Category Archives: Environmental

NSF Grant to TXST Will Count Border Bodies

Since I’m an SWT alum, what happens at my alma mater interests me. Having a sibling who graduated with a degree from their Anthropology department adds to the interest. So, when I saw that the National Science Foundation gave a $1 Million to TXST Anthro and other departments it was good news to hear.

A large, but unknown number of migrants die every year trying to enter the United States along the U.S.-Mexico border. There is no accurate count because there are no central databases documenting migrant deaths. As a result, national authorities, policymakers, and public health officials don’t know how many migrants are dying or how policies can curb migrant mortality.

Texas State University recently received a $1 million award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to help document and share this important data and fill the gap.

Dr. Alberto Giordano and Dr. Nick Herrmann are co-leading the project entitled Migrant Mortality Mapping Portal Project (M3P2). Giordano is a professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies whose prior work on historical geographic information systems (GIS) includes studies on the Holocaust and other genocides. Herrmann is a professor in the Department of Anthropology whose prior work in forensic anthropology and geospatial studied eastern Mediterranean bioarcheology.

The three-year NSF project has two parts. First, the team will collect and organize big data on migrant deaths along the U.S.-Mexico border from various sources—from law enforcement reports to newspaper articles. Then, the team will develop a publicly accessible website where the data can be downloaded and explored with tools that the team will develop for exploring the data. Students will have opportunities to participate as research assistants in both areas. A post-doctoral researcher and doctoral and graduate research assistants will help the team with collecting and standardizing the data and designing and maintaining the database and tool.

No doubt, SWT’s work in body ID and the growth of their body farm research put them on the map to earn this grant and recognition. I have no doubt that it will be good work and a great contribution to society.

When the database is complete, more lives lost at the border will be counted, more stories recovered, more families reunited and more humanity regained.

That said, it is sad that the Feds would need to fund such a program. The fact of the matter is that if a Democratic President, House, and Senate had prioritized immigration reform and reformed its border enforcement policies instead of bolstering them, perhaps we wouldn’t need to match dead bodies to broken families. According to law enforcement on the border, bodies are found almost every day.

Some of the deaths are also due to migrants taking more and more risks to evade detection by federal authorities, he says. People are crossing the tumultuous Rio Grande, walking through dangerous ranchlands in the record Texas heat and paying the ultimate price, the sheriff adds.

It’s something immigration rights advocates have warned about as the latest tragic trend: people being forced to take increasingly risky paths due to mix of border policies that have made it more difficult for migrants to seek refuge in the US.

So many migrants, including children, who have attempted to cross the US southern border have died in this region that the forensic pathologist serving the area says 2022 is on pace to become the deadliest year on record in recent memory.   

Whether it’s the Border Patrol, Secretary Mayorkas and President Biden, or Greg Abbott, nothing has been done to actually save people from imminent death as their policies force migrants to change paths to get to this side. Paths which are more dangerous, treacherous, and deadly. Paths that walls, armed enforcement, and federalized local cops make more dangerous, thus, causing death.

Yes, kudos to NSF for funding this important work. But it further exhibits how broken our government is when it comes to people escaping violence and poverty. At least people who are south of us.

El Prez Is Back; COVID-19 Still Here

CNBC

The good news is that President Joe Biden has tested negative for COVID-19 and he is back in the Oval. Thankfully, he has in-house medical and the ability to clear a hospital, if needed, for himself. Good thing he was able to get what he needed at the White House.

At today’s COVID-19-Neg presser, the President was promoting vaccines and boosters, at-home tests, paxlovid (if infected), and even wearing masks indoors. He really promoted the fact that these treatments and vaccines are free and available. Masks, I’d still suggest N-95, KN-95 and KF-94 one can find on Amazon and at grocery stores.

Biden also mentioned that things have advanced in the fight against COVID-19, reminding us that his orange predecessor had to be helicoptered to the hospital to get treated, while President Biden was treated effectively in-house with no need for a media circus involving waving from an SUV or endangering Secret Service.

That said, Houston Health reported a miniscule decrease in the positivity rate (down to 32.1%), as well as a drop in the wastewater viral load (down to 774%). While the wastewater number gives some hope because at-home testing doesn’t go reported as PCR tests do and this much of a decrease is noteworthy, a closer look at specific areas of town where they are taking these measurements show some increases, with some areas at over 1000% of the baseline.

Needless to say, COVID-19 is still with us and we still need to avoid it by masking up, avoiding large crowds, and even avoiding indoor activities with crowds. Oh yeah, and try not to get MonkeyPox, either! The side effects can be scary!

