COVID Deaths Top 400,000 on Trump’s Last Day in Office

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Vice President-Elect Joe Biden, his wife Dr. Jill Biden,

By Terrance Turner

Jan. 19, 2021

On his last full day in office, President Donald Trump is leaving the White House with his legacy stained by a global pandemic. In February, he said it would “disappear, like a miracle” from our shores. Now, nearly a year later, COVID-19 is still spreading across the country. More than 24 million cases have been reported in America; today there are more than 400,000 deaths.

As CNN noted today, that’s more than the number of Americans who died in World War I, Vietnam War and the Korean War combined. It’s nearly as many Americans who died in World War II. That death toll of 400,000 is far higher than any other country’s COVID-19 death toll.

Today, a memorial service for the victims took place in the District of Columbia. According to USA Today, the brief service was kicked off by an invocation from Cardinal Wilton Gregory, archbishop of Washington. It was capped by a performance from Houston-born gospel singer Yolanda Adams, who sang Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” 

Tonight, the National Mall in Washington, D.C. is lined with 400 lights, representing those 400,000 lives lost. In a visual memorial for the victims, the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool featured 400 lights illuminating on its north and south sides, in striking contrast with the rest of the National Mall dark. It is the first-ever lighting around the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool. President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris joined their spouses in front of that display tonight, observing a moment of silence to remember those we have lost.

“Between sundown and dusk, let us shine the lights in the darkness along this sacred pool of reflection and remember all who we lost,” Biden said today.

“It’s hard sometimes to remember,” the president-elect said at the memorial service, held at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. “But that’s how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation. That’s why we’re here.”

Tonight, Mr. Biden and his family are staying at the Blair House, the official guesthouse of the White House. The Blair House is merely two minutes from the White House, which is also illuminated. Surprisingly, the White House flag remains at full-staff.

Bow Wow Performs at Packed Houston Club As COVID Cases Spike

By Terrance Turner

Jan. 16, 2021

Last night, rapper Bow Wow performed at (and hosted) an event at Cle Nightclub in Houston. Cle, located downtown at 2301 Main St, was packed. Hundreds of people hit the club, in the middle of a pandemic, to see Bow Wow — for what reason, we don’t know. What we do know is that videos on social media show him rapping maskless in front of a largely maskless crowd.

The news comes amid a dramatic spike in COVID-19 cases. Harris County, which contains the city of Houston, reported more than 3,000 new cases of COVID-19 today. As of today, there are 281,422 total confirmed cases of coronavirus in Harris County and 2,763 deaths, according to the Harris County Public Health Department. The positivity rate is 20.3%. It has climbed every day since January 11.

Harris County has reported 36,557 new cases in just the past 14 days, according to the Texas Tribune. During the first week of January, Houston set hospitalization records every day for seven straight days. For a week straight, more than 15% of patients in local hospitals were being treated for coronavirus. That should’ve triggered mandatory rollbacks laid out in an order by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Under that order, Houston bars must close indoor service, and Houston restaurants must reduce capacity to 50%.

Mayor Turner said today that clubs are masquerading as restaurants, and he’s calling on TABC to start crackdowns. “I’m still getting some disturbing pictures of people hanging out in clubs that have been recategorized as restaurants,” he said. “And let me tell you, they are not restaurants.” KTRK reported that he and his staff will be reviewing those restaurants tonight. “When you look at these pictures, there’s no food on the table,” Turner said. “That is crazy. I am calling on the state to review their policies.”

Harris County consistently leads the state in case counts and deaths. But the statewide tale is even more grim. Statewide, 26,334 new cases were reported today, along with 400 deaths. (A record-high 426 deaths reported on Thursday.) There are now 13,953 patients with COVID-19 in Texas hospitals, per the Dallas Morning News. Texas now has a total of 2,072,903 coronavirus cases. That’s the most for any state besides California, according to Complex. During the first week of January, the state reached record highs for both case counts and deaths.

But Bow Wow appears to not know any of that. After waking up at around 2 pm today….

…the rapper defended himself on Twitter. He insisted that he’d worn a mask in the club:

“Man Texas is open. ATL is open. I can’t help I live in a city where we been open since last spring,” Bow Wow claimed in a series of now-deleted tweets. And then he had the audacity to claim “COVID fatigue”:

The backlash was swift and strong:

UPDATE: Cle is among three Houston clubs that got there liquor licenses suspended. According to ABC 13, “Three Houston businesses have had their liquor permits suspended following Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission investigations, which found violations of state requirements to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

The nightclubs involved are Grooves at 2300 Pierce St., Cle at 2301 Main St. and Spire at 1720 Main St. (Spire had its liquor license suspended in July 2020 and then again in October, per the Houston Chronicle.) In a press release, the TABC said the suspensions are the result of inspections by their agents conducted over the weekend.

“All three businesses are accused of violating Gov. Greg Abbott’s Executive Order GA-32, which requires businesses which sell alcohol for on-premise consumption to comply with capacity limits as well as social distancing and facial covering requirements,” the release stated.

