Photo: Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons license 2.0

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott did the coronavirus a big favor this week, ending the state's mask mandate and declaring "it is now time to open Texas 100%." Abbott made the move even as the number of new COVID-19 cases was already beginning to rise after a brief plateau, and against the advice of public health experts. Abbott was quickly followed by Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, who ended that state's mask mandate as well. Yesterday, Dr. Anthony Fauci called the moves "inexplicable," saying he understood the urge to return to normal, but warning "you're only going to set yourself back if you just completely push aside the public health guidelines." President Joe Biden on Wednesday called rolling back public health orders "a big mistake" and added that "the last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking."

Texas and Mississippi were already doing worse than the national average on several key disease metrics when they rolled back the mask orders. But Abbott came up with a brilliant fallback strategy: Shift the blame. Just as he falsely blamed wind energy for Texas's blackouts a few weeks back, Abbott was all over cable news yesterday accusing Joe Biden and undocumented immigrants of spreading the virus, because why would he let a chance to scapegoat brown people (and Joe Biden) go to waste?


On CNBC, Abbott cranked the fearmongering up to 11, accusing the federal government of "refusing to test" border crossers for the virus, and blaming the president for personally trying to kill Texans. Again, this is the guy who just ended the single most important public health order across the entire state.

"The Biden administration has been releasing immigrants in South Texas that have been exposing Texans to Covid. Some of those people have been put on buses, taking that Covid to other states in the United States," Abbott told CNBC. "That is Neanderthal-type approach to dealing with the Covid situation."

Oh, see what he did there? He is very witty!

Now, before we go any further with that bullshit, let's truth sandwich it: The real threat in Texas is the prospect of millions of people going into stores, restaurants, and bars without masks, and as the Washington Post points out, Texas and Mississippi were already in no position to brag when they ended their mask mandates:

When considering four metrics — new cases, test positivity rate, hospitalizations and deaths from covid-19, the disease caused by the virus — both states have worse numbers as a function of population than the national average. [...]

On the most stable metric for evaluating the pandemic, hospitalizations, both Texas and Mississippi are improving. But both states also have higher rates of hospitalization than the national average, and hospitalizations, like deaths, trail changes in new case totals.

CNBC notes as well that new infections are already up by 13 percent in Texas as compared to a week ago, which would reflect new infections prior to Abbott's order.

But wait! There's more, because there always is. CNN reported yesterday that Abbott has been holding up the release of federal Department of Homeland Security funds earmarked for testing migrants after they've been released from initial custody, according to a senior DHS official:

DHS has already set plans in motion to use Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to support community efforts to test, isolate and quarantine migrants released from Border Patrol custody, the official told CNN. But the grant money needs to be approved by the state before it can be distributed to border communities.

Well then, looks like someone is refusing to test folks, all right. Abbott released a statement saying that since immigration policy is a federal responsibility, all migrants need to be tested, quarantined, and presumably kept locked up forever by the feds. So he doesn't have to release those funds, you see:

Instead of doing their job, the Biden Administration suggested it did not have the sufficient resources and, remarkably, asked Texas to assist them in aiding their illegal immigration program. Texas refused.

Again, those are federal funds he's refusing to release for testing people who have been released with immigration court dates, because with social distancing requirements, there's not enough room to keep them locked up until they have hearings.

Now, it should be noted here that US Customs and Border Protection doesn't seem to be testing detainees; an agency statement to CNN explained that

personnel check for Covid-19 symptoms and "consult with onsite medical personnel, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), or local health systems as appropriate."

Really, CBP should be testing, too, but since there's no room to keep everyone locked up forever, funding for continued testing after release is also a must.

Fortunately, NGOs that work with migrants have been able to do some testing, though actually having the money DHS has already disbursed would probably be rather useful:

In McAllen, Texas, city officials requested thousands of Covid-19 tests from state officials in January after learning migrants were not being tested by CBP. Catholic Charities administered the tests. If migrants test positive, the organization will help them quarantine in a local hotel.

The Texas Division of Emergency Management told CNN in a statement that it has so sent test kits, about 40,000 of them, to several border communities, but we noticed that statement talked about releasing test kits, not federal funds.

But what about Abbot's tweet yesterday, blaming the federal government for "recklessly releasing hundreds of illegal immigrants who have COVID into Texas communities"? For one thing, "hundreds" of migrants would have to have magic infectious powers to be responsible for the 251,699 new cases in Texas over the past month, per Johns Hopkins University's Coronavirus tracker.

For another, the notion that massive numbers of infected migrants are out there is bullshit, too. In Brownsville, where about 1,700 undocumented migrants have been released, Mayor Juan "Trey" Mendez III said 108 of them had tested positive, which didn't seem to throw Mendez into a state of utter panic somehow:

"We are seeing a positivity rate of a little over 6%," Mendez said, adding that that number is on par with what is being seen around the state.

That's actually a far lower positivity rate than for the rest of Cameron County, according to an email to Noticias Telemundo from Brownsville's communications and marketing director Felipe Romero, who wrote,

Since the City started testing the migrants on January 25, there has been 6.3% of positive cases. The Cameron County positivity rate is 13.8%."

What's more, according to Johns Hopkins's stats, Texas's overall positivity rate for the past week has been 12.37 percent.

Still, the Usual Suspects have revived the classic racist "diseased outsider" trope, because sounding exactly like Joseph Goebbels is what they do:

Great job, Greg Abbott! You've passed on the racism infection to willing hosts, just as planned.

[CNN / WaPo / CNBC / Photo: Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons license 2.0]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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