When the definitive history of the COVID-19 pandemic is written, August 17, 2021, may be remembered as one of the great forks in this terrible road. One path leads to ever-deepening calamity, and the other returns basic common sense to the fight against the virus. We cannot know the outcome today, but I strongly suspect the wrong road will be taken, and another lethal winter will once again put us, and our children, at the mercy of that which did not have to happen.
It was announced yesterday, August 17, that Greg Abbott, the Republican governor of Texas and a vocal opponent of mask mandates, has contracted COVID. He is the 11th governor to do so to date. The announcement brought back vivid memories of the October 2020 day when we found out that Donald Trump had become infected.
As was common during the Trump administration, the general reaction was the paradox of being shocked and thoroughly unsurprised simultaneously. Trump had spent the year essentially daring the virus to catch him, flouting and mocking even the most basic protective measures. In this, he planted the seeds of our current crisis, as millions of his still-devout voters continue to follow his self-destructive lead.
Abbott is cut from the same bolt of hidebound cloth. The Texas governor has gone to war against several municipalities in his state because they want children to wear masks when they return to school. Given the growing body of terrifying evidence that the Delta variant of COVID is going after kids far more than we have seen before, this seems like a reasonable precaution for all to take. Not so, according to Abbott, whose disdain for local government flies in the face of, well, everything conservatives often pretend to stand for.
The arm-flapping hypocrisy does not end there. Abbott is by all reports asymptomatic, which should come as little surprise: He has been vaccinated three times. The vaccines have been highly effective at minimizing the damage of infection so far, but those numbers have recently grown distressingly blurry.
As part of his treatment, Abbott is also getting the Regeneron monoclonal antibody treatment, which is usually only used for patients in dire condition. He is not, but he’s getting it anyway.
With three shots, Abbot is among a favored few; only half the country has been fully vaccinated, and those who have their shots look now to the necessity of booster shots. The COVID Delta variant has caused an explosion of infections, even among inoculated people like Abbott. There were almost 140,000 new infections yesterday alone, a solid portion coming from Abbott’s state.
To recap: The governor of Texas has caught COVID after striving to thwart minimal safety measures for children. His state’s medical infrastructure is trembling on the verge of collapse. Yet he himself has been vaccinated three times, making him rare in the populace and assumedly safer than most. From this bubble, which still did not completely protect him, Abbott has made it his business to keep others in far more peril of infection from minimal precautions like masks.
The icing on the cake is this astonishing video, taken the night before Abbott’s infection announcement. There he was, in a packed room filled with elderly donors, and nary a mask in sight. Was he spraying virus around the room like a one-man superspreader? These were his people, but one wonders if they have all gotten three inoculations like their mask-flouting governor. It’s possible, which in many ways makes the visual all the worse.
How bad is it getting in Abbott’s state? “Texas health officials have requested five mortuary trailers from the federal government in anticipation of a possible spike in deaths brought about by surging coronavirus numbers in the state,” reports The Washington Post. “Mobile and refrigerated mortuary trucks were seen as a grim symbol during earlier waves of the pandemic. Trailers were delivered to cities to keep pace with mounting deaths, and in some places they reportedly remained in place as makeshift morgues months into the pandemic.”
School has begun in a number of places, and many more will open soon. In Texas, they will throw their doors wide to a maskless tide of unvaccinated children who are at greater peril of infection than at any time in the pandemic. The actions of Abbott, and of ideological, conniving pals like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, may come to be seen as nothing short of criminally negligent homicide on a mass scale if the worst does come.
This is COVID. If we have learned anything, it is that the worst often does come, sooner or later, through whatever gaps we negligently provide it. Governors like Abbott and DeSantis are deliberately providing those gaps because they want to inherit Trump’s tarnished (yet lucrative) throne, and need to play to their base in order to do so. It is as ruthlessly cynical as anything that has ever been seen in this land — Let them eat virus! — and threatens to get a lot more people killed.
This is that fork in the road — is a mask-hating governor catching COVID after three shots enough to turn heads and slow down this thundering herd of deadly foolishness? Don’t expect Abbott to get religion after his infection; Trump didn’t, and in fact doubled down hard on his ongoing war on science. That got us this. What will Abbott and his friends get us, but more of the same or worse?
At some point very soon, a greater power than Abbott and DeSantis is going to have to take these matters in hand. Until President Biden takes decisive action, the rest of us will witness the numbers climb every day, as the infection spreads to more and more of our children.