Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R), who is fully vaccinated, tested positive for COVID-19 this week as deaths in his state from the coronavirus have more than doubled in the past two weeks and hospitals have reached their capacity.
While Abbott suffered a relatively rare breakthrough infection, less than half of the state’s total population is fully vaccinated against the virus, putting them at high risk of contracting COVID-19.
The massive spike in cases could also easily climb further, with unvaccinated students from across the state returning to school this week amid a battle with Abbott over mask warrants in classrooms to protect children aged 12 years and under, who do not yet have the opportunity to be vaccinated.
The momentum got everyone on edge and created heated political battles between Abbott and Democratic leaders in several urban centers.
“We are concerned about escalating numbers. Yesterday our cases were above our seven-day moving average, our hospitalizations above our seven-day moving average, intensive care above our seven-day moving average, so we’re still very concerned about the numbers we see ” , said the mayor of Austin. Steve Adler (D) told The Hill on Wednesday.
“We know the best, and really the only, way out of this long term is for people to get vaccinated, so we’re doing everything we can to get more and more people vaccinated. ”
Austin is one of a handful of cities in Texas that have responded to Abbott’s executive order against mask warrants. The Texas Supreme Court earlier this week issued a temporary order banning mask warrants issued in cities, including Dallas and San Antonio.
Following the ruling, Abbott defended the decision to ban mask warrants, tweeting that “the ban does not ban the use of masks. Anyone who wants to wear a mask can do so, including in schools. “
But at the same time, Texas is experiencing a massive increase in COVID-19 cases. It has an average of 15,500 new cases per day, with hospitals and intensive care units close to or at full capacity in many areas.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers that nearly 94% of counties in Texas have high transmission. Only eight of 254 counties do not fall under the agency’s recommendations for fully vaccinated people to wear masks indoors.
Of all states, Texas ranks second for most adults with confirmed COVID-19 in hospitals and intensive care units, behind Florida, according to Department of Health and Human Services data social.
The Lone Star State narrowly has the most children hospitalized with confirmed COVID-19 diagnoses, currently numbering 196 children, compared to 190 pediatric hospitalizations in Florida.
Democrat Mike Collier, candidate for lieutenant governor, called the COVID-19 situation in Texas a “nightmare” and blamed the current administration, saying Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (right) did not motivate residents to get vaccinated.
“For political reasons alone, they let this virus go wild,” Collier told The Hill. “And the scientists told us there would be variations, and that’s exactly what happened. And I put that at their feet.
Spokesmen for Abbott and Patrick did not respond to requests for comment.
President BidenJoe BidenBriahna Joy Gray: Democrats play ‘chicken game’ with infrastructure bills Defense overnight: Senior general admits intelligence missed speed of Afghanistan collapse Biden will demand vaccination COVID-19 of all nursing home staff | Democrats adopt COVID mandates in governor races PLUS also called on Republican governors who have banned mask mandates, including Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantis Tampa-area School District Imposes Mask Warrant After 10,000 Students Forced To Isolate Overnight Health Care: US To Begin Booster Injections Sept. 20 | Biden to Require COVID-19 Vaccination of All Nursing Home Staff | Democrats adopt COVID mandates in governors’ races Biden calls on governors who oppose school mask mandates MORE, to “get away” from schools and businesses that wish to implement COVID-19 restrictions.
“Unfortunately, as we have seen throughout this pandemic, some politicians are trying to turn public safety measures, as children wearing masks in schools, into political disputes for their own political gain,” he said. Biden said in a speech Wednesday. “Some are even trying to seize the power of local educators by banning masks in schools. They set a dangerous tone.
“I have made it clear that I will be on the side of those who are trying to do the right thing,” added the president.
Adler said he hoped Abbott’s mild encounter with the virus – the governor says he’s not symptomatic – would encourage Texans to get vaccinated.
“My hope is that the more people see breakthrough cases that don’t lead to hospitalization and are relatively mild, that more people will trust the vaccines and be ready to take it,” Adler told The Hill.
But Jamarr Brown, the co-executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, said he didn’t think Abbott’s experience would change the governor’s approach.
“He has to make a change,” Brown said. ” Will he? I do not know. “
“He puts schools and children at risk for his own political gain,” he added.
Only 45.5% of the total population of Texas and 56.6% of adults are fully vaccinated against the virus.
The state’s lower vaccination rate is playing a “huge role” in the current wave of COVID-19, said Angela Clendenin, assistant professor in the School of Public Health at Texas A&M University.
She noted that the state has reached a point where not enough residents are receiving the vaccine, giving the virus a chance to mutate and develop more transmissible variants like the delta strain.
“It’s like this big, big open space where the virus continues to infect people and even mutate more,” she said. “The low vaccination rate, the lack of mandatory masks, whatever is happening creates an opportunity for a more serious wave to happen in the future. “
David Dowdy, associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said Texas was not an “outlier” because much of the country is battling the delta, but COVID-19 is has become more “prevalent” in the state recently.
The start of the school year could give “another boost to the virus,” he said. He recommended that authorities focus on finding places where transmission is occurring, such as in schools, and take action to prevent this spread.
“It’s just important that we recognize that the measures that are in place right now don’t have to be in place forever,” said Dowdy. “But as cases increase, it’s important for us to respond before things get even more out of hand. “
Some school districts have already encountered roadblocks this year, with the Iraan-Sheffield Independent School District in West Texas announcing a two-week closure starting Tuesday and the Leander Independent School District reaching more than 100 cases in during his first week of school.
Several school districts are finding ways to go against the governor’s decree against mask warrants.
The Paris, Texas school district announced on Wednesday that masks would be part of the dress code. The Austin Independent School District said ahead of the first day of school this week that the masks would still be needed, noting that the Supreme Court’s ruling did not apply to the district.
Adler stressed the need to get vaccinated and wear masks in order to “turn the tide” of the pandemic. He also said there are ongoing discussions about how to handle mass events, such as the Austin City Limits music festival.
“I think we’re going to have to live with this COVID virus for a while and we’re going to have to learn to continue to live with this presence in our lives,” Adler said. “What I think this is going to have to mean is more and more events, opportunities and activities that are really only open to people who have been vaccinated. “
“Hopefully this will help encourage some to get vaccinated who might not otherwise,” he said.