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Reopening roundup

Judge Hidalgo adjusts to the new status that has ben imposed on us from Austin.

Judge Lina Hidalgo

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Tuesday announced plans to significantly expand novel coronavirus case tracing, and maintain reserve hospital capacity, to prepare for a potential virus surge as businesses reopen.

Hidalgo outlined the strategy in response to Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision a day earlier to allow restaurants, malls, movie theaters and other businesses to reopen Friday. Harris County’s government will do its best to adjust, the county judge said.

“Frankly, I think containing this virus will be a tall order given the May 1 timeline,” Hidalgo said. “But we’re going to do everything we can, move heaven and earth to make it work.”

The county plans to recruit 300 “contact tracers” to investigate where infected people may have spread the virus and to whom. Epidemiologists will train existing county employees, volunteers and some new hires on how to track the path of a COVID-19 patient.

[…]

With a finite supply of nasal swabs, the judge warned that the county can only handle up to 100 positive cases per day. A spike would jeopardize the supply.

“If we let our foot off the gas right now, the virus will inevitably come back, and it will come back as much force, if not more force, as before,” Hidalgo said.

“For us to be safe, we need to get keep the new cases below 100 new cases a day,” she said.

I don’t know if those 300 contact tracers in Harris County are a part of the one thousand new contact tracers that Greg Abbott promised or if they are in addition to them. That would be a good question to clarify, in case Abbott meant one thing but was happy to let you believe another. In either case, we’re going to need a lot more testing. Far as I can tell, we have a lot more lip service than testing capability, at least at the state level.

Meanwhile, our local czars have their own plans.

Houston’s new recovery czar Marvin Odum says both the city and the county will eventually unveil plans for businesses in the region to reopen in a “gradual” and a “phased” approach, depending on business sectors.

Odum told Houston Public Media it’s important to first understand the risks around those various sectors returning to business

“And then making sure that we’re building — in cooperation with our medical community, and the state, and others — a monitoring program, which would involve testing strategically applied to those groups, contact tracing where necessary, and being able to bring people back to work.”

Odum says that approach is key to simultaneously getting people back to work and keeping them safe.

[…]

“Everything has to be based on data and science before we open up any businesses,” Walle said.

Odum said there will be some segments of the economy where the risks can be managed easier.

“But as you get into sectors that have more human contact — dealing with customers for example — that may require some additional tools,” Odum said.

Walle is State Rep. Armando Walle, the Harris County Recovery Czar. He will be advising Judge Hidalgo and Commissioners Court as Odum will be advising Mayor Turner and City Council.

And of course, various things that are now allowed to open may yet take their time in doing so. Museums, for instance:

The Museum of Fine Arts Houston isn’t ready to announce any reopening date, citing the need to establish safety precautions and to communicate with city officials.

“Our Return to Work Task Force has been actively working to determine how best to safely reopen the MFAH for our 650 staff and our visitors, but we are just now, along with many others, considering the governor’s statement,” the museum said in a statement. “We have not yet had an opportunity to connect with the mayor’s office and the county’ judge’s office to understand what the local requirements will be, as the report notes is needed.”

The Asia Society is also following a cautious path.

“We are not reopening on May 1,” an Asia Society representative said.

The Holocaust Museum Houston “might open, at the earliest, Memorial Day weekend,” said a representative who spoke with the museum’s CEO, though any opening would need “an ongoing sanitization process” to be put in place.

The Menil and the Houston Museum of Natural Science did not respond by press time. However, the Asia Society representative said all of Houston’s museums, led by the MFAH, are communicating with one another.

Movie theaters:

Movie theater chains across Texas, though, seem fairly unified in their decision-making: there’s no point in reopening early. The Plano-based Cinemark, Austin-based Alamo Drafthouse, and out-of-state chains like AMC and Regal (both of which operate a number of theaters across Texas) all responded to the news that they’re allowed to open as early as this weekend with a resounding, “Nah, not yet.”

There’s a good reason for that, even if theaters, like almost every business that isn’t a supermarket or home improvement store, are hurting amid the shutdown: there’s nothing to watch. Theater chains live and die by the studio release calendar, and studios haven’t released a movie since March 13, with the first new releases not scheduled to debut until mid-July. Theaters may be allowed to open, but they’d be relegated to picking from a slate of repertory releases and indie films that are being simultaneously released on video-on-demand services merely in hopes that they might be able to entice 25 percent of customers to risk contracting the virus in order to watch something they can easily see at home. And while Abbott may have issued an executive order allowing movie theaters to reopen, the ecosystem of the movie business isn’t built around what individual theaters choose to do.

