Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership

April 3rd, 2020

To our amazing healthcare workforce,

Most of you don’t know me, but I know you. You are the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, and uncles who leave your families behind every day to become the frontline heroes in this war against COVID-19. Although I cannot be with you to thank you personally, please know that the members of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership team, as well as their own families, send heartfelt appreciation and gratitude for the critical jobs that you do. No matter what your job is in the healthcare setting, it is a vital link that serves to support the entire system.

We at BAHEP will continue our work on behalf of everyone in the region as we walk these incredibly difficult roads together. So, again, thank you so very much. Please keep safe and know that our thoughts are with you and your loved ones.

With kind regards,

Bob Mitchell

President, Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership

FDA approves first plasma therapy for Houston Methodist COVID-19 patient 

March 31st, 2020

Eric Salazar, MD, PhD. with the department of pathology and genomic medicine at the Houston Methodist Research Institute and Houston Methodist recruits recovered COVID-19 patients willing to donate plasma in hopes of saving the lives of critically ill COVID-19 patients. Credit: Houston Methodist

Houston Methodist received FDA approval March 28 to become the first academic medical center in the nation to transfuse donated plasma from a recovered COVID-19 patient into a critically ill patient. This treatment was fast-tracked to the bedside over the weekend as the death toll in the COVID-19 pandemic soared to more than 2,000 people across the United States, with more than 100,000 Americans sick from the virus.

Houston Methodist physician scientists began recruiting blood plasma donors on Friday from among the approximately 250 patients who have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus at Houston Methodist hospitals. Willing donors were immediately identified, who each give a quart of blood plasma in a procedure much like donating whole blood. Plasma from someone who has recovered from COVID-19 contains antibodies made by the immune system and used to kill the virus. Transfusing this antibody-rich plasma into a COVID-19 patient –- a patient still fighting the virus — may transfer the power of the antibodies into a healing, possibly life-saving therapy.

The first recovered COVID-19 patient to donate plasma was an individual from the Houston metropolitan area who has been in good health for more than two weeks. The plasma was transfused into a COVID-19 patient on Saturday evening at Houston Methodist Hospital

CONCEPT USED BEFORE

Known as convalescent serum therapy, the concept dates back more than a century, when similar treatments were used during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, a diphtheria outbreak in the 1920s, a flesh-eating bacteria epidemic in the 1930s, and during other outbreaks of infectious diseases.

While literature abounds on the theory that immunity can be transferred from a healthy individual to a sick individual using convalescent plasma, results have varied. A description of the treatment of five patients in China was published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggesting that the treatment was beneficial.

“Here at Houston Methodist, we have the capability, the expertise and the patient base from our health care system, and we feel obligated to try this therapy,” said Houston Methodist President and CEO Marc Boom.

MUCH TO LEARN

“There is so much to be learned about this disease while it’s occurring,” he said. “If an infusion of convalescent serum can help save the life of a critically ill patient, then applying the full resources of our blood bank, our expert faculty, and our academic medical center is incredibly worthwhile and important to do.”

Houston Methodist recruitment began as soon as the FDA issued regulatory guidelines for the study earlier last week. Physician scientists at Houston Methodist already had designed and validated a COVID-19 molecular test two months ago and were prepared to begin collecting data when COVID-19 patients started arriving. The Houston Methodist IRB and regulatory affairs experts reviewed the treatment protocol rapidly and secured the FDA approval this weekend.

In New York City earlier this week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that patient recruitment for plasma donations would begin in a matter of days and initially would focus on the heavily hit New York City suburb of New Rochelle, NY.

Eric Salazar, M.D., Ph.D., principal investigator and a physician scientist in the Department of Pathology and Genomic Medicine at the Houston Methodist Hospital and Research Institute, said a review of COVID-19 patients’ charts indicates that nearly two-thirds of the patients may meet the criteria to donate plasma. Patients with critical underlying conditions and advanced age will not be eligible to donate.

FDA APPROVAL NEEDED

Under FDA guidelines, Houston Methodist’s convalescent serum therapy treatment is classified as an emergency investigational new drug protocol (eIND) that requires FDA approval for each patient infused with donated convalescent serum. Houston Methodist physician scientists will seek additional FDA approval for follow-up studies, possibly a multicenter national trial on the effectiveness of convalescent serum therapy against the COVID-19 virus.

The process for donating plasma is similar to donating blood and takes about an hour. Plasma donors are hooked up to a small device that removes plasma while simultaneously returning red blood cells to their bodies. Unlike regular blood donation in which donors have to wait for red blood cells to replenish between donations, plasma can be donated more frequently, as often as twice a week.

“Convalescent serum therapy could be a vital treatment route, because unfortunately there is relatively little to offer many patients except supportive care, and the ongoing clinical trials are going to take a while. We don’t have that much time,” Salazar said

UHCL professor gives expertise on how small businesses can survive COVID-19

March 27th, 2020

With the arrival of the coronavirus, Bay Area small businessmen and women find themselves facing a number of problems.

One of the most worrisome, and the one affecting so many is what’s ahead for small businesses feeling the financial strain after closing their doors so as to maintain social distancing practices recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the country struggles with the COVID-19 concerns.

UH-Clear Lake Associate Professor of Management Troy Voelker thinks a small business owner could mitigate a potentially devastating financial setback by considering some suggestions.

First, he suggests staying up to date on any bailouts or assistance coming from federal, state, or local government agencies.

