Notes From a Pandemic: April 11th, 2020

by Miles Raymer

Greetings, dear friends of the present and curious citizens of the future.

As I consider the passing of another week in this pandemic, my mind settles on the feeling of being unable to directly assist the people fighting on the front lines. In other crises, I’d get out of the house. I’d find something useful to do, someone to help or an urgent problem to solve. I’d make a positive difference in my community, try to show that we Humboldters won’t go down without a fight.

In this crisis, the primary way for a “non-essential” person like me to do any of these things is to stay home and minimize physical contact with the outside world. Everyone knows this, and even though I risk stating the obvious I want to emphasize just how infinitely frustrating it is to be in this position. I now tend the shrine of the “to take no action is also to choose” gods, chiseling moss off the ancient statues and sweeping the already-swept entryway. My quotidian, cloistered existence feels somewhat contrary to natural law, reminding me that stasis equals death except when it doesn’t. Sometimes, stasis preserves life, at least temporarily.

Okay, let’s go to the numbers. Between this moment and my last journal one week ago:

  • The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the world increased by a factor of  0.47 (47%)
  • Confirmed US cases increased by a factor of 0.69 (69%)
  • Confirmed California cases increased by a factor of 0.70 (70%)
  • Confirmed Humboldt County cases increased by a factor of 0.25 (25%)
  • Total US deaths increased by a factor of 1.33 (133%)
  • The US death rate is doubling every six days
  • The US is now home to 29.20% of the world’s total confirmed cases, and 17.97% of the world’s total confirmed deaths

While these numbers are not exactly pretty, they’re actually better than I expected at this point. I’ve been assuming that April and May would continue to deliver steep, exponential increases in new cases and deaths around the world, but we can already see the curves of many countries beginning to level off. And the closer I get to home, the better things look. California’s rate of increase for new cases has dropped considerably, and yesterday Humboldt County announced its third day in a row with no new cases. We only have 50 confirmed cases County-wide with over 1,300 people tested.

This is all very encouraging, and for the first time since I started journaling it seems reasonable to assume that we West Coasters are probably not going to experience a worst case scenario. But it also strikes me as exactly the moment in which we could easily become too incautious too quickly. In our haste to get back to business as usual, we might accidentally trigger recrudescence, sending us back to square one and endangering communities that escaped an overwhelming initial surge. It’s also possible that this week’s numbers are deceiving us somehow, and that this is merely a fleeting lull after which cases and deaths will start shooting up again.

So, my general conclusion right now is twofold. First, the measures we’re taking to suppress the spread of COVID-19 seem to be working. We should celebrate this and all give each other remote high-fives and virtual back-pats. Second, we should stay the course for the time being. There’s no reason not to slowly and responsibly modify our behavior to match the threat level, but we can’t allow our assessment of that threat level to be governed by our personal or professional desires. We need to keep listening to our experts and public officials and doing everything we can to ensure that we can sustain our modest accomplishments and keep scoring more. This is a marathon, not a sprint. 

Things I would have done and will try to do differently

One of my great embarrassments as I’ve learned more about the nature of pandemics has been my own participation in panic-buying. I was absolutely one of those people who hit the town a few weeks back to stock up on toilet paper, food staples and other supplies. I realize now that not only was this unnecessary, but that it made some of the most vulnerable people in my community even more vulnerable. Folks who don’t have disposable income to purchase extra food and supplies rely on well-stocked stores to have what they need right when they can buy it. This means that a minor inconvenience for me (darn, can’t fully replenish my TP cupboard today) could equal actual deprivation for a less privileged person.

It would be a different story if we had reason to believe that supply chains for food and basic supplies were going to be compromised, but that was never really a main feature of even the more pessimistic COVID-19 forecasts. In retrospect, I wish I’d known more about the irrational herd mentality that drives panic-buying in a crisis, and will try to avoid falling prey to it in the future. Moving forward, we’re focusing on buying only the fresh food and supplies that we actually need on a bi-weekly basis, and doing our part to make sure there’s enough for everyone at the store.

The other thing I need to do differently is get my temper under control. Even though my shelter in place lifestyle is probably better than that of most people around the world, the changes to my daily habits, professional pressures, and constant proximity to my wife and mother have shortened my fuse. I’m experiencing an inadvertent increase in emotional fragility, which usually manifests as disproportionate anger triggered by irritating but ultimately-inconsequential inputs. I’d like to say this behavior is new to me, but that’s not true. It’s part of me and always has been, and flares up when the going gets tough and I don’t get going.

What’s keeping me sane?

For about a decade now, I’ve been a fan of this weird genre of music called postrock. Postrock is produced with rock instruments (guitars, drums, bass), but is more experimental than traditional rock, and tends to include influences from ambient and electronic music. Most postrock bands also do not have vocals. The tracks tend to be long, driven by layered soundscapes that are constantly de- and reconstructing, often with a climactic moment or moments when a particular melody that’s been hiding in the background bursts forth. There are a ton of different bands and subgenres in this space, so what I’ve just described is definitely a simplification and also caters to my personal taste.

This type of music speaks to my extant adolescent self, the teenager who learned to head-bang to Tool and Rage Against the Machine back in high school. The postrock I most enjoy retains that bedrock intensity while doing away with the angsty lyrics, allowing for a much broader scope of interpretation. While it’s certainly an acquired taste, I won’t be surprised if a new generation of listeners discovers a love of postrock while cooped up with nowhere to go. These are sounds for hard, apocalyptic times, but also for times of dynamic growth and rebirth. Revisiting some of my favorite postrock bands––Caspian, This Will Destroy You, Russian Circles, and others––has provided the perfect pandemic soundtrack.

While running in McKinleyville this week, an intrepid skywriter drew a lumpy but unmistakable heart above the town. I couldn’t snap a picture since I don’t run with my phone, but gazing up at that unexpected expression of universal love was a pure joy.

There’s nothing like spending all your time at home to teach you about the quality of your domestic decisions. For those who go this route, choosing a life partner is probably the most impactful of these choices, and in this realm I find myself immeasurably lucky. My wife Jessie is the pillar of my sanity––now and always. I am so, so grateful to share my home with this smart, compassionate, goofy, and graceful creature. Here she is dressed up as Professor Trelawney from Harry Potter last Halloween:

Jessie Halloween

Until next time, be well, and good luck.

Global: 1,724,736 confirmed cases, 104,938 deaths

United States: 503,594 confirmed cases, 18,860 deaths

California: 21,408 confirmed cases, 599 deaths

Humboldt County: 50 confirmed cases, 0 deaths