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A Daily Conversation About Dallas

Coronavirus

Not in 1A or 1B? Here Is One (Ethical) Way to Get Vaccinated

| 1 hour ago

The search to become vaccinated against COVID-19 has become a bit more desperate for some after Gov. Greg Abbott announced that he was canceling the state’s coronavirus mitigation efforts. While vaccination hubs are still working their way through the lists of prioritized residents in groups 1A and 1B, volunteering at a vaccination site may get you a dose. 

Dallas County is accepting volunteers at the Fair Park COVID Vaccine Mega Center to fill several roles. They are needed to help residents who have arrived for their scheduled vaccine. Others are asked to direct people around the site to the correct building or door. There is a need for handling paperwork, directing cars, and many other responsibilities, as needed. (You also may get to drive a golf cart.) Cell phones are required to check in and out with QR codes. Bilingual volunteers are also required to handle the same responsibilities. The county also needs medical volunteers who can help with the vaccinations through the Dallas County Medical Reserve Corps

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Local News

Leading Off (3/4/2021)

| 4 hours ago

Families Sue Oncor. After the recent storms and power outages, Larry Ford found his 68-year-old father, Elzie Ford, frostbitten and near death at his home in Whitney. A neighbor had called on February 14 to say Elzie had fallen; later that night, the electricity went out. Due to road conditions, Larry wasn’t able to reach his father until February 19. Elzie was taken by helicopter to a hospital in Waco, where he died on the 20th. A new lawsuit filed on behalf of Larry, by Dallas attorney Patrick Luff, alleges that Elzie’s death could have been prevented if Oncor had properly prepared its facilities in preparation for the anticipated severe weather event. Another lawsuit was filed in Dallas County by Houston attorney Anthony Buzbee on behalf of the family of Katherine Birdwell, who died after her oxygen machine stopped working when the power went out.

Oncor Apologizes to City Council. Officials told Dallas City Council yesterday that they would improve communication in the future but denied that intentional bias determined the neighborhoods where power was cut. Oncor cited an internal review for its conclusion, but did not provide raw data or a report to Council. Even though ERCOT officials have said that the entire grid was minutes from collapsing on February 15, Oncor failed to communicate to residents that the planned 15-30 minute rolling blackouts were going to turn into days without power when the company discovered that insufficient power was being generated due to frozen natural gas pipelines and other system failures caused by the extreme cold.

ERCOT Fires Its CEO. Bill Magness, who had been drawing an $803,000 yearly salary, got his walking papers yesterday.

County Judge Clay Jenkins Loses His Voice. Metaphorically, of course, from screaming into the void. The latest tally of 26 COVID deaths and 718 new cases is the first after Governor Greg Abbott’s announced revocation of the mask mandate, and therefore is apropos of very little. The full vaccination total for the county now stands at 8.7 percent for residents 16 an older. But as medical professionals and we all know [recites in unison] reduced mask use leads to increased spread of the disease.

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Politics & Government

Oncor Apologizes to Dallas City Council for Winter Storm Power Outages

| 20 hours ago

Representatives from Oncor, which manages electricity distribution for much of North Texas, came before the Dallas City Council today, hat in hand, to apologize for the power outages that left thousands of residents without power for days during one of the coldest freezes in the state’s history.

“Your electrical providers totally failed you,” said Mark Carpenter, the senior vice president of Transmission and Distribution Operations at Oncor. “The situation we found ourselves in was we simply did not have enough electrons to deliver.”

The briefing offered a glimpse into the chaotic unfolding of February’s winter storm event from Oncor’s perspective. It also provided council members an opportunity to air any grievances over the company’s handling of the response. Although the root cause of the outages can be traced to problems with failing power generators and the state government’s inadequate oversight of Texas’ electricity marketplace, council members said communication failures at Oncor exacerbated the situation on the ground.

“The communication was ‘CYA’ at best,” said South Dallas council member Adam Bazaldua, referencing the phrase “cover your ass.” “What I was able to give my constituents, we really told them nothing. It was even disingenuous.”

One key frustration was Oncor’s failure to inform the public that rolling blackouts would be something much longer. The company was not able to cut power in 15 to 45 minute increments a because of the sheer size of the power load it was being asked to shed from the electrical grid. In order to stay operational, the power grid must maintain a balanced wattage load across the system. But as the winter storm knocked out power production plants – right as freezing temperatures drove a surge in consumer demand for electricity — the grid became dangerously unstable.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, which manages Texas’ grid, demanded Oncor shed massive amounts of power in order to avoid a total collapse of the state’s electricity distribution system.

