Friday, August 27, 2021

COVID-19 Returns to Tom Green County

The purpose of COVID-19 mitigation methods is to reduce the spread of SARS COV-2 virus so that local hospitals are not overwhelmed to the point they cannot provide care to people with other health conditions.

I thought West Texans pulled together in times of crisis, that neighbors helped neighbors.  As far as I can tell, actions against adopting basic public measures are making things worse.  That's what the data shows.  Daily positive cases are up again, as are hospitalizations:

Shannon Medical Center administrators and physicians have informed the public that they are nearing a breaking point.  This should be of concern to all residents.  

In their latest video Shannon doctors explain how the current Delta variant of COVID is far different than the prior versions.  It impacts younger people, is more transmissible and rapidly results in a higher viral load within those sickened. 

Our local healthcare providers have encouraged people to get vaccinated and to wear masks when indoors with other people.  Local Health Authority Dr. James Vretis has a front row seat in Shannon's ER to COVID-19's Delta variant. 

Reactions to his recent mask order reveal how many disregard basic public health measures.  The idea of prevention, while never strong, has nearly completely disappeared.  Shannon physicians shop in local stores, where most people are not wearing masks.  They send their kids to schools where a child wearing a mask is in a distinct minority, often the subject of derision from fellow students. 

Governor Greg Abbott, Tom Green County Judge Steve Floyd and school system leaders rolled the same dice as former President Donald Trump.  They are counting on the Delta variant to fly through our population hoping that herd immunity lies on the other side.  Their gamble puts at-risk citizens and healthcare providers in a precarious position.  

COVID-19 deaths ceased for over a month earlier this year.  We've had over 30 deaths since early August.  That's over one a day.  The situation has deteriorated and many citizens are acting like the virus is gone.

Dr. Vretiz swung against the Governor's mandate and struck out.  I give him credit for trying to act on his medical and public health knowledge.  It's simply unwanted by the majority of our community, who may pay a terrible price.

Update 8-28-21:  The city announced six confirmed COVID deaths.  Not included in the six deaths are the death of an 88 year old vaccinated friend and the passing of a 30 year old father of four who fought against local mask mandates.  May they rest in peace.

Update 8-30-21:  The city reported ten COVID deaths over the last three days.  Two of those deaths were in their 30's.

Update 9-2-21:  Concho Valley Homepage reported:

San Angelo is the city in Texas with the fastest growth of new coronavirus cases, according to a report by

The report claims the number of new positive cases of COVID-19 for week ending on August 30 in San Angelo is more than twice the average for the state of Texas.

Update 9-11-21:  City and community leaders finally spoke out asking citizens to do their part to minimize the spread and impact of SARS COV-2 and COVID-19.  This came after 59 deaths announced over the last thirty days.

Update 9-17-21:  Five days after releasing a video on the seriousness of San Angelo's COVID situation ASU President Hawkins announced a "return to 100% face-to-face classes for our on-campus students beginning Monday, Sept. 20, 2021."  He recommends everyone wear a mask on ASU's campus and getting vaccinated for those physically able. 

Update 12-31-21:  After banning mask mandates and preventing businesses from requiring employees be vaccinated, the Omicron variant punched a hole in Governor Abbott's reliance on antibody treatment for at-risk Texans.  Abbott blames the Biden administration which is like this Biblical passage.  "You can see the speck in your friend's eye, but you don't notice the log in your own eye."  Abbott did more to foster the spread of disease with his anti-public health stances.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Animal Shelter Advisory Committee to Meet Next in October

The City of San Angelo canceled the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee's August meeting.  The ASAC will not meet again until October 21, 2021.  

In its last meeting the ASAC took up the issue of community cats.  San Angelo's City Council approved $5,000 for the shelter to fix "nuisance" cat collections known to City Council members.  The shelter asked for the funding after it released nearly 50 shelter cats into San Angelo neighborhoods.  Only one of those cats arrived at the shelter having been spayed/neutered.  The average time these cats had been in the shelter was 12 days, with one stay as long as 202 days.

The Animal Shelter released 48 unaltered cats into city limits.  Bentwood, Fort Concho, Santa Rita, Angelo Heights, Lake View, Southland Hills, The Bluffs, Bellaire, River View Heights and Wall received cats with intact reproductive systems, courtesy of the city Animal Shelter. 

