Dallas Morning News. Jan. 22, 2021.
Editorial: Denton County sheriff’s deputies took the wrong approach to a racist and dangerous situation. Let’s send a clear message that racism isn’t welcome in Denton County.
The Denton County Sheriff’s Office needs to explain why it initially mishandled a racist and dangerous situation.
In a neighborhood just outside the Frisco city limits, a man has allegedly been terrorizing a Black woman named Stacey Livingston. According to Livingston, neighbors and video evidence, the man has vandalized her home, spray-painted racial slurs on her driveway, cut her phone and cable lines, called her his slave, and threatened to kill her.
Now, after a week of this abusive behavior, the man has been arrested. Better late than never, we suppose.
And Livingston said her neighbors have rallied to support her, cooperating with law enforcement and watching out for her safety. Also good.
But the sheriff’s office has responded slowly and ineffectively. In fact, its first solution, according to Livingston, was to suggest that she leave her home until the matter “blows over.” Not good.
It’s absurd to suggest the victim leave her home, a place where she has every right to live and feel safe.
In doorbell video footage provided by a neighbor, the man is seen strutting down the middle of the street, shouting profanities and racial slurs, and throwing food at Livingston’s house. Regardless of why this behavior is happening, it’s frustrating that with threats of violence at play, he’s being given the benefit of the doubt.
In an email exchange Thursday, the Denton County Sheriff’s Office declined to say whether the man is still in jail, whether he will face hate crime charges, or why officers told Livingston to leave.
Even though he’s on video apparently making racist threats, this suspect deserves the right to due process. And since no violence has occurred, at most he is facing relatively minor charges. But no one should be made to feel unsafe in her own home, and the right response from law enforcement is to nip this kind of behavior in the bud. Sheriff Tracy Murphree and other officials need to send a clear message that this kind behavior won’t be tolerated.
San Antonio Express-News. Jan. 22, 2021.
Editorial: Community Labs offers model for testing in schools
While the development of an accurate, rapid and relatively affordable COVID-19 test is a remarkable achievement, it’s the community impact and benefit of any innovation that is the truest measure of its success.
In the case of Community Labs, the nonprofit co-founded by Graham Weston, J. Bruce Bugg Jr. and J. Tullos Wells, that measure is off the charts in a very short time. It’s impossible to overstate the significance of Community Labs’ innovative work for San Antonio and Texas.
Perhaps at the most basic level, Community Labs’ work to develop and distribute rapid COVID-19 testing has the potential to limit community spread of the disease from so-called silent spreaders, asymptomatic carriers of this insidious virus. It also has allowed faculty and staff at schools to feel more comfortable about returning to the classroom and for parents to feel more at ease about having their students attend school in person. These are not antigen tests but far more accurate PCR, or polymerase chain reaction, tests.
As Saul Hinojosa, superintendent of Somerset ISD, which hosted the first pilot of Community Labs’ tests last semester, recently told this Editorial Board, the testing has helped boost district in-person enrollment.
It was a point seconded by Edgewood ISD Superintendent Eduardo Hernández, and it’s one reason testing will be expanded to all San Antonio ISD campuses this spring.
“Having this as part of our safety procedures is a game-changer,” SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez told us.
What that means is parents, faculty and staff can embrace in-person learning with more confidence that schools are safe during this pandemic and learning can occur more equitably. This aligns with President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 plan, which includes funding for expanded testing to keep kids in schools.
One of the paradoxes of the pandemic has been that while students in wealthier school districts — where internet connections are mostly a given — have returned to in-person learning in greater numbers, students in lower-income districts, where internet connections are not assured, have often stayed home, potentially falling behind, with long-term consequences.
“Many of our families that are high income, they are in schools,” Martinez said. “They are in schools and their kids are in person. Why? Because they know that the schools are safe.”
But that can’t always be said about homes. As Hernández told us: “The other thing this pandemic has done is that it has actually shown our teachers what our kids are dealing with every day.”
He said teachers hear profanity, yelling and screaming in homes during virtual learning sessions, and now they “can’t unhear” and “can’t unsee” what they have witnessed.
At a time when the nation is struggling with vaccine distribution, new COVID-19 variants are emerging and it will be many months until a vaccine is available to children, expanded testing is crucial to have as many students in school as possible. Community Labs is a model.
We want to be clear. Testing in schools is not a solution to the digital divide in our community. When schools closed in the spring — a necessary, given how little we knew about the novel coronavirus, and the shortage in personal protective equipment — laptops were distributed to families who lacked internet connections. Students struggled to keep pace with online learning. Teachers struggled to connect with students.
