Montgomery County purchases portable shelter ahead of expected COVID-19 wave

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Texas -- As Montgomery County hospitals brace for an anticipated influx of coronavirus patients in the next few weeks, county officials greenlighted the purchase of an item they said they hope to never use.

Commissioners approved the purchase of a portable shelter June 23 to be used for overflow patients if hospitals reach full capacity. The cost is not to exceed $500,000, and the shelter can hold up to 75 patients, said Jason Millsaps, the chief of staff for County Judge Mark Keough.

"When they push that panic button and call (us); for logistic support, this is a tool in the chest that we need," Millsaps told commissioners.

Funding will come from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which stipulates items purchased from these funds can only be used for items specifically related to COVID-19. The county will be allowed to use the shelter for other purposes, such as shelter during flooding and fire, after it is no longer needed for reasons related to the pandemic.

The shelter will be put in a hospital parking lot, as requested by hospital officials, Millsaps said. By putting the shelter on-site, the county will not have to pay for hospital staffing costs. The specific hospital has not yet been determined.

"We're not doing something like Harris County did where they set up a facility off-site away from the hospitals at a very large cost," he said. "This kit can be set up in a matter of minutes by one person."

READ MORE: Harris County building temporary hospital at NRG - again

Millsaps also noted that to rent the shelter would cost $1.5 million a month.

As of now, county hospitals are under capacity, officials said.

"We have seen an uptick in cases and in some of our critical beds. In the ICU beds, we are getting close to exceeding capacity in some cases, but our number of ventilators; available-we have a great supply available," Millsaps said.

But there will likely be an influx of patients from Houston's medical center. When the medical center begins to overflow in capacity, there will be some delay before it hits Montgomery County, but it will hit, Millsaps said.

"The hospital system as a whole within the region believes within the next two weeks the medical center is going to surge out, and that will cause patients to be moved up here to our hospitals until we run out of space, and then, we could potentially surge as well," he said.

Montgomery County hospitals are regional hospitals, meaning they do not serve only Montgomery County residents.

As of June 24, there were 13 coronavirus patients who were Montgomery County residents, according to a daily case count released by the Montgomery County Public Health District, but there were 104 total coronavirus patients hospitalized in Montgomery County hospitals.

Many of these other patients come from places like Harris County, Millsaps said. The county does not have the authority to permit only Montgomery County residents into the portable shelter if it were to be in operation, officials said.

On June 23, Millsaps said it could take up to 16 weeks for delivery, a time frame that commissioners deemed unacceptable. On June 24, Millsaps said the vendor has confirmed an estimated delivery between four to five weeks.

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