Nov 8, 2021 - COVID
Texas' emergency COVID spending tops $2.5B
A medical staff member tends to a patient at a Texas hospital.
Medical staff member installs a new oxygen mask for a patient in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at the United Memorial Medical Center in Houston in December. Photo: Go Nakamura/Getty Images

The state's lead emergency agency has spent at least $2.5 billion on COVID-related supplies since the pandemic began, per records obtained by Axios through public information requests.

Why it matters: A purchase order for gloves, masks, disinfectants and other supplies shows how money flew out the door as the Texas Department of Emergency Management scrambled to keep up with the fast-moving disease.

At the start of the pandemic, with the national stockpile of supplies lacking, state agencies, hospitals and local governments turned to the state to negotiate and pay for materials.

  • On March 13, 2020, the day Gov. Greg Abbott declared a statewide emergency, the state spent less than $1,000 for a few thousand nitrile gloves; three days later, as COVID-19's scope became clear, the agency spent $228,800 for 100,000 faceshields.

The floodgates had opened.

By the numbers: On a single day in April 2020, the state spent $202,470 on 3,000 thermometers.

  • A week later, it spent nearly $640,000 for 19,200 12-ounce disinfectants. By June, Texas was doling out $16.9 million for an order of nearly 41 million surgical masks.

The data reveals how supply chains, fear and competition led to the jacking up of costs.

  • In July, the Department of Emergency Management paid $140 million for 45 million N95 masks.

The biggest expenditures were for contracts to run COVID-19 testing and testing site management.

  • The state has paid $116 million to a Texas-based vendor for managing COVID-19 testing sites, for example.

What they're saying: TDEM spokesperson Seth Christensen tells Axios the agency had to meet unprecedented needs — and established quality control measures to prevent fraud and the purchase of faulty material.

  • "We saved the taxpayers a lot of money and protected a lot of people," Christensen said. "We see this with every disaster, with people trying to take advantage of a broken supply chain and fabricating things that are not of quality."

The bottom line: The spending by TDEM is just a slice of how much local, state and federal governments have had to spend to safeguard frontline workers and members of the public.

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