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League City man hopes videos will start conversation about racism

LEAGUE CITY

When League City resident Stanley Chiu saw protests break out across the county in recent weeks against racial injustice, he pulled out his computer and recorded a series of videos detailing his own experiences with racism.

In the videos, Chiu, 35, touches on all manner of uncomfortable subjects, from instances of racism against Black people in the Chinese community to moments when he has felt his neighbors might be treating him differently because he’s Chinese.

Chiu created the project in response to people who tell him racism isn’t a problem in League City, he said. He hopes, more than anything, the videos can serve as the start of a frank, much-needed conversation about race in America.

“No one where I grew up in Chicago would say racism is not a problem,” he said. “It’s not until I got here that I met people that thought racism wasn’t a problem and didn’t exist. So, I started to see that these bubbles we live in can be confining.”

Protests have sprung up across the country after the death of George Floyd, who died in Minneapolis while handcuffed and restrained by four police officers, including one who pushed his knee into the back of Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes. Floyd’s death in Minneapolis Police custody has sparked global protests against police killings. A Black man, Floyd pleaded for air while offering little resistance to his arrest May 25.

Chiu’s project has caught the attention of several residents, national experts and the mayor, who agree that a discussion about racism is long overdue and that the videos might be a first step in starting that.

“I feel like any time you can sit down and just talk to people from different backgrounds and races, that provides an opportunity where everyone can learn and grow from it if they’re open to it,” said Raymond Steward II, a League City resident and pastor of a church in Webster.

Steward hasn’t posted videos online, but he compared Chiu’s work to his own in recent weeks both in his neighborhood and at the League City Police Department, he said.

“I’ve met with a couple of folks in my neighborhood and talked about our perspective on all the things going on, from politics to Black Lives Matter to Blue Lives Matter,” he said. “I wanted to hear all perspectives. Because me, I only see life through the lens of a 38-year-old Black man.”

Frank conversations about race, particularly for people of color in some progressive suburbs, can be especially difficult when many residents feel racism isn’t a problem specifically, said Angie Beeman, an associate professor of sociology at Baruch College, part of the City University of New York system.

GIVING VOICE

“Just naming and talking about racism can be seen as confrontational,” Beeman said. “In some communities, they’re worried about the neighborhood looking bad.”

But suppression of such conversations can be difficult for those who have stories to tell, Beeman said.

“You almost feel gaslit,” she said. “But when you share your stories, you also give voice to people that might also be experiencing what you are.”

Chiu, while living in League City, has largely experienced smaller instances of racism — feeling someone was looking at him differently or that he was being treated differently, he said.

More generally, Chiu hasn’t appreciated some comments President Donald Trump has made about the coronavirus pandemic.

“There’s people talking about him referencing it as the kung flu,” Chiu said. “That resonates with me a little bit. Because that’s the sort of way kids used to tease me when I was little.”

Since recording his video, however, Chiu has heard from neighbors who have told him about more overt instances of racism, such as someone who said her biracial daughter had been told to go back to her country, Chiu said.

Both Chiu and Steward have attended some of the recent protests in League City, including one that attracted almost 1,000 attendees.

And Chiu also organized a smaller vigil in his neighborhood on the west side of League City that drew some support and some concern, he said.

“I’d say there were really two camps opposed to the protest,” he said. “One camp felt that they might lead to violence and didn’t want that to happen. And the other camp didn’t want them to happen because they felt like nothing was wrong.”

LOVE, RESPECT, COMMUNICATION

Steward, who has lived in League City almost three years, told The Daily News he wouldn’t ever want to minimize other peoples’ experiences but that he has largely experienced love and respect in Galveston County’s biggest city.

“For the most part, I think League City has seen and responded to the protests,” he said. “Especially the younger generation that was brought up in a more inclusive environment. They’re doing a good job.”

Mayor Pat Hallisey, who has spoken at several of the League City protests in recent weeks, told The Daily News he thought Chiu had a good idea and that he hopes residents feel they can come to him if they have any concerns.

“If we can’t sit down as a society and have discussions about how to work our way through this, then we have a problem,” he said. “I know racism exists in this world, I’m not blind. I’ve been reading newspapers forever. I’m a child of the ’50s and the ’60s. I remember what it was like as a kid.”

Racism has been a scourge on the soul of America, Hallisey said.

Chiu’s biggest hope is that other people, in League City and elsewhere, record their own stories and struggles with racism. He hopes it starts that much-needed conversation, he said.

