Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is literally fiddling while COVID-19 cases burn through overwhelmed hospitals

COVID-19's Delta variant has sent Texas hospitals back to crisis levels not seen since the bad old days of late February, before vaccines were widely available. The state is averaging about 12,400 new cases a day. More than 10,000 Texans, mostly unvaccinated, have been hospitalized for COVID-19 this week — a 400 percent increase in the last month — and ICUs in at least 53 hospitals are full.

"If this continues, and I have no reason to believe that it will not, there is no way my hospital is going to be able to handle this," Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, a top health official in Houston's Harris County, told state lawmakers Tuesday. "I am one of those people that always sees the glass half-full, I always see the silver lining. But I am frightened by what is coming."

The response from the state government "has turned to self-parody," Ross Ramsey writes at The Texas Tribune. "As COVID-19 cases rose and hospitalizations approached outright crisis, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) tweeted a photo of himself playing the fiddle at a weekend political gathering. Way to go, Nero."

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More concretely, Abbott has stuck to his executive order barring local governments and school districts from requiring masks to slow COVID-19's spread. The Houston Independent School District on Thursday joined school districts in Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, and Fort Worth — the state's largest cities — to require masks anyway, and Dallas and Bexar counties successfully sued this week to get around Abbott's ban on municipal mask mandates.

"The rebellion is spreading across the state," said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff. Now Abbott is moving to quash that rebellion after facing criticism from further-right conservatives. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission threatened to pull the liquor licenses of two Austin restaurants Wednesday if they continued requiring proof of vaccination to enter — the restaurants, evidently unaware a new state law forbade that, dropped the requirement Thursday. And Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton vowed to sue any school or government official that defies his executive order banning mask requirements.

"If we have local officials who just defy law because they feel like they know better, then we end up with little dictators all over the state and we don't have any rule of law and we lose our representative government that we vote for," Paxton told Lubbock radio host Chad Hasty on Wednesday.

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