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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After months of speculation, a new report says political personality Beto O'Rourke is mulling a run for Texas governor that he will announce later this year.
Sources tell Axios the former congressman is preparing his campaign for the 2022 election, where he will likely vie for the position against incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott. The only other candidate that has announced he will take on Abbott for governor is former Texas GOP Chairman Allen West—no Democrats have announced they are running as of yet.
"No decision has been made," Axios reports David Wysong, O'Rourke's former House chief of staff and a longtime adviser, said. "He has been making and receiving calls with people from all over the state."
A new poll from The Dallas Morning News and University of Texas at Tyler shows O'Rourke is narrowing the gap between himself and Abbott's prospects for governor. In the poll, 37% said they'd vote for O'Rourke over Abbott, while 42% said they'd vote for Abbott.
Abbott has been in the hot seat due to his handling of COVID-19 and the signing of landmark legislation into law, including new abortion and voting rights laws; 54% of poll respondents voted they think the state is headed in the "wrong direction." Still, Texas hasn't had a Democrat as governor since the 90s.
O'Rourke's people-focused approach to the 2018 Senator race, which he lost to Sen. Ted Cruz, gave him a widespread following and many hoped he'd throw his hat into the ring since he said he was considering it earlier this year.
"We hope that he's going to run," Gilberto Hinojosa, the state chair of the Democratic Party, told Axios. "We think he'll be our strongest candidate. We think he can beat Abbott because he's vulnerable."
Austin rapper Jordi Esparza may not have won the 2021 Red Bull Batalla, the world's largest Spanish freestyle rap competition, but for a spirited two rounds, the 22-year old Mexican native looked like he had every right to.
On Saturday evening in Los Angeles, the event itself looked like Cobra Kai meets Star Search with graphics adding a very Batman Beyond aesthetic. Over a dozen rappers hoping to represent the U.S. in the international round of the competition took to the stage with in-your-face jabs at accents, sexual orientation and odors, among other things.
This was Esparza's second rodeo; he had placed third at the 2020 National Finals, automatically securing him a spot this year.
However, things were different this year. He was not nervous about the contest. Unlike in 2020, when he made his Red Bull Batalla debut, the anxiety of the event led him to "feeling so bad."
Affecting a casual calm, the locally-based landscaper said he just felt "so relaxed, so happy" and primarily wanted to "enjoy everything."
Choosing his first-round opponent, Esparza, whose stage name is Jordi, elected to go against LA-based Boss.
Esparza freestyled an attack on his opponent's weight and cholo style of dress.
Boss—bracketing his Latin freestyle with English appeals to the crowd—mocked Jordi's lack of education, made fun of how clean Jordi's shoes looked and suggested that Jordi just came back from a Footlocker.
That first round went to Jordi.
But his next opponent Eckonn would prove to be his undoing.
Eckonn compared Jordi to Hannah Montana, while Jordi soulfully explained that he had learned from the best.
Esparza's verbal dexterity is matched by a rattling rhythm and a game face that is as mawkish as it is mockish. The overall effect is that of an underdog with bite.
Eckonn beat Esparza in that round with the overall championship going to Palm Beach-based rapper Reverse.
However, Esparza was just happy to be there. He recently told Austonia going to the finals again was a dream come true—a pinnacle that he said he won't know how to top.
With his nimble jabs and sneaky prowess, honed from pop culture and the swagger of a young working man hungry to be more, Jordi Esparza is just getting started.