Notes From a Pandemic: December 4th, 2020

by Miles Raymer

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

No fancy language or poetic notions as I open today’s pandemic journal––just cold, hard facts. After about eight months of successful suppression, COVID-19 has finally come to Humboldt in earnest. November was by far our worst month since the pandemic began, with our total case count for the year nearly doubling in just a few weeks. Here are a couple illustrative images from the County’s COVID Dashboard:

Humboldt Cases

Humboldt Curve

As of last week, Humboldt has been classified as purple tier, which is the highest risk tier and means the virus is “widespread” in our community. Our figures for hospitalizations and deaths remain manageable for the moment, but given that we’re now seeing between 20 and 40+ new cases per day, that situation seems unsustainable. The state and national numbers aren’t any better, and are much worse in some places. Yesterday, Governor Newsom issued a new, region-specific stay-at-home order that covers most of California.  This second (or third, depending on your definition) wave of infections dwarfs anything we’ve previously experienced; the next few months will be brutal.

There are, however, several lights now visible at the end of this tunnel: the eagerly-anticipated COVID vaccines. Both Moderna and Pfizer have vaccines with 90%+ effectiveness rates being reviewed for emergency authorization by the FDA, and it’s possible that high-priority citizens could begin receiving vaccinations before the end of the year. Two days ago, Britain announced that they have approved Pfizer’s vaccine for public distribution, becoming the first country worldwide to do so. Despite this exciting news, it will still be many months before vaccine distribution can be ramped up enough to cover all American citizens, let alone the rest of the global population. An additional concern is that persuading citizens to get vaccinated en masse may prove daunting in this era of anti-vax misinformation.

In the meantime, we are living through the direct, unsurprising, and preventable result of our federal government’s negligence and apathy in the face of the most devastating medical event of the 21st century. We’ll never know exactly how many American lives and livelihoods could have been saved by a responsible and patriotic response from the Trump Administration. And there’s plenty of blame to go around, unfortunately, with Democrats and Republicans alike contributing to the Congressional gridlock that has undercut our ability to respond to this crisis with the urgency and force it demands. With over a quarter of a million Americans dead and that number still climbing, it is a failure of staggering and historical magnitude––one we will be lamenting for generations.

Life goes on…

The Raymer household is once again locked down tight, with Ma staying home as much as possible while Jessie and I leave the house only for work and essential errands. Jessie’s school will remain open for the time being, but that may change after the upcoming school board meeting on December 10th. I remain cautiously confident that our safety practices will shield us from infection until we can get vaccinated, but counting on common sense and luck only gets you so far. As Charles Wheelan quipped, “Probability doesn’t make mistakes; people using probability make mistakes” (Naked Statistics100).

Celebrating Thanksgiving last week was a meaningful reminder of the many things for which I am grateful. It is with tremendous relief that I can confidently write the following words: in January, Joe Biden will be sworn in as President of the United States. Despite Trump’s petulant whinging and futile attempts to turn his internal fantasies into another term of American reality TV, our electoral process and legal institutions proved capable of executing a free and fair election under extremely difficult circumstances. More importantly, enough Americans in the right places showed up to reject Trump at the ballot box. While there is still a long road ahead to repair whatever damage we can and knit our democracy back together, I am overjoyed that we don’t have to wait four more years to begin that process.

Other blessings crowd around to warm the cold season, including my eighth consecutive year of participation in Tule Fog Farm’s annual turkey slaughter. This all-day event is always a combination of strong emotions and hard work––a reminder of what we should all be willing to do from time to time if we want to eat meat responsibly. It was a small crew of just six COVID-conscious volunteers this year, but we managed to get all 26 turkeys slaughtered and ready for pickup by the end of the day.

Turkey Day 1


Turkey Day 2


As always, the turkey was phenomenally delicious, with Ma’s expert preparations and my personal connection to Tule Fog adding an extra flair of flavor.

I had the guilty pleasure this week of playing video games in virtual reality for the first time. As part of coping with COVID and finding fun ways to kill time while sheltering in place, I decided to end my two-year gaming hiatus and splurge on some new equipment, including the recently-released Oculus Quest 2.

Oculus 1

Oculus 2

This headset is a self-contained VR platform that doesn’t need a PC or any other hardware to operate. While it’s obvious that the technology still has a lot of room for improvement, it’s also safe to say that VR “has arrived,” sporting the intuitive physical controls and immersive experience gamers have been anticipating for decades. I am having a delightful time shooting bullets at robots, arrows at zombies, and––best of all––wielding a lightsaber in glorious Jedi combat. I wish I could go back in time and tell my 14-year-old self: Just wait a while, it’ll be here someday. 

In more serious news, I completed my application to HSU’s Counseling Master’s program this week. I mentioned this goal in a journal that I wrote back in May, and have spent the intervening months working on prerequisites and putting my application materials together. I’ve been the lucky recipient of support from friends and family who provided feedback on my statement of purpose and responses to autobiographical questions, and also from three amazing mentors who wrote my letters of recommendation. If I get accepted (fingers crossed!), I’ll start studying next fall. In the meantime, I’ve got a growing pile of psychology books to chip away at, and will also be taking one more prerequisite course at College of the Redwoods during spring 2021.

2020 has been a unsettling and destructive year in so many ways. It feels strange and a bit embarrassing to be living well, growing in the ways I want to be, and generally loving life. It hurts my heart to know that these privileges are not available to everyone right now, so I’m using these moments to rest, relax, and double down on my resolve to help fix that problem when this nightmare is finally over. Wherever and whenever you are, I wish you health, contentment, and joy.

Until next time, be well, and good luck.

Global: 65,379,678 confirmed cases, 1,509,304 deaths

United States: 14,149,328 confirmed cases, 276,402 deaths

California: 1,290,775 confirmed cases, 19,595 deaths

Humboldt County: 993 confirmed cases, 9 deaths