Your various major releases, like Black Widow, which my 13-year-old is gonna demand to see on opening weekend, have either been released on streaming or pushed back into the late summer or fall, when everyone fervently hopes this will be much more behind us. Until then, all the theaters will have to show are oldies and maybe a few small indy films. Good luck with that.

Restaurants are more likely to be available.

No sooner than Gov. Greg Abbott’s press conference on reopening the Texas economy had ended, restaurateur Michael Sambrooks was on the phone making calls to servers to come back to work.

Abbott’s announcement Monday that restaurants could reopen Friday for dine-in service at 25 percent of occupancy brings the battered restaurant industry one step closer to resuming traditional operations.

“I’m ready to get 25 percent back to work,” said Sambrooks, owner of Sambrooks Management, whose restaurants include 1751 Sea and Bar, Candente and The Pit Room. “It definitely feels like a step toward getting back to normal. It feels very hopeful to getting open and start serving people again.”

[…]

While resuming dine-in service has been something Houston restaurateurs have been anticipating, 25 percent is nowhere near normal operations, said restaurateur Benjamin Berg of Berg Hospitality.

“In any other time, if you were operating at 25 percent, you’re talking about closing your doors,” said Berg, whose restaurants include B&B Butchers & Restaurant, B.B. Lemon, B.B. Italia, The Annie Café & Bar and Turner’s. “Twenty-five percent isn’t a great business model, but it’s something.”

With the glass-half-empty perspective, that means 75 percent fewer guests; 75 percent less revenue, Berg added.

Still, on Monday he found himself busy planning how to order food, train staff and retool restaurants in hopes that some of his stores could be open on May 1.

“There’s no way we can reopen everything at the same time,” Berg said. “It would be like six grand openings again.”

But for someone like Alex Au-Yeung, who owns the 80-something seat Phat Eatery in Katy, having 19 ¾ customers — as he calculates his 25 percent occupancy — is a move toward getting back to full capacity at his Malaysian street food restaurant.

“It won’t be close to normal operations, but we’ll do what we can,” he said, adding that he also will continue curbside pickup and delivery. “I know there are people who would love to go back out to eat.”

What returning to dining out will look like and feel like will mostly be dictated by guidelines the TRA association laid out weeks ago to assure worker and customer safety as the state strives to reduce the spread of coronavirus. The TRA’s measures include health checks for employees prior to each shift; indoor and outdoor seating with safe distancing guidelines; hand sanitizer or washing stations available to customers and employees; sanitizing common areas and surfaces regularly; and sanitizing dining areas after every use. Expect to see disposable menus, waiters wearing face masks and spaced-out seating in dining rooms — many of which may be operating by reservation-only in order to control the 25 percent restriction.

On Monday the TRA emphasized that no restaurant should reopen until it is ready to do so: “Texas restaurants are experts in safety, sanitation and customer satisfaction, and we know that these values will continue to drive their decision making.”

Dallas Eater lists some good reasons why restaurants shouldn’t rush to reopen, including “Many restaurants aren’t big enough for six-foot table spacing”, “There’s no such thing as social distancing in a kitchen”, and “Servers returning to their jobs will be forced to take a serious pay cut as revenues stay low”, among others. It’s a Dallas-specific list, but I daresay it would apply anywhere else.

Look, I wish them all well, I really hope every single restaurant is able to come back from this catastrophe. I don’t think I’m ready to eat in a restaurant yet, and I’m worried these half-measures won’t do much to help them in the interim. I don’t know what the best answer is. Maybe this will work out fine. I sure hope it does. There’s just no way to know.

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28 Comments

  1. I have reservations at GROTTO this Friday. Gotta keep up my body weight. I will let you know if I get COVID. I am happy Austin is stepping in. Opening up is not mandatory. If you don’t want to participate then by all means don’t.

  2. Manny says:

    Paul will you promise not use up any medical help if you do get the virus. There must be a penalty for people that do things that a majority think is stupid, right?

  3. Jeff N. says:

    Thanks for the great post about local measures. I appreciate our local leadership and their science-based approach. We can rebuild businesses with our tremendous resources but not the lives that may be lost. Good luck to everyone.

