Army Corps of Engineers Scramble to Evaluate Alternate Hospital Sites for COVID-19
Jeffrey Heimgartner posted on April 02, 2020 |
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is assessing unused facilities for use as alternate hospital units.

With more than 200,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 4,500 deaths, cities across the U.S. are struggling to slow the spread of the virus and still provide the best medical care possible. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has revved up its efforts to evaluate facilities across the country that could be used as alternate hospitals. The agency is steadily working to make the assessments as the pandemic’s peak, slated for April 15, quickly approaches.

According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, pandemic peak projections could mean a shortage of 54,046 general hospital and 13,856 ICU beds. As many medical facilities are already feeling the strain from the increase in patients, the plan is to convert other buildings into makeshift facilities that could either be used for COVID-19 cases or for treating noninfected patients.

“We’ve already cut contracts, and we’re cutting contracts every night to be able to get contractors to be able to come into the facilities,” said Gen. Todd Semonite.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is assessing potential sites to be used as alternative health care facilities. (Image courtesy of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.)
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is assessing potential sites to be used as alternative health care facilities. (Image courtesy of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.)

The first round of assessments was made in California, New York and Washington. The Corps has evaluated more than 80 locations, which have included vacant hotels, college dorms, convention centers and fairgrounds. According to Semonite, the agency has been assessing 15 to 20 locations a day. Once a facility is deemed suitable, the city leases the property. The Corps then hires construction contractors and works with them to finish the conversion process within weeks.

Assessing facilities to convert into hospitals with an extra 10,000 beds is no easy task. The Corps has established guidelines to help make the process as efficient and timely as possible.

“This is an unbelievably complicated problem, and there is no way we are going to be able to do it with a complicated solution,” Semonite said. “We need something super simple. So our concept here is a standard design.”

Their efforts are already making a difference. Work is underway to convert New York City’s Javits Center into a 2,900-room medical facility. Other sites in Sacramento, Seattle and Chicago are expected to be available soon, including the McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago.

States where cases are increasing are the next target areas. The agency is making evaluations in 15 states, including Florida, which presents its own unique challenges since the state has a significantly higher number of older adults. For more information on the Corps’ activities, visit the agency’s coronavirus update page.

Interested in how people are coming together to help health care professionals on the frontlines of the pandemic? Check out MIT Works on an Emergency Ventilator (E-Vent) Project and COVID-19: Can You Help Solve the Facemask Shortage?

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