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Abbott's mixed message on COVID crisis' seriousness in Texas

Greg Abbott is pleading for out-of-state assistance as Texas hospitals struggle to keep up. On the other hand, he won't budge on mask policies.

As COVID infections and hospitalizations worsen in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) realizes his state has a serious problem. It's precisely why the governor issued an urgent appeal yesterday, asking out-of-state medical professionals to help serve in Texas hospitals, which are struggling to keep up with the intensifying conditions.

Abbott also requested that medical facilities throughout the Lone Star State postpone all elective medical procedures, in order to better direct resources to the COVID-19 crisis. The same day, as the Associated Press reported, the Republican "directed the state health department and the Texas Division of Emergency Management to open additional COVID-19 antibody infusion centers to treat patients."

These are, of course, the kind of actions one would expect from a governor who recognizes the scope and scale of a public-health emergency. But in Texas, there's a flip-side to the story -- because while Abbott is scrambling to deal with rising infections, he remains stubbornly opposed to policies that might help prevent those infections in the first place.

The governor is taking action short of lifting his emergency order banning county and local government entities from requiring the wearing of masks and social distancing to lower the COVID-19 risk.

As regular readers may recall, Abbott rolled back Texas' restrictions in March, declaring, "It is now time to open Texas 100 percent." Biden administration officials said at the time that the governor was taking an enormous and premature risk, but he did it anyway.

As NBC News noted yesterday, it was two months later -- when COVID tallies in Texas looked encouraging -- when Abbott issued an executive order banning mask requirements in local governments, including public schools.

As schools prepare to begin their new academic year later this month, the hope was that the governor would realize that circumstances have changed, and it's time to revisit the policies he embraced in the spring.

To which Abbott has effectively said, "No."

Just as some local education officials in Florida have said they'll ignore Gov. Ron DeSantis' (R) policies, some Texas school districts are now making similar announcements, saying they're more concerned with trying to stop the spread of the virus than Abbott's political philosophy.

"The governor has shown a callous disregard for life and safety in defiance of clear medical guidance and is risking the safety of our children and the recovery of our economy," San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg told the New York Times this week.

By any fair measure, it's difficult to reconcile the two competing sides of Abbott's approach. On the one hand, he's pleading for out-of-state assistance and pushing for a delay in elective medical procedures as Texas hospitals struggle to keep up. On the other hand, the governor insists communities throughout Texas reject policies that might help make a difference.

As for the consequences for those who defy the governor's office, in Florida, DeSantis is threatening the paychecks of superintendents who dare to try to help their local areas. It's not yet clear what Abbott is prepared to do.