Category Archives: City of Houston

My Vax Experience – Part 1

I got lucky on Thursday evening when the Houston Health Department opened up some slots for shots–the COVID-19 vaccine. I was quite surprised when I clicked the link and lo and behold, a page actually opened up that allowed me to sign up. Why was I surprised? Because, most times, the slots filled up within a few minutes. I felt quite lucky. So, I signed up and moments later received confirmation of my appointment for Friday morning.

With paperwork in hand, I drove over to the HHDs vax facility at Bayou City Events Center on Knight Road. Thankfully, I got in line early and made it into the parking lot within 15 minutes. (HPD and COH Mobility did a great job!) Another 15 minutes later, the staff in the lot had scanned the QR code on my printed-out email, checked me in, and I parked in a great space.

The first stop just inside the door was with the temp-taking guy who also wrapped your wrist with a green band. Then I was led into a room and told to go to a station. The nice woman at the station looked over my paperwork and a minute later, I was sent to another room–the main ballroom–where there were numerous nurses stations. I went to where I was pointed, sat with the nurse, answered a few questions, and a minute later, I was already sitting in the ballroom waiting for 15 minutes to make sure I didn’t grow fangs or have some reaction. One nurse walked by and even checked on me–I’m that special. Then, I was on my way.

I must say that the HHD staff and volunteers are running a tight ship. Along with great intake and nursing staff members, maintenance staff was on top of keeping things clean and sanitized. A lot of sanitizer was available and the bathrooms were clean. Also, I’d never been to this facility, but if anyone ever has an event and needs a DJ (when all this is over), give me a call. I offer great rates and great music!

Did it hurt? It was an injection through the muscle. You’ll feel something. Hours later, my upper arm felt sore, yet, no fangs grew out of me and the Russians have not tried to communicate with me. It’ll be different for everyone, I’m sure. I hear the 2nd dose is doozier, but I’m alright with that if it gets us closer to some sort of herd immunity.

My hope is that we get to a point very soon where we don’t need a race to the needle by way of a computer. Accessibility is as important as the community education that helps convince people to get inoculated, but more important is actual availability at-large. Also very important is the need to take the shots to the community members who are not able to drive to a location. As CM Letitia Plummer stated on Friday, while the FEMA vax site is a great thing, we must address accessibility for those who do not have access to an automobile.

Obviously, there is still a lot to be done. Out local leaders are doing their part and President Biden’s visit today provided some assurance that things are happening, including more vaccine production. But Congress must still pass the COVID-19 bill to ensure the supplies needed to provide the vaccines are purchased.

Well, that’s my experience. I will say that my stress levels are much lower now. Missing out on some of the vaccine sign-ups was indeed stressful. Now, I wait a month for dose #2. Hope you get your doses, as well.

On a more serious note, I cannot help but think about all of those whom we’ve lost. It didn’t have to happen. Of the 500K+, we’ve all known a few. My family has lost relatives and long-time family friends. The least we can do is get vaccinated ASAP so we can continue living and serving in the name of all of those humans.

Mask up, keep distancing, wash hands, and get your shot when you can!

NIH Revises Use of Ivermectin for Fight Against COVID-19

There have been various reports regarding the use of Ivermectin in the fight to treat COVID-19. I had posted about local COVID-19 fighter, Dr. Joseph Varon, and his associates’ effort to have the federal government recognize the use of the anti-parasitic drug in treating COVID-19. A slight change in attitude has occured at the federal level.

While the feds were upscaling their efforts in creating vaccines for COVID-19, there was still a worry that lack of availability of the vaccine would not help efforts to fight the actual infections that were still occurring in real-time. Dr. Varon and his associates were among various scientists studying the use of Ivermectin, which was known to be used in fighting worms in dogs, but approved for human use for over 40 years. Considering the botched roll-out by Trump and Texas Governor Abbott, this is quite timely as infections and hospitalizations continue to overtax local resources.

Medical authorities at the federal level had taken the attitude that, while Ivermectin was FDA-approved, it was not approved for use against COVID-19. Recent reports state that the National Institutes of Health has changed course.

One week after Dr. Paul Marik and Dr. Pierre Kory—founding members of the Front Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance (FLCCC)— along with Dr. Andrew Hill, researcher and consultant to the World Health Organization (WHO), presented their data before the NIH Treatment Guidelines Panel, the NIH has upgraded their recommendation on ivermectin, making it an option for use in COVID-19. 

This new designation upgraded the status of ivermectin from “against” to “neither for nor against”, which is the same recommendation given to monoclonal antibodies and convalescent plasma, both widely used across the nation. 