“Had we not taken the drastic action that we took we would have had much, much worse events that would have lasted many, many days,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter said Oncor knew the storm was coming and had prepared. It increased staffing at its emergency operations center and deployed crews throughout the city. But it did not anticipate the sheer size of the load ERCOT would require Oncor shed from its grid – about five times more than what was required during the 2011 winter storm, the last major winter outage event in North Texas. Oncor was forced to shut off nearly every neighborhood in the city except for those connected to the system “feeders,” which function like circuit breakers for the entire grid. If those feeders blow, the entire grid goes down with them.

“We were playing that dangerous game for three days,” said Charles Elk, the director of customer operations at Oncor. “It was changing minute-to-minute, and we didn’t do a good enough job keeping our customers informed minute-to-minute.”

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Coronavirus

The End of the Mask Mandate Won’t Delay Dallas’ Herd Immunity

| 21 hours ago

Gov. Greg Abbott’s announcement to end the state mask mandate and open all businesses at 100 percent was met with criticism from medical experts, but it most likely won’t impact Dallas County’s path to herd immunity.

The Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation has been measuring the pandemic’s impact since the virus arrived in Dallas about a year ago. Last week it predicted that Dallas County could reach herd immunity by June, which means that 80 percent of the population will be either vaccinated or have antibodies after recovering from the infection.

Steve Miff, the CEO of PCCI, says the prediction factored in infection rate increases due to the Easter holiday and spring break, as well as the impact of new variants. That means increased spread due to the end of the mask mandate won’t have a large impact on the herd immunity timeline. “Infections might accelerate in some areas within certain demographics, but they can be balanced by the accelerated timeframe for the availability of vaccines and pace of vaccinations,” he says.

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Local News

Tim Coursey Is the Quietest (and Maybe Best) Artist in Dallas

| 23 hours ago

I will admit I do not know all the artists in Dallas. I frequent (or did, back in Precedented Times) a number of galleries, but my interest is casual and my knowledge has giant gaps in it. But when it comes to writers, I’d like to think there aren’t many living in and around Dallas who have escaped my notice, at least not many worth knowing about. I read and write for a living and I read and write in my downtime. One way or another, it’s important to me to check out everyone with a pen and North Texas ZIP code.

Somehow, Tim Coursey—who counts as his friends and fans the bestselling author Ben Fountain (Billy Lynn’s Longtime Halftime Walk) and essayist David Searcy—got by me. At least he did until sometime last year. I saw a photo of him that Sofia Bastidas Vivar, curator at SMU’s Pollock Gallery, posted to her Instagram account, showing Coursey working on a book he was printing on the gallery’s Risograph machine. I was intrigued. Even more so when it turned out that what he was working on, a spiral-bound collection of his short stories, Driving Lessons: Thirteen Stories, was to serve as the basis for an exhibition at the Pollock.

It’s up now, through March 13, and I encourage everyone to go check it out. It’s where I met Coursey in December, a conversation that turned into a profile of the artist, writer, and furniture maker. It’s in the March issue of D Magazine, and you can read it here. As I followed him around the exhibition, which features his pencil drawings, broadside excerpts of his stories, and a new sculpture, Hope Chest, he spoke so softly that it barely registered on my phone recorder. So maybe that’s how I missed Tim Coursey.

He has mastered the art of hiding in plain sight, almost invisible even to me in an empty gallery.

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Local News

Leading Off (3/3/21)

| 1 day ago

Texas ‘Reopening’ Sows Confusion, Rejoicing, Dread. Some Texas politicians called the lifting of the mask order “Texas Independence Day.” Others said it was “A death sentence for Texans.” In a statement, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said Dallas residents should continue to wear masks. “We are getting closer to achieving herd immunity, and now is not the time to let down our guard,” the mayor said. At a press conference yesterday afternoon, County Judge Jenkins urged residents to continue to follow public health guidelines. “If you’re interested in knowing what you can get away with, listen to the governor,” Jenkins said. “If you’re interested in knowing what doctors say will keep you, your business and your family safe, listen to me and the doctors.”

Why Did the Governor Lift Restrictions? The Texas Tribune dives into the political context for Abbott’s decision, citing slipping approval ratings among Republican voters and loud voices on the far-right of the party criticizing the governor’s handling of the COVID-19 response. As Abbott faces primary pressure from within his party, former Congressman and presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke has all but announced a 2022 challenge for Abbott’s office. The exposure of the colossal mismanagement of the state’s electrical grid, which prompted the resignation of Abbott’s chair of the Public Utilities Commission this week, surely hasn’t helped.

Where Does the Order Leave Us? There are still places where you will have to wear a mask. Businesses are split on how to react to the lifting of the mask requirements, with some retailers saying they will still require masks, while others say only employees will be required to wear masks. All public facilities subject to federal guidelines, like airports, will require masks.

