As the number of COVID-19 infections in the U.S. has surpasses the 200,000 mark, states and cities are scrambling to come up with the bed space to treat not only coronavirus but the everyday illnesses and injuries that already stress hospitals’ capacity.
Over the past week, the Army Corps of Engineers has awarded eight contracts to build space for about 10,000 beds, its commanding general told reporters Friday, including the conversation of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City and the McCormick Place Convention Center.
“I have said several times: This is an incredibly complicated situation,” Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite said. “We need a very, very simple solution.”
What has emerged is a plan that can be shared and scaled across the U.S., he said, converting convention centers, arenas, dormitories and hotels into medical centers, tailoring each site to treat infectious or non-infectious conditions based on the local need.
Those include State University New York at Stony Brook and Westbury, Westchester Community Center in New York state and TCF Center in Detroit, with a mix of facilities designated for treating COVID and non-COVID patients.
“The best option is to go with what the mayor or governor want,” Semonite said. “They all have different applications of this medical plan.”
That included this week at the Javits Center, which was originally intended as a non-COVID facility, but has converted to one designed to isolate infectious patients.
“The modifications that we have to make are relatively minor believe it or not, inside the actually 10x10 [foot] pod, because most of these are COVID convalescence,” he said, meaning areas for rest and monitoring, rather than ventilators or other intensive care.
So far, ACE has completed 673 of 750 requested site assessments ― up from the list of 114 they were working with a week ago ― and is in various stages of contracting with 40 of them.
There are nine facilities with contracts pending completion, totaling 5,000 beds, and 15 more in the early stages, adding another 11,000.
Additionally, another eight facilities ― for a total of 5,000 beds ― have been converted, using ACE’s model but with local government as the contracting office. Those include Century Link Stadium in Seattle and the Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, California.
As far as the next hot spot, Semonite said, he has his eye on Florida, where ACE is working with Gov. Ron DeSantis on a plan.
“I think Florida is almost in a different realm, to a degree, only because it’s a little bit different than a standard population,” he said.
Of Florida’s 16 million residents, about 3 million are over age 62, right in the target demographic for the most severe complications for COVID-19.
“This virus gets a vote, and it’s trying to figure out, how does it continue to change over time?” Semonite said. “We’ve got to be smart enough to try to anticipate where that change is going to come, and to be able to if nothing else have the appropriate amount of facilities.”
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.