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‘It’s the height of hypocrisy’: After Texas Gov. Greg Abbott contracts covid-19, Democrats ramp up calls for mask mandates

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Aug. 17 said he tested positive for coronavirus, though he has no symptoms. (Video: @GregAbbott_TX/Twitter)

The news that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has tested positive for the coronavirus has prompted well-wishes from members of both parties — but also calls from some Democrats for Abbott to drop his opposition to mask and vaccination mandates for schools and businesses in his state.

Abbott and several other Republican governors, including Florida’s Ron DeSantis, have led the charge against public health mandates aimed at stemming the tide of the coronavirus’s delta variant, which has caused a new spike in cases as the country attempts to reopen schools, restaurants and other businesses.

“I wish Governor Abbott well — no one deserves to be sick or to suffer from this unyielding virus,” Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement Wednesday. “My hope is that the governor will realize how vulnerable we are in the face of this health crisis, stop playing politics, and do what is necessary for the health of all Texans.”

Hinojosa called Abbott the “latest victim in his war on public health” and said that “today and every day, we continue our call for the governor to rescind his executive order that bans local authorities from preventing the spread of covid-19.”

One day after announcing his positive diagnosis, Abbott’s office Wednesday continued to defend the governor’s decision to ban mask mandates.

“We are all working to protect Texas children and those most vulnerable among us, but violating the governor’s executive orders — and violating parental rights — is not the way to do it,” Abbott’s press secretary, Renae Eze, said in a statement. “Governor Abbott has been clear that the time for mask mandates is over; now is the time for personal responsibility.”

The statement was in response to a move by one northern Texas school district to make masks a part of its dress code for the academic year, in an effort to exploit a possible loophole in Abbott’s statewide ban on mandates requiring face coverings.

The Paris Independent School District, which has about 4,000 students, announced it would include the masks in the dress code after its board of trustees said it was “concerned about the health and safety of its students and employees.”

In an interview on MSNBC on Tuesday, Julián Castro, a housing and urban development secretary under President Barack Obama and former mayor of San Antonio, called Abbott’s actions “absolutely maddening” and declared, “It’s the height of hypocrisy.”

Castro said that the night before Abbott revealed his positive diagnosis, the governor had been “acting so irresponsibly” by being in close contact with dozens of other Republicans at an indoor event in Texas. Neither Abbott nor any of the attendees appeared to be wearing masks.

“The governor has said: ‘No, you can’t do that. You can’t take the safety precautions that you think are in the best interests of the community and to protect children,’ ” Castro said, referring to Abbott’s banning of mask mandates in Texas schools. “And then, when he gets covid, [he] does everything that he possibly can to make sure that he’s okay . . . things that ordinary Texans, everyday Texans would not have access to.”

Abbott said in a video posted to Twitter late Tuesday that he was vaccinated and not experiencing any symptoms. His office also said that Abbott is receiving Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody treatment. The treatment, which remains limited in supply, was given to President Donald Trump when he had was infected by the coronavirus last year, and is designed to prevent infected people from developing severe illness.

President Biden on Wednesday chided Republican governors who have sought to ban mask mandates, although he did not mention Abbott or any others by name.

“Unfortunately, as we’ve seen throughout this pandemic, some politicians are trying to turn public safety measures — that is, children wearing masks in school — into political disputes for their own political gain,” Biden said in remarks at the White House. “Some are even trying to take power away from local educators by banning masks in school. They’re setting a dangerous tone.”

On the Texas House floor in Austin on Wednesday, state Rep. Keith Bell (R) prayed for Abbott in the chamber’s daily prayer, which lawmakers recite every day in the House.

“We ask for you to be with our governor today, that God, you would give him healing, that you would protect our first lady,” Bell said. “That God, you would be with our members of this house that have the virus; that God, you would touch them, heal them, bring them back.”

Republicans Allen West and Don Huffines, who are among those waging primary challenges against Abbott, sounded a similar note, wishing the governor a speedy recovery but making no mention of his opposition to mask mandates.

