For the first handful of months of the pandemic, very few people close to me, in one way or another, got COVID-19.

Alas, I can’t say the same has happened in recent weeks.

Many of you read the story by Matt King, the Independent’s contributing music and arts writer, about his bout with COVID. Since he informed me of his COVID-19 diagnosis, a disturbing number of other people I know have tested positive. In fact, as I write this, I am somewhat rattled because a colleague—someone who would be considered at extra risk of the dangers of this damned disease—just let me know about a positive test.

Meanwhile, the local numbers are getting scary. A local by the name of Kevin Duncliffe has been compiling state and local COVID-19 stats from various government websites for months now. His Twitter and Facebook accounts are definitely worth a follow—and the stats he’s been positing lately are downright terrifying.

Meanwhile, our partners at CalMatters published a story today looking at how close many California hospitals are to the brink. According to Jorge Martinez-Cuellar, an internist and medical director of hospital medicine at Saint Agnes Medical Center in Fresno: “We are going to have a very hard, very hard winter. We feel that we are close to what is called a collapse in the system.”

All of this is to say: It’s scary out there. We are in the midst of the worst COVID-19 surge so far on a local, state and national level.

Please be safe, everyone. Please.

News from the day:

• Here’s the Riverside County District 4 COVID-19 report for the week ending Dec. 6. All of the numbers are bad—except the local weekly positivity rate, which is an oddly low (relatively speaking) 7.6 percent. Based on the numbers Mr. Duncliffe has been posting in recent days, next week’s report will be much, much worse.

• The state of California today changed course and said that public playgrounds—which had been closed by the regional stay-at-home order which we’re now under—can re-open. The closure of playgrounds led to a rather large backlash from befuddled parents—and the state apparently listened to their concerns.

• Here’s The Washington Post’s update on where congressional negotiations over a COVID-19 relief bill stand. Basically … everyone is continuing to negotiate, and it’s rather unclear what, if anything, will get done, due in large part to the fact that Mitch McConnell is obstructing things again/still.

• One thing that may be included in the relief package, if it ever actually happens, is help for struggling renters—because if help doesn’t come, the country will face an unprecedented evictions crisis. According to CNBC: “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s national eviction ban is set to expire at the end of December. More than 12 million Americans–or 1 in 6 adult renters–said in November that they’re not caught up with their rent. Researchers have found that evictions worsen the spread of COVID.”

Two people who have received the Pfizer vaccine in Great Britain had severe allergic reactions—leading the U.K. to recommend that people who have a history of significant allergies do not get the vaccine. However, as CNBC reports, this news isn’t surprising, and there’s still a great chance the FDA’s vaccine-advisory committee will give the vaccine an emergency-use OK in the United States when the group meets tomorrow (Thursday), as MedPage today explains

Despite some serious mess-ups during ongoing trials, the AstraZeneca vaccine may represent the planet’s best hope at tamping down the pandemic, according to the editor-in-chief of The Lancet medical journal—because it is cheaper and doesn’t require extreme refrigeration like the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines: “(Dr. Richard) Horton said it is important to think about vaccine immunization on a global scale “because even if we immunize one country, the threat then is you reintroduce the virus from another country that is not protected.” 

Los Angeles Times columnist Gustavo Arellano wrote about the reactions that the sheriffs in Orange and Riverside counties had to the state’s regional stay-at-home order. Key quote: “But the two should be shamed, not praised. They and their fellow sheriff resisters represent some of the worst offenders of the pandemic. When we need collective sacrifice, they espouse selfishness. When we need law and order, they encourage anarchy by deciding which rules are valid and which aren’t. When we need officers who follow the policy recommendations of medical experts, they instead decide to become judge, jury and non-executor on subjects over which they have no knowledge whatsoever.”

• Medical-tech publication MedGadget looks at a newly developed rapid test for the coronavirus that uses a smartphone camera, of all things. This was definitely written for people with a med-science background, so I recommend the video embedded in this story, too.

• The city of Palm Springs has been busy, issuing (or re-issuing) information on a temporarily limit on the amounts delivery apps can charge restaurants and other food businesses; and clarifying what hotels and short-term rentals can and cannot do during the current regional stay-at-home order.

• Good news: The county is again going to be offering free COVID-19 testing at the Palm Springs Convention Center—this time, for seven weeks, from Dec. 14 through Jan. 29. Testing will be available from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., every non-holiday weekday.

• From the Independent: Kevin Fitzgerald talked to Modernism Week Board Chair William Kopelk about the plans the organization has to make, re-make and then do all over again regarding the 2021 events: “‘It’s like juggling balls in the air. Which route (to presenting a compelling lineup of activities) is going to keep going, and which will not? It’s almost like playing the lottery, and hoping that your numbers come in. But always, the board of directors has been very respectful in agreeing that we will follow what the science says, and what our governor says, and what the health standards are for Riverside County. That’s really all that we can go by.’ As of now, the route Modernism Week has chosen is this: Modernism Week proper has been moved to April 8-18, 2021, while February will host a month-long Modernism Week ‘online experience.’”

• Some non-COVID-related news: The federal government wants to break up the increasing social-media monopoly that is Facebook. According to NBC News: “The Federal Trade Commission sued to break up Facebook on Wednesday, asking a federal court to force the sell-off of assets such as Instagram and WhatsApp as independent businesses.” 

Sacramento Bee columnist Gil Duran looks at some of the downsides, as he sees them, of Xavier Becerra—President-elect Joe Biden’s likely Health and Human Services nominee—and his tenure as California’s attorney general. Duran’s lede: “As California attorney general, Xavier Becerra resisted transparency, threatened legal action against journalists, ducked police reforms and declined to investigate the police killing of an unarmed Latino man.”

Everyone: Please be safe. Please look in (safely) on loved ones and friends. Support local businesses—including the Independent, if you’re able. The Digest will be back on Friday.

Jimmy Boegle is the founding editor and publisher of the Coachella Valley Independent. He is also the executive editor and publisher of the Reno News & Review in Reno, Nev. A native of Reno, the Dodgers...