Steve Clark

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Steve Clark is a staff writer with the Brownsville Herald. He can be reached at sclark@brownsvilleherald.com

Congressman finds large per-capita disparity in funding

Cameron County and other Texas counties and cities with populations under 500,000 appear to be getting the short end of the stick when it comes to distribution of federal Coronavirus Relief Funds. According to an estimate from U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela’s office, the county and its cities together would have been eligible to apply for about $180 per capita rather than $55 per capita in CRF money through the state had the governor’s office used the same per-capita formula as the U.S. Treasury Department in its distribution of CRF money. Cameron County itself, based on the population of its unincorporated areas, is eligible to apply for $5.5 million in CRF funds under the $55-per-capita formula, but would be eligible to apply for $18 million under the $180-per-capita formula. Read the full story at themonitor.com

Letter pushes testing funds; Vela: $250B needed for nat’l strategy

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela., D-Brownsville, and two of his congressional colleagues on May 7 sent a letter to House and Senate leadership urging prioritization of $250 billion for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing for front-line healthcare workers, first-responders, and food and agricultural workers as lawmakers work on the next national emergency relief package. The letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was signed by House Agriculture Committee members Vela and Lisa Blunt Rochester, and Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson. They wrote that a “robust plan of action for testing and contact tracing” is critical to ensuring that the American public, the nation’s workers and the economy “can return to a new normal as soon as possible.” Read the full story at themonitor.com

Priest takes message of peace door to door

 Rev. Joshua Carlos of Holy Family Church wasn’t going to let a little thing like a pandemic lockdown prevent him from his tending his flock. With his parishioners temporarily unable to come to church in person because of official restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus, Carlos went to them, before and after Holy Week grabbing his walking stick and peregrinating through the neighborhoods of the parish he administers to bestow blessings and see how folks were doing. “I had heard other priests taking the sacrament out to the street,” he said. “I wanted to do something similar, but I wanted a little more freedom to interact with the people.” Read the full story at themonitor.com

Chips and salsa will never be taken for granted again post-virus

Sometimes when the chips are down, you don’t get chips, much less chips and salsa. The pandemic has forced Rio Grande Valley residents to make a number sacrifices in terms of suspending leisure activities, limiting travel to essential trips, obeying curfews, wearing a mask and even, in some cases, living without the time-honored ritual of settling down to a basket of fresh chips and salsa while leisurely perusing a menu. The dire situation is the result of official orders to temporarily shutter dining areas to slow the spread of the coronavirus, though it can seem at times as if the very fabric of civilization is unraveling. Read the full story at themonitor.com

Disabled vets, SSI recipients must request child payments by May 5

Some veterans and disabled Americans have only until May 5 to request $500 child payments from the IRS as provided for by the CARES Act emergency relief package, according to the office of U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela. The IRS has set a deadline of May 5 for veterans who receive compensation for service-related disabilities, or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients who don’t file annual tax returns. SSI recipients and disabled veterans are eligible for Economic Impact Payments (EIP) of $1,200, and also payments of $500 for each dependent child 17 and younger. Because the IRS does not have information on the dependents of these eligible disabled veterans and SSI recipients, however, they must request the child payments through an online portal at irs.gov by May 5, according to Vela’s office. Read the full story at themonitor.com.

SpaceX Starship reaches milestone

SpaceX achieved an important milestone over the weekend with successful pressure tests of its Starship SN4 prototype at Boca Chica, clearing the way for an engine static-fire and, perhaps soon, a low-altitude test flight. Late on April 26, the company’s CEO, Elon Musk, posted a brief Twitter video from a vantage point beneath the SN4 as the towering cylinder shed ice crystals following a successful cryogenic pressurization test meant to simulate the extremely cold fuel conditions that Starship would endure in space. “Snowing in Texas,” was Musk’s caption. Read the full story at themonitor.com.

SpaceX Starship development proceeding

While everybody has been preoccupied with coronavirus the past several weeks, SpaceX’s Boca Chica operation has been aggressively pursuing development of the Starship spacecraft intended to take humans to the Moon and Mars. But there’s still a lot of work to be done to get there. Elon Musk, the company’s founder and CEO, tweeted on April 17: “Good progress, but 18 years to launch our first humans is a long time. Technology must advance faster or there will be no city on the red planet in our lifetime.” Boca Chica has become the locus of the company’s Starship accelerated build/test program, which has experienced failures as well as successes over the past several months. Starship Mk1, the earliest full-size prototype, was irreparably damaged in November during a cryogenic fuel pressurization test. The next prototype, SN1, met a similar fate on Feb. 28, dashing plans for a sub-orbital test flight this spring, though SpaceX’s Boca Chica team was already building SN2. Read the full story at themonitor.com

Beaches, parks are open again; COVID-19 restrictions remain place however

As of 12:01 a.m. Saturday, Cameron County parks, beaches and boat ramps are open again, though with restrictions. County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. announced the easing of restrictions, which were implemented weeks ago to slow the spread of COVID-19, at a press conference on Friday. He said the reopening of beaches is being done in coordination with the mayor and city council of South Padre Island. Parking lots at pedestrian-only beach parks such as Isla Blanca or E.K. Atwood will be limited to 50 percent capacity, while drive-on beaches will require at least 20 feet between vehicles, Treviño said. Social distancing must be practiced and everyone at the beach must wear a mask or facial covering, though they are not required in the water, he said. Watercraft for fishing may have a maximum of two occupants, or four occupants if members of the same household, and everyone has to wear a mask or facial covering. Charter fishing boats 18 feet or smaller may contain a guide and one client. Boats 22-26 feet in length may contain a guide and two clients. Treviño noted that the rules for boats between 18 and 22 feet need clarification. Read the full story at themonitor.com

Social-distancing mandates violated during Easter

Facebook was full of them: photos of families getting together, hiding eggs, cooking on the grill and otherwise enjoying themselves just like it was a normal Easter Sunday. Except there was nothing normal about it, and with the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Cameron County up to 195 as of press time, County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. took time during a Monday afternoon press conference to admonish residents who thought it would be OK to take a day off from the shelter-in-place and social distancing measures the county has imposed to slow the spread of the deadly virus that has so far claimed five lives in the Rio Grande Valley, 271 in the state and more than 23,000 nationwide. Noting the range of effects of the virus among different people, from zero symptoms to severe illness or death, Treviño said residents who ignored the county’s plea to continue sheltering in place and social distancing through the weekend were nevertheless gambling with the health and safety of their family members, since individuals with no symptoms can still be COVID-19 carriers. Read the full story at themonitor.com.

The Virus Hunter: World-renowned local expert discusses COVID-19 threat

Joseph B. McCormick M.D., an epidemiologist, founder of the UT School of Public Health in Brownsville and one of the world’s top experts on terrifying diseases such as the Ebola virus and Lassa fever, says COVID-19 is about as bad as anything he’s ever encountered. McCormick, who started the school of public health 20 years ago and stepped down as regional dean in late 2018, served as chief of the Special Pathogens Branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 1981 to 1990 and, with his wife, fellow epidemiologist Susan Fisher-Hoch, authored “Level 4: Virus Hunters of the CDC,” originally published in 1996. “It’s right up there with the worst that we’ve seen in the sense that even modern medicine is struggling to keep up with it,” he said. “That’s saying something.” Read the full story at themonitor.com.