“The goal is to give people information for them to think about, that might stick with them,” he said.

To find Chiu’s Personal Stories on Racism #PSOR channel, go to www.youtube.com and search “Stanley Chiu.”


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Pleading 'self defense,' Galveston council extends mask order through summer

GALVESTON

People will have to wear face coverings in businesses through the summer after the Galveston City Council voted Thursday to extend a masking rule to the end of September.

It’s one of the few tools the state has left for cities struggling to contain a surge of coronavirus cases, proponents of the rule said.

Council members worried about placing the onus of enforcement on businesses, however.

The measure requires business operators to implement policies requiring all customers and employees to wear face masks.

Mayor Jim Yarbrough issued the order Monday, but it would have expired June 30 without council approval to continue it.

Now, the order is in effect through Sept. 30. Extending the order passed on a 5-2 vote with District 4 Councilman Jason Hardcastle and District 5 Councilman John Paul Listowski voting against.

Sunday will be the first day businesses can be cited for disobeying the rule. Yarbrough’s order gave businesses until then to implement the policy before being subject to fines of as much as $1,000.

The point of the order is to reduce the spread of coronavirus as much as possible, Yarbrough said.

“We have restrictions on people all the time primarily for their safety,” Yarbrough said. “If people could go get the disease and never spread it, I wouldn’t give a darn what they did.”

People haven’t been complying with recommendations to social distance and wear masks, and many visitors on the island aren’t taking the virus seriously, District 3 Councilman David Collins said.

“As a matter of self-defense, we need to put an ordinance in place ourselves so people don’t think this is a free-fire zone,” Collins said.

But Hardcastle didn’t think having the mask order in place would make a significant difference, he said.

“I don’t think it’s our job to be disciplinarians,” Hardcastle said.

Contrary to what city officials said when the mayor issued the order, it applies only to commercial businesses that deliver goods or services to the public, City Attorney Don Glywasky said.

It does not apply to nonprofits and other noncommercial operations that serve the public.

“They have a duty to write a policy that says their customers are going to be required to wear a mask,” Glywasky said. “The city will be looking for shop owners to write a policy and make a good faith effort.”

Businesses that don’t create and enforce a mask policy will be subject to the fines, according to the order.

Such orders have sprung up across Texas this week after Bexar County, the home of San Antonio, issued an order mandating that businesses require masks.

Other cities such as Austin, Dallas and Houston followed suit after Gov. Greg Abbott said the rule didn’t conflict with his June 3 ban on local governments requiring people to wear face masks and fining violators.

That’s why the fines in the Galveston rule are directed at the business, City Manager Brian Maxwell said.

“The governor won’t allow us to fine an individual,” Maxwell said.

As when people violate other store policies, operators can call the police to have people blatantly violating their mask rules removed, Maxwell said.

The city council plans to revisit the order in July and make a decision about whether the rule is still necessary.

Also Thursday, the city council extended its emergency status orders through Sept. 30, which gives the city access to federal money and allows the mayor to issue emergency orders.

Thursday’s meeting was Yarbrough’s last after six years as mayor.

Yarbrough announced earlier this month he would step down from the position July 15, citing concerns about his health as the state was moving toward reopening.


News
Galveston seeks legal action against slab car promoter

GALVESTON

The city has decided to take legal action against the person promoting a second slab beach party weekend after the unofficial event gridlocked traffic and caused significant crowding earlier this month.

The action will implore the promoter, a Houston slab car enthusiast, to take down a social media post promoting the July event and seek to prevent the unlicensed gathering.

The Galveston City Council gave the administrators approval Thursday to file for injunctive relief against the organizer of the planned July 25 event, which means the city will ask the court to prevent the promoter from having the unlicensed event and compel him to withdraw this social media posts about it, City Attorney Donald Glywasky said.

An item advertising the event is posted on the social media pages of slab car enthusiast Victor Paillet, also known as Kandy Red Bread.

The social media pages also organized a slab car event on June 6. Seawall traffic was at a standstill for hours that Saturday when droves of slab car enthusiasts traveled to Galveston after a social media-driven event encouraged people to drive along Seawall Boulevard that weekend.

Slabs are a type of custom car that emerged in popularity in Houston during the 1980s, known for high-gloss paint and elbow wheels, in which the rims stick out farther than usual.

Although island visitation that weekend wasn’t much more than the Saturday of Memorial Day this year, city officials said an event geared toward car cruising, rather than beach-going, and an influx of people in the evening led to traffic jams and visible litter.

