Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was diagnosed with COVID on Tuesday, joining 25,421 Texans who received their positive test results that day. He also joined the nearly 30% of at-risk patients that received antibody treatments as part of a growing movement that seeks to lessen symptoms and alleviate hospitals.
With available ICU beds dropping to single digits in several Texas metros and cases surging in the wake of the new highly-contagious Delta variant, the Lone Star State has joined a nationwide trend in bringing back antibody treatments. The drugs, which are primarily distributed by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc., have been shown to curb hospitalization for at-risk patients.
The federal government has ramped up distribution of the transfusions, especially in higher-risk states including Texas. The Texas Department of State Health Services reopened a regional antibody-drug infusion center on Monday in Austin for the first time since May due to increasing case rates.
What is the treatment and what are its benefits?
Unlike methods used by medical professionals when a patient is already hospitalized, monoclonal antibody treatments seek to prevent hospitalization from happening at all.
According to the FDA, the drugs are laboratory-made molecules that imitate natural antibodies to help keep the virus at bay.
"They can help your immune system recognize and respond more effectively to the virus, making it more difficult for the virus to reproduce and cause harm," the FDA said.
The drugs are often used in the early onset of mild or moderate COVID cases and are most effective in at-risk individuals that may not produce enough antibodies of their own.
The drugs are infused into the system via an IV. In clinical trials, use of the drugs has curbed the risk of hospitalization or death by 70%.
Antibody infusions are especially vital in states where vaccinations are low and hospitalizations are high. Vicki Brownewell, chief nursing officer at Houston Methodist West Hospital, told The Washington Post that doctors can't effectively combat COVID once a patient is hospitalized.
"Once a patient is hospitalized with COVID, there's very little we can do except support them. There are no magic-bullet drugs that work," Brownewell said.
Why weren't they used as much in past surges?
The drugs, which were authorized by regulators in November, wasn't endorsed by the National Institutes of Health until early 2021. Lack of information and a low pool of eligible "high risk" kept the practice out of mainstream use until early summer. In addition, frontline healthcare workers sometimes rebuked the idea of prioritizing the treatment of still-healthy patients over those hospitalized, and already-thin hospital staffing meant some couldn't stretch to include antibody infusions as well.
The treatment has been in use for such high-profile politicians as former President Donald Trump, who advocated for the use of antibodies after his recovery.
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, co-chair of President Joe Biden's COVID advisory board, said in a White House press conference on Aug. 12 that over 600,000 patients received antibody treatment over the course of the pandemic.
Who is eligible for treatment?
As of Aug. 9, those who are unvaccinated or deemed at-risk of hospitalization can receive Regeneron even before a positive test result if they were exposed to someone with COVID. The treatment is also used for post-exposure prophylaxis, when an immunocompromised person is been exposed to COVID.
But all patients need to be referred by their local physician to get treatment.
The drugs are now experiencing a spike in demand. Regeneron sent out 135,023 doses of the treatment last week, up nine times from a month earlier, and the federal government sent out over 100,000 doses in July, up five times from June. The Biden administration is increasing distribution in several states, and a new "at-risk" definition means as many as 75% of American adults could be eligible for treatment, David Wohl, an infectious-diseases doctor at UNC Health in Chapel Hill, N.C., told The Post.
The drugs are paid for by the federal government and distributed to patients free of charge.
What about the Austin center?
The new site reopened Monday and will treat around 84 patients daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Patients must be referred by a doctor.
This is the area's second go at an antibody treatment center. Texas DSHS ran a mobile site in east Austin from January-May, before closing as demand decreased.
For more information on treatments for COVID-19, click here.
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If you are a committed, grunge-wearing resident of the Pacific Northwest, it is easy–almost automatic–to look at Texas as an extraordinarily dry, hot and culturally oppressive place that is better to avoid, especially in the summer. Our two granddaughters live with their parents in Portland.
Recently we decided to take the older girl, who is 15, to Dallas. Setting aside the summer heat, a Portlander can adjust to the vibes of Austin without effort. So let’s take Texas with all of its excesses straight up. Dallas, here we come.
Our 15-year-old granddaughter and her sister, 12, have spent summer weeks with us, usually separately so that we could better get to know each individually. In visits focused on Austin and Port Aransas, the girls seemed to be developing an affection for Texas.
Houston and Dallas are two great American cities, the 4th and 9th largest, each loaded with cultural treasures, each standing in glittering and starchy contrast to Austin’s more louche, T-shirts and shorts ways.
Three hours up I-35, Dallas loomed before us as a set of gray skyscrapers in a filmy haze, accessed only through a concrete mixmaster of freeways, ramps and exits. I drove with false confidence. Be calm, I said to myself, it will all end in 10 minutes under the hotel entrance canopy. And it did.
