A Daily Conversation About Dallas


COVID-19 Cases in Dallas Likely Underestimate the Virus’ Spread Among the Poor

| 10 hours ago

Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 7:30 p.m. on March 27 to reflect the county’s newest transmission map.

Dallas’ poorest ZIP Codes have the county’s fewest cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The distribution map of positive cases even resembles the redlining map of 1937, which the federal government used to block banks from issuing loans to residents living in large portions of Dallas, particularly in the south. Those neighborhoods don’t have as many cases as the ones that were green-lined, potentially indicating a lack of testing.

Community leaders and top public health officials fear that the remnants of these decisions—the lack of high-paying jobs and inadequate healthcare services, in particular—are affecting the testing rates for these individuals. They worry the disease is lying in wait in the city’s poorest communities, which struggle with transportation and are less likely to be insured than more affluent ZIP Codes.

“I’m requesting more testing,” said County Judge Clay Jenkins. “You are seeing more testing in the north because there are a lot more hospitals and access to medical care, a lot more people who have insurance and have a regular doctor and are going there for testing.”

As of Friday, there are 367 confirmed cases in Dallas County. Most of the proven concentrations of COVID-19 are north of Interstate 30, clustered in the higher income neighborhoods above downtown. We learned yesterday that 75225—a portion of University Park and a large chunk of Preston Hollow, including many older residents who live near Preston Center—has between 13 and 17 cases, the most in the county. Its neighbor in 75230, the rest of Preston Hollow, has between nine and 12. All but three ZIP Codes that have more than four cases are bunched around those neighborhoods, not far from the American Airlines drive-thru testing facility that opened last weekend.

The only ZIP Codes in the south with at least nine cases are 75208, North Oak Cliff including Kessler Park and Bishop Arts near Methodist Hospital, and 75115 in Duncanville just south of Red Bird, near where the drive-thru testing facility at Ellis Davis Field House is available. Cockrell Hill’s 75211 now has between five and eight cases. Oddly, Ellis Davis’ 75232 has none.

Looking at the map, Pleasant Grove has between one and four. (Above it, Casa View, 75228, has between five and eight.) South Oak Cliff has between one and four. The ZIP Code with the lowest median income, South Dallas 75210, still has zero. The next lowest is its neighbor, 75215, which has between one and four.

“My concern is that when you have a lack of testing in a certain area or community, it gives a false sense of security,” says the Rev. Dr. Michael Waters, the head pastor at Abundant Life AME Church in Dolphin Heights, just east of Fair Park. “I have seen persons who have shared that map online, shared it on social media with a point of jubilation, saying, ‘well look! We only have one to four people who have been confirmed. We’re doing a great job. Unfortunately, we know that’s not true.”

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Local News

The Search for a Parks Director Is Happening Outside the Public Eye

| 12 hours ago

On Wednesday, I talked to Park and Recreation Board Commissioner Jesse Moreno about the city’s three month hunt for a new Parks director. Moreno was uneasy about whether the public had truly been let in on the process.

We talked a day before a telephonic final meeting of the Board’s search committee, which happened Thursday. The committee’s recommendation will go to the full Board for approval next week. The full board has final say in hiring, and it will choose from three finalists: John Jenkins, the city’s interim director; Gordon Robertson, the director of planning in Denver’s parks and rec department; and Daniel Betts, Cincinnati’s director of recreation.

“I know I’ve spoken to several Park Board members who have concerns over lack of public input,” Moreno told me.

If transparency was an issue going in, the meeting only made it worse. The committee reached its final decision during closed session, possibly running afoul of open meetings laws. And members of the public were not able to listen in due to a dial-in line that didn’t function. Audio of the meeting has not been made available.

We will have to take these matters individually, starting with committee’s decision to reach a recommendation in executive session. Park Board Chair Calvert Collins-Bratton who also chairs the search committee, says the committee was free and clear to discuss personnel matters behind closed doors. She quoted this piece of the Texas Open Meetings Act (section 551.074):

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From Lockdown, Bob Dylan Drops 17-Minute Song About the JFK Assassination

| 13 hours ago

At midnight, Bob Dylan dropped the longest song he has ever recorded — a 17-minute, stream-of-conscious ballad about the JFK Assassination called Murder Most Foul. As Variety reports, it is the first new release of original material from Dylan since 2012, and why it comes now, we can only guess. Dylan released a cryptic statement with the midnight release that thanks his fans, says he hopes they find the song “interesting,” and tells them to “stay safe, stay observant.”

He leaves it to us to make what we can from the timing of the release. We are all living through a historic pandemic, nearly the entire country is in the midst of a lockdown, and many artists are releasing material or staging online concerts to help boost spirits. Listening to the new song, however, it feels like Dylan is doing more than gifting us with some new entertainment to get us through the lockdown.

The new track is a meandering, “Desolation Row”-style waterfall of free association; cryptic imagery; historical observations; and pop cultural, folkloric, and musical references. Drenched with Dylan’s characteristically wry mix of barbed critique and whimsical irony, the song is an elegy on the JFK Assassination and a meditation on the decline of the American empire. Murder Most Foul is also one of the best songs about Dallas ever written.

