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Who wants to be a millionaire? Four in L.A. County win COVID-19 vaccine lottery grand prizes

California Gov. Gavin Newsom celebrated the state’s reopening at the Universal Studios theme park in Los Angeles Tuesday with another drawing, giving away $1.5 million each to 10 people chosen from a list of those who have received COVID-19 vaccinations in the state.

Triumphant music blared as a maskless Gov. Gavin Newsom sauntered onto the stage at Universal Studios Hollywood on Tuesday, flanked by a colorful cast of movie characters, including Minions, Trolls and Shrek.

It was an aggressively California setting for an audacious California effort: drawing 10 grand-prize winners in the state’s vaccine sweepstakes — each of whom will take home $1.5 million.

“California is open again. California has turned the page. Let us all celebrate this remarkable milestone,” Newsom said, as Universal’s iconic globe spun in the background.

Millions of Californians had cause for celebration as the state finally lifted most coronavirus-related business capacity, social distancing and mask-wearing measures.

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As of Tuesday, restrictions were lifted at most businesses, and Californians fully vaccinated for COVID-19 could go without masks in most settings.

But 10 in particular — four from Los Angeles County and one apiece from Marin, Riverside, Santa Barbara, Sacramento, Stanislaus and Ventura counties — now have 1.5 million more reasons to feel joyful.

Those grand-prize recipients, selected through a randomized number drawing and identified only by their home counties, were the biggest winners of the state’s “Vax for the Win” program, which offered cash prizes and other gifts to those who have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

All partially or fully vaccinated residents were automatically entered for a chance at the grand prizes, as well as two drawings earlier this month in which 30 Californians won $50,000 apiece.

The latest winners will be contacted directly and have the option of remaining anonymous or declining the prizes if they wish.

All told, 30 Californians will win $50,000 apiece as part of the state’s “Vax for the Win” program. The drawings will culminate Tuesday with the selection of 10 grand-prize winners, each of whom will take home $1.5 million.

Despite the exuberant backdrop of Tuesday’s drawing, Newsom at times struck a cautious tone.

While it’s true that California has for weeks enjoyed one of the lowest COVID-19 case rates in the nation, and that more than 70% of adults are at least partially vaccinated against the disease, the governor said “this is not a day to spike the football; this is not a day where we announce mission accomplished, quite the contrary.”

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“We are here because of your hard work,” he said. “We’re here because of your resilience. We’re here because of 40 million Californians that met, dare I say, the moment — many different moments over the course of the last 15 months.”

Among those who took the stage was intensive care nurse Helen Cordova, the first Californian to receive a vaccine after they were rolled out to the public.

Cordova received her first jab Dec. 14, when the state was in the throes of a winter wave of infections that swamped hospitals with COVID-19 patients.

“We saw way more death than we’d ever like to see,” she said. “We held way too many hands because families were not able to come into the units. The amount of time that it would just be one after another, it does a number on you.”

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Looking back, she said, is “a little eerie, but also just encouraging and exciting, how far we’ve come.”

Vaccinated Californians 18 and older will have a chance to win trips to San Francisco, Palm Springs, Anaheim, Los Angeles or San Diego in a new Vax for the Win lottery to be held July 1.

The $1.5-million prizes were originally meant to mark the culmination of the vaccine incentive program — as well as celebrate the long-awaited full reopening of the state’s economy — but Newsom on Monday announced the addition of new prizes: six vacation packages.

Destinations for those trips, which will be awarded during a July 1 drawing, include Disneyland, a spa in Palm Springs, San Diego for surfing lessons, a Giants game in San Francisco, and floor seats for a Lakers game.

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Packages will include hotels, food and entertainment, as well as $2,000 for expenses.

Adult Californians who have received at least one vaccine dose will be automatically entered for a chance to win one of the getaways.

“The state’s travel industry is rolling out the red carpet to travelers,” Caroline Beteta, president and chief executive of Visit California, said in a statement Monday. “With COVID-19 at record low rates in the state, now is the time to travel to California.”

Here’s a rundown of what changes today: No more masks required for most vaccinated people, with a few exceptions.

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State officials announced the vaccine lottery program in late May as they sought to halt a sustained and significant slide in California’s inoculation pace.

Although dose administration remains far below the peak seen in April, when an average of roughly 400,000 shots were going into arms each day, recent data compiled by The Times shows that the pace has somewhat leveled off, with more than 100,000 per day.

Overall, nearly 38.9 million doses have been administered statewide, and 56.3% of Californians have gotten at least one shot.

Although the state is still short of where it wants to be, the progress made to this point is what made Tuesday’s reopening possible, officials said.

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“We are mindful and sober that we need to continue to encourage people to get vaccinated, and we need to encourage people to be thoughtful, to be judicious,” Newsom said.

Times staff writer Priscella Vega contributed to this report.


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