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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A Union Pacific cargo train hit a man in his 40s, killing him Thursday morning, Austin police said.
The train's driver called the police after the train hit the man at around 12:45 a.m. in the 300 block of Orchard Street, nearby Fifth Street and Lamar Boulevard.
Police have not released the identity of the man.
Over a year after they took the stage for the first time in Los Angeles, Austin FC returned to Banc of America Stadium to snatch the No. 1 spot from LAFC in a 2-1 statement win late Wednesday night.
Austin FC, which has flirted with the top spot in the MLS West this season, has now solidly reached the summit just a year after its second-to-last first season finish. The new top dogs are now 7-2-3 overall.
Here's a look at three highlights from the match:
Flashback in LA
For many Austin FC fans and naysayers alike, the match was more than a fight for the MLS West throne: it also served as a symbol of how far the team has come.
The two clubs first met on the Banc of America pitch as Austin FC saw its first game and first loss all at once in a 2-0 battle last April. It was an exciting but shaky start to the club's first season, and the loss seemed to set the tone for the rest of its inaugural year as the club dipped to second to last in the conference.
If Austin's first season was hallmarked by its first match, then its second-year success was foretold by its back-to-back five-goal victories to kick off the season.
Since then, the club has battled its own first-year shadow, claims of "bonus games" and a few unexpected obstacles—both on and off the pitch—but it has almost always come out on top.
That fight to the top was fully realized Wednesday, even as the club played its toughest opponent yet. Even with a man down in the middle due to Daniel Pereira's red card last game, the club kept its cool through even the trickiest moments of the match. Jhojan Valencia, who patched the Pereira hole in midfield, got his first MLS start and first MLS assist as Ruben Gabrielsen scored the first goal of the game.
Gabrielsen came to Austin FC as a potential hero for the team's center back position, but the club's resident Viking has already nabbed two goals in his first season with the team.
"That's center forward material," Austin FC announcer Adrian Healey said as Gabrielsen took control of Valencia's pass, paused to fake out the defense, and calmly tucked the ball into the left corner to complete the first goal of the match.
Even as LAFC dominated possession for much of the match, Austin FC saw another wide-open goal opportunity crumble as midfielder Diego Fagundez's shot hit the corner goalpost in the 23rd minute.
But Fagundez wasn't finished. The midfielder was short on his Verde hair dye but full of surprises as he nimbly sunk a shot over LAFC defense to make it 2-0 with 10 minutes to go.
Fagundez, who has spent more time setting up goals for his teammates (becoming the No. 1 assister in the MLS in the process), finally took the center stage with his second goal this season.
Owen Wolff, head coach Josh Wolff's own son, had a scoring opportunity of his own foiled by the goalpost as he started his first MLS match as one of the youngest starters in the league this season.
But Austin FC wouldn't score again; instead, LAFC powerhouse Carlos Vela made the win a bit trickier in the 86th minute as he got past Austin keeper Brad Stuver to cut the lead in half. The other Wolff quickly subbed in a five-prong defense as the club kept steady for the final 10 painstaking minutes to win the match.
BONUS: Stuver's career-making match
Six saves on the night in LA for Brad Stuver! 🚫 pic.twitter.com/02V6hcUd3Y— Major League Soccer (@MLS) May 19, 2022
After two weeks on the bench due to a knee gash, Austin's star keeper Brad Stuver had the Stuver-iest match of all time (yes, we're making it a word) as he pulled off six saves to help his team to No. 1.
Stuver looked like a pinball machine as he pulled off save after save with his feet, hands and body to keep it nearly 100% clean on the back end.
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