WE HAVE A DEAL!

By Terrance Turner

As a government shutdown looms, President Donald Trump has agreed to sign a $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill. Axios reports (and CNN confirms) that the president will sign the current bill, which provides $600 checks for most Americans. The bill also includes $300 per week in enhanced unemployment insurance for 11 weeks. Further additions include $25 billion in rental assistance and an extension of the eviction moratorium.

Also included are $319 billion for small businesses, including $284 billion for loans given through the Paycheck Protection Program and $15 billion for live venues, independent movie theaters, and cultural institutions. Other features are $13 billion in increased SNAP and child nutrition benefits, $82 billion in education, and billions for vaccine distribution and COVID-19 testing.

The bill is attached to a $1.4 trillion omnibus bill, which provides funding to keep the government open. That makes it a legislative behemoth: a $2.3 trillion, 5,593-page bill with a host of objectives and goals. After eight months of deadlock and negotiation, the bill was finally agreed upon last week. It passed with overwhelming (and rare) bipartisan support.

But on Tuesday, the president blindsided lawmakers by attacking the bill, calling it “a disgrace”. In a video posted online, Trump complained that the bill had alnost nothig to do with COVID-19. “Congress found plenty of money for foreign countries, lobbyists and special interests while sending the bare minimum to the American people,” he said.

“I am asking Congress to amend this bill and increase the ridiculously low $600 to $2,000,” he added. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi agreed. “At last, the President has agreed to $2,000 — Democrats are ready to bring this to the Floor this week,” she wrote on Twitter. “Let’s do it!”

The Democrats did indeed bring a bill with $2000 payments to the congressional floor, but House Republicans rejected it. Instead of working with Congress on a new bill, the president departed the White House with First lady Melania Trump to begin his end-of-year vacation at Mar-a-Lago in Florida. He has spent much of the weekend golfing in West Palm Beach. Lawmakers delivered the legislation to him in Florida, per the Times.

Meanwhile, unemployment benefits expired at midnight, leaving millions in jeopardy of losing benefits. As the New York Times explained: “States cannot pay out benefits for weeks that begin before the bill is signed, meaning that if the president does not sign the bill by Saturday [Dec. 26], benefits will not restart until the first week of January. But they will still end in mid-March, effectively trimming the extension to 10 weeks from 11.”

As of Nov. 28, there were 14 million people receiving unemployment benefits through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) programs, an increase of 958,000 from the previous week, Axios’ Dion Rabouin reports. The Associated Press says that about 9.5 million people rely on the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program alone (including the author). That program made unemployment insurance available to freelancers, gig workers and others who are normally not eligible. After receiving their last checks, those recipients will not be able to file for more aid after Saturday.

  • 1.4 million Americans filed unemployment claims for the first time earlier this month, with 935,000 filing for traditional unemployment benefits and 455,000 filing claims for the PUA program.
  • The current bill would extend the period that unemployment can be collected until March, per the New York Times.

This sudden decision came as a shutdown loomed. Per the AP, the government was scheduled to shut down at 12:01 am Tuesday when funding ran out. That placed pressure on everyone, Trump included. As the weekend progressed, lawmakers — both Democratic and Republican — urged the president to sign the current bill now and push for the $2,000 payments later. “I think the best thing to do is sign this and then make the case for subsequent legislation,” said Republican Sen. Pat Toomey. He warned that the president’s legacy would be adversely affected.

“I understand he wants to be remembered for advocating for big checks,” Toomey said on Fox News Sunday. “But the danger is he’ll be remembered for chaos and misery and erratic behavior, if he allows this to expire.” (If Trump had merely sat on the bill, it would expire after 10 days, forcing lawmakers on Capitol Hill to start all over with new legislation.)

On ABC’s “This Week” this morning, Sen. Bernie Sanders criticized the president’s obstruction: “What the president is doing right now is unbelievably cruel,” said Sanders. “Many millions of people are losing their extended unemployment benefits. They’re going to be evicted from their apartments because the eviction moratorium is ending. We are looking at a way to get the vaccine distributed to tens of millions of people. There’s money in that bill.”

Sen. Sanders is correct in asserting that renters will face eviction if the bill is not signed. But there are other pressing problems affecting many out-of-work Americans — problems that will be exacerbated if no deal is reached:

  • Nearly 12 million renters will owe an average of $5,850 in back rent and utilities by January, per WaPo — showing that people are running out of money for basic needs.
  • The U.S. poverty rate jumped to 11.7% in November, up 2.4 percentage points since June — making this the biggest jump in a single year since the government began tracking poverty 60 years ago, the Washington Post reports.

Ashanti Tests Positive for COVID-19 Ahead of “Verzuz” with Keyshia Cole

By Terrance Turner

Dec. 12, 2020

Photo courtesy of Variety.

