By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) – California will send 500 ventilators to the federal government’s national stockpile for distribution to states – such as New York – that are dealing with an overwhelming surge of COVID-19 cases in their hospitals.

The most populous U.S. state is responding to a request from the Trump Administration, through the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), to send the ventilators to the federal government rather than to individual states, so they can be distributed to places most in need, Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom said on Monday.

He said California had increased the number of ventilators it had on hand from about 7,500 at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis to more than 11,000, with 500 more due to arrive as soon as Tuesday. The state still needed more, but was in the process of procuring them.

“For all of those reasons and the responsibility, the moral and ethical responsibility of providing resources in real time to those most in need, that’s why we thought it appropriate,” Newsom told a news conference in Sacramento. “If we need them back in a few weeks, we’ll get them back.”

Speaking at a sports arena that will be repurposed to serve as a hospital, Newsom said the ventilators would be loaned to the stockpile, “not given.”

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said on Sunday his state is returning over 400 of the ventilators it received from the national stockpile to go to states in crisis.

Inslee said weeks of social distancing after his statewide stay-at-home orders had slowed the rate of infections and deaths in the state.

Washington with nearly 8,000 cases and at least 322 deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus sweeping the globe, had the nation’s first coronavirus case in late January.

Cases are also rising more slowly in California than in the U.S. Northeast, officials say. On Monday, California reported 14,336 cases of COVID-10 and 343 deaths, Newsom said. More than 2,500 people were in hospitals with the disease, 1,085 of them in intensive care.

Newsom insisted the state’s move had nothing to do with controversy over the weekend about the national stockpile, after Jared Kushner, son-in-law and adviser to Republican President Donald Trump, suggested it was for “our” use in an apparent reference to the federal government. Kushner said states should use their own supplies first, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services later changed its description of the stockpile to better reflect Kushner’s emphasis.

Newsom said that Robert Fenton, FEMA’s regional administrator for the western United States, persuaded him that the California ventilators would be best put to use by the administrators of the national stockpile, who could determine which states and cities were in the greatest need.

A number of companies, including General Motors, Ford and Virgin Orbit, are working to make additional ventilators, and entrepreneur Elon Musk has said his Tesla electric vehicle company will also supply the desperately needed machines to states and hospitals.

On Monday, Connecticut-based Xerox Holdings Corp. said it would mass-produce ventilators in partnership with Sacramento-based Vortran Medical Technology.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Dan Grebler)