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KERA Launches Curriculum-Based Programs for North Texas Students

| 16 hours ago

On March 30, KERA-TV will launch television programs and digital resources to support at-home learning for students in more than 120 school districts across North Texas. The content will air on KERA TV weekdays from 6 a.m.- 6 p.m., and will be available for free online at KERA Learn! The member station of PBS and NPR designed the programming around Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards and included material for levels pre-k through 12th grade. 

With Dallas-area school districts closed in response to the coronavirus pandemic, students, educators, and parents-turned-teachers are facing the unexpected challenge of carrying on an at-home education. KERA Learn! aims to help alleviate the burden this stressful situation is placing on everybody. (Parents, this would be a good time to let go of the guilt and loosen up the house rules regarding screen time. Just keep yourself and your kids sane and happy however you see fit!)

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Doing Good

Dallas: The City of Random Acts of Kindness, Pt. 7

| 16 hours ago

As a former 5-foot-2 high school point guard who got off the bench during, approximately, 1.25 games before the coach told me I should probably just be the team’s statistician, I appreciate the women’s game but don’t follow much of the men’s. I mostly ignore Zac Crain when he blathers on about the Mavericks. So when an alert FrontBurnian let me know that Mavs forward Justin Jackson bought 100 meals from Smokey John’s BBQ to feed Parkland’s medical staff, I had to google Justin Jackson.

And did I fall in love, or what? Just read about how he proposed to his basketball-playing high school sweetheart.

Jackson teamed up with Smokey John’s owners, Brent and Juan Reaves, to prepare and deliver the meals yesterday afternoon. Stop by this weekend to get one of their takeout specials for yourself.

Thanks, Parkland Hospital and Smokey John’s staff for making this city a safer and tastier place to be! Send more RAOK stories to [email protected]

Photo courtesy Smokey John’s Bar-B-Que
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Love in the Time of COVID: Crane Flies Don’t Care About the News

| 17 hours ago

You know who does not give a single eff about COVID-19 and social distancing? Crane flies. That’s who. These SOBs are all over my house. Inside, outside, in my bathroom, in my sneaker when I put it on this morning to walk the dog. Crane flies are like if David Blewett and Donald Trump opened a restaurant together in Collin County. Not safe at all. I need Clay Jenkins over here, stat, to drop some truth on these critters.

I know we are all facing our own shelter-in-place struggles. Thank you for listening.

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Doing Good

Dallas: The City of Random Acts of Kindness, Pt. 6

| 19 hours ago

Today’s fish tale of an edition comes from Will Maddox: father of two, managing editor of DCEO, and self-appointed pond stocker.

I saved six fish from a slow death this week.

I don’t think I realized why I felt compelled to do so in the moment, but looking back, I realize I needed a win. The day prior, we at D Magazine Partners received word that 20 percent of the staff would be laid off because of the economic downturn brought about by COVID-19. Several of my closest work friends lost their jobs through no fault of their own. I couldn’t sleep thinking about them, wrecked with survivor’s guilt and greater worries about the future. So when I saw the fish struggling to breathe with nowhere to go, pushed into a ditch by flooding over which they had no controltheir small pond shrinking in the afternoon sun, I empathized with them.   

Earlier that afternoon, my Twitter friend Martin Russell let me know that the giant fish were in a ditch between the Reinhart and Dixon Branches on the northeast side of White Rock Lake behind the hospital (he knows we often take our two toddlers into nature)Caring for two young boys during the stay-at-home order is endlessly more fun and frustrating than the average workday, and an important part of surviving social distancing while doing so is taking them on outings that are fun and engaging and don’t break the social distancing rules. Creeks, lakes, and the woods often fit the bill.  

We parked and walked out to the small stream, one of several that had formed in the shallow ditches just inside East Lawther Drive due to the heavy rains of the past week. We could see several large carp swimming in circles, the ridges of their backs sticking out of the shallows. We could see that the water ended on either side of the puddle; the fish were trapped. We weren’t too far from Reinhart Branch, a creek that empties into Sunset Bay on White Rock Lake, so I thought I could get them there one way or another. 

We couldn’t have been more ill-prepared for the rescue, but I began to improvise. I took off my shoes and commandeered a park trash can and emptied a trash bag (I returned them as I found them after), while my most patient wife narrated the action for our 2-year-old and held the baby. The water was murky from the fish’s movement, and the mud was squishy in the ankle-deep water. My son kept asking to see the fish and would squeal when they would thrash about. After a couple failed and slimy attempts at catching them with my hands, I perfected a method where I used a stick to guide the fish into the trash bag. I dropped the fish and water from the bag into the trash can, which was actually a metal drum. Soon I had three fish in the barrel, but I faced another conundrum; it was far too heavy to lift and carry to the car, much less to the larger creek. 

