At the May 11 Collin County commissioner’s meeting, the first order of business was the $171 million in COVID-19 funds that the federal government awarded Collin County for combating COVID-19. 

County commissioners have been tasked with providing direction on where exactly that money will go. For example, it could be used to increase COVID-19 testing or stockpile PPE supplies. It could be funneled through cities or given directly to residents to help cover immediate needs like housing, rent and mortgage, utility assistance, and food and grocery assistance. 

Precinct 1 Commissioner Susan Fletcher wanted commissioners to keep the struggle of local businesses on the table, even though offering county help is a complex task that she called a “can of worms.” It’s also one that the county doesn’t have the capacity to take on without the help of the individual cities. 

“I feel a burden to at least mention it,” Fletcher told commissioners.  

One way that the money can be used has already been established as one of our needs: covering the cost of COVID-19 testing and evaluation for indigent, uninsured Collin County residents. Collin County plans to cover the cost of the office visit and the test, though any medication prescribed as a result of these tests won’t be covered. 

“Anyone with any level of insurance at this point, feds have waived all of your co-pays,” County Administrator Bill Bilyeu added.

But it’s those without insurance who are left out of the loop. Collin County commissioners believe this new measure will close that care gap. 

In total, about 12,000 tests have been done in the county, according to commissioners.  

Bilyeu said the decision to provide vouchers for COVID-19 tests will be especially critical for service industry workers who can’t be employed without a negative test yet often don’t have health insurance to get a COVID-19 test. “For those who work in the service industry,” he told commissioners, “maybe a coworker or roommate tested positive. You can’t return to work unless you’ve tested negative.” 

Another service that will help is testing sites. Collin County Judge Chris Hill announced that the Texas Department of Emergency Management will operate two new locations in Collin County for two days every other week. With healthcare professionals present, they will be able to offer nose swabs and other drive-thru tests. At some sites in the state, they’ve administered as many as 200 per day. They currently have a similar program running in Dallas. 

To be eligible for the testing voucher, you must be a Collin County resident and not covered by any private or public health insurance policy. There will be no cap on income, and the reimbursement will be paid directly from the county to the healthcare provider. 

Some details still need to be worked out. Fletcher said that it is key that doctors be involved in the vetting and testing process. The county is still getting the word out to Collin County healthcare providers to let them know about the program and, hopefully, get more on board.

Fletcher also suggested a general, flexible plan with funding so that they can adjust to rising and falling prices as the FDA approves different tests that could be useful. The funding does not currently apply to the antibody test but only to the swab test, at least for the time being.

Commissioners still haven’t made a final decision on how much funding should be put into indigent tests. But, Hill said, “If there’s something I’m willing to put money toward, it’s testing … If I can’t do it for $1.5 million, I’ll put $3 million into it.”

On another interesting note, they also discussed ways to ensure that Collin County residents are able to vote safely during the COVID-19 spread. Some of those ways include PPE and wipes for voting machines. It’s been found that voting booths can be cleaned quite well with Q-tips.

Next on the county’s agenda will be acquiring thousands of Q-tips.