IssuesLocal NewsDallas County Prepares Overflow Hospital for Coronavirus Patients, Amends Disaster Declaration to Allow Pawn Shops

As preparations are made to use the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center as an overflow hospital for coronavirus patients, Dallas County adjusts its disaster declaration.
April 8, 2020
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The Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas is being prepared to serve as an overflow hospital should Dallas area hospitals reach capacity. The models used by county officials predict COVID-19 cases to surge to about 300 hospitalizations per day at the end of April or beginning of May.

During the week ending on April 4, there were 127 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Dallas County, down from 172 the week before.

The Dallas-Fort Worth region has over 4000 immediately available hospital beds, Dr. John Zerwas clarified at a press conference last Friday.   

Governor Abbott announced the desired convention center location, named after the former U.S senator from Texas, during a news conference in late March.  

The convention center will be set up to hold up to 250 patients, with a possibility of expanding up to 1400 beds if the need arises. Most of the beds are simple cots provided by the Texas National Guard.  

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The overflow patients housed at the convention center would be limited to those who are recovering from COVID-19 and need between one and three days of recovery time before returning home.  

The United States Navy will provide the clinical staff, while Dallas County covers the costs of the support services that will be provided,  including food service, janitorial service, transportation, and security.  

The county has engaged AECOM, an engineering firm that claims thirty years of experience in disaster relief and recovery, to manage the project.  

They anticipate the cost to Dallas County for operating the overflow hospital with 250 beds for three months to be about $5 million but plan to deliver final costs to the commissioners on Wednesday.

President Trump has promised 100 percent of the cost will be reimbursed by the federal government, said Karl Jensen, executive vice president of AECOM, but the Stafford Act under which these operations are reimbursed usually applies a cost-sharing formula of 75 percent covered by the federal government and 25 percent covered by the state. 

AMENDING THE DISASTER DECLARATION

Dallas County Commissioners revisited the disaster declaration they authorized on Friday. They agreed with additions Jenkins later made to allow check-cashing businesses and pawnshops to operate with certain restrictions. 

Realtors are also allowed to show homes provided they ride in separate cars from clients and wear masks.

Commissioners required that the shelter-in-place order not be extended by Jenkins beyond April 30 without the approval of the commissioners court and that the commissioners be given three hours notice by email before any further restrictions are placed on essential businesses in Dallas County.

Commissioner J.J. Koch proposed the amendments to the order. He also proposed that no curfew be placed on Dallas County residents but later withdrew that amendment. 

Originally, Koch proposed that no further restrictions could be imposed on businesses without approval of the commissioners court. The three-hour notification amendment was a compromise allowing Jenkins to adjust the order while giving enough time to call an emergency meeting if commissioners were concerned about a proposed restriction.

“Surely if you can confer with 250 health officials, you can confer with us. We’re elected like you are,” Commissioner John Wiley Price pointed out.  

The order wasn’t considered until four hours into the meeting and by that time many of those who had signed up to speak on the subject were no longer waiting on the comment line. 

BUDGET CONCERNS

Given the economic downturn that has been set in motion, county budget director Janette Weedon recommended several steps the county commissioners take to reduce expenses.

  1. Hiring freeze for all non-essential staff
  2. Control non-COVID expenditures
  3. Defer start dates for new employees
  4. Freeze new capital expenditures and review after June
  5. Revise fiscal year 2021 budget calendar and expectations

Darryl Martin, the Dallas County administrator, pointed out that the economic picture is likely to look very different than it did earlier in the year when the budget submission process began.  

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Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.