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How the Omicron Surge Is Straining California’s Health Care Workers

Even as the number of new coronavirus cases appears to be tapering off in California, the situation at our hospitals remains dire.

Operations are being canceled, ambulances have nowhere to unload their patients, and people coming to emergency rooms for care sometimes wait hours, or even days, for a bed.

State projections show that the number of Covid-19 patients in California hospitals is most likely peaking this week. That’s good news, but it also means we’re just about halfway through the current hospital surge.

Given the bleak forecasts, we asked health care workers in California to share some of their on-the-ground experiences with us.

Today I’m publishing notes from nurses, doctors and other health professionals that provide a window into their workdays, from staffing shortages to rampant exhaustion to the seemingly never-ending risks to their own health and that of their families.

Tomorrow I’ll share their stories of why many keep at it regardless.

“With each new wave that hits I feel I have less and less ability to bounce back. The boss telling us ‘hang in there’ just doesn’t cut it anymore. I’m worn down.

I just white knuckle it and try to plan a vacation to look forward to when the wave breaks.” — Rachel Hroncich, hospital pharmacist, Los Angeles

“Even with shortages of staff, supplies and medications, we are expected to maintain a standard of care and outcomes that are not possible. Essentially, I don’t have what I need to do a good job. I leave every shift wondering if I did anything good. It’s crushing and contributing to my burnout.” — Jaclyn Oppedisano, registered nurse, San Francisco

“I decided to leave and retire early in the summer of 2021. I left after so many fights trying to get people to wear masks inside the facility where I worked, or having them take off their masks and cough in my face to prove that Covid did not exist.” — Susan Hartzell, registered nurse, South Lake Tahoe

“I am so frustrated with the majority of my younger patients (I work on a maternity unit) who have not been vaccinated and do not want to be vaccinated. While I no longer feel like I’m literally taking my life in my hands to come to work every day, I am really tired of wearing N95s and full P.P.E. for the increasing numbers of positive patients.

A quarter of our staff has had Covid recently and I feel like it’s just a matter of time for me. And now we need to work even if we test positive but are asymptomatic. Everything we do feels futile and it’s exhausting.” — Erin OBrien, registered nurse, McKinleyville

“I think anyone in health care who says that they have not thought about leaving is in denial. Just when you think it’s getting better and you can switch to paper/surgical masks and holiday/birthday potlucks, there is another surge. Just when you plan your kid’s birthday party, there is another surge.” — Dr. Pratima Gupta, OB-GYN, San Diego

“My nerves are frayed. I’m disbelieving how cavalier people are. I always thought care went both ways. I had a lot of hope when the vaccines became available, but I now don’t want to keep doing what I do for people who refuse to get vaccinated. It makes me feel disregarded.” — Yuting Wong, nurse practitioner, Oakland

“I am drained and find myself empty when I come home at the end of day. There is no one to care for me. Self-care has become a Sisyphean task. There is a lack of joy and a loss of hope. I am disheartened by the sheer number of people who feel they know better than the scientists by reading something online or hearing some nonsense from a friend.

It is as if we have given up as a society. It is getting scary out there. I think about moving to another country, some place where there is still a social agreement, the golden rule. Perhaps that place no longer exists but I hope it does.” — Dr. Victoria Altree, internal medicine physician, Pasadena

Bulgur with Swiss chard, chickpeas and feta.

Today’s travel tip comes from Kay Scaramelli, who recommends the coastal town of Pacifica:

“Mussel Beach has trails leading down to the beach, where fishermen and women seem to have a lot of luck. As you walk down, you can find paragliders preparing to lift off, and hang gliders scatter the sky from their launch a few miles north.

Whale sightings are frequent and the coastline is spectacular. Also, there are some great spots to eat in the town, and a boardwalk that is a perfect spot for spotting surfers and seals.”

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

A story on how the air fryer crisped its way into America’s heart.

We’re adding to our California Soundtrack, a playlist of songs that are about or evoke the Golden State.

If you have a suggestion, please email me at CAtoday@nytimes.com with the name of the song and a few sentences about why you think it should make the cut.

More than 500 acres along California’s Lost Coast are being returned to Native American tribes that have inhabited the area for thousands of years, the nonprofit Save the Redwoods League announced on Tuesday.

The transfer of the land, home to ancient redwoods, is part of a growing movement to return Indigenous homelands to the descendants of those who lived there before European settlers arrived.

“It is rare when these lands return to the original peoples of those places,” said Hawk Rosales, an Indigenous land defender and a former executive director of the Intertribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council. “We have an intergenerational commitment and a goal to protect these lands and, in doing so, protecting tribal cultural ways of life and revitalizing them.”

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Steve Martin or Martin Short (5 letters).

Mariel Wamsley contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.

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