Austin patrol Officer Ross Pranter woke up on the last Friday in March with no sense of taste or smell.
Three weeks in quarantine and recovery later, Pranter returned to his South Central Austin patrol shift feeling happy, healthy, cautious—and lucky, because his bout with COVID-19 had been uneventful.
Even so, he said Friday, "I wouldn't wish this on anybody."
Pranter, 37, is the only local police officer to be diagnosed with the disease caused by the coronavirus. Officials have not determined where he got it, but do not rule out the possibility he caught it from a member of the community during a patrol shift.
The loss of his taste and smell didn't immediately trigger a red flag with Pranter because he sometimes experiences that with allergies, he said, and because it wasn't a widely known symptom at the time.
When his wife called with that update later that afternoon, Pranter alerted his supervisor and went home.
On Monday, his test came back positive—and Pranter and his entire South Central Austin patrol shift were quarantined for two weeks. No one else on his shift caught the virus.
A healthy-looking Pranter returned to work on Friday wearing a face mask and telling his muffled story of recovery outside police headquarters. His message: Stay cautious, flatten the curve, obey social distancing, and watch your own body for signs that something is not right. Best to catch it early and avoid contaminating others who may not be so well-equipped to fight it off.
Behind him, volunteers handed out barbecue lunches to police officers, a charity-event-turned-welcome-back-party.
"Today we celebrate," said Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association. "We're very blessed and happy to have him back without him having to suffer [any major symptoms]."
Pranter said he did not experience a fever and did not have to be hospitalized, but said he had feelings of nausea and anxiety in addition to his sensory loss. It was a miserable feeling, even though his symptoms were mild, he said.
The loss of his senses was especially strange, he said—hard to swallow, a cotton-mouth feeling, and food tasted bad.
"You can't taste it, but you can tell something is not right," he said.
As to how he caught it, he said, he recalls a person he came into contact with on a call, who appeared to have symptoms, but nothing was confirmed. The 911 call was placed by a neighbor who was unable to answer screening questions on the phone about the subject's health, police said.
Police have been wearing personal protective gear and practicing social distancing since at least mid-March.
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Austin's Delta 8 industry has been turned on its head after Texas health officials clarified that the cannabinoid is on the state list of illegal substances, though it was previously believed to be legal by most retailers, consumers and manufacturers.
House Bill 1325, which was signed in June 2019 by Gov. Greg Abbott, and the Farm Bill, signed into law by former President Donald Trump in 2018, legalized any hemp product containing less than .3% THC. The same bills were thought to have made Delta 8 legal, though the Texas Department of State Health Services added a notice on its website saying it was still a controlled substance as of Friday, Oct. 15.
Both the federal and state governments keep separate lists on what is considered a controlled substance. Marijuana is considered Schedule I, a category reserved for substances with "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," both statewide and federally.
Austin-based CBD retailer Grassroots Harvest CEO Kemal Whyte, like many CBD shop retailers, was blindsided by the announcement. Many small businesses rely on Delta 8 for their sales—Green Herbal Care CBD said about 90% of its sales come from Delta 8—and Whyte said he is frustrated by the inconsistencies in the drug scheduling system.
Since 87% of Texans support the legalization of marijuana, at least for medical use, per a recent poll, Whyte said he wonders who this legislation is for.
"It's gonna have a massive impact on small businesses—there's just no way around it," Whyte said. "The reality is, we don't want to push out anything bad for our customers, we want this to benefit our customers and to help them. If we can make money while doing it, that's the American dream. What are we doing, whose benefit is this for?"
Delta 8 surged in popularity after the perceived legalization—consumers enjoyed its lower psychotropic potency, decreased anxiety while using it and the peace of mind as a legal way to get high. So in order to protect their products and livelihoods, both Grassroots Harvest and Austin-based manufacturer Hometown Heroes are taking legal action.
Whyte said Grassroots Harvest is suing DSHS, saying their action is creating negative effects in the market. Meanwhile, a Hometown Heroes spokesperson said the company is in the process of filing a temporary restraining order that would pause the ban on Delta-8 in the state of Texas.
Threats against Delta 8 are not new—DSHS lost a lawsuit trying to make "smokable hemp products" illegal last year and Texas lawmakers had been considering a bill that would make Delta 8 illegal, though it was dropped after the clarification was made.
Hometown Heroes released a formal statement in response to the DSHS rule.
"I need to be clear—we love Texas, we're just choosing to fight for the will of the people in regards to cannabis in Texas," Hometown Hero CEO Lukas Gilkey said in a statement. "(Texas DSHS) are using backhanded ways to create legislation and go against the will of the people."
Whyte laments the fact that it would be easier legally to "open up a strip club that also sells guns," and said he can't post customer testimonials that mention the benefits of Delta 8 without getting hit with a cease and desist from the Food and Drug Administration. Whyte said he isn't opposed to regulation—far from it—he just wants to see it go through the correct channels.
"The fact that they're stunting our ability to communicate with our clients that want to learn about this, you're preventing us from communicating with them and teaching them, or spreading information that we know," Whyte said. "I think that that in and of itself opens up a lot of questions."
Grassroots Harvest still has Delta 8 products on its shelves for the time being but for how long, Whyte doesn't know.
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