Weekend brunch for 9 August 2020

News and views from around the web

Image credit: SpaceX/flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

We’re back with a couple of weeks’ worth of links and observations after a break last weekend.

[WB1] Whether you obtain your data from the excellent SETRAC website, the Texas Medical Center website, or even some analytics hobbyists whose work is, for the most part, superior to what the City of Houston and Harris County are sharing on their mediocre, slow dashboards, the COVID-19 trends in the Houston/Harris County area continue to improve, as the effects of various virus-spreading late-May/early June events finally work their way through the system (tragically in some cases). You can also tell this is the case because the number of hysterical daily articles in the middling area newspaper ripping Gov. Abbott and yearning for full shutdowns has steadily declined along with the number of COVID-19 patients occupying Harris County ICU beds.

[WB2] That said, beware of politicians who would like to take credit for the improved numbers because of publicity stunts like this (we are willing to predict that the number of people cited will be under double digits by the start of September, if any reporters actually bother to check). The problem local leaders face is that after you encourage gatherings (protests) in the middle of a pandemic and your police chief appears maskless in those protests (hugging and engaging protestors with no social distancing), people tune you out. The numbers in Houston are improving because 1) people began to take the matter more seriously in terms of masking and personal protection, as they are wont to do when they understand the threat and 2) the virus burned through a lot of vulnerable, less affluent communities when folks decided in late May/early June that if 60,000-strong protests and the hugging police chief didn’t transmit the virus, then what harm could big backyard barbeques and back-slapping at the favorite watering hole cause? (Quite a lot, as it turned out, though it was far from overwhelming local treatment capabilities in our area.) Credibility squandered by local leaders can have terrible consequences during a pandemic.

[WB3] The City of Houston Health Department (or “Heath Department” as the Chronicle story puts it) started a publicity campaign at the end of July, sending workers to apartments in some of Houston’s hardest-hit area codes to distribute information on how to deal with COVID-19. While this is a good initiative, it comes many months after the first lockdowns in our area. Recall that the lockdowns were supposedly to buy time to “flatten the curve” and to prepare a more robust response (in terms of testing, contact tracing, and education). It’s astounding that it took so many months for local authorities to develop a targeted education program, but better late than never one supposes. Testing and contact tracing were again overwhelmed by the area’s post-protest surge in cases, unfortunately.

[WB4] Thankfully, as the area COVID-19 numbers improve, there is less reason to take seriously draconian alarmists like Dr. Peter Hotez, who has been advocating national lockdowns (of dubious constitutional propriety) for weeks upon weeks (but could not bring himself to criticize Houston’s mass protests in terms of the danger of spreading the virus). Hotez is a vaccine expert, though it’s not clear if he’s part of a team making any useful progress on a COVID-19 vaccine (thankfully, some are). He seems to enjoy making the cable TV rounds and waving his arms, but has not offered realistic advice in terms of policy that could make an actual difference in controlling the pandemic. He’s a prime example of an undoubtedly talented academic whose knowledge doesn’t translate into particularly useful policy insight.

[WB5] The Democrats who run Harris County appear to be focusing on creative ways to raise taxes, because apparently the area has not been hit hard enough by the virus and the oil and gas industry downturn.

[WB6] The Democrats who run Harris County and its criminal justice system (via control of the courts) have also come under growing criticism for their approach of releasing violent criminals on bond (see KPRC-2 here and here, The Texan, and KHOU-11 news). Elections continue to have consequences for area residents, as one Harris County party pursues a far-reaching agenda and one party has become nearly dysfunctional.

[WB7] How many variants of “If Downtown would just do X, it will finally be WORLD CLASS!” have we observed over the years? Here’s the latest. Be sure to check out Neal Meyer’s latest article on why we might need to rethink quite a few of our land use and transportation priorities, post-COVID.

[WB8] The City of Houston has enacted changes that some believe will improve “walkability” and will allow restaurants to turn unused parking spots into outdoor dining spaces.

[WB9] Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley successfully returned to earth last weekend, as their SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule successfully plopped down in the Gulf of Mexico off Florida. SpaceX’s Starship prototype also had a successful test “hop” at the company’s Boca Chica, Texas facility this week. Well done!

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Kevin Whited
About Kevin Whited 4244 Articles
Kevin Whited is co-founder and publisher of blogHOUSTON. Follow him on twitter: @PubliusTX