When Helen Cordova got the call from her manager on Sunday, she knew she’d be among the first at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center to get a coveted vaccine dose.
But it wasn’t until she showed up to work at the huge East Hollywood hospital complex on Monday and was told that the governor was en route that she realized she would play a singular role in California history.
“I’m still like, ‘Did that really happen?’” Ms. Cordova, 32, told me on Tuesday. “The whole day was kind of a blur.”
[How full are intensive care units at hospitals near you? Explore this map.]
Ms. Cordova was the first person in California to receive a vaccine shot, hours after the doses landed in Los Angeles, according to state officials.
She was one of five staff members at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles to be inoculated, chosen because they represented a range of frontline jobs, as well as the diversity of people performing them, hospital officials said.
“That was important to us,” Jenna Watkinson, a Kaiser Permanente spokeswoman, said on Tuesday.
The group included Ms. Cordova; Kim Taylor, an emergency department nurse; Dr. Brian Thompson, also of the emergency department; Angela Balam, the leader of the hospital’s Covid-19 cleaning protocols; and Raul Aguilar, a respiratory therapist.
But Ms. Cordova was picked to be first, Ms. Watkinson said, because she had been on the team that treated the first Covid-19 patient admitted to the hospital.
So, although the state is still in the midst of its deadliest surge of the pandemic, Ms. Cordova said she’s embracing the moment.
“This was coming full circle,” she said. “I’m hopeful for our future. I’m hopeful for our community.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, she said she had no side effects other than a little soreness at the injection site.
Ms. Cordova said that for months, her biggest fear had been bringing home the virus to her mother, with whom she lives in the San Fernando Valley, and whose health history inspired her to become a nurse.
[Track coronavirus cases across the state.]
In the early months of the pandemic, she’d ask her mother to unlock a side door to the house “and walk away,” to allow Ms. Cordova to take a second shower after her shift. She’d clean her shoes outside and spray them with bleach.
More recently, she said, she’s more confident in her protective gear — the wearing of which “has become innate.” And she still wears a mask at home.
But she has also focused more attention on her mental health as the pandemic has worn on. A typical work day, she said, starts at 5:10 a.m. with a 15-minute exercise video on YouTube.
“I adopted that practice in the last month,” she said. “Just to wake up and get ready for the day.”
She’ll leave home after 6 a.m., grab coffee, and then work from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Ms. Cordova has, over the months, learned the grim rhythms of an intensive care unit in a pandemic. She can guess which patients will end up on a breathing tube, and can discern from “the desperation in their eyes” when patients are struggling to take in enough oxygen.
[If you missed it, here’s how the vaccine will be distributed in California.]
“It’s really hard to put all of it into words,” she said. “This is a very real disease — those images of inside of hospitals, that’s very accurate.”
Ms. Cordova said she found support from her “work squad” — her best friends. They vent on their group chat about the things only they can understand. She finds solace in listening to music.
And now, she said, she takes comfort in knowing her “body is developing a protection.”
She’ll get her second shot on Jan. 4.
When I asked Ms. Cordova what she wanted her fellow Californians to know as we head into what leaders have said repeatedly is the final stretch, she said: “I cannot emphasize enough the power in social distancing, the power in wearing your face mask.”
She said that not only do those measures help health care workers — who are stretched thin and exhausted — they also serve as gestures of good will.
“We feel seen,” she said. “And feel respected.”
Even amid good news, the state has ordered more body bags and deployed extra refrigerated storage for morgues as California braces for a difficult few weeks. [The New York Times]
Los Angeles officials are among those pushing for teachers to be prioritized for vaccines. But given the limited number of vaccines, experts said that vaccinating teachers could be a slow process, taking well into spring. [The New York Times]
A “field hospital” is in the works to help take on patients in the Fresno area. [The Fresno Bee]
“There’s still a lot of hesitancy, not only from our staff but for the general population.” Employers in Kern County are already navigating skepticism about vaccines. [The Bakersfield Californian]
Attorney General Xavier Becerra sued Amazon in an effort to get it to comply with a state Covid-19 safety investigation. [CalMatters]
Read more about how warehouse workers have helped fuel the rise of e-commerce giants in the pandemic, and have been put at risk in the process. [The New York Times]
A list of Orange County bars and restaurants openly defying the state’s stay-at-home order had grown to 63 as of the weekend. [The Orange County Register]
Hotels and vacation rentals in the state are supposed to be open only to essential travelers. But if your booking is canceled, some rental services aren’t requiring hosts to refund your money. [The New York Times]
[Read about restrictions in place. ]
Here’s what else to know today
In order to cut emissions to zero, the U.S. would need to build green energy infrastructure at an almost unfathomable speed. [The New York Times]
Mary D. Nichols, for years California’s top clean air regulator, was President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s top candidate to run the Environmental Protection Agency. Now, his team is scrambling to find someone else after a group of more than 70 environmental justice groups wrote a letter criticizing her record on addressing environmental racism. [The New York Times]
That’s one facet of the incoming Biden administration’s struggle to manage factions of the Democratic Party. [The New York Times]
“In her defense, Feinstein has had to fight for everything she’s gotten.” Senator Dianne Feinstein’s recent missteps are raising painful questions about age and seniority in the Senate. [The New Yorker]
Representative Doug LaMalfa is facing pushback from constituents over his support of Texas’ ill-fated lawsuit challenging the results of the presidential election. [Chico Enterprise-Record]
Catch up on the lawsuit, which was rejected by the Supreme Court. [The New York Times]
This holiday season is make or break for many independent bookstores like City Lights. [The Los Angeles Times]
California Today goes live at 6:30 a.m. Pacific time weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: CAtoday@nytimes.com. Were you forwarded this email? Sign up for California Today here and read every edition online here.
Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter.
California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.