Essential California: Vaccinations begin

A woman in scrubs giving another woman in scrubs a vaccine shot
Nurse Helen Cordova, right, receives the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center on Monday.
(Associated Press)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, Dec. 15, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

The first delivery trucks rolled out of a Pfizer plant in southwest Michigan early Sunday morning. People lined the street to watch and cheer as the cavalcade of semi-trucks, led by an unmarked police SUV, slowly left the parking lot.

Roughly 3 million doses of the first COVID-19 vaccine to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration were in those trucks — five doses to a glass vial, 195 vials to a “pizza box” tray, and five trays to an insulated, specially designed cardboard vaccine shipment box topped off with dry ice. By late Sunday evening, some of those same shipment boxes had arrived in Los Angeles via FedEx cargo plane.

On Monday afternoon — a little less than 36 hours after those trucks left Portage, Mich., and 330 days after the first known case of the novel coronavirus was confirmed on U.S. soil — five healthcare workers at an East Hollywood hospital became some of the first Californians to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

“This yours?” Gov. Gavin Newsom asked Kaiser Permanente nurse Helen Cordova, as a pharmacy supervisor stood a few feet away, holding a dose of the vaccine.


Cordova, an ICU nurse who has been working with COVID-19 patients since March, was the first healthcare worker at the facility to receive the vaccine.

[Read the story: “COVID-19 vaccinations begin in California as L.A. healthcare workers among first to get dose” in the Los Angeles Times]

“Protect me,” she said with a laugh, as a senior nurse administered the shot. My colleague Colleen Shalby, who was in the room at the time, reports that cheers broke out from the masked bystanders as each of the five healthcare workers received their vaccines.

California’s initial vaccine allocation — about 327,000 doses in all — will go mostly to acute-care hospitals to be administered to healthcare workers, although some counties have said they also will send a portion to skilled nursing facilities. Officials expect to get more doses of the vaccine later this month and again in early January, but it’s unlikely to reach the public in large numbers until spring or summer of next year.

[See also: “Your questions about COVID-19 vaccines answered” in the Los Angeles Times]

The start of the largest vaccination campaign in U.S. history marks a turning point in a pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands Americans. A finish line is now on the horizon, potentially just months away. But there is still a valley of darkness to cross before we get there. On Monday — the same day the U.S. began dispensing vaccines — the U.S. COVID-19 death toll crossed 300,000.


Here in California, officials have cautioned that the state’s initial shipment of vaccine doses won’t alter the rapidly deteriorating conditions in local hospitals as the virus rages out of control. The worst of the pandemic is still ahead, as the full effects of the post-Thanksgiving surge in California cases have yet to play out in the state’s hospitals, where ICU space is already dwindling.

As of Monday afternoon, ICU capacity in Southern California was down to 2.7%, the Bay Area was at 17.8%, the greater Sacramento Region was at 14.8% and Northern California was at 29%. And the availability of ICU beds in the hard-hit San Joaquin Valley remains at zero.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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L.A. Unified will not give Fs this semester and instead give students a second chance to pass: Citing pandemic hardships, the district deferred any failing grades from this semester until at least Jan. 29, giving students additional time to avoid receiving an F in their classes. Los Angeles Times

The route of the Chicano Moratorium is now on the National Register of Historic Places. This year marked the 50th anniversary of the massive East L.A. protest against the Vietnam War that ended in violence at the hands of sheriff’s deputies. Los Angeles Times

L.A. Times executive editor Norman Pearlstine steps down as The Times’ leadership search continues. Pearlstine announced in October that he planned to retire, and the paper recently hired a search firm to find a new executive editor. In the interim, two veteran managers will oversee the newsroom. Los Angeles Times


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The electoral college made official on Monday the presidential victory that voters gave to Joe Biden weeks ago — with the California delegation’s 55 votes clinching it. Los Angeles Times

Newsom taps L.A.’s Dee Dee Myers to be his top economic advisor. Myers, a former White House press secretary who served as the inspiration for Alison Janney’s character on “The West Wing,” ran corporate communications at Warner Bros. until earlier this year. Politico

Meet Suely Saro, the first Cambodian American elected official in Long Beach history. Long Beach is home to the nation’s largest concentration of Cambodian American refugees. Los Angeles Times

A woman posing outside
Like a lot of Cambodian Americans in Long Beach, Suely Saro was born in a refugee camp in Thailand, and her parents worked at factories and sweatshops after settling in America.
(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)


California demands that Amazon comply with its COVID-19 investigation: The state is taking Amazon to court to force the online retail giant to cooperate with a months-long investigation into whether the company is doing enough to protect its workers from the coronavirus, Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra said Monday. Los Angeles Times


Some extremely rare and expensive wine was stolen from a Northern California store over the weekend. The decades-old magnum bottles were so precious to the owner “that he didn’t even offer them for sale, instead proudly displaying them like Renaissance masterpieces in a museum at his San Jose wine shop.” Mercury News


California’s smartphone-based COVID-19 exposure alert system had racked up 4 million sign-ups by Friday afternoon, according to the state Department of Public Health, but needs more residents to opt in to be effective. Los Angeles Times


The Cliff House — a prized San Francisco landmark — may not return as a restaurant. The National Park Service owns the scenic waterfront property, and the restaurant’s longtime operators announced they would be vacating at the end of the year. San Francisco Chronicle

The oracle of Joshua Tree: The Desert Oracle, former Wonkette owner Ken Layne’s pocket-size magazine, has proved a cult hit while refusing to establish an online presence. The Guardian

A poem to start your Tuesday: “The Guest House” by Rumi. The Poetry Exchange

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For the record: A photo caption in Wednesday’s newsletter incorrectly identified the subjects of a picture accompanying the story about the new Eagle Rock restaurant Chifa. The twin girls, Mazzy and Emi, are the daughters of co-owner Humberto Leon, not his nieces.


Los Angeles: sunny, 70. San Diego: sunny, 66. San Francisco: partly sunny, 57. San Jose: partly sunny, 59. Fresno: sunny, 55. Sacramento: partly sunny, 55. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Ellen Pierce:

In 1999, my marriage fell apart. I had to move from my bungalow home in “Baja Piedmont,” that little triangle of houses separated by Grand Avenue from the more affluent homes up the hill. From my little family house, I moved into a studio apartment in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. Rent was relatively cheap at $750 a month. Even though I walked to work, I had an old Rambler American. A car in that area was a hellish experience. Parking was impossible. I had to move the car every three days, and I was lucky if I could park within two blocks of my apartment. I had put up with that hassle for two years when I decided to move to Marin County. On moving day, which took two trips, I was the benefactor of a “miracle” because on each trip back to the crowded and bustling Tenderloin, I got parking right in front of my apartment! Even now, I look back on that day with astonishment.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.