Greg Abbott tests positive for COVID

Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP, Pool

So I got myself in trouble on Twitter today when this news broke and I tweeted, “Sure hope Abbott doesn’t need an ICU bed. There aren’t many around.”

Which was not well phrased. Especially with some media outlets seemingly blaming Abbott for his own infection by making a point of noting that he opposes mask mandates.

Anyway, more on that in a second.

The good news is that he’s doing well:

Office of the Governor Communications Director Mark Miner today issued a statement after Governor Greg Abbott tested positive for COVID-19:

“Governor Greg Abbott today tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. The Governor has been testing daily, and today was the first positive test result. Governor Abbott is in constant communication with his staff, agency heads, and government officials to ensure that state government continues to operate smoothly and efficiently. The Governor will isolate in the Governor’s Mansion and continue to test daily. Governor Abbott is receiving Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody treatment.

“Governor Abbott is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, in good health, and currently experiencing no symptoms. Everyone that the Governor has been in close contact with today has been notified. Texas First Lady Cecilia Abbott tested negative.”

People, especially people predisposed to dislike me because of my criticism of Trump, thought I was either gloating over his illness or blaming him for the scarcity of ICU beds. I didn’t mean to and I apologize that it came off that way. I wouldn’t celebrate anyone getting COVID, except maybe Harvey Weinstein. And I don’t blame Abbott’s policies for the scarcity of ICU beds. But there is a major, very concerning scarcity and it was fresh in my mind from reading this story when I heard he was infected:

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, as of Sunday, Aug. 15, there was one ICU bed available for the Trauma Service Area O. That’s the trauma service area for the 11-county region surrounding and including Austin. TSA O serves 2.3 million people.

Last week, the service area had reached a pandemic low of two ICU beds…

A senior staff physician at Baylor Scott & White is asking people to leave the emergency rooms open for emergencies, as some Texas ERs and ICUs have available staffed bed counts in the single digits. She said to consult with your primary care physician or go to an urgent care facility if you’re not facing an emergency.

My point about Abbott was that any Austinite with COVID at the moment is running a serious risk of not getting the care they need if their illness takes a turn. Which, thankfully, his is unlikely to do. Not only is he vaccinated and on synthetic antibodies, I learned afterward that he told people he’s gotten a booster shot already. That puts his chances of becoming seriously ill near zero.

That was another criticism people threw at me for the tweet, in fact. Why was I underselling the vaccine by assuming that someone who’s fully vaccinated, as Abbott is, might land in the ICU? Well, (a) Francis Collins told Hugh Hewitt this morning that they’re seeing a bit of a rise in vaccinated people being hospitalized and (b) I didn’t know if Abbott’s disability might affect his immunity. Maybe it does, which would explain why he got a booster at a moment when those are reserved for the immunocompromised.

I don’t blame him for Texas’s COVID situation, though. For one thing, the state had a similar wave last summer when a mask mandate was in effect:

Summer is “COVID season” in the south. Go figure that a super-contagious new variant might produce another nasty wave this year despite the fact that 45 percent of Texans are fully vaccinated. And given the media attention to the Delta strain plus the frightening reports of hospitals filling up, I can’t believe that a new mask mandate would do anything meaningful to encourage more masking. If you’re a Texan who’s even the tiniest bit risk-averse when it comes to COVID, you’re already masking. If you’re not, you’re not going to start even if a mandate is in place.

The one policy for which I do think Abbott deserves some criticism is his ban on vaccine mandates. Letting businesses require employees to be vaccinated would increase immunity across the population. But would it increase that immunity enough to avert the wave Texas is currently enduring? Nah. As a red state, the local culture would steer businesses away from imposing mandates even if they were empowered to do so. Maybe enough would demand shots to raise the vaccination rate by a few points but ICU beds are going to be scarce for awhile no matter what, until local transmission has run its course.

And maybe it has?

That graph shows new hospital admissions in Travis County, where Austin is located. The number may have peaked a few days ago, which means the worst might be over.

Or, you know, it might not be.

Anyway, I hope he’s on the mend. And sorry about the Bad Tweet. Exit question via the Texas Tribune: If Abbott has had a booster and is asymptomatic, why is he doing the antibody treatment? Just an abundance-of-caution thing?