California approves $1 billion in coronavirus funds, National Guard on alert

California's Governor Gavin Newsom speaks to the media after casting his vote at a voting center at The California Museum for the presidential primaries on Super Tuesday in Sacramento

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - California Governor Gavin Newsom on Tuesday authorized the use of about $1 billion in emergency funds and put the National Guard on alert to help as the nation's most populous state grappled with the coronavirus outbreak.

Newsom, a Democrat, said the money would be used to increase hospital capacity, provide services to Californians isolating or quarantined at home and provide shelter for the homeless.

"This money will provide more hospital beds and medical equipment to help hospitals deal with the coming surge and it will help protect those who are most at risk. I am grateful to the legislature for their quick action," Newsom said in a written statement after signing the measure into law.

Lawmakers in California's legislature on Monday approved the bill, which appropriates $500 million from the state's general fund and makes an equal amount available if needed.

Newsom said he had placed the guard on alert to perform humanitarian missions across the state, such as delivering food and supporting public safety.

Seven counties in the San Francisco Bay Area have issued "shelter in place" orders to residents in an effort to stem the spread of the virus.

"As Californians make sacrifices over the coming weeks and stay home, we are immensely grateful for medical providers, first-responders and National Guard personnel who are assisting those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19," Newsom said.

At least 11 people have died from COVID-19 in California, behind only Washington and New York. Nearly 500 people have tested positive for the respiratory illness in California.

The mayor of Los Angeles, the country's second largest city, has also ordered bars, restaurants and gyms to close and urged residents to stay indoors.

All told more than 6,000 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed across the United States and at least 104 people have died from its effects.

The Trump administration said on Tuesday it was asking Congress for a $1 trillion stimulus package that could deliver $1,000 checks to Americans within two weeks to buttress the economy.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; editing by Grant McCool and Leslie Adler)