Claudio Alvarado has had many memorable days as an assistant nurse manager with UC Davis Health – but nothing tops what he experienced on Friday.
He got to spend an hour with California Gov. Gavin Newsom promoting COVID-19 vaccinations before a televised, statewide audience.
Alvarado, wearing his black UC Davis Health Pediatric Emergency Medicine scrubs, was enlisted by the governor’s office to appear on stage at California State Lottery headquarters in Sacramento. His role: Stand a few feet from Newsom and place dots on a poster-sized map showing the home counties of winners in Vax for the Win, a new initiative that awards cash prizes to people who sign up for the vaccine.
Alvarado and Newsom interacted frequently during their time on stage, with the governor praising Alvarado for his service, and also ribbing the nurse over his geographical knowledge, or lack thereof (Alvarado is a native of Texas).
“He’s an expert in counties in the state of California,” Newsom quipped. “Long story short, he’s like, ‘I know most of the counties, but not all of the counties, so don’t put me on the line, don’t put too much pressure.’ “
Newsom interviewed Alvarado about his work as a nurse during the pandemic, and his deployment as a U.S. Navy reservist to assist a community hospital in New York City during a deadly surge in Spring 2020. Afterward, Newsom stood at a dispensing machine that spits out random lottery balls, which he handed to Alvarado, who then reached for the sticker dots, all while conversing with each other.
The experience was surreal for Alvarado, who just 15 hours earlier was the dayside charge nurse in the UC Davis Medical Center Emergency Department.
“This is very exciting,” Alvarado said off-stage after the celebratory event, standing over shards of confetti. “I’m happy to participate in any way I can to get the message out there, to get people vaccinated.”
Alvarado, 34, had no idea he would ever meet the governor, let alone appear on stage with him in front of numerous cameras and news reporters.
But an email invitation Thursday evening from the governor’s External Affairs division – which Alvarado initially thought was spam – changed that.
Alvarado informed his supervisors and agreed to participate.
Then the nerves set in.
How in the world, Alvarado asked himself, will he know where each of California’s 58 counties is located?
Alvarado brushes up on geography
Alvarado was born into a military family and graduated in nursing from the University of Texas and received a Master of Science in nursing from Western Governors University in Utah.
He came to UC Davis Health about five years ago.
Newsom called Alvarado an “extraordinary pediatric emergency nurse.”
During the interview, Alvarado explained how he got called to serve in a Brooklyn hospital in his assignment as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy Reserves. “I still remember to this day, going through the double doors and just seeing the amount of sick people and seeing the amount of death that was there, it was rampant.”
After two months in New York, Alvarado told Newsom he returned to Sacramento where UC Davis Medical Center was “well prepared” for the pandemic. “Especially at UC Davis Health, we helped prepare our nurses and our staff to provide great care to our patients.”
Newsom pointed out that Alvarado was one of the first people to get vaccinated when the doses arrived in December. “You were number two,” Newsom said. Alvarado noted that the first person in line was his colleague Eva Teniola, a nurse in the Emergency Department.
Video of Alvarado getting his vaccine has aired in a series of public service announcements.
Newsom asked Alvarado what he would say to the people who think California is over COVID-19.
“COVID is real,” Alvarado replied. He reminded the public that being hospitalized with severe COVID-19 is a lonely and frightening experience for patients who can barely breathe, and for family members who aren’t allowed at the bedside.
“I know seeing is believing, but please believe me when I say that it is true, it is devastating,” Alvarado said, “and this vaccine can save your life.”
State Sen. Richard Pan, a pediatrician who once worked at UC Davis Health, also participated at the machine.
Newsom and Pan drew 15 lottery balls, each for a lucky Californian who would be awarded $50,000 for doing their part in being vaccinated.
The randomized drawing is part of California’s new $116.5 million Vax for the Win program.