Rather than plan to rectify the problem they offloaded into San Angelo neighborhoods the ASAC ran down Critter Shack, the only local animal rescue helping local citizens practice trap-neuter-return-maintain for Community Cats.    Critter Shack was not invited to City Council's June 15th or ASAC's June 17th meeting to represent the many services provided to address Community Cats.  

The rescue did reach out to members of City Council on June 11th offering to meet and share information on its Community Cat efforts.  

We are the contact for many caretakers who are actively practicing TNR, through our web site, through our low-cost spay/neuter clinic, through our partnership with Cassie’s Place for our West Texas Fix program that entirely focuses on cats, through our new voucher program, “Fix Your Critter,” and through our efforts in outlying communities to offer free or very low cost spay/neuter services to many caretakers. We deal successfully with hundreds of colony caretakers in the Concho Valley and any suggestion to City Council members to the contrary is simply untrue. We have an ever-growing list of caretakers and offer as much assistance as we possibly can to these men and women. Since the passing of the ordinance that offers some protection to the caretakers, our programs have focused on providing help to these colony caretakers and a large part of our annual budget is aimed at helping colony caretakers and cat owners in education, financial assistance and low-cost spay/neuter programs. If you or Council members have any questions about our caretaker registrations or programs, I would be happy to meet with you to discuss our efforts in these areas. The ordinance has been a step forward in protecting caretakers who are actively working with TNR and the cats in their care. 

Information shared with Shelter Director Morgan Chegwidden was withheld from the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee meeting on 6-17.  

Meeting minutes reflect none of the fiction, derision and disparagement city staff "presented" on June 17th.  They are inaccurate on multiple levels.

I offer a more accurate summary for consideration, although none of this was actually discussed by the ASAC:

City staff orchestrated a narrative that allows it to send more money to Concho Valley PAWS, giving PAWS a toehold in the shelter's return to field effort.  At any point since Council passed the Community Cat ordinance PAWS could've met the program requirements and been designated a sponsoring organization.  It has not done so, leaving Critter Shack at the only local rescue assisting citizens wishing to practice trap-neuter-return-maintain.  Critter Shack would have never released nearly 50 unaltered cats into city neighborhoods, something the city of San Angelo did between October 2020 and February 2021.  The city did not contact its only Community Cat sponsor before dumping unaltered cats on citizens.  Critter Shack operates a weekly spay/neuter clinic and would have worked these cats into their operation.  

City Council expects shelter leaders to run a public information effort on addressing cat collections and report back the impact of their $5,000 in additional funding.  Will that be before October 21, 2021?

Saturday, August 07, 2021

West Texas Legislative Summit Beyond Covid-19

Texas Congressmen turned out in droves for this years West Texas Legislative Summit with its Beyond COVID-19 theme.  Like everyone I'd hoped for a fading pandemic.  The Delta variant scuttled that vision.  Shannon Medical Center has seen its COVID patient census rise into the fifties.  

Shannon CEO Shane Plymell kicked off the legislative summit.  On July 23rd he interviewed Dr. Chris Barnett on SATV regarding the rapidly spreading Covid variant.  

Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) admitted President Trump lost the election. 

White men and the suburbs turned on Donald Trump, Crenshaw said, pointing to the gains in the House and the less-than-expected losses in the Senate.

“My district is very suburban. Trump won by 1 point, I won by 13 points,” Crenshaw said. “Suburbanites don’t like mean tweets.”

It wasn't mean tweets.   Many Americans wanted a President who cared enough to mount an effective public health response to a pandemic.  Trump had a 7 million vote deficit, a referendum on his botching the pandemic.  

Texas gutted public health after the new millennium, removing access to primary care as key public health strategy.  Nationally public health has been so diminished citizens don't view it as their responsibility.   

Healthcare workers view the public's indifference, even antagonism, to public health strategies as bizarre.  The president of the Austin-based Texas Organization of Rural and Community Hospitals offered:

“It stuns me why we had to make this a political issue.  That’s the sad thing about this — it’s all political.”

Texas Governor Greg Abbott took public health steps last year to combat the virus.  Not now. 

“Going forward, in Texas, there will not be any government-imposed shutdowns or mask mandates,” Abbott said. “Everyone already knows what to do.”

