Army Engineers Race To The Rescue In 18 States

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is in a race against the clock to set up enough field hospitals to handle the expected flood of patients. In New York alone, at least 10,000 extra beds are needed by mid-April. By Friday evening, the engineers were drawing up plans in 18 of the hardest hit states.

A race to the rescue

The Army Corps of Engineers is in a race against time. In the next three to four weeks, America is going to need a lot of hospital beds. The corps is focusing on the hardest hit states first, including New York, Washington, California, and New Jersey. The plan calls for converting “hotels, college dormitories, and large spaces” into Intensive Care Units. After the state leases the property, local contractors go in and build “an ICU-like facility” to the proper specifications.

The Army is well aware of the urgency. “We would like to think we can do this in three or four weeks,” Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite told reporters at the Pentagon. They’re trying “to go as fast as we can.” There’s no time for complicated solutions. “We need something super simple.” Their plan for New York is similar to what they’ll be doing everywhere.

In the Big Apple, they need 10,000 beds “right now.” They started by picking out a dozen buildings to work with, including Javits Center, a venue for conventions in Manhattan. “We got money from FEMA to go into buildings on Tuesday night. We did the Javits Center yesterday, and we were into some of the SUNY schools yesterday,” Semonite informed reporters Friday. “Today, my engineers were walking through 10 other buildings.”

Manhattan’s Javits Convention Center.

Four phases to the project

In order to turn the existing spaces into fully functional hospitals, they use a four stage method. The state first lays the groundwork by choosing likely facilities. Then, the engineers team up with local contractors to “modify those facilities.” The third phase is to stock the remodeled units with supplies. Finally, the state takes charge and sends in the doctors and nurses.

As General Semonite explains, “Think of the second floor of a standard hotel. The rooms would be like a hotel room, and then we would build nurses’ stations in the halls.” They won’t be wasting a lot of time in a race to run cables. All of the equipment feeding data to the nurses’ stations is wireless. Also, “Every room would have to have negative air pressure and doors outfitted with plastic with zippers on them.” Semonite calls it “a relatively simple process.”

A model for other states to use right now

The engineers efficiently designed the whole process as a “kit,” which other states can use to get the ball rolling on their own. That way, they don’t need to wait for direct help from the Army. “We’re really looking at where’s the biggest demand, so we go to those states first.” The general was quick to reassure the other states that the Army didn’t forget about them.

“You don’t have to wait on the Corps of Engineers. You can do this independently, even to the point where you can go back and be able to try to secure that money through FEMA.” The whole plan has been approved by both the Department of Health and Human Services and the White House. It includes a contract for the states to use with local builders, which spells out all the work required to be performed.

“President Trump said yesterday on TV” Gen. Semonite declared, “when things get going tough in America, everybody rallies.” In times like these, “we need our engineering contractors to be able to step up, the hotel industry to be able to step up.” Everyone needs to pull together and make this happen, he challenged. “We need everybody going full-bore.”

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