FrontBurner

A Daily Conversation About Dallas

Education

For North Texas Colleges, Reopening During a Pandemic Means Different Things

| 2 days ago

The fall semester is arriving fast and North Texas colleges are navigating whether in-person classes during a pandemic is the safest path for students. Paul Quinn College announced Thursday that classes for the upcoming fall semester will be conducted entirely online and tuition will be reduced by $2,325. The University of North Texas, the University of Texas at Dallas, and Southern Methodist University all currently plan to follow a hybrid approach, which provides options for remote and in-person learning at a reduced capacity.

Dr. Michael Sorrell, the president of Paul Quinn College, said the school’s decision prioritizes the health and safety of the Paul Quinn community. He said guidance from medical experts was clear and the difficulty of enforcing social distancing standards in a college environment meant distance learning was the best option until the spread of the coronavirus is under control.

“I think that if other institutions feel as if they have the ability to restrict the behavior of 18 to 22-year-olds, particularly on a 24-hours-a-day 7-days-a-week basis for 15 weeks, and they can do that in a manner which allows them to keep everyone on their campus safe, God bless them,” Sorrell said.

The University of North Texas at Dallas has taken a similar approach, announcing on July 1 that the fall semester would be primarily online with some exceptions for courses like science labs. Most of its students are locals and few live on campus.

But for universities with nearly 40,000 students, like UNT in Denton, another semester online would mean losing multiple streams of revenue, resulting in the loss of millions of dollars each month. Retail shops remain closed, housing gets refunded, and students may choose to transfer. SMU and UTD, with over 11,000 and 29,000 students respectively, face similar potential losses. For all colleges, the question of how to preserve a high quality of education while keeping students and staff safe doesn’t have an easy answer.

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Coronavirus

The Whole World Is Uncertain About How to Best Handle Reopening Schools

| 2 days ago

There’s a good, if frustrating, article in Science magazine that surveys the world’s response to schooling during a pandemic. Sadly, the broad view of the global response reveals a patchwork of differing strategies, a shortage of data and research, and more confusion about how Dallas and Texas should best handle the reopening of schools this fall.

What makes drawing lessons from other countries and regions challenging is that the success of limiting the spread of COVID-19 in schools often tracks with the wider spread of the virus in the local society. In other words, in places where COVID-19 spread has stabilized, reopening the schools has not generally caused the number of infections to rebound. However, the article mentions how Texas has seen a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases at childcare facilities, which tracks with the state’s overall upward trajectory.

Perhaps the most disheartening aspect of the piece is that there simply isn’t enough data available anywhere to make informed decisions about limiting the virus’ spread through school populations.

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Politics & Government

The New Book-Burning: International Students in the Age of Trump

| 2 days ago

I moved to Dallas in 1978 because my dad took a job teaching biochemistry at UTD (which was then a two-year college) and moved our family here from California. So my eyes perked up today when I got an email from Aaron Cummings, who is working toward a Ph.D. at UTD in the history of ideas. Cummings can put some words together. You should read what he has to say about the idiotic, anti-American move ICE is making to kick out of the country international students who can’t attend in-person classes because of the pandemic. Find the time:

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“The New Book-Burning: International Students in the Age of Trump”
By Aaron Cummings

To all my fellow Texans who — by virtue of birth, naturalization, cosmic accident, Providence, or whatever — happen to be American citizens, my international student friends could really use your help. Why am I asking you? International students do not have the privilege of voting in the United States. It is up to us as Americans to keep this country true to the values that have attracted bright minds to these shores for generations.

I am a Ph.D. student at the UTD, the leading destination for international students in the Lone Star State. My day job involves teaching English as a second language at UTD’s Naveen Jindal School of Management (named, I should note, for a former international student). The last few days have been rough for both my international Ph.D.-student friends and my own students, because F-1 visa holders are being unfairly hassled by ICE. Across the United States, international students have been hit — completely out of the blue — by the latest ill-conceived scheme from the Trump administration. On July 6, ICE/SEVP suddenly revised its guidelines for student visas with the intent to deport international students if their university were to attempt to protect their lives and health by moving all classes online during the fall in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The nature of this threat is bad enough, but the timing makes ICE’s move potentially catastrophic.

