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'I truly thought last Friday was gonna be my last,' says Texas lawmaker who was hospitalized for coronavirus

State Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, told The Texas Tribune he is recovering from a serious case of COVID-19, which he thought last week might kill him.
Credit: Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune
State Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, is a member of the hardline conservative House Freedom Caucus, which has frequently criticized Gov. Greg Abbott's response to the pandemic — shutting down businesses and requiring masks in public — as government overreach.

This story originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.

State Rep. Tony Tinderholt was hospitalized last week after testing positive for the novel coronavirus, the lawmaker confirmed Friday to The Texas Tribune, marking the first known case involving a member of the Texas Legislature.

"I truly thought last Friday was gonna be my last," Tinderholt, an Arlington Republican, said in a text message to the Tribune. Tinderholt said his wife and two of his children also tested positive for the virus, though their symptoms were less severe.

Tinderholt said he is recovering after receiving medical treatment from a North Texas doctor. He said he spent several hours in the hospital and received an IV and medication there. He and his family wore masks every time they went out in public because they felt it was the right thing to do, he said.

"I would like for people to try to mitigate risk by wearing masks," he said. "But wear them because you think it's right. I'm sure it works to some degree — it just didn't for me."

Medical experts and doctors have recommended wearing masks to reduce the spread of the virus, with recent research suggesting that wearing one could lessen the severity of symptoms or stop someone from catching it entirely. Research has also shown that face coverings such as masks are most effective at reducing spread when a higher number of people in a community participate in wearing them.

Tinderholt is a member of the hardline conservative House Freedom Caucus, which has frequently criticized Gov. Greg Abbott's response to the pandemic — shutting down businesses and requiring masks in public — as government overreach.

In an April 24 letter to the governor, the caucus urged Abbott to "fully reopen" the state economy, arguing that the longer he waited to reopen businesses, the longer it would take to recover.

"Too many jobs have been lost; too many sit at home as their livelihoods wither away, uncertain if they'll be able to pay their mortgage or buy groceries next week," read the letter, which included recommendations on how to reopen safely. "We must rebuild this economy by allowing those who built it in the first place to reopen."

While Tinderholt acknowledged the virus is a "serious illness," he reiterated Friday his position that Abbott shutting down parts of the economy is wrong.

"Closing the entire economy and halting business as well as illegally taking people's freedoms are absolutely the wrong things to do to Texas, Texans and our nation," Tinderholt said.

Tinderholt said he was considered at risk for the virus due to his titanium aortic heart valve.

Tinderholt's first day of symptoms, he said, consisted of mild joint pain that soon turned into severe pain accompanied by bad headaches and a loss of taste and smell. Now, in recovery, he said he has nausea and a cough with slight breathing difficulties. He said he does not know how he caught it.

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.