Weekend brunch for 10 May 2020

News and views from around the web

Dr. Joseph Varon, United Methodist Medical Center (image credit: Dr. Joseph Varon/facebook)

[WB1] The COVID-19 pandemic dominated the news again this past week, as the state continues to re-open under Governor Greg Abbott’s phased approach. Here in Houston, the Chronicle  buried the lead in a story that appeared (from the headline) to be a feature on a struggling hospital serving vulnerable communities. Deep into the story, diligent readers find this pretty important bit of news about the small, understaffed hospital in the profile:

Chief of staff Dr. Joseph Varon recalled that the unit has admitted just three white patients since it opened – a reflection of the fact that the deadly virus is hitting minorities the hardest. Ages vary widely, and roughly 70 percent of the people they see don’t have underlying conditions, infectious diseases specialist Dr. Joseph Gathe estimates.

Varon particularly worries about the health of the young black men who come through the hospital. He has seen reports of the population being released after treatment or turned away from care, only to die upon returning home.

“Young African American men are dropping dead,” he said. “I don’t know why.”

Varon wants answers, although he doesn’t have much time for guessing. He’s in the businesses of saving lives — and as of May 2, he says not one person has died at his hospital.

Emphasis supplied. Given the community Dr. Varon is serving, and his stretched resources, THAT is some impressive news! Why was it buried? Who knows why that newspaper makes the decisions it does, but perhaps this had something to do with it:

The pulmonologist treats his patients with a cocktail of steroids, blood thinners and Vitamin C, and they’re all on Hydroxochloroquine, the controversial anti-malaria drug touted by President Donald Trump and rejected by many in the medical field for its lack of research. He said it’s working “like a charm.”

Good news, even if readers had to dig for it.

[WB2] The same newspaper remains on an anti-Abbott crusade, for reasons that are also not entirely clear, with the editorializing bleeding into the news coverage and headlines even referring to the editor of an Austin political gossip newsletter as a “political analyst” (self-fashioned, perhaps?).  Several Chron writers have questioned Gov. Abbott’s power to scale back overreaching edicts from local authorities, although Bill King notes that the authority was clearly established in response to past hurricanes. Meanwhile, basic reporting by major media on COVID-19 data generally as states/localities (including Texas) re-open continues to be problematic.

[WB3] One Chronicle reporter took a look at recent campaign finance reports of prominent politicos, and came to the conclusion that they should get creative in spending that money “to help a struggling TX business.” To his credit, this reporter did call attention to County Commissioner Rodney Ellis’s profligate spending and abuse of his campaign finance monies some time back (see WB4) – which makes it even more bizarre for the reporter to advocate even more brazenly turning those campaign accounts into personal slush funds. Local accountability journalism appears to be *ahem* evolving.

[WB4] Remember how so many nags and scolds decided in January/February that Houstonians were being racists in avoiding Asiatown (even though it was mainly Asian-Americans avoiding Asiatown)? We do, but the Chronicle has decided to reframe and update the story:

The sudden drop in sales Chinatown experienced at the end of January as those worried about the novel coronavirus began to social distance were a precursor to what would soon happen across the country.

Oh, people were beginning to social distance due to worries over the coronavirus? Strangely, not many outlets were describing it that way at the time.

[WB5] As we’ve noted before, never underestimate the efforts of people who want Houston drivers out of their cars (journos, planners, activists) to keep pushing that agenda forward, even during a pandemic.

[WB6] We’ve noted the area newspaper’s woeful lack of understanding of the area’s most important industry previously. Here, Rob Bradley Jr. takes the newspaper’s editorial board to task on that topic.

[WB7] The City of Houston announced plans this week to increase testing capacity and to hire more contact tracers by the end of the month. As we asked about similar plans that Harris County announced LAST week to expand contract tracing (see WB4), why in the world has this taken so long? The City of Houston has been advertising many jobs, including on social media, and even employs a doodler, so it’s unclear why these important jobs weren’t prioritized sooner. One particularly self-unaware Houston mayoral staffer, who apparently doesn’t realize he’s part of the group “in charge” here, wondered on twitter why leaders squandered the last two months of shutdown. Indeed.

[WB8] Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman, who presided over a couple of disastrous recent elections, announced that she is resigning her post due to a health issue. Commissioners Court will appoint an interim clerk to serve until November, when a new clerk will be elected. As noted by Holly Hansen in her important story on an investigation into possible ballot harvesting in Harris County, Trautman apparently announced recently that she would not be sending out unsolicited mail ballot applications across Harris County, which may have ruffled feathers in the local Democratic machine. The safe bet is that Commissioner Ellis and County Judge Hidalgo will find a replacement who will mail out lots of ballots.

[WB9] More people are beginning to take note of the deep recession that is ahead for the Houston area, and the impact that it will have on the City of Houston’s finances, workforce, and services. The impact will be particularly hard on Houston’s declining “high-poverty” neighborhoods.

[WB10] Josue Daniel Claros-Trajedo, a 19 year-old Honduran national, has been arrested and charged with shooting at two helicopters responding to the HPD helicopter crash that killed Officer Jason Knox.

[WB11] A handful of celebrities apparently decided to wish former KTRK-13 news anchor Dave Ward a happy birthday. Both Ward and his wife had recently been discharged from ICU stays, but were not sick from COVID-19 (because it doesn’t affect celebrities, right?).

Take care and dodge the virus!

Kevin Whited
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Kevin Whited is co-founder and publisher of blogHOUSTON. Follow him on twitter: @PubliusTX