By no longer recommending against ivermectin use, doctors should feel more open in prescribing ivermectin as another therapeutic option for the treatment of COVID-19. This may clear its path towards FDA emergency use approval. 

“Ivermectin is one of the world’s safest, cheapest and most widely available drugs,” noted Dr. Kory, President of the FLCCC Alliance. “The studies we presented to the NIH revealed high levels of statistical significance showing large magnitude benefit in transmission rates, need for hospitalization, and death. What’s more, the totality of trials data supporting ivermectin is without precedent.”

Newswise.com 1/15/2021

Dr. Marek and Dr. Kory were among those scientists working with Dr. Varon.

This is great news as studies have found that Ivermectin can be used post-exposure, early-stage, and even during late stage. The drug has anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties which have helped numerous patients locally.

Here’s a link to DosCentavos’ post regarding Dr. Varon’s press conference on Ivermectin.

The vax roll-out is now in the hands of the Biden administration, which has had to get to the bottom of Trump’s failures. While the roll-out continues, we must continue to mask-up, wash hands, social distance, and if possible stay away from humans outside of one’s immediate family. And, in case you haven’t heard…double mask!

Update on UMMC COVID-19 Vax

NPR posted an interview with Dr. Joseph Varon, the medical director at United Memorial Medical Center on 12/16/2020. In it, Dr. Varon states that he was told by the Mayor that UMMC would receive their COVID-19 vaccine for their frontline workers sometime next week.

INSKEEP: Dr. Anthony Fauci said yesterday on the program that maybe caseloads will start to go down significantly when half the population is vaccinated, which is something that is a good number of months away. Let me ask about your hospital specifically, though. The first people getting vaccinated have been, in many cases, health care workers. Do you know when your staff will get vaccinated?

VARON: I was told by the mayor just a couple of days ago that we’re going to be getting our vaccine next week.

INSKEEP: Next week.

VARON: Yes, sir.

INSKEEP: What do the staff have to say about that?

VARON: Oh, they were very happy because they – you know, they were actually kind of annoyed that we didn’t make the first round of vaccination. But apparently, that was done on the basis of how big the hospitals are. Our hospital is a small community hospital that has less than a thousand employees, and therefore it was not chosen to receive the vaccine on the first round.

INSKEEP: We’ve heard about health care workers, along with people in the population at large, who are skeptical about the vaccine. Do you have anybody on your staff who’s pushing back?

VARON: Well, gosh. Yesterday, I had a – not a fight, but, you know, I had a friendly argument with more than 50% of my nurses in my unit telling me that they will not get the vaccine. And, you know, of course, I pushed the concept that people should get vaccinated. And I asked, why not? And, you know, at the end of the day, like I have said before, coronavirus has become a political toy, and most of the reasons why most of my people don’t want to get the vaccine are politically motivated.

INSKEEP: Do you trust the science when it comes to this vaccine?

VARON: Absolutely. Absolutely.

NPR 12/16/2020

When half of his nursing staff is making the decision to not take the vaccine based on Trump politics, ones hope for the future sort of wanes. But it’s just not hospital staffers.

Kuff touched on how tough it will be to get everyone effectively vaccinated. Just within my own friends list, there have been a few who question everything about the vaccine. Some of it based on crap one reads on the internet, but also some based on US History of testing on people of color. There is a lot of mistrust and misinformation; most of it, because of the orange buffoon that is still in the White House who didn’t really care to carry the ball on fighting the pandemic. But US History is not kind to black and brown folks, either.

That said, I agree with Dr. Varon when he states that the current state of the vaccine does not help matters at the moment. A few thousand frontline workers and some elderly folks being inoculated is not going to help the current state of test positivity, hospitalizations and ICU admits. Americans must continue to practice COVID-19 measures–masks, wash hands, stay away from gatherings, etc.

It’s good to know that UMMC staffers will have access to the vaccine, though. The excuse they were given (having a lower number of employees) for not being amongst the first to get it was pretty weak.

UMMC Skipped Over in COVID Vax Distribution

United Memorial Medical Center, the hospital on the north side of Houston which has served mostly Black and Brown COVID-19 patients, has been skipped over by the feds in the initial distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine for health care workers, according to a report at ABC13.

“Initially, I was told it was because of the number of employees UMMC has, which is less than a thousand,” Medical Director Dr. Joseph Varon said.

He also said they have tested more than 300,000 people among all of its testing sites and even taken in some patients from other places such as El Paso, but it was not enough for the small hospital to stand out among the rest. His staff is baffled and upset.

