Work starts to turn Javits Center into a 1,000-bed temporary hospital

March 23, 2020

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo tours construction of temporary FEMA hospital at Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on March 20, 2020. Photo courtesy of Governor Cuomo/Flickr.

“Time matters, minutes count, and this is literally a matter of life and death,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a press conference Sunday, during which he requested and subsequently received funding from the federal government to move ahead with the Army Corps of Engineers on erecting temporary hospitals at the Javits Center, Westchester County Center, SUNY Stony Brook, and SUNY Old Westbury. As of Monday morning, the number of positive COVID-19 cases in New York State was nearly 21,000, with more than 12,000 in New York City. Supplies and materials have already arrived at the Javits Center, and it’s expected to be complete within a week to 10 days.

Photo of the Javits Center by Ajay Suresh on Wikimedia

Cuomo’s call for temporary hospitals comes as the state’s existing facilities are stretched to capacity. Officials predict the peak of the virus to happen in early May, which would require 110,000 beds. Currently, New York has roughly 53,000.

“The rate of increase in the number of cases portends a total overwhelming of our hospital system,” Cuomo said earlier in the week. To reduce some of this burden, all non-critical elective surgeries will be canceled beginning next week, freeing between 25 and 35 percent of existing hospital beds.

The state worked with the Army Corps of Engineers to find sites that could be converted into temporary facilities. Possible locations included the Javits Center, CUNY Hunter, CUNY Queens, CUNY College of Staten Island, CUNY City College, SUNY Stony Brook, SUNY Farmingdale, St. John’s, SUNY Purchase, SUNY Rockland, and Fordham University. The four shortlisted sites were selected based on space requirements and the speed at which the hospitals can be built there.

Last week, Cuomo and the federal government reached an agreement to send the USNS Comfort to New York Harbor to serve as a temporary “floating hospital.” The ship has 1,000 hospital beds and 12 fully-equipped operating rooms, but it will not arrive until April.

While there may be enough space to house the increase in hospital beds, the hospitals still do not have enough basic supplies or personnel. Both Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio have called on the federal government for more supplies, including masks and ventilators. The mayor said New York City alone need three million N95 masks, 50 million surgical masks, 15,000 ventilators, and 45 million of gowns, coveralls, gloves, and face shields by April.

“We asked for supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile. We got a paltry amount,” de Blasio said on Friday during an interview on MSNBC. “We got a lot of expired supplies because they haven’t replenished that stockpile. I mean right now Trump and Pence are weeks, if not months, behind this crisis.”

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo tours construction of temporary FEMA hospital at Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on March 20, 2020. Photo courtesy of Governor Cuomo/Flickr.

In the case of the Javits Center, FEMA will erect four 250-bed, 40,000-square-foot Federal hospitals on the main showroom floor. On Friday, Trump issued a Major Disaster Declaration for New York, which allows the state access to FEMA funding. For that reason, the Javits Center location will be fully equipped and staffed with 320 Federal employees (the other sites will still face a shortage of supplies and staff). There is also a possibility that 1,000 additional beds could arrive at Javits for medical care staff members.

The Governor toured the Javits Center this afternoon as work pushes ahead.

Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on March 20, 2020, and has been updated with new information. 


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