Singer Ashanti has tested positive for COVID-19. This forced her to bow out of a planned “Verzuz” with singer Keyshia Cole. Ashanti made the announcement tonight via Instagram, writing: “Hey y’all I can’t believe I’m saying this but I tested positive for COVID-19. I’m ok and not in any pain. I’m actually down to do the Verzuz from my house… we’re trying to figure it all out!!!”

 But Verzuz wasn’t down for that, writing: “Unfortunately, we have to postpone tonight’s @Ashanti vs @KeyshiaCole #VERZUZ. Ashanti tested positive for COVID-19 beforehand, and we cannot put anyone at risk in the process. First time this has struck us so close to showtime. We apologize to our incredible audience! Get well soon, Ashanti. Wear a mask, stay inside, and take COVID-19 seriously. It’s truly affecting our community.”

For the uninitiated: “Verzuz” is a music event in which two artists alternate playing versions of their greatest hits. Fans typically determine which singer “won” the battle via comments on social media. Past participants include singers Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight, Monica and Brandy, and Jill Scott and Erykah Badu. Rappers Jeezy and Gucci Mane also took part (albeit in tense and controversial fashion).

Ashanti scored a string of hits in the early 2000s, including several number one singles. In fact, the singer broke records by having three top ten songs (“Foolish,” “What’s Luv?” and “Always on Time”) on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in the same week. She is the first female artist ever to do so.

In 2001, Ashanti was featured on rapper Ja Rule’s “Always on Time” and rapper Fat Joe’s single “What’s Luv?”. In February 2002, “Always on Time” hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming Ashanti’s first number one single. “What’s Luv?” peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard chart in April. Just two weeks later, Ashanti’s single “Foolish” (which she co-wrote) hit No. 1 on the Hot 100. With that feat, Ashanti became the first female artist to occupy the top two spots on the Billboard singles chart.

That same week (April 19, 2002), Ashanti’s self-titled debut album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard albums chart. It sold over 503,000 copies in its first week of release. The album set a Soundscan record for the biggest opening week sales for a new female artist, according to Empire Online. Ashanti eventually sold six million copies worldwide, according to Jet magazine. It won Ashanti a Grammy for Best Contemporary R&B Album.

The Verzuz battle has been rescheduled to Jan. 9, 2021.

Dez Bryant Out for MNF, But Ravens Continue Wild Ride With Unforgettable Win

By Terrance Turner

Dec. 8, 2020 (first published Nov. 30; updated Dec. 14)

Tonight’s Ravens-Cowboys game started with high drama.

Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Dez Bryant was pulled from pregame warmups before tonight’s game against the Dallas Cowboys (his former team). Bryant left practice in order to take a test for COVID-19. (NFL reporter Kevin Seifert says that Bryant had taken a test this morning that came back “inconclusive” after he took the field. That necessitated a follow-up test, which came back positive.)

Less than an hour before game time, Bryant tweeted that he had tested positive for coronavirus. This, of course, would prevent him from playing in tonight’s game. But according to Bryant, he may be out for the rest of the season:

This comes after a dramatic sequence of events for the Ravens. On Monday, November 23, multiple players tested positive for COVID-19 after the Ravens’ loss to the Tennessee Titans. (The players included running backs Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins, who tested positive for coronavirus on Nov. 23. Both players were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list, per the NFL Network. The Ravens shut down their facility, the NFL said.)

On Wednesday, Nov. 25, a scheduled game between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers was postponed. The match had been scheduled for Thanksgiving night (Nov. 26). But the day before, NPR reported that the game was being postponed, after at least seven Ravens players tested positive for the coronavirus or were in close contact with someone who was infected. The news was confirmed by team releases.

On Thanksgiving night, word broke that four players — including Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson — had also tested positive for COVID-19. The next day, the NFL made a major decision. On Friday, Nov. 27, the Ravens-Steelers game was rescheduled to Tuesday, Dec. 1. That decision came after more positive tests by players within the organization. (As a result, the Cowboys-Ravens game was moved to tonight, from its original scheduling of Dec. 4.) On Saturday, six more players were added to the reserve/COVID-19 list, per ESPN. That gave Baltimore at total of 17 positive tests.

Ravens’ game versus the Steelers had been rescheduled for Tuesday night, Dec. 1. But additional positive tests mandated another change of plans. On Nov. 30th, the game was rescheduled for the third time, due to COVID-19. This was the first match this season to be rescheduled three times, according to ESPN. (By that point, at least one Ravens player had tested positive for nine straight days, prompting the decision.)

The game was set for Wednesday at 3:40 pm. It was the first Wednesday NFL game since 2012, ESPN says. The game kicked off at 3:40 p.m. because NBC, which is broadcasting the game, wanted to honor its commitment to broadcast a Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree lighting ceremony on Wednesday night, sources told ESPN reporter Adam Schefter. The Ravens lost to the Steelers on Wednesday afternoon, marking Pittsburgh’s 11th straight victory.

Players who test positive must quarantine for 10 days. Two other players were put on the team’s reserve/COVID-19 list that week, which means they either contracted the coronavirus or came into close contact with someone who had it, according to the Ravens’ roster.