UPDATE: El Prez has tested positive for COVID-19 again. Apparently, he has a rare rebound case which are known to appear after treatment with Paxlovid. Hopefully, we’ll get some anecdotal knowledge of the effects of such a positive test.

COVID-19: CDC Says Mask Up Indoors, Again!

Well, if you haven’t paid attention to my COVID-19 posts of the last couple of months, or the steady climb of test positivity during the same period, it looks like the Feds are recognizing COVID-19 as a problem, again. Surprise? Hardly.

New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows about one-third of the U.S. population is now living in a county with a “high COVID-19 community level,” which means the agency recommends universal indoor masking.

Johns Hopkins University reports new COVID-19 cases rising slowly, which 108,000 new cases reported every day over the past two weeks. That is up 6% from the two weeks prior.

A recent pre-print study based on health records from the Veteran’s Administration shows that catching COVID-19 over and over again appears to increase the chances a person will experience new and sometimes lasting health problems after their infection.

People who had two or more documented infections had more than twice the risk of dying and three times the risk of being hospitalized within six months of their last infection.

Houston Health reports positivity is at 29.2% (probably undercounted) and that hospitalizations are indeed increasing. Moreover, Houston Health is now telling folks to mask-up indoors no matter their vaccination status based on CDC recommendations. The Texas Tribune and local news outlets also report that hospitalizations have doubled in the last week. All of this because of the newest variant that seems to be among the majority of infections.

But the omicron variant, which doctors say appears to be as contagious as the measles, could wind up sending more people to the hospital than during previous surges — even if it is a milder version of the virus — simply due to the sheer volume of people it’s infecting, Dr. Jason Bowling, epidemiologist at University Health in San Antonio.

Omicron has become the dominant variant in the state less than a month after it was first detected. The delta variant took several months to become dominant in Texas. That means the state’s medical community could be in for a bumpy ride this month as the virus infects people at an unprecedented rate.

Frankly it pisses me off that pundits continue to say that current numbers are “lower than last year’s peak,” as there are still people getting sick and spreading it a lot easier than with past variants. People are still acting as if this is over and it is pretty obvious it is not. Waiting for the numbers to get bad, instead of staying vigilant and proactive, is the problem. This new data that shows people infected multiple times have a higher chance of dying or hospitalization is pretty scary, too.

Now (or during the last few months) is not the time to continue to be lax in preventing disease. If masking had still been pushed while the numbers were lowering, perhaps we wouldn’t be in this current uptick in infections. But, hell, when people at the highest levels of government went unmasked at mass events, including some of our favorite Democrats, they ceased to be an example of prevention to the people. If anything, they were the excuse people needed to flick off their masks. And any new push by them to have the people mask up, I predict, will faceplant because of this.

What pisses me off even more is that the immunocompromised are still under constant threat. People still need to work and are in unmasked workplaces that insist on putting employees in danger. Mass events are being held with little to no recommendations for masking. Look, no one is telling you to close down, but mask the hell up! I really don’t need to see y’alls faces.

I preferred the politics of COVID-19 when Greg Abbott’s ineptitude wasn’t getting the help of everyone else in politics.

Texas Heat: Conserve Energy Today!

Greg Abbott’s unfixed electric grid seems to be sputtering as demand for electricity will be going over its peak today to the point where rolling blackouts may occur. Sunday’s record heat broke records all over Texas.

With a punishing heat wave across Texas driving record high power demand, The Electric Reliability Council of Texas late Sunday sent out a request that Texans cut back on their energy use on Monday.

ERCOT, the state’s power grid operator, asked Texans to turn up their thermostats and postpone running major appliances between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Monday. ERCOT has also called on large electric customers to lower their electricity use.

Total forecasted power demand is expected to surpass 79 gigawatts on Monday, ERCOT said — which would set another record.

Also, ERCOT tells us that “no system wide outages” are expected. That doesn’t mean it won’t go down in certain areas.

While ERCOT is asking big electric users (corporations, manufacturers) to bring down their electric use, I’m pretty sure the rest of us will get the blame if there are blackouts. So, what to do to conserve?