“Every day [I get asked], ‘Dr. Varon, are you getting us the vaccine?’ You can imagine how impotent I feel,” he said. “My staff is getting sick. I had a nurse that got sick twice that just didn’t sound right.”

ABC13

In an interview with Univision, Dr. Varon also stated that he hopes that UMMC receives it in the second round of distribution. Obviously, word needs to get to Congressional leaders to speak up about this.

It is pretty classist that hospitals in the medical center, where health insurance (and international cash) is king, are on the priority list, but a small hospital which has served minority populations during the pandemic–with or without insurance, isn’t even on the fed’s radar. I only wonder how rural hospitals are being treated.

Call your members of Congress and demand equity in the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.

UPDATE: Thankfully, the folks at Ben Taub and LBJ (Harris Health hospitals) received their allotment.

UPDATE: UMMC will receive vax allotment next week.

Video of HPD Killing Nicolas Chavez Released

Four Houston PD cops were fired for the killing of Nicolas Chavez.

A well-prepared, yet, sickening video showing the various police bodycam vantage points of the Nicolas Chavez killing was released to the public  Thursday afternoon, with a play-by-play of the killing by the HPD Chief. The Chief and the cops union seem to have provided some points of defense for the fired cops, from a criminal case point of view.

It was not lost on me that the Chief (and therefore the City of Houston) took somewhat of a middle road in stating that at least two of the bullets shot into Chavez were “justified,” but that the final multi-cop volley of 21 shots were bothersome enough to fire the cops.

Of course, the cops union felt that all of the bullets were justified–even the last 21 shots. The Chief disagreed as the cops have been trained to use time as a means of deescalating a situation. I would think that allowing for more time in this situation would have effected a better outcome. The cops had already taken the time and used their training in attempting to do so.

I could go into what I think after watching the video, but I’ll leave that to the experts that I hope are utilized in explaining it to a grand jury. I just think that an already spent taser (left on the ground by one of the cops) that Chavez pulled toward himself using the wires that had already been shot into him would have done more damage to Chavez than to the cops based on what I’ve read about those contraptions. Therefore, 21 shots fired at will by four cops were not justified and such a violent reaction by the cops was not necessary.

The DA Kim Ogg has stated that the case will be presented to the grand jury once her people have reviewed the evidence. I hope it is presented well.

It is disappointing that it has taken over four months to get to this point. It would seem to me that the elaborate video presentation was more about defending the firing of the cops than about prosecuting a crime. The Chief has a knack for putting on a show when calling out crime and criminals to the cameras, but not in this case.

To watch the Chief’s presentation, click here.

 

 

Latinos and COVID-19

The LA Times recently featured an article about COVID-19 in South Texas, specifically, the Rio Grande Valley. I wrote a post about bad state leadership and COVID-19 in South Texas in early May. I had hoped that people would realize that bad leadership and a pandemic do not mix and that they wouldn’t listen to awful leaders. Unfortunately, it seems to be getting worse.

We’ve all heard that it’s pretty bad down there and it is. Hospitals are overloaded, deaths are happening so often that even a transporter of bodies has earned a feature in some newspapers because of how busy he has become. For Mexican Americans and other Latinos, it is bad everywhere.

In 2015, 27% of US Latinos were uninsured. It’s safe to say that given the undocumented population and the economic effects of COVID-19, that number is even higher today. Latinos did not have access to adequate health care pre-Coronavirus. This in itself is a public policy failure, but if there was an underlying condition that caused underlying conditions to become exacerbated by COVID-19, it is the lack of access to health care and wellness.

The LA Times article quoted one of the Medical authorities in the RGV who stated that people were finding it difficult to avoid family get-togethers, especially during the season of Mother’s Day, graduations, Father’s Day, and 4th of July. An article in the NY Times also gave mention to Latino “culture” in the form of family get-togethers. In other words, events that bring families together are a cultural thing in South Texas and folks can’t seem avoid them.

Miya Shay at ABC13  reported on the Del Toro family whose patriarch contracted COVID-19, along with other members of his family, after a Father’s Day dinner.

It’s bad enough that there are failed Republicans leaders in other states who blame Hispanics for the spread of COVID-19, but let’s not forget the failed Texas leadership that downplayed COVID-19 realities and sped up a re-opening of Texas. Greg Abbott chose profits over people.