The numbers have prompted even the state health department to ring the alarm in a way that Abbott has not, tweeting Wednesday that Texas is “facing a new wave” and the variant “has erased much progress to end the pandemic.”

Everyone does not know what to do and Governor Abbott knows it.

Some of the most powerful conservatives in the United States have, since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, chosen to sow disinformation along with mockery and distrust of proven methods of combating the disease, from masks to vaccines to social distancing. Their actions have afflicted the nation as a whole with more disease and death and economic crisis than good leadership aligned with science might have, and, in spite of hundreds of thousands of well-documented deaths and a new surge, they continue. Their malice has become so normal that its real nature is rarely addressed. Call it biological warfare by propaganda.

We are beyond COVID-19 like we are beyond the Texas electrical grid failure.  In both cases elected leaders failed the people they were supposed to serve.  Trump paid the price with election defeat, something he is incapable of facing.

It remains to be seen how deadly the Delta variant will be.  The City of San Angelo announced five COVID deaths the last two days.   Four of the five were unvaccinated while one had been fully vaccinated.

Cases are widespread in our community.  It's time we took care of one another.  Just like the winter storm help is not coming from our leaders.

Update 8-8-21:  Medical experts weighed in on Texas recent COVID moves:

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is out with new COVID-19 health guidance for schools that's giving some medical experts cause for concern

The new guidelines state that schools don't have to inform parents of positive cases; schools do not have to contact trace; and parents can choose to send a student to school if he or she has been in close contact with a positive case, among other updates. 

“How can a family assess their own risk if they don’t know if their kid was exposed? The context here is that (it’s) indoors, close proximity, poor ventilation, and mask-free with unvaccinated people. It’s objectively insane." --Dr. Dara Kass, associate clinical professor of emergency medicine at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City

"It's meant to send a message:  We don't care about public health expertise or guidance, we are all about liberty and freedom unconstrained by any responsibility to others."--Gregg Gonsalves, associate professor of epidemiology at Yale University 

The Delta variant invaded India and the UK with a rapid rise then a relatively quick fall off.   This occurred over 72 days in India.

Update 8-11-21:  Shannon CEO Shane Plymel and Dr. Doug Schultz said 67 patients with COVID were in the hospital and 12 in the ICU.  80% of those patients did not get the COVID vaccine.  The surge is steeper than the last wave. 

Update 8-14-21:  There are no pediatric ICU beds available in North Texas.  San Angelo had 3 COVID deaths and 67 hospitalizations yesterday.  Republican leaders fiddle while COVID burns through their supporters.  Citizens want leaders who care about their lives.  Trump lost the election by 7 million votes for botching the pandemic response.

Update 8-16-21:  Physicians wish we were "beyond COVID-19."  "This time around we have a vaccine that can prevent a majority of Covid hospital cases, yet our ICUs in certain states are fuller than ever. Fewer people are wearing masks and I am worried for a particularly brutal flu season combined with continued Covid Delta spread."  This was a race we lost.

An unvaccinated male in his 20's died from COVID according to local health officials.  As many as 73 patients were hospitalized with COVID over the weekend.  

Texas ordered mortuary trailers from FEMA for an expected surge in COVID-19 deaths.  

Update 1-2-22:  America's sad state of affairs in public health is reflected by:

"Hundreds of state and local health officials across the country have retired, resigned or been forced out in partisan rancor over the pandemic."

Thursday, August 05, 2021

City Submits Response to TCEQ Investigative Report

The City of San Angelo completed their initial followup report to the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality addressing three of the four deficiencies that caused toxic chemicals to enter the public water system in February.  

At the current time and until the Water Utilities department is able to become properly staffed, the value of these CSIs will be balanced with the currently identified facilities.

The 199 page response was remarkably light on planned customer service inspector staffing.  Two plumbing inspectors are CSI qualified, while a new full time CSI is in the Water Department.  That comprises the three CSIs City Council directed staff to propose for the coming budget year.  

