In his first news conference about the pandemic in two months, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott focused on efforts to treat the novel coronavirus and said little about additional measures to slow its spread.
The governor was in Lubbock Thursday to announce the arrival in the state of bamlanivimab, a newly-approved antibody therapy treatment shown to help certain people with COVID-19.
Lubbock County, the 18th most populous county in the state, has the fifth-highest number of active cases, according to the most recent data from the Texas Department of State Health Services. More than San Antonio’s Bexar County, which has six times Lubbock County’s population.
Lubbock, where hospitals are at capacity, will be one of the first to receive the treatment. The city reports more than 5,600 active confirmed-cases of coronavirus, with 606 new diagnoses just on Thursday.
Bamlanivimab was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration earlier this month under an emergency-use provision. The monoclonal antibodies are synthetic and can block the virus to prevent it from infecting cells, NPR reports. It’s administered through an IV drip.
More local details, like the cost of the treatment, are expected to be announced soon.
Abbott said the next step is determining how to distribute the therapy and who qualifies for it.
“Typically it’s those who are 65 or older with some other healthcare-based issue and early-stage COVID,” Abbott said.
He suggested a nursing home resident would be the ideal candidate for bamlanivimab.
The hope is that the treatment will help keep vulnerable patients from requiring extended hospitalizations, offering some relief for strained health systems.
“The drugs that are coming out - they will make a difference,” said Texas Department of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd. “But they still are not an excuse not to follow the recommendation of our public health partners.”
Those are the same recommendations health leaders have pleaded for folks to take seriously for months - wear a mask, don’t go to large gatherings and wash your hands.
A statewide mask mandate has been in place for months. It requires people to wear a facial covering in most public settings. Violaters can first receive a warning before a possible financial fine.
Texas’ other mitigation measures include a threshold for regions to rollback business reopenings. When 15% of hospital patients in a trauma service region have been diagnosed with COVID-19, restaurants and non-essential businesses have to limit occupancy to 50%. Lubbock has been under these restrictions for over a month. The order has so far seemed to have little effect as cases and deaths continue to rise.
It’s a similar story elsewhere in the state, especially in hard-hit West Texas. City and county leaders have recently considered or tried to implement additional measures. The most notable example is El Paso, where County Judge Ricardo Samaniego tried to shutdown non-essential businesses in an effort to reduce the rampant spread of coronavirus in the community. The state challenged and effectively stopped the order.
Abbott said he doesn’t see many communities enforcing the measures they can, and credited the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission as the most-effective enforcer of occupancy limits.
When asked by Texas Tech Public Media why he would not give local authorities more control over COVID-19 response, he gave El Paso as an example. He said he told Samaniego to enforce the statewide protocols rather than add others.
“What that means is some local officials are not using the tools available to them to make sure they are taking every step that they need,” Abbott said. “Just giving more tools won’t mean anything. Here’s the point - these measurable tools or metrics won’t matter if they’re not enforced.”
Shutdowns don’t work, Abbott said, and there are no plans for another statewide one.
Have a news tip? Email Sarah Self-Walbrick at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her reporting on Twitter @SarahFromTTUPM.
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