Robert T Babbitt PLLC

Issue 2, Article 1

May 9, 2020

COVID 19, REOPENING THE STATE

The worst of the demand on Intensive Care Units and Hospital Beds may have passed. As we begin the return to cautious openings it is vital that the new normal include protections for one another.

Harris county reached peak new cases on day 20 (after daily cases passed five). Collin and Denton counties also peaked 18-20 days (after daily cases passed five). Tarrant, Travis and Bexar have flattened but have not yet gone down. Dallas county seemed to reach peak at 34 days (after daily cases passed five), but two things changed. First, testing of first responders, seniors and health care workers was expanded, eliminating the requirement for symptoms. Second, the reopening of stores, restaurants and malls on a limited basis began on May 1, 2020. Dallas county has had higher rates for 12 days.  

Transit systems around the state reported general trends on Friday, May 8, 2020. Many are using rear-door passenger boarding; many are allowing free fares; many are prohibiting driver-passenger contact except for ADA assistance.

As we each implement the smartest decisions possible, it is important to learn from each other and pay strict attention to Governor Abbott’s Executive Orders.

Our transit systems provided critical mobility for essential workers for several weeks. Now we must be prepared for more customers under strict safety rules. Simple things to remember and remind our employees of:

  • Most retail establishments are open for business at 25% occupancy
  • Six-foot distance and/or facial coverings are the extremely important
  • Offices will be reopening on a small scale
  • Manufacturing will be reopening on a small scale
  • Many employers will be staggering shifts to maintain distances and workflow

Be prepared for customers who have not been on transit in a few weeks and may not like or understand the recent changes. Several of our transit systems are encouraging facial coverings. All of our transit systems are disinfecting vehicles frequently.

Transit systems throughout the state proved invaluable to essential workers in the uncertain world we were dealing with in March and April. As we deal with a more certain May and June, safety has never been more important.

Our employees must know how important they are and how important the safety protocols for employees and customers are.

For details see: Executive Order GA-21; Dallas Morning News May 8, 2020 (Public Health Section) https://www.dallasnews.com/news/public-health/2020/05/05/watch-live-abbott-updates-texas-on-covid-19-as-gop-lawmakers-defy-his-social-distancing-order/

Issue 2, Article 2

May 9, 2020

COVID 19, NON-EMERGENCY MEDICAL TRIPS BY TRANSIT

Be prepared for those cases transporting NET/NEMT customers. The most challenging is the patient travelling to medical appointment that does not know they are infected. Our best preventive measure in this case is the cautious use of cleaning, social distancing, fare handling precautions and frequent testing.

But in the case of NET/NEMT trips for known positive case customers, the process is clear. First avoid dispatching the trip with an operator who has known risk factors. Second, dispatch must coordinate the need of the trip, assuring that the trip to a scheduled appointment is set. The worst combination of risk factors is when a known positive case appears at a clinic with no warning and risks creating a hotspot. Third, ask about the current symptoms and verify operator has personal protective equipment. Fourth, avoid multiple passenger assignments with a known positive case customer. Fifth, respect privacy and rules. Sixth, if possible, use the larger vehicles in the sub-fleet so that distance may be maintained. And seventh, if the decision has been made to decline trip requests from positive case customers, be clear in communications so that callers know the options they may look to for assistance.

Whether it is a fixed route trip or a paratransit trip, keep up to date on the possible changes in CDC or FTA or local county guidance. This disease is simple to defeat with soap and water, but we are still learning how it impacts different people and how to catch it on day one, not day ten.

For details see: www.transit.dot.gov/frequently-asked-questions-fta-grantees-regarding-coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19

Issue 2, Article 3

May 9, 2020

COVID 19, TEXAS UNEMPLOYMENT

Texas Unemployment now exceeds 1.8 million caused by the pandemic. The Texas Workforce Commission has relaxed guidelines. High-risk workers can remain away from work and not be prohibited from receiving unemployment benefits. The same is true for workers without child-care available.

