Over the past several years Houston has experienced extreme weather events including a major hurricane as well as frequent and devastating flooding. We are not yet completely recovered from the April 18 flood and yet more heavy rain is on the way this weekend. Many residents in Houston and Harris County are at the end of their ropes. Some are walking away from homes that flooded twice in less than one year. Who can blame them?
Oh and I just received this alert a few minutes ago.
Flash Flood Watch for Houston from Friday afternoon - Sunday Morning. Heavy rains anticipated.
Great. As if dealing with hurricanes and floods isn’t stressful enough I recently learned that Houston is a prime target for the Zika virus.
Earlier this month I read an article written by a Houston area doctor about Zika in the New York Times. I was horrified. At first I thought why is this published in the New York Times instead of the Houston Chronicle? Of course the article was later republished in the Houston Chronicle. Thank goodness for the impact of Zika on this city is not pretty. Remember, this is the state with the highest number of uninsured residents as well as one in which a spiteful and stubborn Governor refuses to accept federally expanded Medicaid. He and the Lt. Governor are too busy obsessing about public bathrooms.
Peter J. Hotez, a pediatrician and microbiologist at Texas Children’s Hospital, is dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.
Below are his dire warnings on Zika.
Zika is Coming
Houston — IF I were a pregnant woman living on the Gulf Coast or in Florida, in an impoverished neighborhood in a city like Houston, New Orleans, Miami, Biloxi, Miss., or Mobile, Ala., I would be nervous right now. If mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus reach the United States later this spring or summer, these are the major urban areas where the sickness will spread. If we don’t intervene now, we could begin seeing newborns with microcephaly and stunted brain development on the obstetrics wards in one or more of these places.
The most vulnerable places for the spread of diseases are overcrowded, impoverished areas. Unfortunately Houston has a number of poverty-stricken neighborhoods.
The same factors are present in the poorest urban areas of coastal Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, in addition to South Florida, and an area around Tucson. In the Fifth Ward of Houston (a historically African-American neighborhood that was populated by freed slaves after the Civil War), just a few miles from the medical center where I work, there is an astonishing level of extreme poverty. A brief tour reveals water-filled drainage ditches in place of gutters, as well as evidence of dumping — a common practice in which people toss old tires and other garbage into residential areas rather than designated landfill sites — right next to shabby and crumbling housing.
Dr. Hotez calls for a mosquito control and a massive environmental cleanup of impoverished areas. Educating residents about how to prevent the disease is crucially important.
I develop vaccines for neglected tropical diseases. Several Zika vaccines are being created, but none will be ready in time for this year’s epidemic. In place of a vaccine we need a robust program of mosquito control and environmental cleanup in the poorest neighborhoods of our Gulf Coast cities and in Florida. This should include removing garbage and debris, and installing gutters to replace drainage ditches. We need to improve access to contraception, and provide pregnant women with proper window screens for their homes and information about the risk of Zika. Finally, we will need to train teams to visit homes in poor neighborhoods and instruct occupants on how to empty water containers and spray for mosquitoes, just as we are doing now in Puerto Rico.
Zika prevention demands a concerted team effort of federal, state and local agencies. While I trust that the federal government and our local leadership will do everything possible, I am not at all hopeful about the state’s cooperation. For Texas is ruled by mostly anti-government Tea Party Republicans. Most of whom have nothing but contempt for poor minorities. Not to mention the EPA is a force of evil in their view.
At the federal level this effort would need to bring in the Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. But we’ll also need parallel approaches at the state, county and city levels.
This coordination is labor intensive and will not be easy, but if we don’t start working now, by the end of the year, I am afraid we will see microcephaly cases in Houston and elsewhere on the Gulf Coast. This could be a catastrophe to rival Hurricane Katrina or other recent miseries that disproportionately affect the poor. Zika is a potentially devastating health crisis headed for our region, and we might have only a few weeks to stop it before pregnant women become infected.
So, knowing what we know about Zika now, what is our federal government doing about funding for this impending health calamity?
The usual. GOP Obstruction.
For weeks now, Congress has either been ignoring requests for funding on Zika, or dragging their feet while the risk keeps growing. Republicans have been using stalling tactics, always claiming to need more information no matter how many reports stack up. Now Democrats have had enough.
With regard to flooding in the Texas Gulf region, the Land Commissioner George P. Bush, ordered a 10 year study. Houston all but drowned last week. We don’t need a 10 year study. Several extensive reports have already been completed by Texas A&M and Rice University scientists and engineers. We need bold, preventative action as of eight years ago.
Endless reports are means by which the Republican Party shirks its responsibilities. Ordering studies is simply a way to kick the can down the road while enriching some crony donors who conduct the dragged out investigations. The call for reports is a thinly veiled attempt for the GOP to pretend it is doing something while it does absolutely nothing.
Houston should expect a severe Zika outbreak, then. The extensive flooding will bring the mosquitos. U.S. Republicans in the House and Senate are dragging their feet on this impending health crisis. The state leadership is prepossessed by women’s reproductive body parts and public restrooms.
The birth defects caused by Zika are terrible. It’s also terrible that trying to halt the spread of this disease is a “political battle.” Truthfully, we were already at the “will kill people to keep Obama from reaching policy goals” stage way back at the beginning of the healthcare fight. This round just seems more obvious.
Oh, and the hurricane season is one month away.
A recent Rice University/Kinder Institute 35 year study revealed that Houston’s residents are becoming more secular and aligned with the Democratic Party. Latinos lean more toward the Democrats. Oh boy. Someone had better keep a laser focused eye on the Republican run Harris Co. Tax Assessor’s office and it’s voting division's love of voting roll purges.
If all of us were to vote in November we could actually effect a powerful change on all levels of government. Imagine determined, pro-active and audacious action with regard to hurricanes, floods and disease prevention. Had we elected Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte in 2014 we would already have plans in place to address all of the above. At the very least we would have some kind of a plan instead zip, zilch, nada and hot air. We would also have federally expanded Medicaid. Far fewer among us would be uninsured. Planned Parenthood would still be here, continuing to provide healthcare services to economically challenged women. Women would not be self-inducing abortions either.
Instead of courageous leadership we have two nasty bathroom obsessed misogynist bigots, Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick, who want to stick it to the black guy in the White House. Except of course when the Governor has to beg for federal disaster relief.
Meanwhile one of our U.S. Senators, Ted Cruz, has been called Lucifer in the flesh and a miserable SOB by one of his Republican colleagues. And our top cop, the state’s Attorney General is an indicted felon to boot.
Voting matters. Big time. Our lives literally depend on making the right choices. It is up to us to take an unyielding stand against spiteful do nothing right wing ideologues. Who don't seem to care that their craven inaction can and will get some of us killed.
Don’t be fooled, either, when the GOP fear mongers Zika this summer, after the disease has already wreaked its havoc upon us.