A 1,200-bed field hospital, established in response to the dire need for additional hospital beds as the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) overwhelms New York City’s existing medical infrastructure, opened today at the Jacob K. Javits Center.
The Army Corps of Engineers, along with civilian staff and members of the New York National Guard, executed the dramatic transformation of the Javits Center from a normally bustling venue for trade shows and conventions to a fully equipped overflow medical facility in just one week.
If needed, the makeshift hospital at the Javits Center can be expanded to accommodate 2,910 beds. This would make it one of the largest hospitals in America, regardless of ephemerality, according to ABC News. By comparison, New York-Presbyterian, the city’s largest hospital, has a 2,600-bed capacity.
First floated as a potential field hospital earlier this month, the Javits Center, a vast green-roofed, glass-encased complex on Manhattan’s far West Side designed by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, is the first of several Army Corps-identified facilities across the five boroughs to be adapted into a temporary medical hub.
Late last week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the Army Corps, pending approval from the White House, will also convert four other facilities with considerable square footage into field hospitals: The Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, the New York Expo Center in Bronx, CUNY Staten Island, and the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in Red Hook. These four facilities will have the capacity for a combined 4,000 additional hospital beds as even more sites, including the Brooklyn Center Nursing Home and a Marriott hotel in downtown Brooklyn, are considered by state health officials as having overflow-need potential according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
Cuomo has also stressed the need for temporary hospitals in New York City-adjacent counties including Westchester, Suffolk, Nassau, and Rockland. As of this writing, 59,742 cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed in New York, the most of any state. Nearly 800 people have perished from the virus in New York City alone.
Over the weekend, a non-Army Corps-initiated field hospital also began to take shape in Central Park’s East Meadow.
Designed specifically as a respiratory care unit, the 68-bed Central Park tent hospital is being constructed by volunteers enlisted by the faith-based humanitarian aid organization Samaritan’s Purse in partnership with Mount Sinai Health System. Unlike the field hospital at the Javits Center, which will only provide care to those suffering from a range of health issues that aren’t coronavirus in order to take the mounting burden off of established hospitals grappling with New Yorkers stricken with the highly contagious viral disease, the Central Park facility is dedicated to treating “patients seriously ill with COVID-19,” per a statement released by Mount Sinai Hospital to BuzzFeed News.
Samaritan’s Purse field hospital going up in Central Park. This is surreal. pic.twitter.com/j7e6JiZXro
— Emily Belz (@emlybelz) March 29, 2020
Back at the Javits Center, the transformation of the 1.8-million-square foot building’s cavernous exhibition halls into a Federal Emergency Management Agency-operated medical facility has been met with a positive response. And for those skeptical that the United States was capable of speedy, China-style turnaround in creating makeshift hospitals, the swift transformation of the Javits Center has proven that the Army Corps, when called upon, can get things done and get them done in an expeditious manner. (New York’s urgent need for ventilators and other supplies, however, is a whole other story.)
All things considered, the temporary hospital at the Javits Center appears clean and comfortable. Individual beds contained within semi-enclosed “rooms” are shielded by three temporary walls and a curtained entrance made from seemingly the same materials formerly used to host booths in the space, while floor lamps, folding chairs, medical supplies, and side tables topped with (faux) potted plants complement the spaces. While the transformation doesn’t appear to allow for individual treatment areas to include private plumbed fixtures, some online commentators have pointed out that a deficit of toilets at the Javits Center shouldn’t be a problem.
“The Javits Center is an amazing facility,” ABC News reported Gen. Todd Semonite, head of the Army Corps of Engineers, as telling reporters at a press conference held last week. “Every 10 feet there’s a great big steel door in the floor, you open it up in there is all the electrical; there’s cold water, there’s hot water and there’s a place for sewers, so you can actually do things like sinks, right in the middle of a convention center to be able to make that happen.”
The seemingly miles of beds being set up at Javits. It is absolutely unreal to see what the National Guard & first responders have put together here in just days. pic.twitter.com/dD0AQg4PO4
— Sarah Boxer (@Sarah_Boxer) March 27, 2020
Outside of New York City, the Los Angeles Convention Center, which was due to host the AIA Conference on Architecture 2020 in May, is in the process of being converted by the National Guard into a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-run field hospital as demand for hospital beds in the greater L.A. area begin to surge. Hard-hit Santa Clara County, in the San Francisco Bay area, is also turning a large convention center into a temporary treatment center for COVID-19 patients presenting on-life threatening symptoms. Similar efforts are also planned or already underway at convention centers in Detroit, New Orleans, Baltimore, Dallas, Chicago, Seattle, and elsewhere.
To help with this unprecedented effort, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) has launched a special task force to inform and offer guidance to public officials, architects, and healthcare facility operators as they convert existing buildings into temporary medical hubs at a pace never experienced before. The task force, according to a press statement, will develop a COVID-19 Rapid Response Safety Space Assessment for AIA members that includes “considerations for the suitability of buildings, spaces, and other sites for patient care. The assessment will be developed by architects with a wide range of expertise, including healthcare facility design, urban design, public health and disaster assistance.”
“On a daily basis, I am hearing from our architects who feel a deep sense of moral duty to support our healthcare providers on the frontlines of this pandemic,” said AIA 2020 president Jane Frederick, FAIA. “As our communities assess buildings to address growing surge capacity, we hope this task force will be a resource to ensure buildings are appropriately and safely adapted for our doctors and nurses.”