As I stated in a previous post, the people model their behavior based on the attitudes and decisions of their leaders, and Greg Abbott didn’t start panicking and reversing course until the body count started worsening in July. Until now, it was all about limited COVID-19 testing, a lack of medical resources and preparation, and fast-tracking the reopening of states. Trump continues hell-bent on reopening states and schools. Meanwhile, there are local leaders who actually are–whether in Houston or in the Valley–trying to shut down their cities, yet, are forced to add a disclaimer that their orders have no teeth because of Greg Abbott.

Well, now we are at this point where the whole state is considered a hot spot and it must be restated:  STAY HOME! And if you need to go to the grocery store or to a doctor’s appointment (and I don’t see any other reason other than essential work to leave your home), wear a mask, distance from others and wash hands. It’s not that difficult. It’s up to us. And, if you’re an essential worker, you also have a responsibility to stop the spread by practicing safe protocols and CDC guidelines beyond your work environment.

In other words, fellow Brown people, screw what may seem to you like “culture,” and take responsibility for saving our families! Culture also means taking care of our own families when there is danger.

And if you are a leader of a state agency, college, or university, or a company that has the ability to continue operations from home, then it is your responsibility to be part of the solution–Keep your employees home!

Given the situation with the Florida Marlins and outbreaks at various school gyms prepping for Fall athletic programs, school sports need to shut down, too. And that includes university sports programs. Hell, even professional programs that are supposedly “in a bubble” need to stop this folly of a season. If they can get sick in a bubble, they will spread it beyond the bubble. And it sets a bad example.

Still, the diversity of my Facebook friends list runs the gamut and it freaks me out to see people at get-togethers with people who don’t reside with them at the lake or at the beach or eating at restaurants (even if they are at whatever percentage they’ve been told to be by Greg Abbott) or getting haircuts…the list goes on.

Forget about the fear of schools reopening as that’s still in the future. What is going on now dictates what happens later and all we see in the future are more funerals and more despair if behavior and public policy does not change. We have a responsibility to ignore bad leaders like Trump and Abbott and do whatever it takes to stop the spread.

It’s getting to where the people who are sick and dying are people we each personally know and love. I‘d rather miss (or be missed by) my family members for a couple of months of lockdown than forever. 

We Need A Vote-at-Home Order from Abbott

Well, it’s nice that Greg Abbott has finally decided to order everyone to wear masks during this pandemic. That it took over 175,000 Texans to get infected and over 2,500 dying, as well as an idiotic and sped-up re0pening of businesses which caused an obvious uptick in cases to finally make a mask order happen shows a total disregard of life and health on the part of Abbott and Republicans.

Anyway, thanks?

It was Anthony Gutierrez at Common Cause who captured the reality of the mask order:

“Issuing the mandatory mask order and encouraging everyone to stay home is the right thing to do right now, considering the mess we’re in. But the right thing to do months ago to avoid this very easily foreseeable mess was to allow all Texans to vote by mail so that no one would now find themselves having to choose between voting and endangering their health.

Our Governor and Secretary of State have thus far failed when it comes to adapting our election systems in a pandemic, but it’s not too late to get it right for November.”

We’re currently in the Democratic Primary run-off here in Texas. And while many 65+ voters ordered their mail ballots, thousands of others are going into polling locations risking our health because we believe in the power of our votes. Thankfully, our own Harris County has instituted some measure of protection, but it is never safer than voting from home at this time.

Instead of opening up access to voting by mail for all as a real option, Greg Abbott and Republicans fought against it, putting even more people at risk who may have already been practicing stay-at-home measures on their own.

Anyway, let’s hope there is a vote-at-home order soon. Even Abbott agrees that “it is getting worse,” although, leaders like Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo had said it would get worse if leaders didn’t take COVID19 seriously.

On Mayor Turner’s Police Reform Task Force

First of all, I am of the opinion that all the great ideas to reform our local police departments have already been discussed and presented, and that they have been presented prior to the events that occurred in Minneapolis.

There has been a dire need for police reform in most cities, including Houston, for decades and nothing has been attempted; if anything, it’s been avoided for political expediency and to appease those who do not support any kind of police reform. We don’t need committees, we need decisive leadership to change the system and the culture of policing.

A committee of favorites that doesn’t include groups that have been at the forefront of police reform advocacy will not come up with anything new. If anything, my fear is that a committee of favorites will only serve as a rubber stamp for the wants of the Mayor, the Chief of Police and the police union. This must be of, by, and for the people, and this committee has too many familiar faces that only talk a good game. For some, it seems it’s what they do for a living.

