[WB1] Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s overreaching edict that we noted last week – which would have subjected Harris County residents to fines of $1,000 for not wearing a mask in public and for not washing their hands when leaving home – was eviscerated by Texas governor Greg Abbott on Monday as part of his his Open Texas plan (a 65 page report available for download here).
Embarrassingly, the area newspaper of record chose (dishonestly) to frame the governor’s elimination of fines for not wearing a mask as politically motivated and aimed at Hidalgo because she’s perceived as a political threat (rather than an overreaching, inexperienced leader – the far more plausible perspective).
This dishonest editorializing posing as reporting, for example, notes that Laredo had a mask ban in effect since March with an associated fine, but neglects to mention that the original Laredo ban was far less restrictive than Hidalgo’s. It’s easy to download and compare them (Laredo’s Order of 31 March 2020 – see Section 20 / Hidalgo’s Order), but apparently the Chronicle reporter, his editor(s), and even a few journo colleagues think Houstonians are too stupid to perform this simple research. So dishonest.
Laredo HAD trended towards even more restrictions than initially enacted, just as Harris County trended so badly in this direction under Hidalgo that Mayor Turner and law enforcement officers held a press conference to announce they would not enforce her order. Kudos to Gov. Abbott for being the sensible adult who reined in the overreach.
[WB2] Gov. Abbott’s order also re-opened beaches to the public, prompting a certain degree of nagging and scolding as Texans took advantage. It remains strange that some people apparently think it’s better to lock yourself in your house (forever?) rather than get some sun, fresh air, and exercise in the open spaces of Texas right now. There’s not much evidence of COVID-19 transmission in such open spaces. Texans (and free people elsewhere, presumably) can do this, and do it responsibly – but if it’s not your thing, then by all means stay home. Nobody is ORDERING you to the beach!
[WB3] The area newspaper of record ran into some trouble in framing this headline: Where are Harris County’s COVID-19 cases? Concentrated in at-risk neighborhoods
While it is true (and utterly unsurprising) that Houston’s poorer zip codes fare less well when it comes to the number of cases per 1,000 residents and it IS an interesting collection of data, three of the “worst” six zip codes are majority white and affluent (77002/Downtown, 77006/Montrose, and 77030/West University-Med Center). That contradicts the headline and apparently wasn’t the story the newspaper wanted to convey, but those three zip codes stick out like a sore thumb, with significantly higher ratios than Harris County’s overall ratio of 1.04 cases per 1,000 residents (as of 20 April 2020). There is some speculation as to why this is so in the story, but the headline could have been better.
[WB4] County Judge Hidalgo did announce plans to expand COVID-19 contact tracing going forward. Local health officials seemed overwhelmed by this task from the start (as well as compiling and providing useful, usable data to the public). Why in the world wasn’t this addressed much earlier in the lockdown?
[WB5] The Chronicle interviewed a landscape planner, who had some interesting suggestions on how to make life a little more social during this time of distancing:
If you live in a house with a yard, I think it’s time to turn the front yard into the backyard. The best way to interact with strangers today is from our outdoor spaces, and the front yard gives you access to socially-distanced neighbors and strangers alike.
Start by setting up distance-visiting tables, chairs or blankets in your front yard so that you can comfortably visit with friends on your lawn. Just make sure your setup keeps everyone 10 feet or so apart.
For the record, this common-sense approach to the pandemic was prohibited under Hidalgo’s original Stay-Home order (see Section 1D), under penalty of fine or jail. Under her latest order, such activity is now “strongly discouraged” (although it’s not clear that people are going heed such overreach much longer).
[WB6] This is a periodic reminder that there are a good number of people who really dislike Houston drivers and cars and never stop thinking about ways to punish them. It’s a shame the Kinder fortune has been used to prop up, even encourage, such people.
[WB7] HPD generated some negative headlines this week, as Chief Art Acevedo finally addressed a video of HPD officers who fatally shot a man who appeared to be on his knees, and another conviction based on the casework of the disgraced officer at the heart of the Harding Street Massacre was tossed.
[WB8] Harris County has approved a deal to purchase a troubled Perry Homes project that contributed to repeated flooding in Kingwood’s Elm Grove neighborhood last year.
[WB9] No declining (or possibly even thriving) industry obsesses over itself quite like the news industry.
[WB10] Deepest condolences to the family of HPD officer Jason Knox (whose father is Councilmember Mike Knox, a blogHOUSTON favorite). Knox was killed in an HPD helicopter crash over the weekend.
Stay safe and dodge the virus.