  4. Bill Daniels says:

    Why should Paul make some idiotic pledge to you, Manny? Don’t you feel idiotic enough as it is, considering Lina la Exploradora blew through $ 20M of your taxpayer money building a hospital that treated roughly ZERO patients, and will spend millions more tearing it down?

    Paul is just as entitled to pay for medical care as you are, if you, say, fell off a ladder while cleaning out your gutters. Look, I understand your position, you’re in a similar situation as me, taking care of a loved one who is more threatened by the Wuhan virus than most, but America has to move forward, and it can’t do that without businesses reopening and customers patronizing those businesses.

    Paul respects your choice to hide at home. Why can’t you respect his choice to start living again? Is it because you fear a resurgent economy will reelect Trump? Is that what this is really about? Seems like it might be.

  5. Manny says:

    Bill how much do they pay you?

    Insurance is subsidized by taxpayers, Bill don’t your masters teach you anything of value?

    $20 million to make sure that we were prepared in case things got out of hand, versus $150 million of paying for golf trips for your cultist god, Trump. You must be a complete idiot Bill.

    If someone wants to put their life at risk, why should others have to bear any of the cost, Bill? What happened to be responsible?

    Bill like all idiots you create your own scenario and assume that people are like you. What makes you think I don’t want the economy to open up. I have order more take out since the stay at home than I would have spent if it were not in effect. I want to help the businesses I go to. I am thinking of buying a new vehicle, even thou I don’t need one, I doubt I will do it, but am thinking about it.

    So save your stupidity for the other Republican idiots like you. Have you sniffed your Lysol this morning, Bill, to clear out your brain. I am assuming that you do have a brain and are not some mindless Russian bot.

  6. Jason Hochman says:

    Thanks for this post that provides more information about the re-opening process.

  7. brad says:

    White Supremacist Bill Daniels,

    “Wuhan Virus”…love your sly racism.

    I guess we should assume you support white supremacy since you are white and our country has white supremacists. A natural connection and the natural moniker for you should be “Bill Daniel’s White Supremacist”

  8. Bill Daniels says:

    Brad,

    Everybody is racist, including you, a self loathing white. Did you see the racist James Douglas over at the NAACP bash Paul’s brother yesterday for comparing the civil disobedience by Rosa Parks to the civil disobedience of people disobeying the stay at home orders? If James and his people at the NAACP can feel free to flex their racism, then so can everybody else. I’m appalled by the blatant racism of the NAACP here, but I support their right to BE racist. So if you are appalled that I dare to name the source of the virus that is currently a scourge here in the US, then great! I’m glad I offended you! I’m in the company of other great racist offenders like James Douglas.

    And hey, guess what? You’ve offended me, too, by spouting the official Chinese Communist Party rhetoric….not allowed to mention that the virus originated in China. I guess I’ll refrain from telling you that Fauci’s NIH gave millions of dollars to the Wuhan lab that most probably released this thing on the world, either by accident or on purpose. Oops.

  9. Manny says:

    The one very important lesson that I learned when I attended Oklahoma State University, It was the first school that I attended where there were whites, was that white people were not smarter or better.

    Bill, you are a racist and a bigot, there is no comparison with what Black people had to live with and continue to live with because of all the animosity that people like you have toward people that are different.

    Have you had your daily intake of Lysol, yet?

  10. Jules says:

    Let’s start ignoring Bill again. He has nothing of value to add.

  11. Tom in Lazybrook says:

    Bill, now you’re is arguing that the Coronavirus was a deliberate bioterrorist attack. There is no evidence of that. In fact, not one credible person has said that the COVID was man made.

    Tin foil hat time for you. Along with the anti-maskers/anti-vaxxers/same-thing.

  12. Bill Daniels says:

    Tom,

    My own tinfoil hat conspiracy theory is, the release from the bioweapon lab was accidental, but once it happened, China locked down Wuhan to domestic travel, but left the airport wide open so the people of Wuhan could go forth into the world to infect every other country, on purpose. I mean, that happened. We saw the videos of the PLA blocking roads out of town, but the international airport remained open at the same time. We KNOW this happened, all while China and their Ethiopian mouthpiece at the WHO were spouting off lies that this thing wasn’t communicable by human to human transfer.

    This is all fact, but of course, it’s racist to point that out, because the Chinese Communist Party has said so. Think of the evil it took to intentionally infect the world just to maintain power parity in the world.

  13. Jules says:

    STFU Bill.

