Army Corps to begin identifying Virginia locations for temporary hospitals

Workers load new respirators into a van at Columbus Covid2 Hospital on March 16, 2020 in Rome, Italy. Columbus Covid2 Hospital. (Photo by Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images)

Virginia is the latest state to ask the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin looking at hotels, dorms and arenas that can be converted into temporary “alternate care sites” to handle patients suffering from COVID-19.

“Our team of dedicated employees are working diligently to meet the call of our nation and help tackle the problem that this virus has created for our national health care network,” said Lt. Col. Alexander Samms, deputy commander of the Norfolk District that encompasses Central, Tidewater and parts of Northern Virginia, in a press release.

While still lagging New York’s numbers, Virginia’s confirmed COVID-19 cases have jumped dramatically this week, with the Virginia Department of Health reporting 391 confirmed cases on Wednesday. Nine people in the commonwealth have died, and 59 have been hospitalized. Medical professionals warn that numbers will continue to rise and could overwhelm available hospital space

Norfolk District public affairs officer Patrick Bloodgood said that in identifying possible sites for temporary medical facilities, the district is following the same approach and same guidelines adopted by Corps districts elsewhere in the U.S.

The New York district began evaluating possible temporary hospital sites last week, and on Saturday Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced four locations that had been identified: two convention centers and two State University of New York campuses.

According to guidance developed by the Corps, alternate care sites are intended to “provide general, low-level care for mildly to moderately symptomatic COVID-19 patients,” as well as “to reduce unnecessary burden on hospitals and other health care facilities, help infected patients maintain isolation and allow low acuity patients to be monitored, minimally treated and quickly transferred to other facilities, as required, if their condition deteriorates.”

Temporary sites will be designed to match one of two different configurations, depending on whether the facility has individual rooms, like dorms, barracks and hotels, or has a primarily open-space plan, like football stadiums and convention centers.

States remain responsible for leasing and staffing facilities but can work in conjunction with the Army Corps and FEMA to handle construction contracts.

At a press conference Wednesday, Gov. Ralph Northam said Virginia submitted its request for Corps evaluation of sites earlier this week.

So far it hasn’t been necessary to expand the state’s hospital capacity, he said, “but preparation is everything here. If one looks at the curve of hospitalizations we’re seeing, not only here but in other areas of the country, we anticipate overburdening the capacity of our hospital system.”

This story has been updated to add comments from Gov. Northam about the state’s request for Corps assistance.