Texas governor Greg Abbott, who has used executive orders and court rulings to combat mask mandates and other anti-pandemic measures, has tested positive for a breakthrough case of Covid-19.
The Republican leader of the second-largest US state is isolating in the governor’s mansion in Austin and receiving monoclonal antibody treatment, according to a statement from his office on Tuesday.
Mr Abbott (63), has been fully vaccinated and was reported to be asymptomatic. The diagnosis came one day after the Texas supreme court temporarily halted local mask mandates in the Dallas and San Antonio areas that Mr Abbott said violated his ban on such measures.
The positive test also came a day after Mr Abbott tweeted a picture of himself not wearing a mask while speaking indoors near Dallas to a group of Republicans, most of whom were unmasked.
Five months after Mr Abbott reopened the Texas economy and lifted the last anti-pandemic restrictions, caseloads and hospitalisations are surging, straining medical facilities and prompting heated debates among educators and parents as the new school year begins.
When Mr Abbott announced plans in March to lift the mask mandate, President Joe Biden criticised it as "Neanderthal thinking" and a "big mistake". Since then, daily new-case counts have surged five-fold and hospitalisations are on pace to soon break the peak reached in January, when the state's outbreak was at its worst.
News of Mr Abbott's positive test and images of him in a large gathering the day before brought immediate scorn from some Democrats, who said it was an example of why his approach to the virus was problematic. Republicans, on the other hand, pointed to recent images of former president Barack Obama at his birthday party in a similarly large unmasked crowd.
Less than an hour before the governor's diagnosis was disclosed, Houston mayor Sylvester Turner warned that the positive-test rate in the fourth-largest US city has surged to almost 20 per cent. Mr Turner, a Democrat who has repeatedly clashed with Mr Abbott over how to deal with the virus, said about 50 per cent of eligible Houstonians were fully vaccinated.
Also on Tuesday, Harris County judge Lina Hidalgo said residents who got the first dose some time this month would receive $100 (€85). Ms Hidalgo, a Democrat, is the highest-ranking county official in the area that includes Houston, and is also a frequent critic of Mr Abbott.
The US reported more than 1,000 Covid deaths on Tuesday, equating to around 42 fatalities an hour, according to a Reuters tally, as the Delta variant continues to ravage parts of the country with low vaccination rates.
Coronavirus-related deaths have spiked in the United States over the past month and are averaging 769 per day, the highest since mid-April.
The US south remains the epicentre of the latest outbreak, with Florida reporting a record of nearly 26,000 new cases last week, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. – Bloomberg/Reuters