to scale up food and infrastructure extremely quickly,” said Tracy Weatherby, the food bank’s vice president of strategy and advocacy.
The food bank used the money to buy 15 semi-trailers and rent another warehouse, and started a home food delivery program, Weatherby said. Soon, the food bank provided about 500,000 people with fresh produce, meat, milk, rice, beans and other foods, up from 250,000 before the pandemic.
Government officials also funded 140 members of the National Guard and 100 members of the San Jose Conservation Corps to help the food bank staff while the volunteers stayed at home.
“Double the number of people, double the food,” Weatherby said. “This is what we were dealing with.”
Before the pandemic, government grants represented 5 to 6% of the food bank’s budget, with other support coming from donations from companies, associations and individuals. Last year, that support doubled to around 12%, Weatherby said.
Weatherby says the food bank plans to continue its doubled distribution.
“We don’t see that need diminish yet and we expect it not to diminish for years to come,” Weatherby said. “People are in a very, very deep hole.”
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