Judge Hidalgo says COVID-19 patients make up 48% of Harris Co. ICU beds

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced applications for the $30 million Small Business Relief Fund opened Monday morning, and the county has already received 1,000 applications.

Before detailing the new relief fund Monday, Hidalgo issued a warning to Harris County residents.

"What we feared would happen is coming to pass," Hidalgo said.

At the end of May, COVID-19 patients made up 15% of Harris County ICU beds. Today, Hidalgo says COVID-19 patients make up 48%, and the number is continuing to rise.

Hidalgo says this data reflects Harris County's rising reports of people waiting for ICU beds, beds becoming more scarce and doctors and nurses being imported to the area to provide supplemental support.

"If it wasn't clear before, it's obvious now that having so much still open from restaurants, to all size indoor events, to water parks is not going to turn this thing around," Hidalgo warned.

According to Harris County Public Health, since the middle of May, Hispanics made up more than 50% of the weekly total cases hospitalized, with some weeks making up 65%, despite Hispanics making up only 45% of the Harris County population.

The data is also disproportionately high for African Americans. Hidalgo says Harris County Public Health data shows African Americans made up over 25% of hospitalizations despite being 18% of the Harris County population.

She said overall, Hispanics make up 60% of the sum total of COVID-19 cases in the area.

Although the percentage of African Americans hospitalized is starting to trend down, Hidalgo said the percentage of Hispanics is increasing.

"If this isn't a wake up call, I don't know what is," Hidalgo said.

Harris County Commissioners Court voted unanimously June 30 to approve the Harris County Small Business Recovery Fund, a $30 million grant program designated for struggling small businesses that have not yet obtained financial assistance from other COVID-19 relief programs, according to a press release.

Through the program, eligible businesses may receive a grant of up to $25,000 to cover payroll costs, rent and accounts payable, among other operating expenses. Funding comes from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, officials said.

"The impact of this crisis on small businesses has been devastating. We can't afford to lose a source of jobs, innovation and the enterprising spirit our region is known for," Hidalgo said in a statement. "These grants will help business owners stay afloat as Harris County continues to fight the COVID-19 crisis."

Applications for the progam will remain open until July 22. It is designed for businesses with 30 employees or less, officials said.

The program is not providing funds on a first-come-first-serve basis. Instead, businesses will be chosen randomly after the window closes on July 22, prioritizing businesses with less than 30 and less than five employees first.

"Small businesses are the backbone of the economy in Harris County," Hidalgo said Monday.

Earlier in March, the county provided $10 million to about 400 small businesses through a separate small business relief program. The HCSBRF is part of an effort to assist a broader range of businesses struggling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the release.

Officials said priority will be given to applicants who have not received prior assistance from other COVID-19 small business relief programs.

"The effects of COVID-19 on our friends and neighbors throughout Harris County are immense and widespread on our health, our families, our medical community and our economy," Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle said in a statement. "Harris County's response to this pandemic must recognize the need to address all these issues. With federal funding from the CARES Act, the Small Business Relief Fund is designed to help alleviate some of the stresses on small businesses throughout Harris County. I encourage those eligible to take advantage of this program."

You can submit an application online here.

Part of this story comes from our partners at Community Impact Newspapers.
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