  14. Bill,

    Thanks for stating the obvious. Manny’s post about not using up any medical resources was perhaps his most civil post ever when it concerns me. If I say up he says down if I say down he says up. We just disagree. I am hoping that age will temper the anger. I am still going to Grotto and I hope we play football on Friday nights this fall.

  15. Bill Daniels says:

    Solid post, Jules! You’ve given reasoned opinion, backed it up with sources, and in short, made a cogent, logical argument. Wolfgang couldn’t have done it any better.

  16. Jules says:

    And yet everyone knows exactly what I’m saying and why. Ignoring Bill starting…now!

  17. Wolfgang says:

    I commend kompadre Kubosh for sharing in this public forum — with time stamp — the identity and therefore the locations of the establishments he patronizes.

    Other opponents of lockdown should follow his example and do so on all their public-facing social media accounts, such as Facebook. If he turns out positive for COVID-19, or these visited locations are identified as super-spreading sites in the near future, the tracing and isolating will be facilitated. And since the sharing of the location information is voluntary and has already taken place, any applicable rights to privacy have already been waived.

    Community members who volunteer to be come human challengers — exposing themselves to the risk of infection in public places under controlled conditions (currently involving Abbott’s 25% occupancy policy sans customer face mask requirement) — can collectively provide empirical data suitable for estimating levels of risk associated with progressive “liberal” policy measures.

    The focus, however, should be on whether the early birds catch the virus, not on whether they end up in hospital or die. And the best leverage for research purposes can be gained by collecting the adverse-event data at the individual level, and by comparing those who chose to expose themselves to the “treatment condition” (patronage of establishments in times of ongoing epidemic) to those who do not. It’s the next-best thing to a clinical-type trial with random assignment to experimental (treatment) group and control (placebo) group.

    Governor Abbott’s public policy experiment, by comparison, is much too blunt. He wants to assess policy performance by using the over-time change in the number of hospitalizations and the number of deaths as the dependent variable, which involves measuring outcome at the the community (aggregate) level. This metric could be affected by other variables unrelated to his Phase 1 measures (and thus confound the causal analysis), and it also involves an unacceptably long time lag.

    We may already be in Phase II before we find out that Mothers Day parties were for many the final feast and resulted in a new outbreak with exponential inter-generational infection spread rate. For a retrospective study of transmission route and multiple ensuing COVID-19 deaths see Ghinai I, Woods S, Ritger KA, et al. Community Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 at Two Family Gatherings — Chicago, Illinois, February–March 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:446–450. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6915e1external icon.

    It’s much better to test and monitor those who rush to re-opened establishment, –ideally with repeated tests, if enough are available–otherwise at least for symptoms, and using those who continue to stay at home as a baseline reference (quasi-control group).

  18. Manny says:

    Considering that I am older than you Paul, don’t be waiting for me to stay quiet when you make claims that are not factual, or control my anger as you claim. Paul are lawyers always arguing? Is that anger are just the nature of the beast? Aren’t lawyers suppose to be able to argue both sides?

    Well at least you, Paul, were willing to commit to not seeking medical help, now if only Bill would do the same.

    Kinda dramatic Paul, I don’t always disagree with you. Fact is I have met you and your brother, and like both of you. You say what you believe and are willing to put your name on your beliefs have to admire that. How many people that post are willing to do that? You convinced me to use my real name, but I quit using my last name as there are at least two other people with the same name. Don’t want to have them done harm because I pissed off someone.

  19. Adoile Turner III says:

    @Bill Daniels i agree with you most of the time and i’m very much so Black. and that Rosa Parks thing every other black person i know is so wrong in that, at the end of the day what Rosa did was civil disobedience as a form of protest. Just because a white guy did it makes it no less than exactly what great leader Rosa did. He followed her example and even gave her respect in doing it.

  20. Wolfgang,

    Are you hoping I get Covid 19? Come on now wouldn’t be sweet to say look at the dumb ass fat guy. He got Covid 19 (China Virus) because he wanted to eat.

  21. Manny says:

    As to whether the virus originated in Wuhan has not been established, the reason that Trump and many Republicans want to point fingers at China has more to do with them looking different, racism if one prefers. The Spanish Flu the first known case was in Kansas, so why wasn’t it called the American Flu?

    But from one article,

    Prof Stephen Turner, head of the department of microbiology at Melbourne’s Monash University, says what’s most likely is that virus originated in bats.

    But that’s where his certainty ends, he says.

