Harris County spending $40 million on more COVID tests, nurses

With the omicron variant escalating at a blistering pace and local health care providers pushed to capacity, Harris County Commissioners green-lighted $41 million to fund reinforcements – more specifically, 664 contract nurses to fill staffing shortages at multiple Houston-area hospitals.

"There is staff burnout. There are some hospitals reporting up to 20% turnover from burnout and then there is staff illnesses with COVID with a couple hospitals reporting up to 10% of staff out due to COVID," said Judge Lina Hidalgo.

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County leaders also unanimously approved the purchase of 65,000 additional COVID-19 tests at a projected cost of $1.8 million.

Hidalgo says nearly all will be funneled to Houston area schools struggling to limit the spread of omicron among the students they serve.

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A yet-to-be-determined number of rapid tests will also be set aside for county employees.

"If you’ve got a frontline person who is working a reception desk or handling money, waiting 72 hours to find out if they are positive is not what we want to do," said Jack Cagle, Harris County Commissioner for Precinct 4.

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County leaders say money for both the hospital reinforcements and additional Covid-19 testing will be drawn from Pandemic aid granted by Congress under the American Rescue Plan.