Schools, Sports Scramble to Respond. Most school districts say they will continue to follow CDC guidelines on requiring masks. The order means Rangers fans may finally see their new ballpark in action, however it is still unclear how local sports franchises will respond to the lifting of restrictions. WFAA sportscaster Dale Hansen called Abbott’s move “arrogant and short-sighted.”

Lack of Guidelines Leaves Restaurants in a Lurch. The lifting of the mask restrictions will force restaurant and small business owners to make difficult decisions regarding how to keep their staff safe and customers happy. “Coronavirus is still out there. It’s still a thing,” Airric Heidelberg, owner of Invasions in East Dallas, told the DMN. “So this is a little absurd to me, but I don’t want to get into the politics about it. It’s just crazy.” Vance Martin, who owns Lili’s Bistro on Fort Worth’s Magnolia Avenue, told WFAA: “I don’t know all the right answers right now, nor do I think really anybody does.”

Dallas County Pushes Past 3,000 COVID Deaths. New COVID deaths in Texas have nearly hit 9,000, while more than 3,000 people in Dallas County have now died from the disease. The county reported 25 new deaths and 526 new cases yesterday. WFAA spoke to some North Texans who have lost family members to COVID-19. “It feels disrespectful and it feels like a slap in the face to those who are hurting, because there’s still a long way to go,” said Fiana Tulip, whose mother died of COVID this past summer.

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Coronavirus

The Governor Is Lifting the State’s COVID-19 Restrictions

| 2 days ago

Beginning next Wednesday, Gov. Greg Abbott’s restrictions on business occupancies will vanish along with a mandate to wear a mask. The governor, who is arguing that Texans have “mastered the daily habits to avoid getting COVID,” says state-ordered restrictions are no longer necessary to control the spread of the coronavirus.

“Make no mistake, and to be clear, COVID has not, like, suddenly disappeared,” the governor, who is fully vaccinated, announced at a Lubbock Mexican restaurant. He was surrounded by a mostly maskless crowd that included civic boosters, Lubbock state Rep. Dustin Burrows, and Texas Tech University Chancellor Ted Mitchell. “COVID still exists in Texas and the United States and across the globe. But it is clear from the recoveries, from the vaccinations, from the reduced hospitalizations, and from the safe practices Texans are using that state mandates are no longer needed.”

Only 9 percent of Texans are fully vaccinated. In North Texas, that number is 8 percent. The governor is relying in part on recoveries from COVID-19 to guide him, a metric that public health experts have warned is a flawed data point and is not even reported by Dallas County. He continues to speak about “antibody therapeutic drugs” that “keep (people) out of hospitals.” But, in effect, his ruling loosens public health efforts meant to mitigate the spread of the virus. It gives essential workers even less power if they’re called back into the office; current vaccine allotments do not take into account a person’s job, although it seems that public officials anticipate that in the near future.

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Local News

The Dallas Weekly Didn’t Miss a Beat After It Was Vandalized

| 2 days ago

The staff of the Dallas Weekly is still surprised by the outpouring of community support after the South Dallas newspaper’s office was vandalized overnight last Wednesday.

“It was pretty overwhelming how many people were irate about it and then wanting to help,” says Patrick Washington, the newspaper’s CEO. “It was pretty heartwarming that so many people stopped by. People were bringing by wood and everything else to help fix it.”

Employees arrived at the office Thursday morning to find its front glass door and window shattered. Someone threw three rocks through the glass on the office’s front façade, but it didn’t look like anyone entered. The interior of the office was untouched.

“We haven’t had much in the sense of vandalism or anything like that in quite a while, which is why I think it was so surprising,” Washington says. “It was kind of shocking to see.”

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Nonprofits

There Are Still Families Stuck in Dallas-Area Hotels After the Storm

| 2 days ago

It’s been two weeks since Texas was blanketed in snow, but there are still many who are struggling in its aftermath. Mutual aid groups, as we reported earlier, have housed and fed folks in need across the region. Last Saturday, Harvest Project Food Rescue helped distribute cases of water, produce boxes, and hot meals to families in East Dallas. Staff Meal continues its Snowmageddon free meal program. Although the freeze has thawed, displaced families remain.

As we enter March, organizations like Not My Son continue to shelter people in hotels.

“A lot of people came in with no water and no electricity” in the beginning, says Tramonica Brown, the founder of Not My Son (and a Dallas City Council candidate for District 7 in South Dallas.) “Now, we’re still in the middle of our water crisis. We have a lot of people who still don’t have running water or who have parasites in it. And that’s a nightmare.”

Brown says people came to the organization with just the clothing on their backs. Other lost their homes. Federal, state, and local aid requires paperwork and patience, which doesn’t jibe with the immediate need of running water and a roof over their heads.

