Robert T. Babbitt PLLC
Issue 6, Article 1
June 6, 2020

The impacts of COVID 19 have been life ending for some, life changing for others. For transit systems the first order impacts were immediate changes to the cleaning processes, the ridership levels and the personnel safety protocols.
While we study the rapid changes in ridership, the funding streams are also critical. The Dallas Area Rapid Transit Board of Directors began discussion of the second order impacts during the May 2020 meeting. The recession impacts on the local economy are here. It remains to be seen if the economy rebounds quickly enough to avoid the formal definition of a recession.
DART is comprised of thirteen member cities and the largest component of revenues is the sales tax collections in those communities. The May Board of Directors meeting included forecasts of the anticipated decrease in sales tax collections for the remainder of 2020 and 2021. With two critical rail projects in development and a plan to improve bus route frequency, COVID 19 is causing reviews and concerns.
It is challenging in the rapidly changing economic environment to determine how low the collections could go. The State of Texas reported a 13% decrease in May 2020 sales tax collections. These reflect April business activity. The Rice University Kinder Institute published projections of revenue decreases this month also. The three cities Houston, Dallas and San Antonio are projected (in 2020) to lose 10% to 15% of city revenues. In March 2020 the City of Houston lost $25 million in monthly sales tax revenue compared to the same month in 2019. The 12 largest cities in the Houston area lost only $7 million for the February activity.
The DART staff projected 50% decreases in monthly sales tax revenue for the remainder of 2020, with a similar decrease in 2021. If these conservative projections are accurate, the impact is a drop of $157 million in 2020 and $182 million in 2021.
These dramatic financial impacts are apart from the $46 million, two-year impact from customer fares and the $8.6 million in added costs for new cleaning and hazard pay items.
The FTA section of the CARES Act provides critical relief at this important economic emergency. If the economy rebounds quickly, the CARES Act will be the right solution at the right time. If the rebound is slower, the next year may look very different.
For more details: (May 2020 issue)

Issue 6, Article 2

We all hope for a rapid solution to the pandemic, for our communities, for our families, and for our industry.
The rapid transition to quarantine and social distancing worked, if not perfectly. The return to a new normal was announced in phases by Governor Abbott. We have seen the economic growth indicators moving rapidly. Most businesses are adhering to the capacity limits, facial coverings and disinfecting strategies. Most customers are also.
Between the civic protests in many cities and the reopening of most businesses, we are witnessing another experiment. The question is – how fast will the number of cases rise, and among which groups. Three months ago, we knew very little about this new virus. Today we know it remains viable on surfaces for several hours to several days, yet the majority of infected cases trace the transmission to close proximity to an infected person. The many steps we are taking to not transmit the virus may work. If we are vigorous in our pursuit of the safety measures, the economy may rebound with little or no health danger.
The large crowds in the streets of many cities create a new element in the experiment. Few of the protesters were in the oldest age groups, many wore facial coverings, yet the dangers of transmission were increased.
The data are important to watch closely. As positive cases increase it is critical to sort out how many new cases are due to the resurgent spread of the virus and how many cases are due to the expanded testing. For many weeks, those who could be tested were strictly limited due to the prioritization of test kits. As testing expanded, those without symptoms could begin testing, those living in nursing homes were being tested, and the spread of cases in prisons and jails have had more time to grow with few alternatives for social spacing.
Perhaps the most important metrics to watch are the fatalities and the hospitalization rates. The University of Texas – Austin COVID 19 Modeling Consortium indicates that the peak of deaths took place in early May or before. This model predicts that the decline will extend through late June at least. The North Texas Trauma Regional Advisory Council report for Dallas County indicates that COVID 19 hospitalizations peaked on May 15, 2020 and the seven-day average peaked on May 19, 2020.
Remember, it will be challenging to keep our returning customers safe in this new environment. Our team members are still at the front lines of this public health emergency. But it is possible, now that we know more about the virus, to protect our customers, protect our team members, and build a better community. This will not be easy. It must be accomplished.
For more details: North Central Texas Trauma Regional Advisory Council, Daily Hospital Report