A fourth person, the Assistant Water Utilities Director, is now CSI qualified but their time is dedicated to other duties. An excerpt from their 6-17-21 e-mail to TCEQ stated:

We are still trying to complete final CSIs for the customers in the PaulAnn/North Bell area identified in the February/March time period. We have also spent numerous hours in both formal training and department research for our cross‐connection control program. Although we currently have two TCEQ‐licensed CSI inspectors, I am one of them and only a small portion of my time can be dedicated in the field to customer service inspections due to my other responsibilities as Assistant Director. We are prioritizing the customers in the PaulAnn/North Bell area identified in February/March to conclude these concerns. We will be engaging City Council for additional CSI staff in the budgeting process for the next fiscal year. In addition, we have spent significant time researching and developing a customer service agreement (approved by Council this past Tuesday), a draft ordinance, and working with City staff in other departments and the development community to develop protocols for backflow prevention in the development services process. At this time, we feel that completing CSIs at the above listed facilities/locations is a lower priority than other cross‐connection control program needs based upon our understanding of your concerns.

Please also note that we understand that a CSI inspection at these facilities/location in the future is beneficial and will be completed as other prioritized tasks are completed and as we build our staff.

TCEQ remains clear that the city must do more than rely on third party vendor VEPO, as it has done for at least five years.  TCEQ's investigator wrote:

The VEPO information for backflow devices can be submitted electronically. However, be aware that additional documentation/information may be requested should the electronic VEPO information not show everything needed to determine compliance. This will be evaluated once information is submitted as until then I am unable to determine if it will be sufficient.

If a facility has backflow and that information is not in VEPO, then the backflow form will be required to be submitted that the City is maintaining. The form is required to be TCEQ -20700 or another form that has been approved by the TCEQ.

The City's response did not reveal staffing constraints imposed by City Council and the impact that may have on compliance with TCEQ's longstanding cross connection control program requirements.  

Former Executive Director of Public Works Ricky Dickson oversaw the city's lax cross connection control program.  City ordinances charged Dickson with identifying businesses that needed to have backflow preventers for health concerns.  A public information request failed to produce the names of any businesses Dickson required to have backflow preventers due to health hazards.

TCEQ's investigative report indicated nearly 1.4 million gallons of water flowed out of Lone Staff Beef into the public water supply from December 2020 to February 2021.  The public water system was connected to a well onsite at the meat processing plant.  That connection has been removed and the two systems separated.

The city's response also stated:

Although the City has not adopted a fully comprehensive plumbing ordinance, the 2015 International Plumbing Code (2015 IPC) has been adopted by resolution, as shown in Appendix H. This code does provide guidance on proper backflow prevention
The above plumbing code was adopted by City Council in October 2018.  That adoption did not prevent toxic chemicals from entering the water supply in February 2021.  

It's been nearly six months since the City allowed toxic chemical intrusion into the public water supply.  It needs to resolve all four deficiencies by early fall.  It's not clear that will happen.

Tuesday, August 03, 2021

City Council Holds 8 Minute Meeting

San Angelo's City Council had one item on the regular agenda, budget amendments for the current year.  It approved buying the former Standard Times building for $1.8 million and adding chip seal to alleys in Southridge Addition ($20,000 funded by Southridge residents).  

Council tackled the 389 page background packet in 8 minutes.  That included approving the minutes of the July 27th budget workshop.  In that workshop Council spent considerable time giving staff direction on the number of customer service inspectors to include in the 2021-22 fiscal budget.  

Mayor Gunter was very clear on her belief the city did not need to employ five CSIs to meet TCEQ cross connection control program standards.  A TCEQ investigative report on the February toxic chemical contamination was delivered to city hall for Mayor Gunter on June 9th, according to city e-mails.  A number of City Council persons agreed with Gunter in the workshop.  Not one council person asked for comparative information from peer cities pertinent to the staffing request.  Recall McAllen, Midland, Abilene and Brownwood helped the city with industrial inspections during the crisis.  Oddly, the minutes of that planning meeting reflect none of Council's discussion or direction.

TCEQ's investigative report cited four areas of failure in the toxic chemical intrusion event.  The city's plan to resolve three of the four deficiencies is due to TCEQ today. 

The City of San Angelo ignored TCEQ's cross connection control program standards since they were revised in August 2016.  Anyone reading the TCEQ investigative report could easily conclude the city has been guilty of gross negligence.  For over two months water from Lone Star Beef flowed back into the public water supply, nearly 1.4 million gallons.  

Council hedged on spending $310,000 for five CSIs while it sits on $28.5 million in Water Operating Fund Balance.

I suggest TCEQ investigative staff watch both the July 27th planning workshop and today's City Council meeting to see how serious elected leaders took the findings in their report.