  • Set your thermostat at 78°F or higher – every degree of extra cooling will increase energy usage six to eight percent.
  • Use ceiling fans and portable fans to circulate the cool air.
  • Install patio covers, awnings, and solar window screens to shade your home from the sun. Shade south and west windows with plants or trees to block the heat during the summer.
  • Close interior blinds, drapes, or shades to block the sun and heat during warm weather.
  • Use a clothesline instead of a clothes dryer.
  • Outside air conditioning units, or condensers, should be shaded.
  • On warm days raise your thermostat to 80°F or higher if leaving for more than four hours.
  • Setting your thermostat to a lower temperature than normal will not cool your home faster.
  • Try to save heat and humidity-generating activities (cooking, laundering, and dishwashing) for early morning or evening hours.

Also, get your generators (if you have one) and small chargers ready! And DO NOT forget about the elderly and infirm.

Needless to say, I woke up early today and put some clothes in the washer to get it done early. You’d be surprised how a dryer will heat up an apartment! I usually put my A/C at 78, so if the “E” goes out, it’s not my fault, people! My apartment management will throw me out if I put up a clothesline. The blinds are always closed during hot days. And I have ceiling fans and oscillating fans going all day in the living room.

So, conserve!

Also, mask-up! COVID-19 is still out there and the numbers keep growing. Better to stay away from the heat and the people.

Expanded Trail On The West Side

I was quite happy to read that the Brays Bayou trail will finally be connected at the West Belt.

Officials on Thursday announced the start of construction on a 7.7-mile segment of trail along the bayou, from Braeburn Glen Park near Gessner and Interstate 69 to Archbishop Fiorenza Park at the Westpark Tollway and Eldridge Parkway. The $20.5 million project completes trail work along Brays and is the longest segment in the Bayou Greenways plan.

What’s exciting are the added options regarding which direction one can go when on this trail. Although, the trail will go through Chinatown and Arthur Storey Park, then snake west to Fiorenza Park, a stormwater detention parkland between Highway 6 and Eldridge, and beyond, there will be a connection to the Westchase Trail, which I use a lot for recumbent triking. That I’d be able to head west is a great option, though, heading east to the Medical Center is nice, too.

This project won’t be completed until the end of 2023, so, there’s no telling where I’ll be at that point in time, but I’m glad for the folks on the West Side of town who need this completed alternative transportation route. Walkers, runners, and cyclists will definitely enjoy it.

COVID-19 Creep-Up Continues

The latest 14-day COVID-19 positivity report from Houston Health now has us at 14.5% and the viral load in the wastewater is at 242%. I’m a little confused as to whether they call this “low,” or if they are saying vaccines will keep the number low. Well, I’m still back in 2020 when 5% positivity was causing freak-outs and freaking out that people are still allowing the rate to increase by staying unvax’d and/or unmasked.

I did a couple of reportable by app at-home tests last week. I got hit hard by something last week that laid me out, at least for parts of a few days. Fatigue, low-grade fever, chills, sinusitis, but no COVID-19 positivity. Thankfully, I’m doing better and I’m glad that it wasn’t COVID-19. Still, quite a few friends and acquaintances report they’ve been hit by COVID-19. I try not to be mean and ask, “Are you still wearing masks in crowds? Because I see your partying selfies without masks.” So, I just wish them well and hope they get through it quickly.

I still mask up at stores, at restaurants while I wait for my order, or in any kind of crowd. Too many unmasked folks out there! I’ve opened my life to a few more friends in my vicinity, and while it warms the heart, I still worry. Thankfully, those I associate with are not anti-maskers, don’t get offended by masks if I wear one, and are very much vaccinated. And that’s how I keep fighting against COVID-19.

The summer is just starting and things may worsen for some. Get vax’d and boosted, and do what you can to promote mask-wearing and staying away from crowds.

We Suck Even More! Back at Red

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo has placed us back at threat level RED–the highest level. All while blaming record hospitalizations and the unvaccinated.

DosCentavos.net will add that the vaccinated and unmasked attending all sorts of holiday parties and continued mass events in this new year helped drive the percentage of COVID-19 positive tests to almost 40% of those testing.

From the County Public Health Office:

Today, Office of County Judge Lina Hidalgo increased the COVID-19 Threat Level Indicator from level 2 (Orange) to level 1 (Red). Unvaccinated individuals should continue to mask, physical distance, and avoid all gatherings. Vaccinated individuals follow the latest local public health guidance on wearing a mask while indoors in public places, in crowded outdoor settings, and for activities with close contact with others who are not fully vaccinated. We urge all unvaccinated people to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Visit vacstrac.hctx.net or call 832-927-8787 for scheduling and appointments are not required, although recommended.

I think it’s better to just have one blanket suggestion to not go to crowded settings and to always wear masks. One may hang out with someone who is vaccinated, but we never know where that vaccinated person may have been. I think that’s one reason why so many vax’d people got Omicron after attending holiday parties and mass events. And I’m just tired of rewarding bad behavior.