“Meaning that there’s nowhere for them to go. So this is their actual, you know, residence with us right now until, you know, we we’re no longer able to do this,” says Brown.

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Local News

Leading Off (3/2/21)

| 2 days ago

COVID Update. Dallas County reported 751 new cases yesterday and 42 deaths. Those numbers include data from Sunday. Gov. Greg Abbott announced that Dallas will be one of 26 Texas counties to participate in a new effort called Save Our Seniors, which aims to vaccinate homebound folks over the age of 75. Right now, according to state data, 290,451 people in Dallas County have gotten one dose of a vaccine, and 157,611 people are fully immunized.

Celebration Celebrates 50 Years. The family-style restaurant on Lovers today marks five decades in business. What a great run.

Magnolia Building Sold. Grapevine-based NewcrestImage bought the iconic building topped by the red Pegasus. The company plans to upgrade the 325-room Magnolia Hotel.

Record Number of Flights Were On Time. With the pandemic driving down the overall number of flights last year, carriers were more on time than ever. Overall, 84.5 percent of flights were on time. Southwest hit 86 percent, putting it fifth of the 10 major carriers, and American hit 82.3 percent, putting it eighth.

Mavs Beat Magic 130-124. Luka finished with 33 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists, and two possessions played without a left shoe.

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Dallas History

CBS This Morning on Jim Schutze’s The Accommodation

| 3 days ago

By now, most tuned-in Dallasites are familiar with the story of The Accommodation, our friend Jim Schutze’s landmark study of Dallas’ racial history. Over the weekend, CBS This Morning brought the tale to national audiences. In the report, Schutze and civil rights activist Peter Johnson speak about Dallas history, segregation, and the resurgent popularity of the long out-of-print book that will be republished by Deep Vellum later this year. Schutze bashfully admits to being somewhat flabbergasted about the whole ordeal.

“I feel like this book is this weird stone tablet that somebody found,” Schutze tells CBS News producer Rodney Hawkins. “When this regeneration of interest started ten years ago, I just didn’t get it at all. All the people who wanted to talk to me about it were young, 20- and 30-year-olds.”

CBS does well to note that the network’s fabled newsman Walter Cronkite was hired by Dallas civic leaders in the 1960s to create a piece of propaganda intended to tamp down on civil rights protests in Dallas. They fail, however, to note that Schutze’s book will be brought back by Will Evans’ non-profit publishing house after a bootleg .pdf version of the book floated around youthful circles of Dallas history and politics wonks for years (thought its Twitter handle gets a shout out).

Instead, Hawkins reports that “John Wiley Price fought to republish it.” Schutze, you may remember, sold the rights to Price decades ago, before the two had a falling out. Price also features in the report, and he has a new forward in the Deep Vellum edition. The CBS clip is after the jump:

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Politics & Government

Watch Dallas State Rep. Grill the Chair of Texas’ Public Utilities Commission

| 3 days ago

If you are looking for a little more insight into what went wrong with Texas’ electrical power grid a couple of weeks ago, I suggest taking the time to watch the video (after the jump) that shows Texas state Rep. Rafael Anchia grilling DeAnn Walker, the chair of the Public Utility Commission, during Friday’s Joint Commission Hearing. Walker resigned on Monday afternoon.

If you don’t have the full 36 minutes to devote to it, click ahead to about 22:00 mark. Up to that point, Anchia spends time walking through the scope of the PUC’s regulatory responsibilities, particularly as they relate to legislation passed after the 2011 winter storm – and further refined in 2013 – that was precisely designed to avoid what happened two weeks ago.

The legislation the state passed, Anchia argues, didn’t merely suggest that the PUC monitor ERCOT, the private entity that manages the state’s grid, in order to prepare for extreme summer and winter weather. Reading from a house document that laid out the full details of the 2013 bill, Anchia recites details of the legislation that gave the PUC cease and desist authority over ERCOT, instructed the PUC to come up with performance measures to evaluate ERCOT, and required the commission to prepare annual reports on ERCOT’s performance. Walker admits that after a 2012 report, the PUC did not submit another annual report on ERCOT’s preparedness to the legislature.

“We told you to report to us if you thought we were unprepared,” Anchia says. “Because we had promised our constituents that this was not going to happen again, and we told the PUC to take care of it, and we gave you power – we gave you rulemaking authority to take care of it.”

Walker was appointed directly by Gov. Abbott, and prior to serving as the chair of the PUC, she worked as a senior policy advisor to the governor and as Associate General Counsel and Director of Regulatory Affairs at CenterPoint Energy, a Fortune 500 electric and natural gas utility.

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