Much comes into focus with Tuesday’s news that fully vaccinated Gov. Greg Abbott has tested positive for COVID-19. Politics aside, it’s important to avoid schadenfreude and instead use the situation as a teaching moment to encourage vaccination, mask use, and continued social distancing.
Gov. Abbott, no one is in a better position now than you to lead on this.
Families of seriously ill COVID-19 victims who have brought Texas hospitals to the brink of crisis and those who have lost a loved one in the pandemic should be forgiven for experiencing conflicted feeling about Abbott’s welfare. Ditto for the many people who wake up every morning sick with worry over their own unvaccinated children’s well-being as schools reopen, or the vulnerable elderly family members living in their care.
There is no place for politics in sound public health policy, so on behalf of all Republicans, Democrats, and independents who read the San Antonio Report, get well soon, Governor.
One wonders: Is it the Delta variant that “broke through” Abbott’s defenses? That is the variant running rampantly across Texas and other red states where vaccination rates are low and governors are blocking local officials from imposing recommended mandatory mask policies in schools and other indoor public venues.
While Abbott quarantines and relies on social media like this video recorded at the governor’s mansion on Tuesday, let’s look at what this teaching moment tells us and how it ought to lead Abbott to re-examine his own management of the pandemic in Texas.
The first important message to the millions of unvaccinated Texans, including nearly 400,000 Bexar County residents, is the governor’s announcement that he feels good and is asymptomatic. He can thank the vaccine for that protection; according to at least one media report, he had even received his third, so-called booster shot. Most vaccinated people infected with the virus avoid hospitalization or worse, and many experience minor symptoms or no symptoms, just as Abbott reported no symptoms.
The second important takeaway is that Abbott engaged in reckless behavior in the days before he tested positive, appearing at an indoor Republican club event in Collin County on Monday where he and the vast majority of his supporters went maskless in defiance of guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and public health officials in Texas.
Abbott even tweeted photos of the event, evidence that he is okay with public gatherings that ignore all public health recommendations.
The third takeaway is that Abbott is now following the advice and recommendations of his attending physicians even though he has consistently ignored the advice and recommendations of medical experts and public health officials in managing the pandemic over the last 18 months in Texas. Again and again, he has played to his base of voters when he should have acted on behalf of all Texans as strongly urged by the CDC, regardless of the political consequences.
For someone who has said he is not experiencing any symptoms, Abbott is undergoing treatment that includes Regeneron monoclonal antibodies, which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved on an emergency basis for treating COVID-19 patients 12 years and older experiencing minor to moderate symptoms as an effective means of preventing the symptoms worsening and requiring hospitalization or causing death.
One more lesson here is that it would be a mistake in the event of Abbott’s swift and uneventful recovery to conclude that most people who are infected with the virus survive the disease without serious threat to their long-term health. Nearly 54,000 Texans have died from the virus, and more than 3.3. million have been infected. For weeks now, the numbers have been getting worse instead of better.
If nothing else, the pandemic’s resurgence should lead us to reflect on what we can do to reduce the risk to children under 12 and to the medical and health care officials whose selfless treatment of hospitalized COVID-19 patients is putting them and their families at risk. That means getting fully vaccinated and accepting that mask use in indoor settings where people mix is the sensible near-term course to stem the coronavirus spread.
Abbott has the opportunity now to hit the reset button on his public health pronouncements and orders. He has an opportunity to share his own personal story with those Texans who have misused his “personal responsibility” stance to ignore the science behind mask use and the medical miracle of vaccines, thus putting all of us at risk.
Get well soon, Gov. Abbott. Help Texas get well, too.