Robert T Babbitt PLLC

Issue 11, Article 1

July 24, 2020

COVID 19,  VACCINES PROGRESS, VACCINE HYPE

The implications of a successful new vaccine are important to our safety and our economy. It is important to sort out the facts and the fiction. Details are available at www.statnews.com.

There are over 100 potential vaccines in development. There are 23 in human clinical trials. When will a safe one be available? When will an effective one be available? What portion of the population will receive protection from Covid-19? Of those that are effective, how long will the protection last?

*Moderna has received the most press attention recently. This effort is one of the four ahead in the race. Each of the 45 phase 1 test participants developed neutralizing antibodies, as designed, which can prevent viral infection. The side effects were minor with typical injection site soreness and other minor impacts. The most interesting result was that the medium level dosage generated sufficient protective levels that the higher dose is not advanced to further testing. This is great news for the ability to avoid side effects and send the available manufactured vials to the broader populations.

Phase 3 testing is expected to begin this week and will include 30,000 volunteers.

*Sinovac reported that the first phase results of their vaccine produced neutralizing antibodies in 90% of patients. Phase 3 testing is expected to begin next week.

*AstraZeneca/University of Oxford reported progress from their early stage 1,000-person trial. The scientists found that the antibodies and T cells were produced. The side effects were well tolerated. The cautious optimism for this vaccine to provide a long-term response was noted. The market reaction was muted since the earliest announcements last month had set high expectations. This team is so sure of the progress that AstraZeneca has announced the steps to produce 2 billion doses.

*Pfizer/BioNTech released positive results from its early stage clinical trials. The firm said that all participants produced neutralizing antibodies. Both the 10 and 30 microgram two dose regimen had the expected positive results. On Wednesday, July 22, 2020 the firm was granted a $1.9 billion contract by the federal government for 100 million doses to vaccinate 50 million patients. The deal was designed to provide “free” vaccine to the patients.

There are 19 other promising trials and over 80 more in development. There are significant hurdles remaining. But these firms have proven that the laboratory can trigger antibodies at a level in excess of those who have fought off the virus and generated plasma that can be donated to others for protection.

In March, this was a mysterious and sneaky virus. In July, the mystery is being solved layer by layer. It remains sneaky in the sense of asymptomatic transmission. We can control this transmission with facial coverings, avoiding close contact by social distancing steps, and thorough cleaning/disinfecting.

Issue 11, Article 2

COVID 19,    US TRANSIT RIDERSHIP CHANGES – WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED

We each realize that the closing of a great portion of our businesses and schools led to a dramatic loss of ridership in March, April, May and June. National data is available from the American Public Transportation Association. Like any large-scale database, the results have a reporting time lag. Fortunately, the lag is small in this national report. In January 2020, the transit ridership in all reporting transit systems (US APTA) was 827 million. In the same month a year ago it was 779 million.  In February 2020, the national total of those reporting was 803 million compared to 745 million in the prior year. In March, the pandemic hit hard. Ridership dropped to 496 million compared to 840 million the prior year. This was despite the one additional weekday and one less Sunday in March 2020. What can we discern from the changes in ridership among different size cities? The APTA ridership report breaks the bus totals into four population size categories, (details at www.apta.com).

                                                                March 2020                         March 2019                         Change

                2 million plus                     171 million                         276 million                          -38%

                0.5 to 2 million                     52                                           73                                        -29%

                0.1 to 0.5 million                  23                                           34                                        -32%

                Below 0.1 million                 13                                           16                                        -19%

Although April, May and June will tell us a great deal more, we can tell from this step that the smaller transit systems serve a greater portion of the “I must get there” trips. There were many businesses and schools that had to close in each category, but essential workers still needed to arrive and serve. It will be useful to remember these vital components of our ridership after the pandemic eases.

Are the Texas systems faring better?  The March bus ridership data for five different size systems is:

                Austin                                      1.85 million                         2.47 million                      -25%

                Corpus Christi                       0.32                                       0.40                                    -20%

                Fort Worth                             0.33                                       0.41                                    -20%

Houston                                  4.28                                       5.54                                    -23%

                San Antonio                          2.41                                       2.85                                    -15%

                Waco                                        0.05                                       0.12                                    -58%                                     

There are differences in these six systems, but the broad tendencies are instructive. Four of the six lost 20% to 25% in the monthly comparison. San Antonio only lost 15%; Waco lost 58%. Without greater detail the causes are not certain. It is probable that there are a greater portion of San Antonio riders that work in essential jobs. In Waco it is probable (like Bryan and DCTA) that the significant drop was among campus ridership. These are significant drops in each but smaller than the national decreases in the same size category. Texas had fewer business closings and lower fatality rates. We have a long way to go but the relative performance of our transit system ridership is encouraging.

Issue 11, Article 3

COVID 19,    THE LIST OF HAND SANITIZER PRODUCTS TO AVOID IS NOW OVER 70

A few weeks ago, the Food and Drug Administration warned consumers to avoid several hand sanitizers from two companies due to the methanol content.