“Like many Texans in the past couple weeks, Greg Abbott has tested positive for the Chinese Coronavirus,” Huffines said in a statement, echoing a phrase popularized by Trump that has been criticized for spurring anti-Asian sentiment. “Mary Catherine and I are praying for him and all others combating this illness.”

As of Tuesday, the seven-day average of new cases in Texas was 15,554, and the seven-day average of new deaths was 92. Covid-related hospitalizations rose more than 20 percent in the past week in Texas.

George Williams, an ICU physician at UTHealth Houston and Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital, said on CNN on Wednesday afternoon that conditions in the intensive care unit are “like a war zone.”

The delta variant has caused patients to get sicker much more quickly than previously, Williams said. But he declined to speculate as to whether Abbott may have a change of heart on masks similar to the turnaround former New Jersey governor Chris Christie (R) made after contracting covid-19 last year.

“It’ll still be seen if there’s a change in policy, per se,” Williams said, adding that he is hoping and praying for Abbott’s swift recovery.

Meanwhile, Abbott’s office said it was waiting to “hear back” about whether contact tracing will be conducted for the dozens of attendees who were present at Monday night’s remarks by the governor at the Republican Club at Heritage Ranch in Fairview, Tex.

The health department in Collin County, where the event took place, said that the state, not the county, is responsible for contact tracing.

Asked Wednesday whether that was the case, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services told The Washington Post, “No, we understand they’ve been contacted locally and advised of the situation.”

“They already know they were there, and they know he was there, so there’s not really a need to do contact tracing,” the spokesman added.

Texas state Rep. Travis Clardy (R) said Wednesday that he was relieved to hear that Abbott was on Regeneron, adding that the governor — who has used a wheelchair since being paralyzed in a 1984 accident while jogging — was most certainly in a high-risk category, although he appears to be in good health.

“If there’s one thing I’ve been telling everybody, it’s, ‘Do what Governor Abbott did,’ ” Clardy said. “[Regeneron’s] available. It’s out there. You just have to track it down and get it.”

Clardy contracted covid-19 this month and didn’t take Regeneron until near the end of his illness. The coronavirus knocked out Clardy — who was fully vaccinated — for about 10 days, he said. He still isn’t sure where he got it, adding, “I went to a couple of gatherings, but it wasn’t like I was in a mosh pit or a standing-room-only concert.”

Clardy said he wasn’t surprised to have gotten what medical experts have referred to as a breakthrough case, and suspects that the highly contagious delta variant will continue to spread through Texas this fall.

In the wake of Abbott’s positive diagnosis, some Democrats have voiced frustration at the increasingly desperate situation facing their state.

Texas state Rep. Jasmine Crockett (D) asked in a tweet whether it’s more appropriate to offer “thoughts and prayers” or to say, “Hopefully there’s an ICU bed if you need one since you’ve not allowed locals to try to control this thing and they are running outta beds.”

“Can we finally now allow mask mandates???” Crockett said.

Clardy, too, said that he disagrees with Abbott’s ban on mask mandates.

“I don’t think a one-size-fits-all approach fits,” he said. “I do think the best mandate is to say: ‘People, don’t be stupid and use your common sense. You know, wear your mask and protect others.’ ”

Moravec reported from Austin. Timothy Bella in Washington contributed to this report.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

The latest: The CDC has loosened many of its recommendations for battling the coronavirus, a strategic shift that puts more of the onus on individuals, rather than on schools, businesses and other institutions, to limit viral spread.

Variants: BA.5 is the most recent omicron subvariant, and it’s quickly become the dominant strain in the U.S. Here’s what to know about it, and why vaccines may only offer limited protection.

Vaccines: For people under 50, second booster doses are on hold while the Biden administration works to roll out shots specifically targeting the omicron subvariants this fall. Immunizations for children under 5 became available this summer. Here’s what to know about how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections and booster history.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. The omicron variant is behind much of the recent spread.

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