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NYC eyes emptied dorms, Javits Center as makeshift coronavirus treatment hubs

Awaiting the Surge

NYC eyes emptied dorms, Javits Center as makeshift coronavirus treatment hubs

Like with numerous convention and expo centers in China, New York City’s Javits Center could potential be converted into an emergency treatment facility. (Ajay Suresh/ Wikimedia Commons)

With classes and conferences of all stripes being postponed, canceled, and migrated online as the widening coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic brings life in New York City to a grinding halt, two sizable patches of real estate are being eyed by officials as potential locations to set up additional emergency hospital beds. This move would help alleviate pressure on already overburdened medical facilities that are bracing for a deluge of infected patients in need of acute treatment.

As of this writing, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New York City is over 2,000.

As reported by Politico, a key locale being considered by city officials as a “medical surge facility” is the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. Sprawling across 1.8 million square feet on Manhattan’s far West Side, the Pei Cobb Freed-designed Javits Center certainly has the raw space to spare as the twelfth-largest convention facility in the United States. And, for now, it has the availability as well considering that all operations at Javits have been put on pause until April 30. Some events beyond April 30, notably the International Contemporary Furniture Fair, have also been canceled.

The Javits Center is a state-run enterprise operated by the New York Convention Center Operating Corporation, which itself is a subsidiary of the Empire State Development Corporation. Omar Bourne, a spokesperson for New York City’s emergency management department, relayed to Politico that Mayor de Blasio’s administration is still awaiting a response from the state as to whether the Javits Center could potentially be used as a temporary medical facility if need be.

The Chinese city of Wuhan converted numerous convention centers and exhibition halls into pop-up hospitals during the height of the pandemic there. All of those facilities, as well as the city’s rapidly erected modular emergency facilities, have since been shuttered as the reported cases of the virus in and around Wuhan have gone from a flood to a slight trickle to nothing.

Not far from the Javits Center, Madison Square Garden, a multipurpose arena clocking in at around 820,000 square feet, is also being considered as a potential emergency treatment center where COVID-19-stricken New Yorkers would be isolated and treated. The idea is one being floated by Council Speaker Corey Johnson and his colleague, Stephen Levin. In addition to converting Javits Center into a medical facility, Johnson and Levein “also argued that the city and state should transform Madison Square Garden, the home of the ailing Knicks, into a home for the ailing,” wrote Politico.

Unlike the state-run Javits Center, Madison Square Garden is privately owned by sports and entertainment behemoth, the Madison Square Garden Company.

In addition to gargantuan, glass-paneled convention centers and the home venue of an enfeebled NBA franchise, the soon-to-be-vacated dormitories of New York University are also being mulled as potential temporary treatment centers.

As an email statement to NYU students reads: “There are significant indications that the State, as part of its contingency planning, is looking at university dormitories as settings for overflow beds from hospitals.”

A small number of NYU students, including certain graduate students, law and medical students, and undergraduates who receive special exemptions are being allowed to stay put in their dorms. Otherwise, students must vacate all campus residence halls no later than March 22. As of March 15, two members of the NYU community, a student and an administrator, have tested positive for COVID-19.

Noah Hopkins, a politics student at NYU, detailed the rather chaotic student housing situation in a March 18 op-ed published in The Guardian:

“Over the past few days, the roughly 12,000 students living in the NYU housing system saw the situation escalate around us and heard nothing from administrators. On Monday afternoon we received an email saying the residence halls would be closing on 22 March. We were told all students must vacate their rooms by the 22nd, or within 48 hours if possible.”

“Students who already left campus and did not prepare their rooms for checkout have been strongly encouraged to return to New York, collect their belongings then return home. Regarding those unable to return to New York before the closure date, the university has said only that their items will be packed and shipped to them. We have not been given a timeframe for when this might happen, nor have the obvious privacy concerns been addressed.”

Per the Washington Square News, the city’s department of emergency management has not formally requested that NYU—or the City University of New York, for that matter—empty its dorms so that they can be used as treatment facilities. But the possibility that the dorms could, in the very near future, be repurposed into makeshift medical hubs is something that’s very much on the table.

As reported by Bloomberg, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is pushing to increase, via executive order, the number of hospital beds within the state by 9,000 although thousands more beds might ultimately be needed as the spread of the coronavirus peaks in the coming weeks. Five thousand of the initial 9,000 beds would be in New York City. Already, around 1,300 additional beds have been set up or are due to be set up at a handful of municipal hospitals in the Bronx, a former nursing home in Brooklyn, and at a chronic care facility on Roosevelt Island. Hotels across the city could also be converted into isolation/treatment centers in the comings days in an effort to boost the number of available beds.

On Wednesday, Cuomo announced that a 1,000-bed Navy hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, will be deployed to New York City. The vessel, however, is undergoing maintenance in Virginia and will likely arrive in New York Harbor in weeks, not days, as per Bloomberg.