"My mom could still be alive had there been a mask mandate much earlier on and had Texas stayed closed," Fiana Tulip says

By Sean Neumann
July 28, 2020 10:16 AM
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Fiana Tulip's mother, Isabelle Papadimitriou
Courtesy Fiana Tulip

Last week, Fiana Tulip sent Gov. Greg Abbott an invitation to her mom's funeral.

Please come, Tulip wrote to him, and "witness our family mourning this incredible woman" who was killed by the novel coronavirus that has infected hundreds of thousands of people in Texas.

"My mother’s loss is enormous, and I know in my heart that it was preventable," Tulip tells PEOPLE, emphasizing her message. She says she's "calling on Gov. Abbott to do his job"

In her open letter to Abbott, published Tuesday in the Austin-American Statesman, Tulip wrote that mom Isabelle Odette Papadimitriou died on July 4 after contracting the virus at a local hospital, where she worked as a respiratory therapist.

Papadimitriou, 64, first fell ill in late June — a week before her daughter says the state "finally" took necessary action to slow the spread of the virus.

Tulip told CNN that "my mom could still be alive had there been a mask mandate much earlier on and had Texas stayed closed."

Papadimitriou was buried in her hometown of Brownsville, Texas, on Monday after a memorial service on Thursday. According to Tulip, guests at the service were limited as a precaution and everyone was required to wear a mask.

Still, she told PEOPLE, they saved "a spot for the governor."

Isabelle Papadimitriou (left) and Fiana Tulip
Courtesy Fiana Tulip
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott
Spencer Platt/Getty

In her letter to Abbott Tulip wrote, "There is no doubt that poor policy and terrible leadership were responsible for her death" — and she is no less blunt speaking with PEOPLE: "His inaction has killed thousands and is putting millions more at risk."

Tulip says she hasn't "heard a single thing" from Gov. Abbott's office since her op-ed was published in the Austin paper. (His aides did not respond to PEOPLE's requests for comment.)

Texas is one of a handful of states, like Arizona and Florida, that have become hotspots of the outbreak this summer after earlier epicenters like New Jersey and New York bent back their own rates of infection with intense social-distancing and other public health measures.

More than 6,200 people have died in Texas from the coronavirus since the pandemic began, according to a New York Times tracker of available data.

As of Tuesday, there were some 402,000 confirmed cases.

Abbott's response has been increasingly scrutinized amid the increasing infections, including for his reluctance to impose statewide measures like a mask rule, which he put in place in early July.

At the state's Republican convention two weeks later, he told delegates: "Each day the facts get worse. If we don't slow this disease quickly, our hospitals will get overrun, and I fear it will even inflict some of the people that I'm talking to right now."

“Now I know that many of all you are frustrated — so am I," Abbott said then, according to the Texas Tribune. "I know that many of you do not like the mask requirement. I don’t either. ... The last thing that any of us want is to lock Texas back down again."

Abbott initially called for a statewide business shutdown on March 19, closing bars and gyms while barring large gatherings. But his phased reopening plan unveiled in April was criticized by some local officials as moving too quickly even as he overrode towns and counties who asked to rollback re-openings and reinstate stay-at-home orders, according to the Tribune.

Tulip took issue with that decision in her open letter last week.

Isabelle Papadimitriou
Courtesy Fiana Tulip
Isabelle Papadimitriou
Courtesy Fiana Tulip

"My mother likely contracted the virus at the hospital where she worked during the period when your Executive Order No. GA-18 forbade local governments from implementing their own safety measures, such as mandating the wearing of masks, to protect the public and healthcare workers from the spread of COVID-19," Tulip wrote.

She added: "Other states and countries have managed to slow their spread by implementing simple policy measures such as mask-wearing."

After Texas hit a record-high 5,000 cases on June 23, Abbott re-issued his request for Texans to stay at home that night.

But Tulip told CNN her mother "didn't have the option to Netflix and chill" as a frontline worker and instead had to continue showing up to the hospital where she worked. She said the only places her mom went during the pandemic were to work and back home.

Papadimitriou first noticed symptoms of the virus on June 28 and spent the next days ill in bed, according to her daughter.

She documented her symptoms in a journal. In one entry, she wrote: “Dizziness, lightheaded, chills, body aches, huge headache, shaking and drowsy and a fever at 100.8 degrees. All at once at 10:30 pm."

"The next Saturday, she died," Tulip told CNN.

The governor's mask mandate on July 2 was "too late to help my mother," Tulip said.

"There will be far more deaths of Texans than there needed to be," Tulip wrote in her open letter, adding that to her the governor's "inaction and active denial" of the virus' impact "has made it clear that the people dying, and the families they’re leaving behind, are just numbers to you."

As she told Abbott: "My mother mattered."

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