Even as that news was rippling through the state, the legal fight between Abbott and local officials over the state’s ban on mask mandates raged on.
Yes, you read that right. Even as Abbott was testing positive for Covid-19, his administration continued to work to keep local jurisdictions from requiring people to wear masks.
And all of that was happening as Texas continued to be one of the hotspots in the 4th spike of the coronavirus. The state reported more than 25,000 new cases on Tuesday and is now averaging more than 15,000 cases a day, according to data from The New York Times. Cases are up 44% in the state over the past two weeks. Hospitalizations are up 65%.
There’s a lesson in all of this for Abbott — although he’s unlikely to see it due to his own political considerations.
And that lesson goes like this: Masks work. So do other mitigation practices like social distancing and limiting large gatherings.
That’s especially true in dealing with the Delta variant, the nastiest incarnation of the coronavirus we have yet seen. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Delta is twice as contagious as previous variants. It also appears to cause more serious illness in unvaccinated people than the iterations of the virus that came before it. And unlike past variants, Delta produces roughly the same amount of virus in vaccinated people as it does in the unvaccinated, meaning even the vaccinated can pass it along easier.
On top of all of that, there’s this from The New York Times on Tuesday:
“Since Americans first began rolling up their sleeves for coronavirus vaccines, health officials have said that those who are immunized are very unlikely to become infected, or to suffer serious illness or death. But preliminary data from seven states hint that the arrival of the Delta variant in July may have altered the calculus.
“Breakthrough infections in vaccinated people accounted for at least one in five newly diagnosed cases in six of these states and higher percentages of total hospitalizations and deaths than had been previously observed in all of them, according to figures gathered by The New York Times.”
The best way to stop Delta — or at least slow it down — is to get vaccinated. (Less than half of Texans — 46% — are fully vaccinated.) But the next best way to mitigate the virus is to wear a mask, to socially distance and to keep away from large crowds. Yes, that’s still true, as it has been since scientists first began to really understand both the virus and how it spreads.
What’s maddening is that despite that established science, there’s no way — because, well, politics — that Abbott’s own experience with Covid-19 changes his mind about kids wearing masks in school or other proven mitigation measures.
See, Abbott wants to run for president in 2024 — or at least be among the pack of people mentioned as possible presidential material. And he knows that to be in that mix, he has to stand against common-sense moves like masking amid this particularly virulent strain of a virus that has already killed 623,000 Americans.
Thanks to former President Donald Trump, masking became a political issue — and remains one. That didn’t have to be the case. But wearing a mask — or getting the Covid-19 vaccine — is about public health, not politics.
It’s not about freedom — we have never had the freedom to endanger others knowingly — but rather about civic responsibility. We are all in this together, and the actions of one impact many.
That elected officials like Abbott continue to prioritize political calculation over public health is deeply disappointing and, candidly, selfish.