Weekend brunch for 14 June 2020

News and views from around the web

Harris County COVID-19 Threat Level and Texas Medical Center ICU Bed Occupancy indicators (as of 14 June 2020)

[WB1] Before going on a short break two weeks ago, we noted that we thought Houston (unlike some cities) would get the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing right (see WB1). And for the most part, Houston did, with large (mostly peaceful) demonstrations that culminated in Tuesday’s massive funeral service.

[WB2] On Wednesday, Mayor Sylvester Turner issued an executive order that codifies existing HPD policies (such as banning chokeholds, prohibiting officers from firing at moving vehicles, and imposing the duty to interfere in the event of misconduct) and restricts the use of no-knock warrants (recall that Chief Art Acevedo had promised to eliminate the practice altogether after HPD’s Harding Street Massacre, then effectively backtracked to a policy similar to that in the mayor’s order). He also promised further police reforms, in conjunction with a task force that he will be appointing. Turner also obtained a unanimous vote on a $5.1 billion city budget that slightly increases funding for HPD (even as activists urged Houston to “defund” HPD).

[WB3] For two weeks, leaders did not have much to say about social distancing or large gatherings, but Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo decided Thursday would be a good time to unveil a strange, backwards-looking COVID-19 “Threat Level” indicator that brought back memories of the useless post-9/11 Homeland Security threat level indicator that was largely ignored and finally retired.

As we’ve noted, for weeks the regional newspaper has been breathlessly (mis)reporting every little uptick in positive tests as “SpikeSpikeSpike” (see WB1) and has returned to that line of reporting as area cases and hospitalizations actually have ticked up in the last week or so. Hidalgo announced that Houston “may be at the precipice of a disaster” and some national outlets speculated that Houston is on the verge of a return to lockdowns (which the county judge no longer has the authority to impose). The uptick bears monitoring, to be sure, but the alarmism is not particularly helpful at the moment.

Health officials and local leaders have largely squandered their credibility after having little to say about COVID-19 during the last two weeks of mass gatherings during a pandemic. If the county judge had issued this threat level system ahead of those gatherings, perhaps some of that credibility could have been reclaimed. If local officials had built up test/trace/isolate capabilities during the months of lockdown (which area residents did comply with), they might also have built up their credibility. They did not:

Houston and its surrounding Harris County have a contact tracing workforce of nearly 500, local public health officials said last week. Many of them are volunteers, including medical and public health students and nonprofit workers. The county health department is not hiring, spokesperson Martha Marquez said in an email, while the city is aiming to fill about 300 temporary positions related to COVID-19, including contact tracers.

So, we are left with silliness like this, a backwards-looking graphic that doesn’t seem to match Texas Medical Center data, and a public that doesn’t especially trust the overly alarmist newspaper or political leaders on pandemic response. That may well lead to avoidable deaths, unfortunately, because a return to lockdowns is highly unlikely. That bullet was fired, we did our part to “flatten the curve”, and local leaders did not build the sort of test/trace/isolate capability we might well need in the weeks and months ahead.

[WB4] Meanwhile, Harris County is struggling to complete repairs of flood control infrastructure from Hurricane Harvey (which hit nearly three years ago).

[WB5] A retired white progressive Houston Chronicle journalist “race-splaining” Houston (with citations of fellow white progressives) is Peak Houston Chronicle Editorial Page.

[WB6] It’s also not a great look for the Houston Chronicle’s business columnist constantly to be dancing on the presumed grave of Houston’s leading industry (without disclosing that his wife is a renewable energy executive and evangelist).

[WB7] The Wall Street Journal reported this week that Harris County DA Kim Ogg believes that disgraced former HPD officer Gerald Goines likely lied in the 2004 case against George Floyd. John Nicholas, the brother of one of the victims of HPD’s Harding Street Massacre that was orchestrated by Goines, wonders when his family is going to get some answers to their questions about HPD malfeasance.

[WB8] Even as he speaks of the need for police accountability and transparency, HPD Chief Art Acevedo really does not want to release public information (police body cam footage paid for by the taxpayers) except under extremely limited circumstances.

[WB9] An HPD sergeant with 25 years of experience on the force has been relieved of duty and is under investigation after a Facebook post offering “advice” to the Black community.

[WB10] The chairman-elect of the Harris County Republican Party, Keith Nielsen, will not be assuming office after his own ill-advised Facebook post.

[WB11] Houston Democratic US Rep. Sylvia Garcia filed legislation this week to ban the use of nuclear bombs to affect weather developments (such as hurricanes).

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Kevin Whited
About Kevin Whited 4237 Articles
Kevin Whited is co-founder and publisher of blogHOUSTON. Follow him on twitter: @PubliusTX