Notes From a Pandemic: January 30th, 2021

by Miles Raymer

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

For my first pandemic journal of 2021, it’s hard to know where to start. I published my last journal about two months ago, and the pileup of news since then has been overwhelming. In just eight weeks, the pandemic got a lot worse across America (jumped from fewer than 15 million confirmed cases to greater than 25 million, including 150,000+ new deaths), Congress passed another COVID relief package, Democrats flipped the Senate by the skin of our teeth in Georgia’s special election, a mob of crazed Trumpites stormed the U.S. Capitol building in a disgraceful attempt to overturn the results of a free and fair election, Trump was impeached for the second time (you made history, Donny!), and––finally, mercifully––Joe Biden was sworn in as our 46th President.

In my little corner of the world, I’ve spent the last month in Unemployment Limbo along with thousands of other Californians. After conducting a recent fraud investigation, the Employment Development Department (EDD) concluded that about 10% of payments between March 2020 and mid-January 2021 were made to fraudulent claims. That’s more than $11 billion. Other sources indicate that the full amount paid to fraudsters may be as high as $31 billion! While I’m glad that they discovered and addressed this problem, I was among the many people whose payments were delayed. I suspect this was because of a combination of the fraud investigation (my account wasn’t flagged but the system has been overloaded for weeks), plus the last-minute signing of the new relief bill.

There has been lots of complaining about the EDD’s incompetence, but I’m honestly not sure where the lion’s share of the blame belongs. Certainly some of the anti-EDD hand-wringing is warranted. Most people, myself included, can’t even get on hold when we call their support line. After 3 minutes of making our way through the horrendously-slow automated system, it just hangs up automatically. I’ve been following the EDD subreddit pretty closely, and many of the stories are heartbreaking. It’s just so sad to see so many of my fellow Californians stressed and suffering because of the shortcomings of a system over which they have no control. Combine this with CA’s abysmal vaccine rollout, and things don’t look great for the Golden State right now.

The good news, at least for me, is that my Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) extension appears to have come through just yesterday. I was able to certify for the last couple weeks and was notified overnight that the funds transfer to my bank account is in progress.

What a whirlwind! So far, 2021 feels like a continuation of 2020′s madness rather than something new. It’s a grim reminder that the New Year is a totally arbitrary signpost that doesn’t actually provide a fresh start unless we make it so. But it’s important to remember that people all over the world are doing exactly that. Everyday decency and determination don’t usually make the news, and it can be easy to lose sight of all the little things people do to keep their loved ones and communities safe and thriving. So today, I’d like to gush a bit about the #1 pandemic hero in my life: my wife, Jessie Raymer.

Jessie in her classroom at Fortuna Middle School

Jessie in her classroom at Fortuna Middle School

As a junior high language arts teacher, Jessie’s profession has been front and center in some of the most contentious pandemic debates. Unlike most of our local school districts, Jessie’s district elected to return to in-person classes last fall; she’s been teaching in person since October 5th. Through all the fear and uncertainty, Jessie has thrown herself into the work with laudable passion and energy. Inserting strict safety protocols into her normal teaching routines was a challenge, but one she overcame with characteristic grace.

Jessie’s not just “making it through” this crisis. She’s doing some of the best work of her career. Her class sizes have been reduced due to some parents keeping their kids on distance learning, which allows her to put more effort into each individual student. And since the kids leave school around midday, she’s also delivering fewer hours of academic instruction. Contrary to what one might expect, being more focused for a shorter amount of time has actually improved student performance. As a result, her students are producing some of the best writing she’s seen in years, with plenty of time for multiple revisions based on immediate teacher feedback. She is hoping that some of these silver linings will be recognized by her district and others, and plans to advocate for permanent changes when the pandemic is over.

Words can’t even begin to express how proud I am of Jessie’s dedication during these difficult times, and I’m pleased to report that her hard work has recently paid off. This last Wednesday, she was one of the first teachers in the county to receive a COVID vaccination. This is a huge moment of progress for our family and community, one for which we are immensely grateful.

Jessie's vaccination certificate

Jessie’s vaccination certificate

I suspect this happy event is a harbinger of more good to come in 2021. As shitty as this pandemic has been and continues to be––we’re getting through it!

Until next time, be well, and good luck.

Global: 102,177,365 confirmed cases, 2,209,313 deaths

United States: 25,935,182 confirmed cases, 436,831 deaths

California: 3,293,531 confirmed cases, 40,240 deaths

Humboldt County: 2,754 confirmed cases, 30 deaths