Thursday, January 28, 2021

Pandemic Response Missing from City Budget

San Angelo City Council approved the 2020-2021 budget on September 15, 2020.  The week before the Health Department reported 65 COVID-19 deaths .  During summer budget planning over 50 patients were hospitalized on a daily basis from the coronavirus.  The city has been under a public health emergency declaration since March 2020.  

Yet, the budget document mentioned COVID-19 only two times.  The first was under Hotel Occupancy Tax and the second under Civic Events.  Both mentioned an expected revenue shortfall and the need to use general fund dollars.

Oddly the budget decreased funding for Health Services in the middle of a pandemic.

The city drastically cut health department programs and staffing under CFO Michael Dane's tenure.  It closed the public STD clinic in 2012 and only reopened it after receiving federal money.  The clinic had five staff members the full year prior to its closing shakedown.  The reconstituted clinic, which also gives immunizations, has had a mere two employees since 2016.

The Section 1115 Waiver grant required matching funds, however the city spent little of its own money for health services during the five year grant period.  By the end of 2019 over $600,000 of the roughly $1 million in 1115 Waiver funds received remained in city coffers.

In addition the city cut funding for  its Hazards Division, responsible for public health emergency preparedness and response for 2020-2021.

City Council meets next Tuesday and it is yet to assess its public health response and make course corrections as a leadership body.  COVID-19 deaths reached 269, up 204 from budget approval.

Citizens are living the impact of prior decisions to cut public health services.  Deterioration was not restoration then and it remains so today. 

Update 6-9-21:  The City said it would resume its HIV/STD clinic on June 7, 2021.  It closed March 16, 2020.   The HIV/STD closure was never shared with the public in any form or forum.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Animal Services Proposes Restricting Services to San Angelo Residents

San Angelo's Animal Shelter Advisory Committee approved restricting services to San Angelo residents only.  City Council will consider this recommendation at their next meeting.

Long ago the City and County agreed to split responsibility for key public services.  Tom Green County took responsibility for the public library and the City accepted responsibility for the City-County Health Department.  When I moved here in 1994 Animal Services was under the Health Department, which offered a wide range of services.   

Does Tom Green County have a right to expect the city to continue providing Animal Services to county residents under that agreement?  That question should be answered at City Council.

The city proposes to limit intake to San Angelo citizens after severely reducing situations in which the shelter accepts a pet.  Death of the owner is not an acceptable reason for the City of San Angelo to take a pet.  

The City no longer takes owner surrendered pets due to things like owner illness or death.  (ASAC approved 4-19-19)

That decision was made before the coronavirus pandemic.  Deaths reached 256 today, 165 from Tom Green County and 91 from other counties. 

Today's ASAC move is expected to reduce shelter intake another 10%.   

Health Director Sandra Villareal asked about community resources for citizens who would no longer be served.  Shelter Director Morgan Chegwidden said local rescues had prohibited the city from giving out their information.  

This should be a red flag for Pets Alive which recommends active community collaboration.   Pets Alive has not contacted area rescue organizations to learn why.  

Update 3-9-21:   The ASAC voted 6-0 to restrict services to San Angelo residents only.  It postponed its February 2021 meeting, but on the agenda is reducing the intake of Community Cats due to lack of funding.   The memo states "this is the second intake diversion program" for 2021.  American Pets Alive has dramatically reduced publicly available services from the Animal Shelter. 

Monday, January 18, 2021

City to Spend Over $1.2 million for Four $20,000 Jobs


The City of San Angelo Development Corporation will consider a $1.2 million economic incentive for SkyWest Airlines to begin air service from Mathis Field to Houston Intercontinental.

COSADC will make available up to $1,000,000 in revenue guarantee to offsetdemonstrable quarterly revenue shortfalls in the operation of the air service per the agreement

COSADC shall provide $200,000 to the San Angelo Chamber of Commerce for direct advertising support of SkyWest air service.

SkyWest anticipates the creation of at least 4 FTE employees with an average salary of $20,000, and an initial operational investment of $1,000,000 resulting from the establishment of its regional corporate headquarters facilities within the City.

San Angelo saw Delta (Dallas), Conquest (Austin) and Continental (Houston) come and go from Mathis Field.  American Airlines has been the faithful air provider.  

Providing $1.2 million  for four jobs paying a mere $20,000 seems steep.  That's $300,000 in public money per job created.  There's more subsidy.

City will waive all airport rental and landing fees at the airport for a period of two years to facilitate SkyWest's operations in San Angelo
The value of waiving rental and landing fees was not included in the background packet.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

COVID-19 Crisis Continues


The City of San Angelo reported three new COVID-19 deaths, 237 deaths to date  On November 2nd there had been 91 coronavirus deaths.