Today the list is long. These products are sold at national chains including Walmart and Costco, but they are expected to be taken off the shelves rapidly. As soon as the pandemic became understood, there was a rush on hand sanitizers as there had been on toilet paper. The companies that were selling new sanitizer products grew with great speed. Several of the products are imported.

Please remember and be vigilant: DO NOT USE, DISTRIBUTE, SELL OR PURCHASE HAND SANITIZER PRODUCTS THAT CONTAIN METHANOL. Remind your team and customers of this danger.

If methanol is absorbed through the skin it can cause blindness and hospitalization. If it is consumed by ingesting it can cause death.

Washing your hands, front and back, is the safest most effective way to ward off transmission of Covid-19 from infected person to surface to you. Washing your hands with soap and water is safe for all age groups.

Peter Pitts, former Food and Drug Associate Commissioner, said selling methanol-based sanitizer products is comparable to selling unapproved drugs. Being in a hurry for a product that is in high demand is no excuse for skipping source of content safety information.

The FDA dose not recommend a certain hand sanitizer product, but it has issued a warning this month that names the manufacturer of 75 products due to the methanol content. The FDA warnings have jumped from 2 companies to 9 to over a dozen to 75.

The practice of pushing these products is not simply greed. It is greed combined with fraud. The label may say that the content includes ethyl alcohol while there is no ethyl alcohol content. The FDA testing has confirmed that methanol was confirmed in several of these mislabeled products.

Customers that have purchased methanol-based sanitizers may experience nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, seizures, coma, permanent nervous system damage or death.

The complete list of banned products is available at www.fda.gov.

Issue 11, Article 4

COVID 19,    WILL GONZALO REACH TEXAS AND WILL COVID RESPONSE TEAMS BE PREPARED?

Whether or not Gonzalo reaches the Texas coast as the first hurricane landfall of 2020, there are many weeks of hurricane season to consider. If the hurricane is “only” a category 3 storm, the winds will exceed 111 miles per hour, the roofs of many homes will be damaged, electric and water utilities will be unavailable in many areas for several days, and flooding will be exacerbated by the length of time the storm dwells with part on water/part on shore.

If the next hurricane is a category 4 the wind speeds will exceed 129 miles per hour. If it is a category 5 the wind speeds will exceed 156 miles per hour and catastrophic damage will occur in either of these violent storms. Power interruptions will last for weeks.

In most cases, the Red Cross volunteers include large portions of retiree aged good Samaritans. Will they be available this year while at risk for Covid-19? If they are available, will they be able to maintain social distancing?

If the Red Cross and similar groups have fewer volunteers, will the National Guard be able to fill in? Regardless of who fills these needs, will the shelters be able to protect those at risk with more distancing than before in normally crowded gymnasiums and convention center buildings?

In the last few weeks the issue of social distancing on demand response vehicles has been aided by the lower density of trip requests, how will you react when the trip request density is three or four times as high?

If the bus fleet is protected by moving to higher ground and stronger shelter, will your system have sufficient operators, mechanics, supervisors and dispatchers to meet the “all hands on deck” emergency call? How many staff members are currently on Covid-19 quarantine or recovering from the virus?

Your organization has taken great strides to reach the point that daily riders are accustomed to the facial coverings requirements, the “do not board if sick” requirements, and the social distancing with alternating seats blocked off. Do you have plans to deal with overcrowding on buses during the evacuations? What will you do if a frail elderly evacuee says they feel sick, but the flood depths are rising?

These problems are each challenging, but they require your safety team to prepare with desktop and related planning activities now, not later when time is vital to life saving efforts.

Issue 11, Article 5

COVID 19,   WHERE DID ALL THE COINS GO?

Have you faced the grocery clerk who pointed to the sign asking you to pay with exact change or card?

A year ago, it would have been unusual for one to suggest that cash with coins may not be welcome at the grocery store.

This has become a dramatic issue since many stores have posted warnings that coins or change are not being handled.

It is so important that the Federal Reserve created a task force that includes representatives from the United States Mint, Walmart, Coinstar and experts from the Federal Reserve.

Where did all the coins go? They are still out there. There are about 47.8 billion coins in circulation in the United States, but these are not moving around the nation. The coins are out there, but why is nobody spending with them?

Many businesses remain closed except for take-out or delivery. The majority of these payments are made with debit or credit cards. Many stores that are open use signs that discourage or refuse taking or giving coin change. Some have solved the challenge of issuing “change” in the form of value-added gift cards.

Some stores have changed prices to have “including tax” amounts rounded to the next dollar. If your system has pass sales outlets, be prepared for the “can you give me my change in quarters?”

Most transit systems generate revenue that is one fourth to one third in coins. If that is the case in your system you may ask your bank if they would like to start picking the coins up at no charge to your system. When MARTA had the lowered fare of 15 cents in 1971, the banks paid to send armored cars to pick up the coins from the best source of nickels and dimes in the city.      

Weekly Update: Issue 11, Article 1, Week of July 24-31, 2020: COVID 19, VACCINES PROGRESS, VACCINE HYPE

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