Issue 6, Article 3

We all look forward to the introduction of one or more effective vaccines to make our society return to normal. As research and proof of safety continues with several leading vaccine candidates, it seems likely that one or more existing drugs or plasma treatments might be tested and proven more quickly.
Remdesivir is currently approved in Japan for treatment of COVID 19. The United States FDA granted Emergency Use Authorization for Remdesivir while further testing is ongoing. This is a temporary authorization that does not replace the formal review process. There have been three randomized, controlled clinical trials demonstrating improved clinical outcomes. The side effects have been moderate. The data indicate that the recovery process is accelerated with appropriate use of the drug.
Favilavir (previously called Fapilavir) is not yet approved by the FDA. It is available to patients in Japan and China. Favilavir is an antiviral drug made in China. The way it works is simple: it makes the virus nonviable. It does this by creating mutations that damage the RNA of the virus. It was developed by the US Department of Defense in partnership with MediVector. It has not yet been approved in the UK or US due to potential side effects.
Ritonavir with lopinavir are used for HIV, the combination inhibits protease enzymes and has been used by South Korean doctors in successful COVID 19 recovery of a very small sample of patients. Umifenovir binds to the host cell ACE2; it is being tested in China and Russia.
The most easily understood treatment may be the Takeda effort to take donated antibodies from plasma of recovered patients and, after refinement, administer this to infected patients. This is the same approach that has been used in many of diseases. The risks are minor. The early results of tests indicate some improvement in convalescence and mortality. The best results of this treatment were in reduction of the polymerase chain reactions. The early research leads to speculation that the plasma may be more effective in combination with antiviral drugs.
Some immunotherapies are being tested that emerge from earlier cancer research. Some of the immunotherapies emerge from the rapidly growing research in T cells and their role in potential recovery from various diseases. The often fatal “cytokine storm” exists when the immune system is fighting so hard that the small blood clots impede the normal lung/heart functions. The latest immunotherapy for this vital issue is tolucizumab. This treatment has already been approved for halting this “storm” in another syndrome.
For more details: March 17, 2020; May 5, 2020

Issue 6, Article 4

As our transit systems fight to recover the ridership levels that were growing before the pandemic, it is critical to continually adept and innovate. But what happens if those reporting the data are limiting the numbers though the dangers are increasing?
There have been questions in a few locations about fatalities being switched from COVID 19 identification to pneumonia and similar diseases. There have been no proven cases in the United States at this point. The results in Brazil are damaging, however.
As of June 6, 2020, the Johns Hopkins University data reported total worldwide positive cases had been 6.9 million. The total deaths in all countries were 400,000. The Associated Press had reported that the second highest number of cases were reported in Brazil: 615,000. The third highest number of deaths had been reported in Brazil: 34,000. Then the Brazil Health Ministry removed the cumulative number of infections. The official Brazil data had been questioned previously, now it seems clear that the accuracy is in doubt.
At the other end of the reporting is Italy. The worst scenes of patients in hospital hallways without enough doctors, nurses, protective equipment or ventilators were in Northern Italy. A few weeks later, the daily death rate has decreased from more than one thousand per day to only 72. Italy has seen 33,000 fatalities, the fourth highest country in the world. The terrible results of prior weeks gave an accurate assessment which is now vital as the phased openings are bench-marked to reductions in risks.
Closer to home, there are many who look to the phased opening of commercial activities and perhaps the “normal” college semester in the fall and the return of professional sports this summer as signals
to relax the many protections in place.
Each transit system should be aware of the tendency to allow wishes for improvement to lead to data inaccuracies. Our profession, our industry, our transit customers and our local governments will return to normal, or close to it, when we have mitigated the dangers completely or when the virus is no longer deadly thanks to tested treatments and vaccines.

Issue 6, Article 5
Every worker in the nation is entitled to safety and respect as they pursue their own path. This pandemic has shown how vital several jobs are. The first layer of “essential” became apparent early. Did our communities have enough doctors, nurses, and EMTs? Did our rural communities which had the infection grow in a more delayed manner have enough ICU beds and emergency room beds and medical staff?
The next layer became clear within a few days. Did we have enough transit operators, truck drivers, grocery store staff, municipal sanitation workers, farmers and teachers.
We learned how to put off haircuts and restaurant visits, but we also learned that no matter how “closed” the community might have been during the shutdown, there were certain transit destinations and certain transit trips that must go on.
In Houston and The Woodlands, most express bus service was reduced, but the service to medical center was emphasized. In cities and counties around the state, the ridership dropped, but the trips to the medical facilities took on a new meaning.
The trips on our para-transit systems around the state decreased quickly, but another adaptation took place quickly. Houston Metro teamed with the City of Houston, Walmart and Sam’s Club to deliver through the Food Access Program. Capital Metro in Austin teamed up with the Central Texas Food Bank and H-E-B stores to deliver Help-at-Home kits. DART had several new adaptations designed quickly. Para-transit customers could have their groceries delivered by DART. The “rider” handled the grocery order and payment directly. DART handled the grocery delivery. The DISD teamed up with DART to deliver 4,500 meals each week to students who were sheltering at home. And seniors that needed extra help were given the chance to receive care packages thanks to a partnership with DART and the Park and Recreation Active Adult program of the city of Dallas.
Some of our transit systems offered overtime, some offered hazard pay to their team members. The most common route adjustments around the state were to reduce service to weekend levels and add certain buses on routes that experienced crowding or served major health complexes.
We learned that many workers are essential to the safe operation of the vital functions in our communities. It is remarkable how quickly the Texas transit systems have risen to the challenges. There will be more challenges to face, but the results to date are remarkable.

Weekly Update: Issue 6, Week of June 8-14, 2020: Short Term Impacts, Treatments, Vaccines, and more

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