PINAL COUNTY, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - Winter break came with an unexpected gift for some Arizona teachers.
"From all the news reports and everything, I wasn't expecting to get the call until maybe the end of January or February," said Amelia Ortiz, a teacher in the J.O. Combs Unified District in San Tan Valley.
The United States reported 3,979 Covid-19 deaths on Thursday night, the highest number of deaths reported in a single day since the pandemic began.
"It sort of feels like, you know, a sheet of armor, I guess," said Jamie Haugland, a teacher in Florence. "You know you've got your shield on you. And it feels good to be one of the first people."
Ortiz and Haugland were among the first group of educators to get coronavirus shots as Pinal County opened up vaccines to Phase 1B. Ortiz got an email from her superintendent during the holiday break that the vaccine was available, including the various sites where you sign up. Her husband is a health care worker.
"When he had no problem getting it and when he was all ready for it and had no hesitation, it just made me feel like that much better," she said. "And I didn't have any hesitation getting it."
Ortiz said she also did her research beforehand.
Haugland also didn't hesitate, even waiting for more than three hours in line on New Year's Eve. She was notified in an email through the district. "They open at 8," she said. "We thought we would get there right when they open, no problem. Get down there and the line starts from the beginning of the door, all the way around the building and then all the way around the back."
There is a high demand for the vaccine in Pinal County and appointments are booked for about two weeks. Leaders there are urging people to please be patient.
"There is no sign-up process available prior to Jan. 11th," according to Maricopa County Public Health.
"Because there's obviously a limited supply, it's frustrating not to be able to get in as soon as possible," said Maricopa teacher Alicia Chin. "Especially knowing that I'm a higher risk, but it's also understandable because anything new takes time to roll out."
Chin is using her sick days and personal time because she doesn't feel comfortable going back into the classroom yet. She works at a charter school that opted for in-person learning.
"I have health conditions that make me predisposed to complications if I were to contract COVID-19," she said.
Like everyone else, the Pinal County teachers have to balance their own families and work while all are staying healthy. The vaccine is a hopeful way to start a year, says Haugland, who loves what she does as an English language learner instructor.
"As stereotypical as it sounds, you enjoy seeing them learn. You enjoy seeing those lightbulbs come on," she added.
The Arizona Department of Health Services reported Tuesday that 101,030 Arizonans have been vaccinated as of Jan. 4.
"Honestly, I feel honored. I was excited," said Haugland, while talking about the vaccine. "Even right after I got the shot, even though you have the two doses, I already felt better. I was just really happy, really excited."
A spokesperson for Pinal County says appointments will be available online again starting on Monday, Jan. 11. Some of their partners have created waitlists. Find more information here.