As a brutal winter storm pummeled much of Texas, Cecilia Corral scoured social media posts written by fellow Austinites. From single mothers and their newborns, others in her city were freezing without heat or desperately needed food.
“Yesterday, I lost count the number of times that I cried from what I was seeing,” said Corral, co-founder and vice-president of product at CareMessage, a nonprofit and patient engagement platform focused on medically underserved areas
Millions of Texans found themselves cold and in the dark on Tuesday, unleashing suffering and death in a state that produces the most electricity in the nation by far, yet somehow lost control of its own power grid amid a harsh winter. Amid the catastrophe, photos of illuminated city skylines circulated on social media, sparking outrage, and revealing how socioeconomically disadvantaged families and people of color shouldered an outsized burden from officials’ bungled management.
“It’s not just today. It’s not just this emergency. It’s every emergency,” said Natasha Harper-Madison, mayor pro-tem of Austin. “These are the kinds of disparities that we see on a normal basis all the time. They just happen to be amplified because of the emergency.”
As sub-freezing temperatures and inches of snow shocked Texans in recent days, cranked thermostats warred with tougher operating conditions at power plants. With skyrocketing demand for energy and dwindling supply, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the flow of electric power for most of the state, initiated outages to try to cope with roughly 34,000 megawatts of lost power.
But critical infrastructure was exempt from the long-term blackouts, benefitting residents in the denser, more affluent areas that usually house those services, and disadvantaging underprivileged communities forced into neighborhoods where those resources are scarce.
In Austin, the state capital, widespread blackouts have once again highlighted the city’s “racial and economic segregation”, Harper-Madison said.
Images showed Austin’s swanky downtown – kept online to support warming centers, a local hospital, government buildings, etc – juxtaposed with the blackouts around it. In Dallas, skyscrapers lit up in festive reds and hot pinks for Valentine’s Day this long weekend, frivolously exhausting the city’s power, and Houston’s office buildings likewise shone bright on Monday night while locals shivered in their homes.
Initially, rolling power outages were supposed to last a matter of minutes, but as the power grid foundered, they have extended long past those expectations, sometimes for days. “The current situation is not – absolutely not – tenable. There’s no excuse for this,” said Varun Rai, director of the University of Texas Energy Institute.
As houses and apartments turn bitterly cold, hundreds of Texans are using life-threatening methods such as grills, cars or generators for heat and are falling seriously ill from carbon monoxide poisoning, including a woman and girl who died in Houston.
Latino and Black Americans are being vaccinated against Covid-19 at the lowest rates despite suffering disproportionately high levels of serious complications and deaths, new analysis reveals.
Only 3.5% of Latinos and 4.5% of Black Americans have so far received a vaccine shot compared with 9.1% of white Americans and 8.6% of Asian Americans, according to state figures analyzed by APM Research Lab.
Indigenous Americans have the highest inoculation rate so far, with 11.6% (one in nine) already having received at least one dose. News of the relatively fast vaccination rollout in Indian Country comes shortly after the Guardian revealed that Indigenous Americans are dying from Covid faster than any other community in the US.
Analysts warn that the available data is extremely patchy due to poor reporting by many state health departments, but that the trend strongly suggests that access to the Covid vaccines has so far been inequitable.
“Unfortunately, despite the fact that we know Covid-19 has had very disparate impacts, about half of all states currently fail to provide vaccination data by race and ethnicity,” said Craig Helmstetter, managing partner of APM Research. “In the states that are providing data, Black and Latino Americans are lagging far behind Asian, white and indigenous Americans.
It was several months into the pandemic that cities and states began releasing racial and ethnic breakdowns of Covid hospitalizations and deaths. A year on, almost half a million Americans have died, yet we still do not know the ethnic background of one in 10 people killed by the virus.
The vaccination rollout got off to a very slow start in the US, hampered by the Trump administration’s inadequate preparation and logistical support for states, as well as chronic underinvestment in public health capacity. The pace has picked up, with more than 1.6m doses now being administered every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Joe Biden’s national Covid strategy promises to put equity at the heart of the vaccination programme, as his team strives to meet a campaign promise to get 100m doses into arms in his first 100 days in office.
As of 12 February, only 24 states and the District of Columbia had published comparable data about the number and share of their racial and ethnic communities who have received one or both Covid-19 vaccine doses. New York and Illinois, two of the six most populous states, are among those that had not released comparable ethnicity data, making it impossible to track whether promises to ensure equitable access are being kept.
Former Republican president George W. Bush released a statement earlier today with his and his wife, Laura’s, condolences on the death of conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh.
“Laura and I are sorry to learn that Rush Limbaugh has passed away,” the statement read. “Rush Limbaugh was an indomitable spirit with a big heart, and he will be missed.”
“As he battled hearing loss and cancer late in life, he was sustained by the support of friends and family, his love of sports and rock and roll, and his belief in God and country,” Bush said.
The South Carolina House has passed a bill banning nearly all abortions in the state, following the lead of other states with similar measures that would go into effect if the US Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade.
The Associated Press writes:
The proposal passed the state senate on Jan. 28. It faces a final procedural vote in the House on Thursday that likely won’t change the outcome and will then be sent to the governor for his signature. Republican governor Henry McMaster has promised to sign the measure as soon as possible.
The House voted 79-35 in favor of the bill after nearly all members of the Democratic caucus walked out in protest at one point.
A few Democrats stayed behind as Republicans wiped out more than 100 proposed amendments.
After holding a news conference to speak against the bill, several other Democrats returned to express their opposition to the measure, which has come up for debate in the legislature numerous times over the past decade.
Nearly all House members were later present for the vote.
“You love the fetus in the womb. But when it is born, it’s a different reaction,” said Representative Gilda Cobb-Hunter of Orangeburg, the House’s longest serving member at 29 years.
Numerous Republican lawmakers spoke in favor of the bill.
Rep. Melissa Lackey Oremus said plenty of women have mixed feelings when they get pregnant, especially when they aren’t where they want to be in their life.
“They don’t deserve to die just because their mother made a bad choice one night,” Oremus said.
The bill requires doctors to perform ultrasounds to check for [preliminary signs of] a heartbeat in the fetus. If such a pulse is detected, the abortion can only be performed if the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest or the mother’s life is in danger.
About a dozen other states have passed similar or more restrictive abortion bans, which could take effect if the supreme court with three justices appointed by Republican former president Donald Trump were to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 court decision supporting abortion rights.
Lawsuits will follow if the bill becomes law.