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Home & Garden

How the Editors of D Home Chose the Most Charming Homes In Dallas

| 2 days ago

Each year for the past 12, D’s sister publication, D Home, has crowned the 10 Most Beautiful Houses in Dallas. It’s a fun, admittedly subjective, and ultimately challenging assignment—to whittle down the list to just two handfuls of properties in a city teeming with feature-worthy homes.

Following the completion of last year’s list, we made the decision to take a break from beautiful and instead recognize the most charming houses within the city limits. We simply needed a change of pace and figured readers did, too. And while we never could have predicted what lie ahead, our choice now seems oddly prescient: Charming feels wholesome and reassuring in pandemic times when not much else does.

It felt good to be driving around looking at adorable homes in late March, as the world was falling into the grips of COVID-19. Frankly, it felt good to be out of the house doing anything. There are worse ways to spend a crisp, sunny spring day than getting lost in the winding, hilly streets of Lakewood, or cruising Kessler Park with the windows down, a safe social distance from anyone.

Every year, people ask how we find the houses we include. The answer, to people’s surprise, is the old-fashioned way: we get in our cars and drive. Putting this year’s list together was our hardest task to date, and I’m not just talking about the logistics of awkward stares from driveway happy hour attendees as we circled the block for the third time, or avoiding kids riding bikes in the midst of what should’ve been a school day.

Poring over our finalists was like choosing between children. Charming is emotional. There were heated disagreements. We finally settled on 10 honorees, though the list of also-rans is far longer. You can see our picks in the July issue of D, or it’s online today. Take a look at the finalists, and let us know what you think.

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Restaurant & Bar Updates

How Long Will Restaurant Dining Rooms Remain Open?

| 2 days ago

Restaurants haven’t had much time to consider what safe dining in the near future realistically looks like. But that might not matter. With the spread of rising coronavirus cases in Texas—Dallas County has now added more than 1,000 new cases each day for the past eight—enclosed spaces that encourage people to linger are among the riskiest places to be. Dining rooms are once again in the sights of public health officials, who have urged residents to get food to-go rather than eating inside since the pandemic began in March.

On July 5, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins sent Gov. Greg Abbott another letter requesting the closure of dining rooms and other enclosed public places: “We once again strongly urge the closing of bowling alleys, arcades, amusement parks, venues for concerts, sporting arenas, weddings or other large events, inside restaurant dining…” and the list goes on.

“Well, we had specifically recommended sort of a pullback for 30 days to let things cool off, to really slow the spread, to look at the numbers, certainly try to stop the significant increase in numbers that we’re seeing on all of our indicators,” says Dr. Philip Huang, the head of Dallas County Health and Human Services. “It’s not that you have to shut down,” he says, but limit service to delivery, takeout, curbside pickup, and outdoor dining if a distance of six feet can be maintained. “But not indoor dining. That’s where we do we have concerns at this point.”

José on Lovers Lane reopened to in-room dining back in May. One day they were takeout-only, the next day “we’re open, welcoming all these people in no mask required, so it was a little scary at first,” says executive chef Anastacia Quiñones-Pittman. “It’s definitely changed since the governor has implemented the mandatory mask wearing. Prior to that, it was a little difficult,” she says.

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Coronavirus

FrontBurner Poll: Are You Ready to Send Your Kids Back to School?

| 2 days ago

Parents who are trying to follow the back-to-school guidelines set forth by President Donald Trump, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and Gov. Greg Abbott probably need to pop a Dramamine. It’s been a dizzying mess. Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa announced yesterday that an August 17 opening is “in jeopardy.” How in the middle of a pandemic do you create an environment for hundreds of school children to be safe, together, all day, indoors?

