Those Empty Dorms? They Could Soon Be Hospitals

Officials are scrambling to find alternative medical facilities for patients, as coronavirus cases surge.

Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks at a press conference March 16. Image via Flickr

In one of the latest developments in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that has gripped the U.S. and the world over the last month, one state is eyeing empty college dorms and vacant existing buildings as potential medical facilities.

As the virus continues to spread, hospital beds in cities with growing numbers of coronavirus cases are expected to become exhausted, and officials will have to figure out a backup plan. In New York, which currently has the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. with more than 1,500, Governor Andrew Cuomo is proposing repurposing buildings into makeshift hospitals.

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In a press conference this week addressing the ever-changing status of the coronavirus pandemic, Cuomo said that the federal government must step in to address the need for more hospital beds but expressed skepticism that it would happen.

“Assume the federal government doesn’t do what the federal government is supposed to do…the state has to mobilize to create back up medical facilities and that is what we are going to do,” he said.

The Governor said he will organize the National Guard and work with the building unions and private developers to identify existing facilities that easily be adapted into medical facilities. Dorms seem like an obvious fit for a backup plan: they’ve been emptied out by students as colleges and schools have closed nationwide, and they’re already existing structures that are up and running.

Cuomo also mentioned former nursing homes and other facilities that have the “basic configuration” that could be retrofitted.

“I’m asking local governments, especially in the most dense areas, to immediately identify a number of beds in facilities that are available,” said Cuomo. He estimated that in New York City, they need to identify 5,000 additional beds.

New York University, located in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, is already preparing for the possibility. According to a story in NYU’s independent student newspaper, the day after the school closed its campus dorms, Vice President of Student Affairs Marc Wais sent an email to students asking that they empty their rooms in the event they would need to be converted to accommodate hospital beds.

New York City Mayor de Blasio also said earlier this week that the city will add about 8,200 hospital beds to the metro’s healthcare system by converting privately owned and unused city building into medical facilities as well and expanding existing hospital capacity.

 “We don’t have the billions of dollars that you would need to implement an immediate emergency hospital construction program,” said Cuomo. “This state can’t do it, no state can do it.

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