The short-term impact is more workers will be protected for basic income for a period. This does not change the reality that jobs may be eliminated. Recent data from national unemployment records indicate 14.7% are now unemployed, countless others have had reductions in hours. The April increase of 20.5 million unemployed are a larger group than any since the Great Depression. About 18 million are identified as temporary unemployed.  The types of jobs impacted were virtually every category. The hardest hit was Leisure and Hospitality: 7.7 million. Education and Health Services declined 2.5 million. Professional and Business services dropped 2.1 million, and retail trade dropped another 2.1 million.

The April rate was triple the March rate. It is no wonder the pressure to reopen the economy carefully is a critical discussion in each of our communities.

For details see: www.bls.gov

Issue 2, Article 4

May 9, 2020

COVID 19, FEDERAL TRANSIT ADMINISTRATION FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (UPDATES)

The FAQ website is useful since it helps with interpretations that were not included in the legislation or regulations themselves. They are useful for later evidence in triennial reviews and similar discussions.

There is a recent addition that addresses modifications to a third-party contract for transit services for administrative leave for the contractor employees. Another addition explains the importance of split letters. Split letters are the documents used in large urbanized areas to subdivide formula transit funds among the various provider agencies.

What is the proper accounting for an employee who has been put on leave for communicable disease quarantine? Does the salary or wage still count in the calculation of eligible operating expenses?

If the paratransit system has significant cancellation of trips but increased demands for meal delivery to avoid risking exposures, does the operating cost remain eligible for the CARES ACT funding?

How can our system request a formal waiver of FTA regulations? Help us understand the Emergency Relief docket for the CARES ACT funds.

What about a transit system that has never received FTA Operating Assistance, but is eligible to do so? How do they know the amount they are eligible for in the CARES ACT.

Are costs associated with shifting those who can work from home (new equipment) eligible for CARES ACT funds?

For details see: www.transit.dot.gov,

FTA’s COVID-19 website
FTA’s COVID-19 FAQs
CARES Act

Issue 2, Article 5

May 9, 2020

COVID 19 TEXAS TRANSIT ASSOCIATION AID

You know the TTA as a voice for transit in the public, in the legislature and in the discussions with the Texas Department of Transportation. But now you recognize that TTA found great deals on facial masks. Thousands of masks were ordered and delivered at efficient pricing thanks to the TTA and a forward- thinking vendor. That same initiative is now delivering large quantities of hand sanitizer. Please make your needs known to the TTA office, from 2-ounce bottles to gallon jugs to 55-gallon drums. The prices are very affordable, and the manufacturing run will soon end as the distiller goes back to the core business.

For details see: https://txtransit.org

Issue 2, Article 6

May 9, 2020

COVID 19   THE NEW NORMAL

We do not know everything we would like to about this new disease. We know that elderly, immune-compromised, heart and lung patients are at high risk from the worst elements. We know that the blunt tool of shutting down the personal interactions in an unprecedented manner is effective to limiting the worst problems for hospitals. We know that many social distancing cautious steps can be practical, but we do not know how faithful our communities will be to the relaxed, yet vital, restrictions will be.

We know that Texas has fared better than any large population state. There are several studies that suggest that outdoor exposure is one of the reasons. The wind dilutes the virus concentrations rather than recirculating it. The ultraviolet rays help destroy the virus.

The bigger cities in the cooler climates also have the higher concentrations of PM 2.5. Preliminary research indicates that a small increase in long-term exposure to PM 2.5 leads to a large increase in the COVID 19 fatality rate (www.hsph.harvard.edu).

The new normal for our transit systems will include more customers and most of them wearing facial coverings. It will include rear door boarding in many cities. It will include offices reopening with dedicated, and some anxious, employees.

The faster we can take advantage of new therapeutic treatments, the faster we can prove that one or more of the many vaccines are safe and ready the more our new normal will look like the old normal. 

The more carefully each of our communities adhere to the social distancing, even as we open more business doors, the slower the disease will spread. The faster we prove a vaccine, the faster we can see the old normal or something like it.

Remember, we might wish to keep some of the new strategies after they are no longer critical. Many types of diseases are transmitted in a similar fashion. Our new attention to sanitation probably will stay with us. Our team approach to problem-solving may improve each of our systems. We will learn and we will excel. The brightest minds in the world are working on this. The most caring individuals in the world are raising their game, as we all must.

Weekly Updates: Issue 2, Week of May 11-17, 2020: Texas Reopens, NEMT, Unemployment, and more
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