Hopefully, more workplaces will be pushing vaccinations and masking in the office if forcing employees to sacrifice themselves at work. Otherwise, let’s hope for at least some lower density work environments calling for split shifts and a couple of days of working at home. And hope that managers aren’t up the hindside of Greg Abbott.

And do we really think the unvaccinated are going to avoid crowds, wear masks, and get vaccinated? We don’t hear about it until their family members start their GoFundMes with, “Covid ain’t no joke.”

Because of comorbidities and other issues, I’ve remained at RED since Day 1. Don’t expect me to be out and about. (There have been a couple of nervous attempts at patio dining pre-Omicron.) As far as deciding on whom to vote for in the Democratic Primary, my only source of information will be unmasked (-vs- masked) selfies and blockwalking pics on Facebook and/or Instagram.

My policy of not giving to GoFundMe funeral fundraisers for the unmasked and unvax’d will remain in place. Those who die from being vax’d, yet unmasked and endangering themselves, will go through a committee vote.

In other words, stay masked, get boosted, and stay away from gatherings for now. And if you’re an elected official or candidate, be a damn example. I’d like for whom I am voting to not get COVID and die while in office.

Kuff adds a similar sentiment while asking if anyone is listening anymore.

New Year’s Week in COVID-19

The Omicron surge continues, well, surging, as more positive tests are added to the count. And, testing has surged, too, as folks have tested for travel and family visit purposes and seem to be testing after the Christmas weekend. So much so, COVID tests are still in demand, whether PCR or at-home quick ones. A drive down Westheimer on the west side found long lines at testing kiosks, whether in ones car or by foot.

It will take another week or so to count new infections that came about from unmasked and/or unvaccinated family visits over the Christmas weekend. It takes 3 to 7 days for symptoms to appear, on average, so, those testing soon after a weekend visit may get a negative. That just means one should test again in a few days to make sure. Even the at-home tests have two tests for this reason. And if you’ve been exposed and are asymptomatic, test anyway!

The CDC has cut the number of days one must quarantine in half. Specifically:

Americans who test positive for COVID-19 but do not have symptoms can stop isolating after five days as long as they continue wearing masks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Monday, halving the agency’s previous isolation period down from 10 days. 

The CDC also said it was loosening its guidance for quarantining after a COVID-19 exposure for unvaccinated Americans or those eligible for a booster who have not yet received their additional shot. It now recommends a five-day quarantine followed by five days of strict mask-wearing, but says that if quarantine “is not feasible,” it can be skipped as long as they wear a mask in the 10 days after exposure. 

The CDC says people who are fully vaccinated and boosted do not need to quarantine after exposure.

The keyword in all of this seems to be masks. The ones the vaccinated (Dem politicos included) weren’t wearing while attending two weeks worth of holiday parties and the reason we just can’t only blame the unvax’d for his new spread. Wear them. And wear the good ones (n95 or kn95), or, at the very least, wear a surgical/medical mask covered by a cloth mask. Omicron is very transmissible as one person can infect as many as three, on average. Also…

As to when to wear a mask, obviously you want to cover up when you’re using public transit, including airports and airplanes, and when you’re indoors in grocery stores or other public places, as with previous surges.

And also with family visits, if one isn’t sure about everyone’s vaccination status. All it takes is one to affect many.

Also, listen to updates from Dr. Fauci or Dr. Peter Hotez in Houston. You can find them on the news or on Twitter!

I’ve gotten or seen social media posts telling me everything from “We’re all going to get it,” to “diets” to avoid COVID-19. If you don’t want to get it, follow the guidelines of mask-wearing and maybe stop jumping into a COVID snot cloud at a crowded event. Stop looking for excuses to not wear a mask or to go to mass events. It’s that simple, if you really care about humanity. If you don’t, well, stay away from me and my family. I have no problem writing people off when there are family members to protect.

America should have been ready for this.

Code Orange = Strong Encouragement, Unfortunately

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo elevated the county’s COVID-19 code to ORANGE as hospitals address a significant spike in cases. Orange means “minimize all contacts unless fully vaccinated,” but is that even enough, now?

As I stated previously, I felt uneasy about the Biden/CDC’s unmasking of the vaccinated. Things just looked too comfortable and it certainly didn’t encourage those who needed to mask. Maskholes are still maskholes and I didn’t feel society should be rewarded, yet.