But in a week that didn’t have many bright spots, a pickup truck full of a family with nets and buckets pulled up to the same spot, having been told about the fish as well. They had been told of the stranded carp, and were here to rescue the fish as well 

We kept our social distance from the mom and two boys, who used their far-too-small nets to guide the fish into their buckets. The fish thrashed and splashed and hated being trapped, soaking me in muddy ditchwater as they attempted escape. The fish, like most of us, don’t like being forced in a direction they don’t want to go, even when it is for the best. They can’t see the whole picture and rage against the guidance that is saving their life.   

We loaded the buckets into the truck, the four boys into the car, and made it to the creek, which was deep and clear, full of other fish and connected to the lake. The time in the buckets had taken their toll on the fish, and many of them panted slowly, if at all. I worried that the struggle had killed them, that all our hard work would be worthless.  

When the massive carp flopped out of the bucket and down the grassy bank and into their new home, we watched with a bit of trepidation as they splashed into the water. For a moment, they didn’t move. Like many of us this week, they were in a new world, unsure of what to make of it. There would be new threats, new opportunities, but most importantly, there would be life. Each of the six fish we dropped into the water swam away happily, to the joy of the kids and adults taking part in the rescue.  

There were several little streams full of wayward carp in the area. We didn’t save them all, but we made a memory. I leaned into adventure with the family, even if it meant wading into muddy ditches to save some fish. In a time when so much is out of our control, it was nice to make a difference.  

Thanks, Will and sons, for your ever-growing hearts. If you have a tale of a recent random act of kindness, email [email protected]

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Local News

Leading Off (3/27/20)

| 21 hours ago

What Is It With Collin County? Collin County Judge Chris Hill was not part of a conference call with his fellow county leaders and Baylor Scott & White CEO Jim Hinton on Thursday. Hinton told the judges that “the only way we can keep people safe and not overrun our hospitals is shelter in place,” according to Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins. Hill didn’t hear that news. Earlier in the week, he declared all businesses essential in his shelter-in-place order, effectively neutering it. You’ll recall Frisco didn’t want to board this train, either. Hill contended that Jenkins was unavailable yesterday because it was his birthday. In related news, both Shawn Shinneman and I were able to speak to the judge yesterday.

David Blewett Blows It. I, too, raised an eyebrow at the exchange that the representative for East Dallas and downtown had with Dr. Philip Huang, the head of Dallas County Health and Human Services. Blewett peppered him with questions about the fatality rate that leaned toward skepticism of the seriousness of this virus. As The Dallas Observer notes, Blewett continued on Facebook yesterday, raising questions about how long the economy needs to be stalled in order for this to pass. Long enough that our hospitals aren’t overrun.

Dallas ISD Providing Hotspots for Students. As many as 40 percent of Dallas ISD’s students do not have access to internet. Yesterday, the school board OK’d buying 12,000 for those that don’t in order for them to continue learning while the district is shut down indefinitely.

Expect Rain Tomorrow. Helpful in case you’re on your daily allotted walk. 

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An Alert Reader Raises Concern About the City’s Permitting Practices

| 1 day ago

An Alert Frontburnervian with knowledge of how permits are issued at City Hall has a problem with how staff is handling construction and development permits in this time of shelter-in-place. The reader says the same stuff cleared four weeks ago is being pushed through today—everything from truly essential jobs like restoring electricity or water to things that could wait, like building a yoga studio or adding a third bedroom. The result of the latter is unnecessary risk for COVID-19 spread.

The source says the city is “doing a lot of good reviewing and permitting what needs to be done. But swimming pools, signs, office remodels, and additions to big homes kind of feels like putting people’s health and lives at risk.”

I asked the city whether it is restricting the types of construction permits it grants during the pandemic. A spokesperson sent this statement:

We continue to issue building permits to support the essential construction industry. That is not the same thing as giving owners/operators the approval to operate a business that goes against the latest County and City orders.

Well, OK. In other words, as I read that, because the county deemed construction to be an essential business—and the city has followed suit—all construction jobs are being approved.

I asked County Judge Clay Jenkins for his interpretation. First of all, he said, construction was deemed essential because it’s in Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency guidance about workers that are essential to critical infrastructure viability.

“Are there construction jobs that can and should wait until this is over? Yes there are,” he said. “What I would encourage people to remember is it’s one thing if you’re in the middle of remodeling your kitchen and you don’t have water and electricity and now you’re home. We want to get you the things you need. But do we really want to finish everything and have a group of various craftsmen tracking in and out of your home?”

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Will Arbery Wins Whiting Award

| 2 days ago

You, of course, know Will Arbery as a guy who graduated from Cistercian Preparatory School, in Irving. (Go, Hox!) But here’s a little-known fact about Will: he’s also a playwright and filmmaker. It’s true. And yesterday he got some good news on that front. Will was given a Whiting Award (and the $50,000 that comes with it). When we’ve finally defeated the coronavirus, perhaps someone will stage his play Plano in Dallas. Or even in Plano. The Times called it a “sly, elusive, off-kilter comedy.” Congrats to the entire Arbery clan, even the ones Will hasn’t yet written about.

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