The Ravens officially placed three more starters, including two 2019 Pro Bowlers, on that list last Monday. Tight end Mark Andrews, outside linebacker Matthew Judon and wide receiver Willie Snead IV were placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list Monday. Andrews, who is also a Type-1 diabetic, has played every game this season and leads the Ravens in catches (38), receiving yards (454) and touchdown catches (six). Andrews and Judon are both 2019 Pro Bowlers, making it seven Pro Bowlers on the list for Baltimore. As of today (Nov. 30), 21 players have been placed on that list, per the Ravens organization.

Despite all this drama, the Ravens won! The team beat the Cowboys 34-17 in tonight’s game, racking up 294 yards on the ground. Quarterback Lamar Jackson rushed for a 37-yard touchdown, then threw another TD to wide receiver Marquise Brown. RB J.K. Dobbins (who also tested positive for COVID-19) ran in for a touchdown just before the two-minute warning.

Jackson threw for 107 yards and two touchdowns, in spite of his lingering COVID-19 symptoms. “I still can’t really taste or smell, but I’m good now,” he told reporters after the game. “I guess my taste or smell gon’ come back sooner or later…I wouldn’t wish that on nobody, though.”

Mark Meadows Tests Positive for COVID-19

By Terrance Turner

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows has tested positive for coronavirus. The news was announced by CNN roughly half an hour ago, just minutes after Joe Biden delivered a speech ahead of his almost-certain victory in the presidential race. CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins noted that Meadows was at an election night party at the White House on Tuesday — with no mask. Notably, he was also in attendance at a Wednesday morning speech by the president:

Also worth noting: Meadows was involved in a combative exchange with reporters regarding that very issue, just weeks ago. Meadows was asked by reporters to keep the mask on. Meadows claimed he was distanced “ten feet away” and refused to do so. “I’m not going to talk through a mask,” Meadows said, before turning and walking away.

Bloomberg, which broke the story, added that Meadows told a close circle of associates about his diagnosis. Bloomberg added: “A Trump campaign aide, Nick Trainer, is also infected, according to two people familiar with the matter. He and campaign spokespeople declined to comment.”

Significantly, today was the worst day for coronavirus since the pandemic began. There were more than 125,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 today. Reuters reports that there were at least 129,606 news cases on Friday. Reuters reporter Anurag Mann added that Friday is the third straight day that at least 100,000 cases have been reported. Twenty of the 50 U.S. states reported record increases on Friday, the same as Thursday when the national daily total crossed 120,000 for the first time.

Speaking of states, Texas (which accounts for over 10% of U.S. cases) reported about 9,000 infections and is on the verge of becoming the first state to exceed 1 million cumulative COVID-19 cases. Governor Greg Abbott said the U.S. Department of Defense has deployed three U.S. Air Force Medical Specialty Teams to El Paso. KHOU reports that those 20 military medical providers will support three El Paso hospitals. Significantly, hospitalizations have risen in this country for the 12th consecutive day.

Titans Triumph Against Bills in Blowout Win

By Terrance Turner

Tonight — after 16 days — the Tennessee Titans returned to play, on a rare Tuesday night football game. (According to CBS, this is only the second time in 70 years that a game has been played on Tuesday night.) The unusual date came after a series of delays and reschedules. The Titans’ match with the Buffalo Bills had to be postponed twice after an outbreak of COVID-19.

The Tennessean says the reason for the delay was a flurry of positive COVID-19 tests for Titans team members — 20 of them, including 10 players and 10 team personnel. The Titans were forced to close their facility. Later two more tests were positive. But then the outbreak exploded: eight positive tests included five team personnel and three players: defensive lineman DaQuan Jones, long snapper Beau Brinkley and practice squad tight end Tommy Hudson.” The facility was again shut down until the following Saturday. 

The NFL said on Wednesday, Sept. 30 that the Titans-Bills game would be moved to either Monday or Tuesday. That would’ve placed it at around Oct. 6. But another player tested positive on Oct. 1, per the Tennessean, and the next day, two more Titans players — wide receivers Adam Humphries and Cam Batson — tested positive. That brought the total number of infected players since Sept. 24 to eight. The NFL began to investigate the team’s handling of the pandemic. The Titans-Bills game that had been scheduled for Sunday was rescheduled for Tuesday night.

And after all that, the Tennessee Titans shined. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw for three touchdowns and rushed for another, and running back Derrick Henry

The team jumped out to an early 7-0 lead when quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw to AJ Brown. But after a Bills TD, Titans running back Derrick Henry scored a rushing touchdown to make it 14-7. Then, on the next drive, he stiff-armed Bills cornerback Josh Norman, knocking him to the ground:

The scores just kept coming for the Titans. Later in the second half, Tannehill dashed into the end zone for the touchdown, making it 21-10. Then, just as the Bills were trying to put together a drive, quarterback Josh Allen was intercepted by Titans corner Malcolm Butler. After the catch, Butler was pursued by a Bills defender, but he somehow got away. Butler spun out of a tackle, stumbled on the turf, put his hand on the field to steady himself, scrambled to his feet, and then took off:

It was a 68-yard return, according to the CBS announcers. It was a crucial play that would mark a turning point in the game. The Titans cashed in on that costly interception when Tannehill hit Jonnu Smith for the touchdown.

