Editor's note: An earlier version of this story was not clear about how long the emergency disaster declaration would last. The declaration will expire Sept. 8
Montgomery County commissioners approved a 30-day disaster declaration at an Aug. 10 Commissioners Court session as the percentage of COVID-19 patients in hospitals reached a critical point over the weekend.
As of the county's Aug. 9 update, 170 out of 174 intensive care unit beds were in use, and COVID-19 patients made up 16.2% of area hospital capacity, which is over the 15% threshold that designates a county as "high hospitalization" according to Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order GA-34.
Asked about the possibility of Montgomery County enacting a mask mandate, Jason Millsaps, the chief of staff for County Judge Mark Keough, said there was no chance.
"Judge Keough has never mandated masks in the county during the entire pandemic and does not intend to start now," Millsaps said in an emailed statement.
In addition to the disaster declaration, commissioners authorized the county's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management to suspend some purchasing processes to buy medical supplies and personal protective equipment.
The supplies will be funded by the American Rescue Plan, and the amount will not exceed $150,000. Millsaps, who also serves as the county's director of the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said he would try to request additional ARP funding for supplies at a special session on Aug. 20.
Commissioners held a short discussion on vaccination rates in the county, where 49% of the population were fully vaccinated at the beginning of August, according to Montgomery County Public Health. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services vaccine dashboard, 247,315 people are fully vaccinated as of Aug. 9. Millsaps said most of the cases they have been seeing in hospitals are ages 30-50. MCPH officials have stressed that most of the cases in hospitals involve unvaccinated people.
Millsaps said emergency management would look into additional satellite vaccination sites to target rural areas. Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack proposed using ARP funds to incentivize vaccines.
State data shows 524,914 vaccine doses have been administered in the county as of publication. The county with the lowest vaccination percentage of its population is ZIP code 77372 with about 21.32% fully vaccinated, while the highest is ZIP code 77380, with 73.59% vaccinated, according to state vaccine data and population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2019 American Community Survey.
Millsaps said the county needed around 130 nurses for hospitals, following an Aug. 9 announcement from Gov. Greg Abbott's office that said the DSHS would attempt to bring in out-of-state medical personnel to help hospital staffing. Commissioners approved a motion providing $9 million in funds to the county staffing increase, which will last eight weeks, County Judge Mark Keough said in an Aug. 10 Facebook post.
Several frontline doctors and nurses were present at the session, and Keough recognized them with a round of applause.
In a Facebook post, Keough said, "the doctors were clear they have space to expand and add beds but they do not have the nurses and staff needed to staff those beds."
Millsaps offered his own praise to the assembled medical staff while criticizing misinformation about COVID-19.
“I know there’s a lot of misinformation and skepticism but it’s clear in front of our own eyes,” Millsaps said. “We have 91%, 92% of people in the hospital unvaccinated.”