Paillet could not be reached Thursday afternoon.

The city consulted with the promoter before June 6, but when he was told the city wasn’t issuing permits, he withdrew his social media advertisements, Glywasky said.

“I think it’s fair to say the turnout was much larger than people expected,” Glywasky said.

The city has asked him to postpone the slab event, Glywasky said.

“As of yet, he hasn’t moved the event,” Glywasky said.

The city hopes announcing the event has been postponed or canceled will reduce the number of people who travel to the island next month, Glywasky said.

“The city’s left with very few options,” he said.

The city council also spent a significant part of Thursday talking about ways to handle big crowds like those it had to manage during the June 6 slab event.

The city isn’t issuing event permits until August but expects to see more pop-up, non-permitted events in Galveston that are promoted through social media, City Manager Brian Maxwell said.

The city also has seen a surge in day-trippers, which creates traffic and litter issues, he said.

People who park in private parking lots might be causing some of the litter challenges, Maxwell said.

Getting help from neighboring law enforcement agencies also is proving challenging because personnel are needed to manage crowds and protests in other surrounding areas, he said.


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Texas putting reopening on 'pause' as virus cases soar

AUSTIN

Faced with surging coronavirus cases and hospitalizations that have made Texas one of the nation’s virus hotspots, Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday halted elective surgeries in the state’s largest counties and said he would “pause” its aggressive economic reopening statewide.

The suspension of elective surgeries is designed to protect hospital space in the Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio areas. Statewide, the number of COVID-19 patients has more than doubled in two weeks.

Texas has reported more than 17,000 new cases in the last three days with a record high 5,996 on Thursday. The day’s tally of 4,739 hospitalizations was also a record. The state’s rolling infection rate hit nearly 12 percent, a level not seen since the state was in a broad lockdown in mid-April.

Abbott has said the exploding numbers show a “massive outbreak” sweeping through Texas.

But those rising numbers, and a doubling of the infection rate to more than 10 percent — a mark Abbott said in May would be a “red flag” in his reopening plans — still haven’t convinced the Republican to roll back his previous orders that pushed Texas into an aggressive relaunch of one of the world’s largest economies.

And it’s not clear what impact such a pause will have.

Thursday’s slowdown imposes no new restrictions and doesn’t repeal current rules that allowed most businesses to reopen. It would appear to delay any plans to expand occupancy levels at places such as bars, restaurants, amusement parks and other venues, although Abbott had not indicated when that would happen.

Texas has no capacity limits on houses of worship, child care or youth camps and sports leagues, and professional sports leagues are allowed to hold outdoor events at 50 percent fan capacity.

“We are focused on strategies that slow the spread of this virus while also allowing Texans to continue earning a paycheck to support their families,” Abbott said in a statement. “The last thing we want to do as a state is go backwards and close down businesses. This temporary pause will help our state corral the spread until we can safely enter the next phase of opening our state for business.”

Texas restaurants are struggling under the current rules of 75 percent capacity and were glad Abbott didn’t roll the state back to previous restrictions, said Anna Tauzin, chief revenue and innovation officer of the Texas Restaurant Association.

“We are grateful for that, but unless the public dramatically improves their behavior, what other choice is he going to have? That’s the last thing we want to see,” Tauzin said.

By reimposing a ban on elective surgeries, Abbott is returning to one of his first actions when the virus first emerged in Texas in March. He later rescinded the order during the reopening of the state in May that lifted lockdown orders ahead of most of the United States.

The leaders of several Houston hospitals said their facilities are capable of handling a surge in new patients.

They also sought to tamp down alarm about data from the Texas Medical Center, an umbrella group of the city’s major hospitals, that 97 percent of intensive-care beds are in use. The center’s current models suggest its hospitals could reach “unsustainable surge capacity” by mid-July.

Doug Lawson, CEO of CHI St. Luke’s Health, said facilities can open or close beds as needed and said St. Luke’s would almost double its critical care capacity over the next several weeks.

“Our hospitals are OK and ready to manage this surge appropriately and effectively,” he said.

Abbott this week has taken a newly urgent tone about the worsening trends and is now telling the public they should stay home. He also has urged Texans to wear masks in public.

The governor hasn’t issued a statewide mask order, but the state’s cities and counties have imposed new rules on businesses to require customers and workers to wear face coverings.


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Hospitals in Galveston County say space is adequate, despite warnings, rising cases

GALVESTON

More people are seeking treatment for COVID-19 at Galveston County’s largest hospitals, but officials aren’t near pushing the panic button.