In the second half, Derrick Henry helped power the Titans offense. Henry barreled through defenders, sometimes stiff-arming them, to gain yards. CBS announcers pointed out that Henry is hard to tackle, at 6’3 and 250 lbs. The Titans were up 28-16. On the drive, Henry had several rushes, and Tannehill turned on the jets with a 20-yard run.

The Titans got to 1st and goal. Henry ran in for the TD, his second of the night. Titans player Derek Long knocked out the ball on a Bills punt return. Titans got the ball and decided to go for broke. Tannehill ran sideways and tossed the ball to Jonnu Smith for the touchdown! Call goes under review; commentators were conflicted on a “really close” call. Did Tannehill go over the line of scrimmage? Would the touchdown count?

“After review, the ruling on the field stands,” the ref announced. “Touchdown.”

Jonnu Smith added another touchdown later in the fourth quarter to seal the win. The Titans won in a blowout, 42-16, to remain undefeated.

The President and First Lady Have Coronavirus.

By Terrance Turner

Oct. 1, 2020 (UPDATED Oct. 2)

The President of the United States has tested positive for COVID-19. He announced just before midnight that both he and First Lady Melania Trump have tested positive:

This development poses a risk not only to the president’s reelection campaign, but also to his health. He is a 74-year-old-man of considerable girth; older Americans are more likely to face complications from COVID-19. Houston affiliate ABC 13 cited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in writing that “people in the 65-74 age range face a five times greater risk of hospitalization and a 90 times greater risk of death from Covid-19 compared to young adults between the ages of 18-29.”

Excess weight is also likely to cause complications from the virus; CNN reported in June that Trump weighed 244 pounds and is 6 feet 3 inches tall. “That gives him a body mass index of 30.5, making him technically, if mildly, obese,” ABC 13 added. Obesity triples the risk of hospitalization from Covid-19, according to the CDC. These factors would appear to place the president in particular peril.

Accordingly, his schedule has been adjusted. According to the New York Times, “The White House did not say how long Mr. Trump would have to remain isolated, but it canceled his plans to fly to Florida for a campaign rally on Friday, stripping his public schedule for the day of everything except a midday telephone call ‘on Covid-19 support to vulnerable seniors’.” If the president remains in quarantine for the recommended 14 days, he would have to miss a second debate with Joe Biden, scheduled for Oct. 15.

Hope Hicks — one of the president’s closest advisers — tested positive for COVID-19 last night. Hicks flew with the President on Air Force One, both to and from the debate on Tuesday night. Then she flew to Minnesota with him on Wednesday for a rally (!). Bloomberg News reporter Jennifer Jacobs delivered the news last night:

According to the Associated Press, Hicks began having symptoms while on the plane ride home on Wednesday. “Hicks began feeling mild symptoms during the plane ride home from a rally in Minnesota Wednesday evening, according to an administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to disclose private information. She was quarantined away from others on the plane and her diagnosis was confirmed Thursday,” wrote Zeke Miller and Jill Colvin in their AP column.

The president and first lady entered quarantine within hours. Trump tweeted last night that he and First Lady Melania Trump were awaiting results from a COVID-19 test. “In the meantime, we will begin our quarantine process,” he wrote on Twitter. “Whether we quarantine or whether we have it, I don’t know,” Trump said during a call-in interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity last night. “I just went for a test, and we’ll see what happens.”

Now we know what happened. The President has tested positive.

It is a stunning reversal for a man who routinely downplayed the severity of the pandemic. Jokingly referring to it as the “Kung Flu”, Trump blamed China for the virus. He mocked people for wearing masks (he did that just yesterday, the New York Times says). And he once claimed that it would disappear, “like a miracle”, from our shores.

The question now is how the president (and first lady) became infected. If the president’s exposure to COVID-19 was days ago, a positive test is still possible in the future. “If it was even five days ago, and he tests negative now, he still may end up testing positive tomorrow,” said Dr. Leana Wen. “And so this is why that quarantine period is so important,” she explained on “CNN Tonight” last night. The program aired footage of Hope Hicks and other advisers boarding the plane Marine One

During the broadcast, host Don Lemon pointed out that no one in the group was six feet apart OR wearing masks. Hicks was reportedly maskless during her flights with the president. White House spokesman Judd Deere stated that the White House will “incorporate current CDC guidance and best practices for COVID-19 “to the greatest extent possible”. But nobody on Marine One was wearing masks.

Interestingly, both Vice President Mike Pence and Second Lady Karen Pence have tested negative, per CNBC. “As has been routine for months, Vice President Pence is tested for COVID-19 every day,” said Devin O’Malley, the vice president’s press secretary, in a tweet. “Vice President Pence remains in good health and wishes the Trumps well in their recovery,” he said.