“These come along quickly and the landscape will evolve very fast over the next few months,” he says. “Demand for assistance will be very high, so submitting your requests early and thoroughly must be a high priority. I would recommend making researching this topic the first thing a small business owner does in the morning, and the last thing he or she does at night. It’s changing that quickly.”

     Voelker also recommends that business owners maintain close contact with their supply chain and communicate clearly what is going on. “At the beginning of March, before all the shutdowns happened locally, small businesses were already reporting interruptions in their supply chains, especially those with China connections,” he said. “Those interruptions will only become more significant over time, so it’s important to continue communicating with vendors.”

     And, he points out that despite the difficulties, it’s possible to find ways to continue developing revenue.

     “For some businesses this is as simple as moving your consumer interactions to an online or pickup model, while other businesses might find they have ways of deriving revenue they never considered before,” he said. “In some cases, the business might need to identify other non-traditional opportunities for creating revenue. There will be a reduction in consumption over the next few months, so diversifying your revenue streams is a good way to respond to uncertainty.”

Layoffs have become a reality, with many hourly workers in service industries finding themselves stuck at home due to social distancing recommendations. Voelker said it’s important for a business owner to make sure his employees do not feel forgotten.

“Maintain contact with your employees as much as you can,” he said. “Even if you’re able to move to an online model, keeping up human connections while at a distance is just good business practice and an important part of life. Most of us are used to spending a lot of our time at work and the people we socialize with during the week are our coworkers, so separating from that is more stressful than many of us realize.”

This is a good time to address parts of the business that owners have been neglecting or haven’t had time for. “Don’t focus on the negativity of the circumstances,” Voelker said. “Use this time to figure out how to connect with future customers and work on things you haven’t had time for.”

Harris County extends Stay Home, Work Safe Order

March 20th, 2020

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced on Tuesday, March 31, the extension of the Stay Home, Work Safe order that will now run through April 30. This announcement comes after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also ordered social distancing activities to be extended through the end of April.

The City of Seabrook continues to follow the orders of both the county and the state and said its city offices will remain closed to public access through the end of April. Essential city personnel will continue to serve the needs of the community.

“We highly encourage all residents and businesses to adhere to the orders and follow all social distancing recommendations from the CDC, state, and county.”

These additional recommendations are highly suggested:

  • Limit the number of times per week you go to the grocery store.
  • Consider having groceries delivered or using curbside pickup services.
  • Only get what you need at the store. Don’t hoard or stockpile. Leave items for others.
  • The trails and most parks remain open. Please practice social distancing when outdoors.
  • Do not host or attend block parties or other social gatherings.
  • Now is not the time for family get-togethers or playdates. Limit the number of people in your home to just your immediate family and/or caregivers.
  • Always wash your hands or use hand sanitizer immediately after pumping gas or going to public places.
  • Stay home if you are sick.
  • If you believe you have COVID-19 symptoms, please take the online assessment provided by Harris County Public Health.
  • If you have recently traveled to the states of Louisiana, California, Washington, or New York or the cities of Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit and/or Miami you should self-quarantine for 14 days per Governor Abbott’s recent travel restrictions order.

“Please do your part to help slow the spread of COVID-19 and continue to#StayHomeSeabrook,” a Seabrook spokesman said.

UH-Clear Lake takes COVID-19 action; classes to go online

March 12th, 2020

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff:

To allow faculty, staff and students to address professional and personal matters in response to the city of Houston and Harris County emergency health declarations and to do our part in minimizing the spread of COVID-19, we are taking the following actions at UH-Clear Lake, UH-Clear Lake at Pearland and all off-campus locations.

Classes (face-to-face and online), including lectures, seminars, discussions and/or presentations, will not be held next week (March 16-21). Beginning March 23, classes will be offered remotely (online or alternative format) until further notice.

Students are encouraged to stay home. Hunter Hall and Dining Services will be open for those deciding to return from spring break. Student Housing and Residential Life will be available, and all protocols regarding sanitization and hygiene to prevent the spread of the virus are being followed.

Faculty and staff may work from home to the extent that they are able to perform their functions remotely and with prior approval from their supervisor and Human Resources. All UH-Clear Lake campuses will remain open, and all offices and services will continue to operate until further notice. Research labs will be open, and related services will remain in operation.

Events and programming funded and sponsored by UH-Clear Lake are cancelled through April 30. If you have an event planned during the month of April that cannot be rescheduled, please consult with the vice president of your division.

Facilities will be maintained using sanitization and hygiene protocols as recommended by authorities. This includes increased custodial cleaning and the availability of hand sanitizer dispensers at all entrances, common areas and elevators.

At this time, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 at UH-Clear Lake or any other system university. UH-Clear Lake’s Emergency Management team works with local, state and federal authorities on a daily basis. We will keep you informed about any updates as they relate to your work and learning at UH-Clear Lake. Meanwhile, we urge you to follow personal hygiene precautions and exercise social distancing measures as recommended by the CDC and local health authorities.

I understand that these precautionary measures may be inconvenient and disappointing to you, but we hope that these efforts can help minimize the spread of COVID-19 in our community. Your health and safety are our priority.

Please find more information about COVID-19 at www.uhcl.edu/health-alert. If you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to us by emailing healthalert@uhcl.edu. Further communication for faculty, staff and students will be forthcoming Thursday.

Sincerely,


Ira K. Blake, Ph.D.
UHCL President