The Army Corps of Engineers has started a mission to bolster national health-care services due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s working with FEMA which has asked the Corps to assist with planning and site assessments for alternate care facilities.
“We’ve already got contracts, and we’re cutting contracts every night to be able to get contractors to be able to come into the facilities,” said Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite. “We want to go into existing places, primarily. Hotels, college dormitories, and large spaces.”
Under contract arrangements, the Corps will use such spaces to house as many as 10,000 temporary intensive-care units (ICUs). Supplies would come from a list already approved by both FEMA and the Department of Health and Human Services.
States would be charged with staffing these ICUs. Determination of locations and contract arrangements were already underway in some states – particularly New York City. States would be given information about contracts approved at the federal level to use as they see fit.
Semonite emphasized that a “very, very simplistic” solution is required and that hotels and dormitories are not always ideal if they lack an open area where nurses can attend to multiple patients at once. “But what we’re seeing in the last week is most of the cities in the states want to go to a wider area, where they can have more people in a population, … probably 30 or 40, in kind of a node,” he said.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is saying seven or eight buildings of this kind are likely to be needed. The Corps is currently working on converting the New York’s Javits Center – a massive convention center in the city, into such a space. It already has heat, water, electricity, and a huge floor space with hot/cold water and sewer access locations throughout.
The Corps wants to be able to tailor a solution that works best for a given city or a given state, Semonite explained. He noted that the Corps is working with FEMA hospitals, HHS doctors and Army field hospitals (to augment staff), and that the Corps is evaluating 114 facilities in 50 states and five territories.