UPDATE: Former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, have both tested negative for the coronavirus. ABC News announced the news in a “Breaking News” update roughly an hour ago; the news has been confirmed by MSNBC.

UPDATE (5:10 pm, Oct. 2): The president is now being flown to Walter Reed Medical Center. He will be flown there aboard his Marine One helicopter, which is standard procedure (according to CNN). “Out of an abundance of caution, and at the recommendation of his physician and medical experts, the President will be working from the presidential offices at Walter Reed for the next few days,” press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said. 

The New York Times quoted two sources who said the president has been experiencing a low-grade fever, nasal congestion, and a cough. His doctor issued a memo, cited by the Times, that said Mr. Trump remains “fatigued but in good spirits”. The memo also revealed that Trump is receiving an experimental drug — an antibody cocktail developed by the biotech company Regeneron.

The president just boarded Marine One, according to NBC News.

UPDATE (10/5/2020): The President has left the hospital and returned to the White House. According to the Associated Press, “Trump gingerly climbed the South Portico steps, removed his mask and declared, “I feel good.” After putting the mask in his pocket, Trump “gave a double thumbs-up to the departing helicopter from the portico terrace, where aides had arranged American flags for the sunset occasion. He entered the White House, where aides were visible milling about the Blue Room, without wearing a face covering.” Just yesterday, Dr. Sean Conley, the president’s doctor, said that he was still contagious and not “fully out of the woods” yet. But here he is, back at the White House.

This is a developing story. Please watch this space for further updates.

Houston Restaurant Weeks Extended Through Sept. 30

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Photo courtesy of Houston Business Journals.

By Terrance Turner

Sept. 1, 2020 (Updated Oct. 30; revised Nov. 15)

News broke yesterday that Houston Restaurant Weeks has been extended through the end of the month. It typically runs from Aug. 1 through Sept. 7, but this year it has been extended through Sept. 30. The annual fundraiser allows people to order from local restaurants and donate to a worthy cause.

The late Cleverley Stone, shown here holding a box for the Houston Food Bank. (Photo from Twitter.)

Houston Restaurant Weeks (HRW) was founded by Cleverley Stone, who hosted a food radio talk show on Houston’s CBS 650 AM (KIKK-AM). According to the HRW website, “The Cleverley Food Talk Radio Show” became the longest-running on CBS 650, running for over 13 years. Stone also worked as a food service contributor to Fox 26 Morning News, beginning in 2008. Stone founded HRW in 2003 as a fundraiser for the Houston Food Bank, which is the largest food bank in the United States (per its website).

Stone died at 68 in May from uterine cancer. Her final wish was that HRW continue in perpetuity in her name, per the Houston Chronicle. Her daughter Katie Stone now chairs the event, and she remembers that her mother felt compassion for those suffering from hunger. “Her life’s mission was to end hunger and to feed families in Houston,” Stone told the Houston Business Journal. “She was really driven by stories she would hear in Houston about people not having enough to eat.” That drive helped make Houston Restaurant Weeks the largest annual fundraiser of its kind.

This year, the event will look different, due to COVID-19. But it is arguably more vital than ever. “This year’s Houston Restaurant Weeks is probably the most important year that we’ve ever seen,” Stone told ABC 13. The HRW fundraiser has raised over $16 million for the Houston Food Bank, which distributes food to those in need. This takes on new significance in the wake of Hurricane Laura, which hit Louisiana hard last week. According to KPRC, the Houston Food Bank has sent trucks of water, cleaning supplies, and ready-to-eat food to a Second Harvest Food Bank in Vinton, Louisiana.

A map of the 18 SE Texas counties the HFD serves. (Photo courtesy of houstonfoodbank.org.)

The Houston Food Bank serves 18 counties in southeast Texas, including Harris, Liberty, Chambers, Brazoria, Fort Bend, and Austin. (It also provides food for localized food banks in Montgomery and Galveston counties; those banks, in turn, provide food for their residents.) Founded in 1982, the Houston Food Bank distributes fresh produce, meat and nonperishables and prepares nutritious hot meals for kids. According to houstonfoodbank.org, the charity distributed 104 million meals in 2019. It does so via a network of 1,500 community partners, including schools, shelters, soup kitchens, and food pantries.

One of those pantries is in the mostly black Trinity Gardens neighborhood. Chef Jonny Rhodes, who grew up in Trinity Gardens, called the area a “food desert” in a Houston Chronicle article in Oct. 2019. The article also defined nearby neighborhood Kashmere Gardens as a “food desert” — a low-income area where residents struggle to find healthy, affordable food. In 2010, the USDA reported that 18 million Americans live in food deserts — places more than a mile from a supermarket in urban/suburban areas and more than 10 miles in rural areas.

One food pantry helping to bridge that gap is in Trinity Gardens First Baptist Church, which shares its name with the surrounding neighborhood. On one Saturday morning per month, food is delivered and distributed. The pantry is headed by Sis. Barbara Brown, who has worked with the Houston Food Bank (HFD) since 2010. She says the Houston Food Bank is essential for the pantry’s operation.