    On the hypothesis that the virus emerged at the Wuhan live animal market from an interaction between an animal and a human, Turner says: “I don’t think it’s conclusive by any means.”
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    “Part of the problem is that the information is only as good as the surveillance,” he says, adding that viruses of this type are circulating all the time in the animal kingdom. …

    Analysis of the first 41 Covid-19 patients in medical journal the Lancet found that 27 of them had direct exposure to the Wuhan market. But the same analysis found that the first known case of the illness did not.

    This might be another reason to doubt the established story.

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/28/how-did-the-coronavirus-start-where-did-it-come-from-how-did-it-spread-humans-was-it-really-bats-pangolins-wuhan-animal-market

    Could turn out that it came from the United States, just like the Swine Flu originated here.

  22. MANNY,

    The Spanish Flu the first known case was in Kansas, so why wasn’t it called the American Flu?

    That is a good question.

  23. Wolfgang says:

    BACK THEN, THE FLU WAS’T WU, BUT THERE IS AN INTERESTING STORY THERE TOO

    To maintain morale, World War I censors minimized early reports of illness and mortality in Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and the United States. Newspapers were free to report the epidemic’s effects in neutral Spain, such as the grave illness of King Alfonso XIII, and these stories created a false impression of Spain as especially hard hit. This gave rise to the name Spanish flu. Historical and epidemiological data are inadequate to identify with certainty the pandemic’s geographic origin, with varying views as to its location.

    … according to Wikipedia

    FLANDERS FEVER

    The German wikipedia has more on etymology than the English version and cites the names given to the disease in different European languages.
    See here if interested: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanische_Grippe

    The German wiki entry also says that the story (Spanish King’s affliction) was initially reported by Reuters, and that the international press increasingly came to refer to it as the “Spanish Flu”, and that this usage was promoted by the warring nations to cover up (“vertuschen”) the actual spread (not origin) of the epidemic. It discusses multiple theories of origin.

    By way of bonus info, the German-language wiki article mentions Frederick Trump as one of the prominent victims of the Spanish Flu. That’s Donald Trump’s grandfather.

    RATIONALE FOR de-NATIONALIZING PANDEMICS

    Nearly a century after the Spanish flu struck in 1918–1920, the World Health Organization (WHO) called on scientists, national authorities and the media to follow best practices in naming new human infectious diseases to minimize unnecessary negative effects on nations, economies and people.

  24. Manny says:

    Paul, Wolfgang gave you some of the history, more on that

    “Just before breakfast on the morning of March 4, Private Albert Gitchell of the U.S. Army reports to the hospital at Fort Riley, Kansas, complaining of the cold-like symptoms of sore throat, fever and headache. By noon, over 100 of his fellow soldiers had reported similar symptoms, marking what are believed to be the first cases in the historic influenza pandemic of 1918, later known as Spanish flu. The flu would eventually kill 675,000 Americans and an estimated 20 million to 50 million people around the world, proving to be a far deadlier force than even the First World War.

    READ MORE: Why October 1918 Was America’s Deadliest Year

    The initial outbreak of the disease, reported at Fort Riley in March, was followed by similar outbreaks in army camps and prisons in various regions of the country.”

    Paul, The flu was spread by the soldiers and killed more soldiers then the war.

    https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/first-cases-reported-in-deadly-influenza-epidemic

  25. Manny says:

    Oh Paul, I don’t want you to get sick, but I would prefer that people remember that this flu has the potential to kill way over 100,000 Americans in one year. Do we need to open the economy of course. If only the fool in the White House could get tests so that everyone could be tested and we could open the schools and businesses.

    Can’t eat in a restaurant with a mask on, but it seems that you can smoke with a mask on.

    https://twitter.com/kath_krueger/status/1253721923424526336/photo/1

  26. Manny says:

    Of course with Dumb and Dumber in the White House, we can only expect things to get worse.

    When Pence was asked why he didn’t wear a mask at the MAYO Clinic, it was mandatory, Pence replied, he liked to look people in the eyes.

    Do you Trump lovers understand how stupid that response from Pence was?

  27. brad says:

    Donald Trump’s national health adviser Anthony Fauci:

    If states begin lifting restrictions too early, Fauci says he predicts the country could see a rebound of the virus that would “get us right back in the same boat that we were a few weeks ago,” adding that the country could see many more deaths than are currently predicted.

    Any guesses to what Gov Abbott’s answer will be later this summer to his ill-advised re-opening despite there being inadequate testing/contact tracing and we are back at square one?

    Blame it on Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton?