Opinion | It is interesting to observe the mainstream media’s reporting of the recent news that Governor Greg Abbott of Texas has tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. For example, the headline of an article by CNBC reads, “Texas Gov. Abbott, who banned mask and vaccine mandates, tests positive for Covid.” Another headline by Yahoo! News reads, “Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who opposes vaccine and mask mandates, tests positive for COVID-19.” Another one by The Guardian reads, “Texas governor Greg Abbott, who fought mask mandates, tests positive for Covid.”1 2 3
A CNN headline reads, “Gov. Abbott tests positive for Covid-19 after months of blocking mask mandates.” One more—this one by BuzzFeed News: “Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Tested Positive For COVID-19, As He Fights Mask Mandates.”4 5
There appears to be an orchestrated effort by the mainstream media of trying to convey a subtle message of poetic justice that goes something like this: “That’ll teach Abbott for being such an obstructionist on mask mandates in his state. Serves him right.” It is a message that is consistent with a disturbing and growing tendency by some Americans to shame and vilify fellow Americans who do not share their enthusiasm for every government COVID-related mandate that comes along.
Media Tries to Tie Abbott’s Coronavirus Infection to His Stance on Mask Mandates
All of these articles are supposed to be news articles, but from the start they already betray a clear political bias. Gov. Abbott and Gov. Rick DeSantis of Florida have been taking a lot of heat lately from government officials and the media for prohibiting cities and school boards in their states from passing mask mandates for children attending schools. Both Abbott and DeSantis believe that parents should decide whether or not their children wear masks in schools.6 7 8
In a statement on July 29, 2021 about the Executive Order he signed on May 18 prohibiting government entities in Texas from mandating masks,9 Gov. Abbott said:
[Parents] have the individual right and responsibility to decide for themselves and their children whether they will wear masks, open their businesses, and engage in leisure activities. Vaccines, which remain in abundant supply, are the most effective defense against the virus, and they will always remain voluntary—never forced—in the State of Texas7
In other words, Gov. Abbott’s order doesn’t prohibit children from wearing masks in schools, it simply prohibits Texas state authorities from forcing them to do so.
On Aug. 15, the Texas Supreme Court upheld Gov. Abbott’s mask mandate prohibition by granting a request for a “temporary, emergency stay” of an appellate court ruling that would have allowed schools in Dallas and Bexar counties to require masks. In another case involving Travis county, the Texas Supreme Court on Aug. 19 denied Gov. Abbott’s request to “block temporary restraining orders” on his mask mandate prohibition. That decision effectively allows schools that require students to wear masks, in defiance of Gov. Abbott’s mask mandate prohibition, to proceed.10
On Aug. 3, President Joe Biden called out Gov. Abbott, Gov. DeSantis and other governors for “passing laws or signing orders that forbid people from doing the right thing.” Biden noted, “As of now, seven states not only banned mask mandates, but also banned them in their school districts, even for young children who cannot get vaccinated.”7 He added:
Look, we need leadership from everyone. If some governors are not willing to do the right thing, then they should allow businesses and universities who want to do the right thing, to be able to do it. I say to these governors, please help. If you’re not going to help, at least get out of the way of the people trying to do the right thing. Use your power to save lives.6 7 11
More recently, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona admonished Gov. Abbott and Gov. DeSantis for their executive orders on mask mandates. In a letter to Gov. Abbott, Secretary Cardona wrote that his order “may infringe upon a school district’s authority to adopt policies to protect students and educators as they develop their safe return to in-person instruction plans required by federal law.”12 Cardona added:
The Department [of Education] stands with these dedicated educators who are working to safely reopen schools and maintain safe in-person instruction.12
Abbott Received Three COVID Shots and Still Got Coronavirus
The bias that is evident in some of the media coverage about Gov. Abbott’s positive test for coronavirus seems aimed at pressuring Abbott to see the error of his ways by seeking to remind him how contagious is the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the need for requiring people to abide by the federal government’s masking recommendations. But perhaps the media bias is also meant to distract from a more noteworthy detail of this story, which is that Gov. Abbott is fully vaccinated.
Gov. Abbott received the first dose of Pfizer/BioNTech’s experimental messenger RNA (mRNA) biologic (known as BNT162b2 or Comirnaty vaccine) on Dec. 22, 2020 and likely received the second dose in January 2021. He reportedly received a third shot—a booster dose—as well. “Governor Abbott is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, in good health, and currently experiencing no symptoms,” said Mark Miner, the governor’s communications director.13 14 15 16 17
So even with three Comirnaty shots in less than one year, Gov. Abbott still tested positive for coronavirus? That would seem to be the most relevant and concerning point on which to focus. Not his stand on mask mandates.
Gov. Abbott can now be added to the growing club of so-called “breakthrough cases” of Americans who contracted coronavirus despite being fully vaccinated. The latest rough estimate of the number breakthrough cases in the United States is 193,204, as reported recently by The Wall Street Journal.18 That figure, however, is based on data provided by only by 44 state health departments and a lack of understanding of how many vaccinated Americans have been asymptomatically infected, so you can bet that the estimate is woefully low.18 19 20 21
It is worth noting that there are some media sources that have at least made an effort to highlight the relevance of Gov. Abbott’s vaccination status. NBC affiliate WAVY-TV in Portsmouth, Virginia reported, “Gov. Greg Abbott tests positive for COVID despite being fully vaccinated.” Similar examples, though, are rare
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Note: This commentary provides referenced information and perspective on a topic related to vaccine science, policy, law or ethics being discussed in public forums and by U.S. lawmakers. The websites of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) provide information and perspective of federal agencies responsible for vaccine research, development, regulation and policymaking.
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1 Towey R. Texas Gov. Abbott, who banned mask and vaccine mandates, tests positive for Covid. CNBC Aug. 17, 2021.
2 Knowles D. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who opposes vaccine and mask mandates, tests positive for COVID-19. Yahoo! News Aug. 17, 2021.
3 Villarreal A. Texas governor Greg Abbott, who fought mask mandates, tests positive for Covid. The Guardian Aug.17, 2021.
4 Burnett E. Gov. Abbott tests positive for Covid-19 after months of blocking mask mandates. CNN Aug.17, 2021.
5 Goba K. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Tested Positive For COVID-19, As He Fights Mask Mandates. BuzzFeed News Aug. 17, 2021.
6 Associated Press. Biden Admin Backs Texas, Florida Districts on Mask Mandates. U.S. News & World Report Aug. 13, 2021.
7 Stoddart M. Help or ‘get out of the way,’ Biden says to GOP governors on combatting pandemic. ABC News Aug. 3, 2021.
8 Sargent G. The latest GOP anti-mask lunacy is stirring a backlash. New polling reveals it. The Washington Post Aug. 17, 2021.
9 Office of the Texas Governor | Greg Abbott. Governor Abbott Issues Executive Order 36 Prohibiting Government Entities From Mandating Masks. Governor, The State of Texas May 18, 2021.
10 Kornfield M, Bella T. Texas Supreme Court rejects Abbott’s ban on school mask mandates — for now. The Washington Post Aug. 20, 2021.
11 Datoc C. White House turns up the heat on DeSantis and Abbott over masks. Washington Examiner Aug. 3, 2021.
12 Green EL. The education secretary criticizes two Republican governors over their bans on school mask mandates. The New York Times Aug. 16, 2021.
13 KTRK. Gov. Greg Abbott receives COVID-19 vaccine. ABC 13 Eyewitness News Dec. 22, 2021.
14 Williams M. Facts about Texas Gov. Abbott’s COVID-19 diagnosis and his record on mask mandates and vaccines. The Dallas Morning News Aug. 17, 2021.
15 Office of the Governor Greg Abbott. Make Sure To Get Your Second #COVID19 Vaccine Dose. Facebook Apr. 27, 2021.
16 Clark D. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tests positive for Covid after banning mask, vaccine mandates. NBC News Aug. 17, 2021.
17 Press release. Office Of The Governor Statement Concerning Governor Abbott. Governor, The State of Texas Aug. 17, 2021.
18 Whelan R, Hopkins JS. As Delta Surges, Covid-19 Breakthrough Cases Remain Uncommon. The Wall Street Journal Aug. 17, 2021.
19 Cáceres M. Coronavirus Spreading Among the Vaccinated in Highly Vaccinated Countries. The Vaccine Reaction July 25, 2021.
20 Cáceres M. If You’re Vaccinated, You’re Protected… or Not. The Vaccine Reaction July 11, 2021.
21 Cáceres M. Vaccinated Americans are Being Hospitalized for COVID and Dying. The Vaccine Reaction Aug. 15, 2021.
22 WAVY News. Gov. Greg Abbott tests positive for COVID despite being fully vaccinated. WAVY-TV Aug. 17, 2021.