“The Food Bank is 100% of where we get our food,” Brown says via phone. She adds that the pantry is not easy to maintain. “I have to take classes; I have to do online meetings,” she says. “We come in; we have to get inspections.” With the start of the pandemic, trainings and meetings have moved offline. And now, workers and volunteers must deliver food to people’s cars in order to minimize contact.

Mrs. Brown also mentions that she has to have paperwork in multiple languages — and serve people from multiple locales. “We get people from Pasadena and La Porte,” she says, “and we cannot turn people away.” She estimates that the pantry serves around 125 people each month (not counting the pantry’s volunteers, who are often allowed to take home leftover food items.)

Those that come will be given mostly non-perishable food — canned corn and green beans, walnuts, cereal, boxed spaghetti. But the Houston Food Bank truck also delivers some perishables: gallons of milk, bags of ham, even some eggs. And last month, Brown says, fresh vegetables were added to the mix: “We gave out eggs and meat, onions and bell peppers.”

Pantries like these benefit directly from the HFD — and indirectly from the HRW fundraiser. Typically, restaurants would donate $3–$7 from each meal sold to the Food Bank. But with so many restaurants struggling due to COVID-19, this year they will donate $1 per meal. Each dollar can provide three meals for those in need.

For the first time, diners can order using pickup, takeout, or delivery options. Some restaurants allow walk-in orders. According to the website, brunches and lunches each cost $20. Dinners cost either $35 or $45 (for a four-course meal). The featured restaurants are located in Harris, Galveston, and Montgomery counties. (Please call or visit the website of each chosen restaurant to verify dates and times for meal service. Be sure to mention that you would like the HRW special menu.) For more information about HRW’s participating restaurants, please visit https://houstonrestaurantweeks.com. To donate or volunteer with the Houston Food Bank, visit https://www.houstonfoodbank.org.

UPDATE (Sept. 16-19): With just two weeks left until the end of HRW, I decided to do a quick overview of notable brunch and lunch spots in the area. Given the comparatively low cost of these menus (just $20), I’m presenting those options first. (Dinner is another story — literally; I’ll cover the $35-$45 dinner spots in another post.) Only some of the over 100 HRW participants offer brunch, but I did manage to find some participating restaurants in various areas.

If you’re in the downtown area, you could start with Hearsay Market Square (218 Travis St.). Hearsay serves brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 am until 3 pm. Menu options for the first course include deviled eggs with candied jalapeno and bacon. The second course offers choices like fried chicken & waffles and bacon-wrapped jumbo shrimp with grits.

In Midtown, Nuksy’s Table (1926 W. Dallas St.) only serves brunch on Sundays from 10 am to 2 pm, per its website. On the bright side, Nuksy’s also serves up plantain beignets with each meal. (They’re deep-fried, with caramel rum sauce — or chocolate bourbon sauce — and berries.) The entrees include crab cake eggs benedict (lumped crabmeat, poached egg, and hollandaise sauce, with sautéed spinach and kettle chips). The breakfast platter has bacon, pork sausage, eggs, and hash browns. Nuksy’s “Shrimp and Orange Corn Grits” include seasoned Gulf shrimp “with Cajun gumbo gravy, served over orange corn grits”. Nuksy’s beverages include mimosas in classic, strawberry, mango,
and raspberry flavors.

When I first visited Nuksy’s on Sept. 20, demand had picked up so much that the place was fully booked! Nevertheless, the owner took me on a tour. One room can seat 10 people (at two socially distanced tables). Another room seats four (but usually just two). It’s typically booked for dates. “I don’t know if you know this,” the owner told me, “but in Houston, Tuesday is date night.” (Really?)

Each room has a “dot” for music control. You can ask Alexa to play whatever song you like — whether it’s Kirk Franklin or Fantasia — and hear it (if available). I tried out the device when I revisited Nuksy’s Table a week later, on Sept. 27. My room was furnished elegantly, with a plush white couch against one wall and fluffy rugs on the hardwood floors. In the center of the room, a dinner table was topped by eye-catching golden centerpieces.

The breakfast platter at Nuksy’s Table. (All Nuksy’s photos taken by the author.)

After finishing my mimosa (which was a great start to brunch), I ordered Nuksy’s breakfast platter, which came with eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, and a surprise: a pair of strawberries on the side. The food was uniformly good (and better than it looks in the photo). I visited Nuksy’s on Sept. 27; I had visited Napoli’s a week earlier.

In Montrose, Napoli’s Wine Cafe (4601 Washington Ave) offers a varied three-course brunch menu. For the first course, there’s an array of options, including fried calamari, a “meat board” with imported and domestic meats, and a “formaggi board” consisting of both domestic and imported cheeses. Also available was a “brochette board”, in which the diner chooses three options from the following:

  • Fresh Mozzarella, Tomato & Basil
  • Cheese, Bacon, Arugula & Tomato
  • Smoked Salmon, Cheese & Capers
  • Almond Hummus & Fresh Tomato
  • Fire-Roasted Eggplant & Walnuts
  • Ricotta, Almond & Dates
Sassy Italian Ricotta Pancakes at Napoli’s Wine Cafe. (Photo from YouTube.)