At least not yet.

“People don’t need to think of this doom and gloom,” said Dr. Gulshan Sharma, the medical director at the University of Texas Medical Branch. “We are here. If you show up to our emergency department, we will take care of you.”

Hospitalizations are among the measures used to judge the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic. And they often are seen as a more reliable indicator of the seriousness in a community than the total number of cases, which includes people who show no symptoms or such mild systems they don’t require medical treatment.

About 4,740 people were being treated for the virus in Texas hospitals Thursday — the highest statewide total reported during the pandemic, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

By one frequently published and cited count by the Southeast Texas Advisory Council, Galveston County has 94 intensive care beds available between all hospitals. At times in June, Galveston County ICUs have been at 100 percent capacity, according to council data.

But daily counts don’t necessarily reflect a hospital’s ability to treat patients at a given time or what the unit’s situation will be for an extended period of time, Sharma said.

“The hospital beds are a very fluid situation,” Sharma said. “We have adequate space to expand to whatever we need to take care of patients in our county.”

Medical branch hospitals in League City and Galveston haven’t had to take emergency steps to increase their capacity because of an increase in coronavirus cases, Sharma said. There are plans in place to do that if needed, he said.

The medical branch has reassigned some nurses who would normally be working in outpatient services to inpatient duties in preparation for an increase in patients, Sharma said.

But the medical branch isn’t taking steps in Galveston County that were forced on some other parts of Texas.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday morning ordered hospitals in Harris, Dallas, Bexar and Travis Counties to stop elective surgeries to preserve bed space.

Because of the order, the medical branch will stop elective surgeries at its Clear Lake-area hospital but will continue doing elective procedures in Galveston County, Sharma said.

Officials with HCA Houston Healthcare Mainland did not respond Thursday to questions about its Texas City hospital. The hospital on Wednesday was below its ER and ICU capacity, spokeswoman Kim Mathes said.

“We have the ability to adjust our beds and units to care for a variety of patients as needed,” Mathes said.

WARNINGS AND WALKBACKS

Sharma’s message of reassurance came after the leaders of the Texas Medical Center, including University of Texas Medical Branch interim President Ben Raimer, published an open letter warning of the potential strain on hospital capacity caused by the increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Also Wednesday, the medical center published data saying its hospitals’ ICU capacity could be surpassed by Thursday and its entire capacity overwhelmed within two weeks if current trends persisted.

By Thursday morning, however, the same hospital officials were tempering their warnings and reassuring residents that things were in control.

“I think the Texas Medical Center’s purpose was to urge people to do the right thing in the community and to do so by talking about capacity,” said Marc Boom, CEO of Houston Methodist Hospital, during a news conference Thursday morning. “I think it ended up unintentionally sounding an alarm bell too loudly about capacity.”

The medical center’s hospitals “clearly have capacity,” Boom said.

That point was reiterated by David Callender, the president and CEO of Memorial Hermann Health System.

“This pandemic is not eclipsing our capabilities,” Callender said. “Our hospitals have the capacity, staff and supplies to meet the health care needs of our community.”

READING THE NUMBERS

Interpreting the publicly published data about the strain on Galveston County hospitals is sometimes an effort in divination.

Various sources report on the daily status of hospitalizations, although the data is frequently presented as part of a larger region — or excludes data about how busy local hospitals are.

The Galveston County Health District has reported that 34 county residents were hospitalized every day from June 18 to June 25. The district’s figures report the number of people with Galveston County addresses who have been hospitalized.

At the same time, the Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council reported the number of people hospitalized by COVID-19 in Galveston County facilities had increased from 85 people on June 18 to 149 people on June 25.

“As a member of the community, I would use that data to say to myself that COVID is really taxing the hospitals in the Galveston area,” said Darrell Pile, the CEO of the advisory council.

The council is a state-created independent organization that helps direct regional disaster responses, Pile said.

What data is available consistently shows there has been an increase in local hospitalizations from COVID-19 since the middle of May. The increase in hospitalizations corresponds with the increases in the total number of cases in the county.

Hospitalizations in Galveston County have not risen at the same rate as new cases are appearing, however.

Whereas the number of total cases of COVID-19 in Galveston County has increased by more than 200 percent since Memorial Day, the average number of people being treated in local hospitals on a daily basis has increased by 34 percent.

Officials have attributed the lower hospitalization rate to the fact that a larger number of people recently diagnosed with the virus have been under the age of 40.