Those challenges remain for many families. The solution is to ensure all households in San Antonio have access to reliable high-speed internet. What Community Labs’ testing offers isn’t a bridge to this divide, but an assurance that children and parents in San Antonio — hopefully all — can resume with in-person learning with a high degree of confidence regardless of income or geography.
Our call to Bugg, Weston and Wells is to please keep going. To not only expand testing, but pursue collaborations long after the pandemic to address our digital and learning divides. To view this remarkable achievement for testing as a beginning to even greater collaborative work and innovation.
Austin American-Statesman. Jan. 22, 2021.
Editorial: Failure to fix vaccine registry haunts Texas
For years, under pressure from anti-vaccination activists, key lawmakers have failed to improve a Texas vaccination database that is incomplete and cumbersome for health care providers to use.
Now, amid a deadly coronavirus pandemic we hope to curb with new vaccines, Texas is stuck with a vaccination database that is incomplete and cumbersome for health care providers to use.
The long-running difficulties with the state’s immunization registry played a central role in Texas’ botched rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, according to recent reporting by the Texas Tribune. Millions of Texans are living with the consequences: Confusing discrepancies in the numbers of vaccinations that have been distributed to providers and given to patients. Conflicting advice over who can actually obtain vaccines right now. And, for health care providers, a complicated system that diverts their attention from patient care. One doctor told the Tribune his clinic could vaccinate patients at least three times faster if the state’s registry wasn’t so dysfunctional.
The problem was entirely foreseeable, and one that state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, has been trying to fix for more than a decade. Lawmakers can no longer ignore the cost of their inaction. We urge them to solve the problem this session by passing House Bill 325.
The measure addresses ImmTrac2, the state registry for immunizations. The state created the registry in the mid-1990s to collect pediatric vaccination records, enabling health care providers to see if a child already had certain shots. The registry is not a public record; files are electronically secured and accessible only to approved medical professionals.
All 50 states maintain such registries. Nearly all of them automatically receive the information from the doctor’s office after a child gets vaccinated, unless the family opts out of sharing it. Texas is one of only four states that do the opposite, providing information to the database only if the family expressly opts in.
The implications are huge. Texas health care providers must collect and process opt-in consent forms for the 90-95% of vaccinated families who agree to send their information to the state, when the more efficient approach would be to gather opt-out forms from the 5-10% of families who do not want to be in the database. One estimate suggested switching to an opt-out system would cut operating costs from $2.64 per child to 29 cents per child.
Because health care software packages are designed to meet the needs of opt-out states, Texas spent “millions of dollars to retrofit (its) system to comply with Texas’ consent laws,” Anna Dragsbaek, then-president of The Immunization Partnership, told lawmakers in 2015. Likewise, clinics and doctors’ offices have to jump through extra hoops — and incur extra costs — to get their electronic health records software to communicate with the state. As a result, Dragsbaek told lawmakers, many physicians don’t participate in the database.
Fast forward to last month, when Texas started managing the complex distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations. Supplies are scarce. The state needs timely, reliable data. And with two different types of vaccines, each requiring two shots, the state needs to keep track of which patients have received which doses. But the state’s vaccine registry isn’t up to the task.
Some doctors, especially those who don’t normally handle immunizations, are suddenly learning a new system. The software used by many doctors’ offices does not communicate well with the state, forcing some practices to reenter and submit the data in other ways. The lag time in processing the records gave the false impression that unused vaccines were sitting on shelves.
Howard’s HB 325, and similar bills she has filed in previous sessions, would help address the problem by making the registry opt-out. Such a switch would still honor the rights of families who want to keep childhood immunizations out of the database, while ensuring better communication between software programs, which were designed for opt-out systems.
Howard secured House approval in 2013 for a similar bill, only to watch it stall in the Senate. Each session, the measure hits a brick wall.
“A very small, but very vocal minority” of anti-vaccination advocates “have had the ear of the leadership of the Legislature, who have been in a position of gatekeepers in terms of whether a bill can go forward,” Howard told us.
To be clear, Howard’s measure does not require anyone to get a vaccine. Texas law protects families’ rights to make those decisions. The question here pertains only to the record-keeping for those who choose to get vaccines.
The COVID-19 pandemic has cast a harsh spotlight on many aspects of our health care system that haven’t received the support they deserve. Key among them, we now see, is the state’s vaccination registry. It’s far past time for lawmakers to approve changes to ensure it functions for the benefit of Texans and their health care providers.