HOUSTON — In recent days, Texas Governor Greg Abbott commemorated India’s independence anniversary with a crowd in his office. He mixed with hundreds of Republican supporters at a packed campaign event. He posed with the brother of famous guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Photos of the events show that few of those who met the governor wore masks, and neither did Mr Abbott, who has banned local governments from making them mandatory.
So when Mr Abbott tested positive for the coronavirus this week, Texans began to question the circumstances that may have led to his infection and efforts to identify those who may have been in close contact with the governor, who was fully vaccinated.
At least 10 other incumbent governors — four Democrats and six Republicans — have contracted the virus since the pandemic began, but Mr Abbott’s diagnosis came amid a fierce battle between the governor and his largest cities over public health measures in schools. and as Covid-19 patients, hospitals are packing again.
In its announcement on Tuesday, Mr. Abbott’s office said the governor, 63, will be tested daily and will begin receiving monoclonal antibody treatment following his positive result. The treatment is used to avoid hospitalization and is usually reserved for people with compromised immune systems or other underlying conditions, or for people over the age of 65.
Abbott’s age alone would put him at greater risk of progressing to severe Covid-19, said Dr. Jessica Justman, an infectious disease specialist and professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. That Mr. Abbott is paralyzed from the waist down — he was injured by a falling tree in 1984 and uses a wheelchair — adds medical complexity because it increases the risk of other infections, she added.
The assistants of Mr. Abbott declined to comment further on his condition, except to say monoclonal antibody treatment must be approved by a doctor. The governor received his first vaccine dose in December.
His aides also declined to give Mr Abbott’s schedule or describe his activities over the past few days. Hours before his positive test, Mr. Abbott, however, in front of a crowd of several hundred people in a small golf and retirement community north of Dallas called Heritage Ranch. The governor was seen in images speaking his campaign on a podium and shaking hands with members of the local Republican club.
It was not immediately clear what efforts had been made to identify and quarantine those in close contact with the governor. His office referred questions back to his statement on Tuesday, which said all of Mr Abbott’s close contacts had been notified “today”.
Collin County, where the event took place, is not conducting its own contact tracing, a county spokesperson said. .
An image posted Monday on Mr. Abbott was posted, showed him: posing with Jimmie Vaughan, a well-known Texas blues rock guitarist whose brother died in 1990. Shortly after Abbott announced his positive test, Mr Vaughan said in a statement that he tested negative.
Friday the governor met in his office with at least 18 people — “friends of the Indian-American community here in the state of Texas” — to commemorate the anniversary of India’s independence. There was only one mask to be seen.
But it was the images of the event in Collin County on Monday night that attracted the most attention.
The governor’s attendance at a major and almost completely maskless event the day before his positive test dramatized the largely twin-track experience of the virus in Texas — underscoring the politically charged nature of each response.
Once a staunchly conservative, Collin County has been hotly contested by Democrats and seen by many Texas political analysts as a whistleblower for the state. Democratic candidates and activists thought they could turn the county around in 2020, but fell short. Mr. Trump won the county by more than four percentage points.
Boosting Republican voters in the county is important to the party, and staying in touch with his grassroots is important to Mr. Abbott, who will face challenges in next year’s Republican primaries from several candidates who see him as vulnerable on the right.
Understand the State of Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the US
- Mask Rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended in July that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places in areas with outbreaks, a reversal of the guidance it offered in May. Find out where CDC guidelines apply and where states have their own masking policies. The battle over masks has become controversial in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
- Vaccine rules. . . and Buselessness. Private companies are increasingly mandating coronavirus vaccines for employees, taking different approaches. Such mandates are permitted by law and have been confirmed in court proceedings.
- College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are demanding that students be vaccinated against Covid-19. Nearly all of them are in states that voted for President Biden.
- schools. On August 11, California announced that teachers and staff at both public and private schools should be vaccinated or tested regularly, the first state in the nation to do so. A survey published in August found that many U.S. parents of school-aged children are opposed to mandatory vaccines for students, but were more in favor of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff who have not received their injections.
- Hospitals and Medical Centers. Many hospitals and major health systems require workers to receive a Covid-19 vaccine, citing the increasing caseload fueled by the Delta variant and persistently low vaccination coverage in their communities, even within their workforce.
- New York. On August 3, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced proof of vaccination would be required from employees and customers for indoor meals, gyms, performances and other indoor settings, becoming the first U.S. city to require vaccines for a wide variety of activities. . City hospital employees should also receive a vaccine or be tested weekly. Similar rules apply to employees in New York State.
- At the federal level. The Pentagon announced it would aim to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops “by mid-September.” President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would be required to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or undergo regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.
Mr Abbott’s response to the coronavirus last year, measures that included business restrictions and a mask mandate angered some Republicans and sparked an uprising within the state party. Allen West, the former Florida congressman, was elevated to the party’s top post last summer and has since left the post to challenge Mr Abbott.
But with coronavirus hospitalizations on the rise again in the state, approaching last year’s peaks, Abbott has resisted calls for new mandates. He has also banned local elected officials from imposing mask or vaccine requirements. After leaders in several major cities, including Dallas, San Antonio and Houston, ignored the order and continued with mask mandates, the governor took them to court. The Texas Supreme Court is currently considering the matter.
Instead of mandates, the governor has instead urged Texans — whose vaccination rates lag behind the national average — to voluntarily get vaccinated. With intensive care units filling up, he has asked hospitals to voluntarily postpone elective procedures and has expanded the use of the monoclonal antibody treatment he is now receiving. The state health service has also requested five federal government mortuary trailers to deploy as needed, although cities or counties had not requested any as of Tuesday.
In a short video message about his positive test, Mr. Abbott pointed to his own vaccination to explain why he didn’t feel sick. “I got the Covid-19 vaccine and that may be one reason why I really don’t feel any symptoms right now,” he said from a balcony in the governor’s house overlooking the state capitol.
But his treatment, and the lack of information about it, even raised questions among some doctors. “It’s hard to get it out of public information,” says Dr. Peter J. Hotez, a professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and a vaccine expert.
However, using monoclonal antibodies before symptoms develop is not uncommon, said Dr. Aruna Subramanian, an infectious disease physician at Stanford Medicine. “It’s really meant for people who aren’t in the hospital yet to avoid hospitalization,” she says. “The sooner you get it, the better.”
But, she added, the level of testing and treatment Mr Abbott received is not typical. “This should be all the more reason for people to get vaccinated, wear masks and take precautions,” she said. “Because they’re not getting the treatment he’s getting.”