I wholeheartedly agree with Transform Houston which states:

  1. The 45-person board does not include any individuals currently associated with Black Lives Matter Houston. Moreover, it includes only one organization that is part of the Houston Right2Justice Coalition which has already offered community driven policy recommendations on policing to Mayor Turner.
  2. A number of individuals represented on the task force have been employed by law enforcement agencies. If our goal is to explore ways to end the status quo problems with modern policing, having so many individuals at the table who have been deeply entrenched within those broken structures seems counterproductive to achieving meaningful reform.
  3. Mayor Turner has now had 2 separate bodies recommend police reform measures – both his 2016 Transition Committee on Criminal Justice and a 2017 report on fiscal responsibility and economic growth. The recommendations from both of those reports have yet to be implemented. At today’s press conference the Mayor seemed to dismiss the recommendations as no longer valid given the current movement to reform our policing system. To be clear, there are measures that have been proposed that could be immediately implemented by Mayor Turner that would begin the process of reforming how HPD does its work.
  4. Finally, Pastor Max Miller is listed as a member of the task force. Pastor Miller is well known as an anti-LGBTQ activist who worked tirelessly to spread misinformation about Houston’s transgender community during the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance City Council debates and ballot initiative.

The list of members of the committee is here. I know a few of them personally and a few others I know of their works in the community. According to the Mayor, their charge is to review policies, review the current independent review board, assess release of body camera footage, study best practices, assess community policing practices, and study the presence of police in the community. So, I agree with Kuff when he says let’s see them do something.

But, this kind of “study” should be an ongoing thing and not just one that happens when 60,000 people show up to rally, or when HPD kills the next black or brown person and fails to release results of an internal investigation. When it comes to police practices, and given the current surge of bad apples in policing and those quitting because of rules being imposed on them, the whole system should be under citizen watch beyond our cell phones.

The Mayor and Council are supposed to be our advocates as we elect them to oversee our government services (including police), but it appears that they are falling short. And a committee of favorites does not help this cause.

 

Democratic State Reps Call Out Acevedo on HPD Audit

Eight Houston-area Democratic State Representatives have called out Houston PD Chief Art Acevedo and HPD on the lack of transparency and accountability regarding a taxpayer-funded audit of the department after its botched raid on Harding Street.   (CLICK  TO  ENLARGE)

Thanks to these leaders for speaking up for accountability on this particular instance of cops-gone-wrong.

Of course, this isn’t the only instance for which the community needs information. The name Nicolas Chavez immediately comes to mind as months have passed without any results of investigation. The online video isn’t enough, Chief! Perhaps this audit on procedures and practices would give a little light as to what could lead officers to kill others in all other instances in which has occurred.

 

 

 

The Latest on Local Police Reform

The Harris County Commissioner’s Court approved a long list of items that could lead to reform of law enforcement at the county level.

At the very least, these reforms will create some semblance of transparency over law enforcement budgeting and statistics regarding racial disparities in the system itself, and create a mechanism to ensure the indigent are represented in criminal courts. Most importantly, it gets the ball rolling on an independent civilian oversight board with subpoena power.

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez took to social media to tell us of his dislike of the #defund movement, stating that more money is needed. My own thinking is that a more transparent budget process would definitely allow us to look beyond the usually undisputed round numbers that go with funding law enforcement.

He added:

I’m putting in the work to review how my agency can do better. For some changes, we don’t need extra time to review, I’m moving forward now. Other changes may require more time, simply because they’re complex issues that require thoughtful deliberation. We prohibit the use of chokeholds, but we’re going to make it even more clear in policy. We will immediately implement a Duty to Report policy. We will increase audits of our BWC’s and taser use. And more is in the works. The time to act is now.

I hope the Sheriff understands that it takes these types of events, including the local unresolved murder-by-cop case in his own department of Joshua Johnson, to exact some action from our leaders. A lot more is needed. Above all, these things must be codified in countywide (and statewide and federal) fashion so that the next Sheriff doesn’t obliterate it all.

Either way, it’s good to see something that was decided by those whom we elected.

In other news…

After City Council failed to support a comprehensive list of police reforms submitted as budget amendments by CM Letitia Plummer, they approved an increase in funding for HPD. Instead, Mayor Sylvester Turner signed an executive order on police practices.

The EO covers the police department’s response to resistance, de-escalation, use of deadly force, prohibited techniques, and no-knock warrants. For the first time, it codifies prohibited techniques, such as neck restraints or chokeholds, which cannot be used unless objectively necessary to prevent imminent serious bodily injury or death to the officer or others.

No word on reforms that lead to more transparency and accountability, such as release of bodycam film and investigations of the bad apples and the good apples who allow them to be bad, but, supposedly, there is a task force.

Obviously, we will all keep an eye on this and the coming push back from the naysayers.