Coronavirus: California Prepared for Martial Law Possibility

The California National Guard's 146th Airlift Wing held their annual Sept. 11th ceremony at Channel Islands Air National Guard Station, Calif. on Sept. 11, 2019. The ceremony is an annual event for the wing. (Photo by Senior Airman Michelle Ulber)
The National Guard/Flickr

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said Tuesday that the state is prepared for the possibility of declaring martial law in an effort to combat the spread of the Chinese coronavirus.

“[W]e have the ability to do martial law … if we feel the necessity,” Newsom said during a press conference on California’s ongoing response to the deadly illness. In what would be an extraordinary measure, martial law is the suspension of ordinary law and the imposition of direct military control of a population. The governor has already placed the California National Guard on alert for humanitarian duties, including food distribution and public safety activities.

California, which approved $1.1 billion in emergency funding on Monday, may exceed the state’s roughly $21 billion in reserves, warned Newsom. “The magnitude of this moment may exceed those reserves,” he said.

Newsom also gave an assessment on the status of California schools, stating that “few if any” will reopen before summer.

U.S. and California health officials have repeatedly warned that the virus could have a devastating impact and that the timetable for controlling it is not known. President Donald Trump on Monday said the crisis could last until August.

California’s 415 hospitals have been planning for a surge of patients. They have about 88,000 beds and Newsom said health officials are running models to determine needs based on various infection rates and resulting hospitalizations. Under worst-case scenarios, California could be short 20,000 beds, he said.

“So we had a very candid and a sober if not sobering conversation about where we may be and where we need to go together,” he said after the meeting with hospital officials. “The good news is none of it surprised any of us. We as a state, working with our system, anticipated much of these needs and have been running plans to address them.”

He said the state should have the two large hospitals in its possession as early as Friday and will use money from the emergency authorization to get them ready for service.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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