US Military Assessing 100 Possible Sites for Makeshift Hospitals

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The National Guard stands in formation at the Jacob Javits Center, Monday, March 23.
The National Guard stands in formation at the Jacob Javits Center, Monday, March 23, 2020, in New York. New York City hospitals are just 10 days from running out of "really basic supplies," Mayor Bill de Blasio said late Sunday. De Blasio has called upon the federal government to boost the city's quickly dwindling supply of protective equipment. The city also faces a potentially deadly dearth of ventilators to treat those infected by the coronavirus. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

The military has a list of more than 100 possible sites nationwide to convert into makeshift hospitals to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic, including convention centers, sports arenas, hotels, dorms and other existing buildings, the commander of the Army Corps of Engineers said Friday.

Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite said he could not disclose the full list immediately but cited the conversion of the Javits Convention Center in Manhattan as an example of what could be done quickly, in cooperation with state and city officials.

The Javits Center, with a capacity of more than 2,000 beds, will be ready to take in patients Monday morning, he said.

At a Pentagon news conference, Semonite said that the Corps of Engineers, at the direction of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is also looking at the potential $75 million conversion of the McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago, as well as sites in Sacramento, California, and Seattle.

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One recently confirmed site is CenturyLink Field, home of the Seattle Seahawks pro football team.

Some sites would be for COVID-19 patients; others for patients with other issues, Semonite said.

"One that really popped up in the last 24 hours was Chicago," Semonite said. "We think about 3,000 [patients] are going to go into the McCormick Center." The initial plan is for the site to be dedicated to patients who have tested positive for COVID-19, he said.

Florida, with its large and vulnerable elderly population, is also high on the list to get temporary hospitals in existing buildings, Semonite said. "That could be an unbelievably high demand."

The Corps, in coordination with FEMA and local officials, is looking at sites in Miami, Orlando and Tampa, he added.

"We have a very, very narrow window of opportunity" to get ahead of the spreading pandemic, Semonite said, stressing the urgency to complete the conversions ahead of schedule to relieve overburdened local hospitals.

"We calculate, and we say, 'That's six weeks out. We can't do that,'" he said. "I tell our guys, 'You have three weeks. You get as much as you can get done in three weeks,' and then the mission's complete."

The Corps is essentially working without a game plan in the actual conversions and relying on the initiative of the work crews, Semonite said.

"We've never done a pandemic capability. We don't have on-the-shelf designs of how to modify hotels into COVID centers," he said. "From an efficiency perspective, it's got to be the good enough solution."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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