Our coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic examines the disease's effects on Houston and the surrounding region, both now and once the outbreak is over.

3 trends in urban planning that will shape how we live in the endemic-COVID era

That said, planners are integrators by nature and there is a huge opportunity for team leaders in the design and strategy professions  to get out ahead of and continue to plan—with the assumption that we have to continue to change, hopefully for the better. By gathering inputs and trust from the communities we serve we can uniquely drive the design process. With examples, here are some interesting trends that will continue to inform our planning practice.

Shaped but not shattered: How Houston’s Vietnamese-owned nail shops navigated the pandemic

As I entered Houston’s Star Nail Bar* in July of 2020 for my first post-shutdown manicure, I was greeted by a masked nail technician who, without a word, held a thermal scanner up to my forehead before handing me a sanitized clipboard and pen to fill out my contact information for COVID-tracing purposes. The shelves of colorful nail polishes that adorned the walls of the salon now boasted additional signs, handwritten in bright orange Sharpie: “PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH. TELL NAIL TECH COLOR # YOU LIKE.”

The owner, a Vietnamese-American woman in her late 50s, enthusiastically ushered me to a cubicle stationed six feet away from another station. Plastic screens had been erected to serve as precautionary barriers between nail technician and client. My nail technician, Van, clucked his tongue in disapproval as he examined the dry and brittle state of my cuticles. “Last time I told you no biting, but you bite,” he observed. “Covid stress you? You need manicure bad—welcome back.” I laughed at his candor and readily agreed.

Did cash incentives move the needle on COVID-19 vaccinations in Harris County?

After over a month of incentive programs, outreach efforts, public pressure and mounting fears around the more virulent COVID-19 Delta variant, Harris County has tens of thousands more newly vaccinated people than it did over a month ago.   

The question is, did the city’s and county’s offer of $100 or more do the trick?

The short answer: It certainly did have an effect, and that effect might have been more pronounced in areas where it was needed most. But it was a short-lived solution to a complicated set of problems. 

Data partnership bears fruit for Urban Harvest's work confronting food insecurity

Food insecurity has been an increasingly urgent challenge that has afflicted the Houston region, especially during recent crises like Hurricane Harvey, the COVID-19 pandemic, and Winter Storm Uri. But knowing where and when to deploy resources has not always been clearly known. A partnership between Urban Harvest and the Kinder Institute for Urban Research took on that challenge as part of a recent grant-funded project.

Without mask mandates, Texas undermines school districts' efforts to undo pandemic learning gaps

The Texas Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on local mask mandates means the state has officially told public schools to start the 2021-2022 school year as if the COVID-19 pandemic never happened. More correctly, as if it was still not happening. Others have already pointed to the health risks posed by not having a mask mandate in place at schools, and schools around the Houston area have already had to close because of outbreaks. But beyond the dangers posed to the health of students, staff, and families, the state’s approach is undermining schools’ ability to accelerate students’ learning and close gaps created and compounded over the past 18 months.

From hurricanes to COVID-19, state and local governments increasingly rely upon FEMA grants

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has become increasingly relied upon to help states and local jurisdictions recover and prepare for disasters, particularly hurricanes, floods, fires and, more recently, pandemics. Proposed rule changes for the program could reduce future funding allocations, even as disasters seem to become more commonplace.

A new dataset available on the Kinder Institute Urban Data Platform allows for a deeper dive into the FEMA Public Assistance Program’s increasing role. 

Understanding the unvaccinated: A look at hesitancy as well as access

The Delta variant has led to COVID-19’s fourth wave—a surge in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. More than any other factor, what's driving this is the number of unvaccinated people—who either by choice or by design are not getting shots. Because vaccine hesitancy and access varies across states and cities, local solutions might be key to closing the gap.