Maybe I preferred the visual of people acting responsibly, rather than the one of unmasked mass (and smaller) events leaving me to wonder what the vaccination rate was in the room. Thankfully, Judge Hidalgo called for masking to return.

Hidalgo said by not wearing masks, even those who are vaccinated are “normalizing” not wearing masks for those who are unvaccinated. She also reminded the vaccinated they can still spread the virus to the unvaccinated, who can get sicker from the virus.

KHOU 7.23.2021

That last line may have been a mild reference to breakthrough cases.

Another unfortunate matter is the fact that all the elevated code does is allow Judge Hidalgo and other leaders to strongly encourage good behavior rather than mandating it, thanks to Greg Abbott’s lack of compassion. Re-opening with little to no precautionary guidance is what has taken us backwards. Schools are reopening soon, and some universities are already open as students get ready to return, and Abbott is allowing bad behavior to exist–no masking, light encouragement of vaccinations if one chooses, etc. These education systems have a responsibility to practice good behavior despite having a crappy leader.

Although right-wing misinformation clearly exists on the airwaves, I found it encouraging to suddenly see more people in my area of town masking and acting responsibly, at stores and even while walking outdoors. Although it was just a tiny moment and area, I hope it continues all over.

As Kuff mentions in his post about the color code change, COVID-19 testing may become an issue as testing has been scaled down. It became pretty obvious to me when I saw an actual line of walk-up clients at a tiny testing temporary building (think 8×8 converted container) in front of the Aldi on Westheimer.

Anyway, mask-up, wash hands, stay vigilant. And tell your unvax’d people to get vax’d or you’re cutting them off.

The Delta Variant Is Real

As I see certain local groups having unmasked mass events and Tejano music concerts filling up venues, I wonder: What’s the vaccination rate in the room?

For me, vaccination has not affected my mask-wearing as much. I still wear it while at the store or at places with a lot of people. Even during a ride on the trails when humans would mass up in certain areas, the mask gets pulled up. Given Harris County’s 50% fully vax’d rate, I’m not too trusting of anyone who gets in front of me.

The other day, I sort of left my guard down when I was at a restaurant (my first time) for a quick lunch during a med center area visit and actually removed my mask to eat. It was 30 minutes of nervous chewing and wondering if the maskless coming in the door were vax’d or anti-vax maskholes.

Obviously, I took the original COVID-19 seriously from the get-go. Even stocking up on Elderberry gummies to maybe pump up my immune system while waiting for my shot. After vaccination, I’ve still been careful, I’m still exercising, and other than the restaurant visit, still cooking at home. But the Delta variant has me nervous. And back on elderberry gummies.

While the government worries about vaxxing the unvax’d door-to-door (Biden wants to vaccinate people; Republicans want more death), I wonderered how being around those fools (those that choose unvax/unmasked life) would affect me, the vax’d one. Well, I’ve always known that the COVID-19 vaccine was not made to make one immune as much as it was made to reduce chances of hospitalization and death. So, the vaccinated can still get infected, though, the effects may not be as bad. Maybe. Bottom line: I don’t want it and the only way to reduce my chances of getting it is mass vaccination. Yes, even door-to-door to reach those with no access to vaccines. The idiots who whine and moan about masks and shots? They’re a lost cause and I still walk around them at the stores and in life.

So, I’m still not attending large, unmasked events. Even to Democratic Party events whose members seem to have a higher vaccination rate than most other groups. As the majority of people are going back to the office and vaccination rates stall, we cannot let our guard down. Mask up at work–even if your boss is walking around as if invincible. Alas, even the Biden administration’s rush to re-open has convinced many more that they are now invincible, if vaccinated.

Meanwhile, Pfizer and Moderna are now calling for vaccine booster shots for those who have already been vaccinated because of the increase in Delta variant cases and how fast it spreads. And because the effectiveness of the shots wanes after time passes. Sure, you may avoid hospitalization and death, but, again, you can still get infected and spread it to the unvax’d and others. The CDC (and Biden’s) nonchalant attitude toward this call for boosters worries me. Sure, they have the unvax’d to worry about, still, but some of us who were so responsible that we were online for hours searching for vaccines early on wouldn’t mind a boost.

And, don’t even get me started on folks who are immunocompromised, some who are already on a hard-to-get booster with hopes that its effectiveness lasts. There is a segment of the US population that lives in fear, but we don’t hear much about them from anyone at any level of government.

Anyway, I’m still masking. I’m still distancing. And I’m still playing it safe and avoiding large crowds, especially anti-vax maskholes.