But that’s just the first course. Napoli’s offers lobster bisque, soup and salad for the second. But the third course is where things get really interesting. Options include “Sassy Italian Ricotta Pancakes”, topped with maple syrup, banana slices, strawberries, walnuts, a dollop of whole milk ricotta cheese, and whipped cream. The “Brioche French Toast” comprises freshly baked brioche topped with vanilla custard, banana slices, strawberries and walnuts. Alternatively, there’s “Napoli’s Breakfast”: “two poached eggs served over sautéed spinach, potatoes, onions and mushrooms, topped with hollandaise sauce served on a toasted biologiques loaf bread.”

I visited Napoli’s amidst pouring rain, which failed to deter patrons from dining outdoors. While I watched the Giants vs. Bears game inside, I sampled the brochette platter. From a bevy of options, I chose: a) fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil, b) cheese and bacon with arugula and tomato, and c) smoked salmon, cheese, and capers. Each delicacy was served on a slice of toasted bread. The array of salty, savory textures provided a perfect foil for my second course: a house salad.

After I wolfed down the tomatoes and leafy greens, I feasted on the third course. Those Italian ricotta pancakes were just as decadent as you would imagine: at least four broad, fluffy pancakes under sliced strawberries and bananas, topped by rich ricotta and whipped cream. I was also served a small container of syrup, which I only used sparingly. Too much would ruin what is already a glorious dish.

In the Galleria area, 51Fifteen Cuisine and Cocktails (5175 Westheimer Road) delivers an array of brunch selections. The first course serves up items like garbanzo soup and chopped wedge salad; the second course delivers braised short ribs benedict (two poached eggs on English muffin, hollandaise sauce, braised short ribs, asparagus, sliced tomatoes). Also included in the 2nd course is a 6-oz. New York strip steak and eggs combo.

Bon appetit!

 

As COVID Cases Soar, HISD Announces New Guidelines

By Terrance Turner

HISD Superintendent Dr. Grenita Lathan during a press conference on July 15. (Photo via Twitter.)

July 15, 2020

Today, HISD unveiled its new guidelines for the 2020-2021 school year. The guidelines were announced at a press conference by HISD Superintendent Grenita Lathan this afternoon. Lathan stressed that the coronavirus has affected her personally as a wife, mother, and leader of HISD. “I’ve had many sleepless nights, even up until this morning, wrestling with this decision,” she said. Still, Lathan delivered a lucid and measured presentation of the news. She said that due to the rise of coronavirus cases in Texas — including dramatic rises in hospitalizations — this school year will be different.

The new HISD school year begins on Sept. 8. There will be only virtual learning until October 16. Then, on Monday, Oct. 19, face-to-face instruction will begin. Children will be able to return to school and be taught by live instructors. However, parents will have the choice to opt out of face-to-face instruction and have their children continue learning online at home. Teachers would deliver instruction via the Internet, computer software, or both.

The first semester of virtual learning runs from Sept. 8 to Jan. 29. Parents have until Aug. 24 to decide whether they want their child to do virtual learning for the entire semester. (Research director Michael van Beek says that in one form of virtual learning, teachers and students communicate via media like online video, online forums, e-mail and instant messaging. Other forms strictly deliver lessons via software.)

The news comes after a dramatic spike in new COVID-19 cases in Texas. Today, there were 10,457 positive cases reported in Texas — down slightly from yesterday’s one-day high of 10,791. (That number beat Tuesday’s record of 10,745.) There were also a record number of deaths today — 129, up from yesterday’s single-day of 110. Hospitalizations from COVID-19 numbered 10,457 today. There were 14 more yesterday (10,471 total). Though hospitalizations in Texas have plateaued after Tuesday’s record high of 10,569, they remain a trouble spot. The number of Texans in the hospital with coronavirus passed 10,000 on July 10 and has remained above that threshold every day this week.

The toll is getting heavier. In San Antonio, refrigerated trucks are being used because there’s not enough space in the local morgues. In Bexar County, where San Antonio is located, only 10% of hospital beds are available, according to San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg. (He says that “schools will not be opening at full speed in August” and that local guidelines could be ordered as soon as next week.)

In Houston, COVID-19 patients account for 45% of ICU beds. While hospitalization numbers seem to have stabilized, less than 10% of ICU beds in the state are available, per Austin affiliate KVUE. The ABC affiliate cited data from the Texas Department of State Health Services, revealing that only 949 ICU beds were available as of Tuesday. 

In a reflection of this uncertainty, HISD announced back-to-school guidelines yesterday that allowed for virtual learning. That will likely be a relief for teachers still uneasy about returning to the classroom. The Houston Independent School District said a recent survey showed only 14% of teachers said they felt safe returning to campus.