The pool at the Crescent Court Hotel in Dallas. (Crescent Court Hotel)
We stayed three nights at the Crescent Court Hotel ($622 a night for two queens), a high-end hotel in Uptown, patronized by women in white blazers, business people in suits, and tall, lean professional athletes, their shiny Escalades and Corvettes darting in and out, and other celebrities like Bill Barr, the former attorney general who shoe-horned his ample self into a Toyota.
Each morning as I walked to Whole Foods for a cappuccino, a fellow identified by a bellman as Billy the Oilman arrived in his Rolls Royce Phantom. Where does he park? “Wherever he wants to. He likes the Starbucks here.”
We garaged our more modest set of wheels for the visit. We were chauffeured for tips by Matt Cooney and Alfonza “The Rev” Scott in the hotel’s black Audi sedan. They drove us to museums, restaurants and past the enclaves of the rich and famous. In Highland Park, The Rev pointed out the homes of the Dallas Cowboys' Jerry Jones and Troy Aikman along with the family compound of the Hunts, oil and gas tycoons.
The Dallas Museum of Art’s “Cartier and Islam” exhibit (until Sept. 18) attracted an older crowd; the nearby Perot Museum of Nature and Science was a powerful whirlpool of kids’ groups ricocheting from the Tyrannosaurus Rex to the oil fracking exhibit. Watch your shins.
A Geogia O'Keeffe oil painting called "Ranchos Church, New Mexico" at the Amon Carter Museum of Modern Art. (Rich Oppel)
For us, the best museum was the Amon Carter Museum of Modern Art in Fort Worth, a 50-minute, madcap drive away via a 75 mph toll lane along I-30. Don’t try it during rush hour. The Carter has an exquisite collection of Remington paintings and sculptures and an excellent array of 19th and 20th-century paintings as well. Pick one museum? The Amon Carter. Peaceful, beautiful, uncrowded, free admission and small enough to manage in two hours.
The Fort Worth Stockyards, a place of history (with a dab of schmaltz), fun and good shopping, filled one of our mornings. The 98 acres brand the city as Cowboy Town, with a rodeo and a twice-daily (11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.) cattle drive. We shopped for boots, drank coffee and watched the “herd” of 18 longhorns. So languid was their progress that if this were a real market drive the beef would have been very tough and leathery before it hit the steakhouse dinner plate.
The cattle drive at the Fort Worth Stockyards. (Rich Oppel)
But we could identify: the temperature was 97. “I saw a dog chasing a cat today,” said the emcee, deploying a very old joke. “It was so hot that both were walking.”
With limited time, we chose three very different restaurants:
- Nobu, in the Crescent Court Hotel; Jia, a modern Chinese restaurant in Highland Park; and Joe T. Garcia’s in Fort Worth. Nobu’s exotic Japanese menu set us back $480, with tip, for four (we had a guest), but it was worth it.
- Jia was an ordinary suburban strip mall restaurant, but with good food and a reasonable tab of $110 for four.
- Joe T.’s is an 85-year-old Fort Worth institution (think Matt’s El Rancho but larger), a fine Mexican restaurant where a meal with two drinks was $115.
Sushi at high-end restaurant Nobu. (Crescent Hotel)
It was all a splurge for a grandchild’s visit. Now we will get back to our ordinary road trips of Hampton Inns, where a room rate is closer to the Crescent Court’s overnight parking rate of $52. And to corner cafes in small towns.
Did Dallas change our 15-year-old’s view of Texas? “Yes. I think it’s a lot cooler than I did. The fashion, the food.” So, not only Austin is cool. Take Texas as a whole. It’s a big, complex, diverse and wonderful state.
Giga Texas, the massive Tesla factory in southeast Travis County is getting even bigger.
The company filed with the city of Austin this week to expand its headquarters with a new 500,000-square-foot building. The permit application notes “GA 2 and 3 expansion,” which indicates the company will make two general assembly lines in the building.
More details about the plans for the building are unclear. The gigafactory has been focused on Model Y production since it opened in April, but the company is also aiming for Cybertruck production to kick off in mid-2023.
While there is room for expansion on the 3.3 square miles of land Tesla has, this move comes after CEO Elon Musk’s recent comments about the state of the economy and its impact on Tesla.
In a May interview with Tesla Owners Silicon Valley, Musk said the gigafactories in Berlin and Austin are “gigantic money furnaces” and said Giga Texas had manufactured only a small number of cars.
And in June, Musk sent a company wide email saying Tesla will be reducing salaried headcount by 10%, then later tweeted salaried headcount should be fairly flat.
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