Positive tests increased from 5,076 on November 2nd to 14,305.  Currently hospitalized rose from 38 in early November to 106 patients as of today.  Total hospitalizations went from 700 to nearly 1,600 over that period..

Shopping in Walmart and Sam's Club this week I encountered a number of people without facemasks.  I was struck by their lack of respect for senior shoppers at greater risk for serious disease, even death.

At City Council Mayor Gunter cited a large number of deaths in the last week (12) and she encouraged people to get tested and seek treatment early if citizens have any symptoms.  Council did not hear from public health emergency staff about their response and actions/funding needed for improvements.  They did hear an item to support people struggling economically due to the pandemic.    The alarm bell is not audible from City Council members other than the Mayor.

The crisis continues given our 27% test positivity rate and the revelation that new variants have been found elsewhere in our country that are more efficient in spreading from one person to another. 

Consider the progression of COVID-19 from studies:

  • The first symptoms begin from two to 14 days after you have been exposed to the virus. A new study from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health suggests a median time of about five days.
  • The average duration of fever was 12 days. Ninety-nine percent of the patients studied had a fever. About 50% felt fatigued and had a dry cough, with 33% having difficulty breathing and complaining of muscle pain.
  • The study showed that 85% of those with the virus only experience “phase one” of the virus’s course. Phase one encompasses the first seven days of symptoms (see below). Those with more critical cases of COVID-19 went on to suffer more severe symptoms that last for two more weeks, on average.
  • Age is a strong risk factor for severe illness, complications and death
  • For those who do not survive the virus, the average number of days from onset of symptoms until death is 18 1/2 days.

Citizens could be developing symptoms now from exposure over the New Year holiday.  Those that perish from the disease could do so the end of this month.   This progression is important to understand.  Mayor Gunter continues to stress our medical community has medicines that can change the course of COVID-19 for citizens.  That word should be spread far and wide.   

Update 1-17-21:  With five more deaths reported today the total is now 250.   The New Year began with 211.  We've had 39 deaths reported in seventeen days.

Update 1-25-21:  Texas deals with high hospitalizations and hundreds of daily deaths from COVID-19

Update 2-1-21:  COVID-19 related deaths for January totaled 64.  There have been 275 deaths reported by the City Health Department since the pandemic began.

Update 8-26-21:  The Delta variant of COVID-19 hit San Angelo in July and is running through our community, hitting citizens of all ages.  Deaths rose greatly in the last week.  Local Health Official Dr. James Vretis ordered people to wear masks in schools.  The order starts today and runs until October 15th. 

Monday, January 04, 2021

Health Department Makes COVID-19 Vaccine Call

Mayor Brenda Gunter and Tom Green County Judge Steve Floyd held a press event mostly focused on vaccines on December 30th.   Yahoo News reported:

For the most part, state health departments say vaccines will be available at some combination of local hospitals, health departments, pharmacies, medical offices, and Federally Qualified Health Centers. The federal government has partnered with large chain pharmacies like CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart. 
Texas said the decisions and procedures would be left up to each of its 50 individual local health departments.

San Angelo City Council cut the budget for the City-County Health Department in the midst of a pandemic.  The only clinical functions left at the Health Department are STD testing and treatment, TB testing and treatment and the administration of vaccines.  The Health Department is not listed a possible source for COVID-19 vaccines.  Sites given include Shannon Pharmacy and HEB's two pharmacies.  

On December 15, 2020 Shannon Medical Center received 1,950 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA COVID-19 Vaccine, and began administering doses to the Phase 1A priority group. The Phase 1B priority group should begin soon.

The City referenced State of Texas priorities for vaccines.  Local police received the vaccine even they are not expressly in the 1A group for receiving vaccines.

The San Angelo Health Department is remaining vigilant and monitoring the developing outbreak, alongside its public health partners, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) and the CDC.  

The Health Department is responsible for Public Health Emergency Preparedness.

Public Health Emergency Preparedness is responsible for planning, preparing for and responding to all types of public health threats and emergencies that impact the health of San Angelo.

COVID-19 vaccine administration is part of that response.  The Health Department has staff capable of administering vaccines to the public.  It's unclear if City staff will play any role in vaccinating citizens.  Department leaders are making that call.  The City chose not to use any federal funding for testing citizens by health department staff.

The San Angelo Health Department does not administer COVID-19 tests. The Health Department is responsible for reporting testing information to the state. 

Houston's Health Department offers COVID-19 testing, alongside many partners.

"Remaining vigilant and monitoring the outbreak" sounds relatively hands off for a department charged with responding to a pandemic that has killed 218 and hospitalized 1,448 people in our community.

Update 1-6-21:  The City announced it would administer a limited number of COVID-19 vaccinations to citizens without a primary care physician