Yesterday, our sister publication People Newspapers reported about the pushback the Texas Education Agency has received about its guidance around reopening. The governor also said “if we continue to see COVID spreading the way it is right now, it may be necessary to employ that flexibility and use online learning.” The fate of the next STAAR test is also up in the air. This is all very much in flux.

FrontBurner parents, where are you on this? What are you hearing from your kids’ schools, and are you ready for the first day of drop-off?

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Local News

Leading Off (7/10/20)

| 2 days ago

Texas Sets Another Single-Day Record. Yesterday, statewide deaths and hospitalizations from the coronavirus set records. About 9,700 Texans are now in the hospital being treated for COVID-19 and 105 died from it. Locally, Dallas County added another 1,201 cases and our rate of infection is about 11.5 per 1,000 residents. John Carlo, the former Dallas County Health Department head, is urging residents to recognize how likely it is to come into contact with an asymptomatic carrier out in the world. And Gov. Greg Abbott and County Judge Clay Jenkins both are warning that this will get much worse before it gets better. It takes weeks to see declines in cases, both due to the virus’ long incubation period and how long it’s taking to get testing results back. Meanwhile, Abbott is practically begging Texans to wear masks—but dining rooms remain open.

Arrest Made In Killing of Merci Mack. The Black, transgender woman was found shot dead in East Oak Cliff on June 30. Yesterday, the fugitive task force arrested 20-year-old Angelo “Lo” Walker in the killing. Witnesses said they saw Walker chase Mack around the apartment complex while shooting at her. A witness told investigators that Walker became incensed after Mack said she would post a video to Facebook showing them together. A reminder that five transgender Black women have been killed in four states over the past month. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 21 have been killed this year; in all of 2019, there were 27.

Dallas ISD Is Still Figuring This Out. There was a disastrous interview with the head of the CDC yesterday on Good Morning America (of all places) regarding reopening schools, which didn’t exactly lend credence to the idea that the people in charge know what they’re doing. Yesterday, DISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa told MSNBC that he was losing confidence that August 17 would be a safe time to welcome kids back to classrooms. More than half of polled DISD parents say they’re not comfortable sending their kids to school in a pandemic while it rages it out of control.

Heat Advisory This Weekend. Be careful while you’re getting your exercise.

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Downtown

Ray Washburne Reveals Plans for Former Dallas Morning News HQ

| 3 days ago

This morning, I popped into a Downtown Dallas Inc. Zoom chat to hear what developer Ray Washburne has planned for the former Dallas Morning News headquarters. The daily moved out of its 1949 George Dahl-designed home back in 2017 when it moved into the 1955 George Dahl-designed former-Dallas Public Library building, adjacent the Statler Hotel. Since then, the former HQ has attracted much speculation and interest, at one point being proposed as a possible home for Amazon’s HQ2 project.

After Amazon passed on Dallas, Washburne scooped up the spot. The location is also in an Opportunity Zone, so, Washburne got himself a pretty sizable chunk of land with some sweet incentives tied to it. After Washburne purchased the site, it looked like the long-neglected southwestern corner of downtown was finally going to get some love—well, before COVID-19 and all of that, but we’ll come back to that.

In his chat this morning with DDI’s Kourtny Garrett, Washburne said one of the things that attracted him to the DMN site was Dahl’s building, known colloquially as “the Rock of Truth” because of the quote from George B. Dealey carved into its façade.

“I always loved the front building,” Washborne said. “It is the fifth Dahl building I’ve owned . . . I didn’t want to see it torn down.”

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Coronavirus

Why Deaths From COVID-19 in DFW Haven’t Matched the Rise in Cases

| 3 days ago

For the first time since the pandemic began, Dallas County added 1,000 or more new COVID-19 infections each day of the last week. But the amount of people dying from the coronavirus hasn’t reflected that jump. The county has hovered below 10 new deaths per day for most of the past month, sans a couple daily spikes of 20 and 16 deaths. So why hasn’t the death rate risen with the new cases? The answer is a mixed bag: deaths often lag new infections; increased availability of testing means catching more mild or asymptomatic cases of the disease; and more young, otherwise healthy people are getting sick.

