Houston, besieged by COVID patients, offering $100 to those who take vaccine

(Reuters) – Officials in the Houston metropolitan area on Tuesday said they would pay $100 to any person receiving a first dose of a COVID vaccine, as hospitals in the area are expected this week to surpass records for the number of COVID patients in their care.

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Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the top elected official in the county that encompasses Houston, implored residents to take advantage of the $100 incentive, which she said would last at least until August 31.

“We have got to step up, enough is enough!” Hidalgo said at a press conference.

Hidalgo said the Harris County program had $2.3 million and was being funded by money from the American Rescue Plan. It comes after the administration of President Joe Biden in July asked local governments to make such payments in a bid to boost lagging vaccination rates across the country.

Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, CEO of the Harris Health hospital system, appeared alongside Hidalgo on Tuesday and said his facilities now had more COVID patients than ever.

“This is the worst surge that we have faced as a community,” he said. “I am begging you – do the right thing. Get yourself vaccinated.”

The highly infectious Delta variant continues to rampage across Texas and other states with low levels of vaccinations.

The United States has registered more than 37 million cases of COVID since the pandemic began. The rate at which new cases are being added is faster than ever, according to a Reuters tally. It took just 18 days through Monday for 2 million new cases to be reported – the quickest such jump on record.

Florida has its highest level of COVID patients in hospitals, with 16,832 patients, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The spread of the Delta variant is already severely disrupting the new school year in some of the states being hardest hit by it.

In Tampa, Florida, nearly 5,600 students and over 300 employees of a single school district were in isolation or quarantine on Tuesday because of catching or being exposed to COVID. The Hillsborough County School Board reported those numbers and said it would hold an emergency school board meeting on Wednesday to determine the best way to mitigate the spread of the virus.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has banned mask mandates in schools, though some superintendents have bucked his order and demanded masks be worn inside schools.

In Louisiana, where Governor John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, has ordered that masks be used indoors statewide, including in schools, more than 3,000 students in New Orleans were isolated or quarantining, the Orleans Parish school district reported.

While those numbers are high, Dr. Benjamin Springgate, the school district’s medical advisor, told NOLA.com that COVID transmission in schools remains uncommon.

The Texas Department of State Health Services said that earlier this month it requested five mortuary trailers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the event hospitals around the state need support in storing COVID victims’ bodies. So far, none have requested the use of the trailers, it said in an email.

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