Convention Centers Repurposed to Hold Hospital Beds

Author: Barbara Palmer       


The Javits Convention Center in New York City is being used as a field hospital give relief to New York hospitals overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients. (Screen grab/ABC News 7)

The Javits Convention Center in New York City is expected to open as an emergency field hospital as early as March 30, ABC News reports, just one week after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the plan. The field hospital will create a “backfill” to relieve pressure on New York City hospitals expected to be “overwhelmed” by COVID-19 cases, Cuomo said during a March 23 press conference.

The original plan for 250-bed, 40,000-square-foot hospital units on the main exhibition floor has been expanded by the Army Corps of Engineers. The hospital will now initially hold 1,200 beds, with the ability to increase to almost 3,000.


The Army Corps of Engineers built the hospital on the exhibition floor of the Javits Center. (Screen grab/ABC News 7)

In his daily briefing on March 28, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker confirmed that Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center will be converted into Illinois’ first field hospital, the Chicago Tribune reported. It will be able to house 3,000 coronavirus patients by April 24, with 500 beds expected to be ready by April 3, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health.

Also last week, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced that the Baltimore Convention Center and the city-owned Hilton hotel would convert space to provide at least 250 beds, in a joint partnership between the University of Maryland Medical System and Johns Hopkins Medicine, according to a Baltimore Sun report.

Work was also beginning to create a 250-bed “medical shelter” that would provide short-term care at the Santa Clara Convention Center in California, federal officials announced Saturday night, according to a report in The Mercury News. Opening dates for the units in Santa Clara and Baltimore have not yet been announced.

In Madrid, patients were moved to a field hospital set up at IFEMA conference center, where 1,300 hospitals beds have been set up at the facility, the director of the field hospital, Antonio Zapatero, said in an interview with El Mundo. There are plans to eventually offer more than 5,000 hospital beds at the center. And spproximately 250 intensive care stations have been established at the Milano Convention Centre, (MiCo), in Milan, Italy, in a project coordinated by the regional government,  which manages the local health system. And in London, the ExCel conference center will hold 500 hospital beds for treating coronavirus patients “within days,” according to a report in The Guardian.

Cases of COVID-19 are rising rapidly in New York City, which has emerged as an epicenter of the pandemic in the United States. New York City has 53,000 hospital beds, and the projected need in coming weeks is more than twice that — 110,000 beds, Cuomo said. “We are trying to reduce the rate of the spread of the virus,” Cuomo said, “but we have to get that hospital bed capacity up, and the supply capacity up.” The hospitals will be staffed by federal employees, the governor said.

Materials were already arriving at the center, where construction is expected to take a week to 10 days, Cuomo said. “Luckily, Javits has plenty of space,” Cuomo said. “This was never an anticipated use, but you do what you have to do, that is the New York way, the American way, and we are going to get this done.”

In addition to space, convention centers like MiCo have services that are not easily found elsewhere, including, electricity, water, air compressors, parking, well-equipped waste disposal, and interior roads, and are designed to facilitate the rapid construction of environments for almost any activity, pointed out Fabrizio Conte, head of marketing and communication for Fiera Milano Congressi, which manages MiCo in Milan.

“In addition to this we boast  — and this is a typical feature of those who work in our industry —  great mental flexibility and remarkable design and construction capacity,” as well as “teams of workers very coordinated with each other and all used to working and delivering work performed to perfection in a few hours.” The mentality in Milan and throughout Italy is supportive, Conte added, with people who are inclined to make themselves available to others.

In New York, Cuomo thanked the U.S. Corps of Engineers, who are working to construct the hospital, the National Guard, and Javits Center employees who “are doing above and beyond their duty.”

The Javits Center’s “workforce stands ready to assist during this unprecedented crisis,” said Tony Sclafani, chief communications officer at Javits, “We’re all in this together.”

Barbara Palmer is deputy editor of Convene. This story was updated on March 29.

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