According to Dallas County Health Director Dr. Philip Huang, 60 percent of the new infections have been among patients younger than 40. These people are better suited to beat the virus, Huang says. With increased testing, there are more asymptomatic residents getting tested, meaning the positive case count is increasing among people with few symptoms who aren’t likely to end up in a hospital or require critical care. In addition, the death rate has remained lower because long-term care facilities, which accounted for many of the early deaths, are improving their ability to reduce the spread of the virus.

Ample hospital capacity also keeps the mortality rate down as cases rise. When hospitals aren’t overrun, they are able to help most of their patients recover. When they are having to make decisions about who gets a ventilator or other treatment, as was the case in New York and appears to be coming in Houston, the death count rises.

So far in North Texas, hospitals in the aggregate have had space and machinery. Only around 35 percent of available ventilators have been in use. Total hospital occupancy is in the 70 percent range, but that doesn’t tell the story of what’s happening in individual hospitals. Outside of Parkland and UT Southwestern’s William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital, it is difficult to find patient counts at other hospitals throughout North Texas beyond these aggregated totals.

Gov. Greg Abbott and Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson this week both requested the federal government provide additional staff to handle an influx of COVID-19 patients. Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council Steve Love told CBS 11 that if hospitalizations continue to rise at current levels, hospitals in North Texas will have to activate their surge plans within the next two to three weeks.

Fox4 then reported that six North Texas hospitals had already requested more staff to handle the uptick in COVID-19 patients. In an interview, Love said that by late July he expects the COIVD-19 volumes to move many North Texas hospitals into surge capacity, where staff will be shifted and rooms converted to care for patients with COVID-19. The staff are already fatigued, and the increase in infections and stress on employees could mean more deaths.

“If the hospitals are overrun, then they can’t keep with the numbers and they have less ability to manage the deaths,” Huang says.

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News

Things You Can Actually Do This Weekend: How Some Venues Are Reopening

| 3 days ago

We will say this over and over and over: wear a mask in public, stay six feet from others, and avoid anywhere you can’t. Outdoors is safer than indoors. There is no such thing as a risk-free public outing and Dallas County is still advising you to stay home, stay safe. We have had a full week of daily increases of 1,000 or more coronavirus cases.

And yet things are starting to open in North Texas. Be careful and take precautions. Here is how some of the early risers are opening up.

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Media

A Few Words About Mark Lamster’s Recent Work in the DMN

| 3 days ago

Above all, North Texas is fortunate to have architecture critic Mark Lamster writing in the pages of the Dallas Morning News. I want to make that clear. There are too many large American cities that don’t have a voice like his helping readers understand how their lives are shaped by the concrete poured around them.

In January, when he argued that it is time to close the Triple Overpass and create a space dedicated to confronting racism, I thought he was nutty. It took me a few months. I went back and reread that piece earlier this week and now see how prescient it was. It’s a stunning idea, actually. And Dallas should explore it.

Today, Lamster published a story about the old Dawson State Jail and what the Trinity Park Conservancy plans to do with it (and with a new park on the banks of the river). “It will take quite a bit of imagination to remake Dawson,” Lamster wrote, “which is not so much a work of architecture as an obscenity in three dimensions.” Read the piece. It’s sharp and insightful.

But now I want to pick on something. Last weekend, the DMN published in print Lamster’s story about the Rolex building. I’m not sure what happened. Maybe Lamster, like the rest of us sometimes do, was having a bad pandemic day when he wrote it. I’m not saying the piece was bad. Not at all. It’s just that Lamster made some interesting choices, the sort of choices that suggest the consumption of gin for breakfast.

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