A 250-bed hospital going up on Miami-Dade’s Youth Fair grounds to help COVID-19 strain

Douglas Hanks

Construction crews are assembling a 250-bed field hospital on Miami-Dade’s fairgrounds in Westchester as the county’s health system prepares for a surge of coronavirus cases.

Crews arrived Monday night from a Kentucky company, Emergency Disaster Services, to build a 250-bed hospital that’s expected to be completed by Friday. A company executive said the contract comes through Florida, and it’s the first known construction of a field hospital to produce sick-bed capacity in Miami-Dade during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re already a day ahead. ... We’re well underway,” Charlie Martin, director of operations at the site, said Tuesday shortly before 1 p.m. He was directing construction of a commissary tent to produce meals for both patients and medical staff at the facility. He said construction should be finished Friday, but it’s not known when the field hospital would become operational.

Construction crews assemble a 250-bed field hospital at Miami-DadeÕs fairgrounds in Westchester, Florida on Tuesday, March 24, 2020. The hospital is being built in preparation for a surge of coronavirus cases.

Crews were getting an existing tent ready for creation of the hospital, including creation of a temporary floor and clearing the site.

The 250-bed hospital is just a fraction of what Miami-Dade requested from Florida as the county manages with the state’s largest coronavirus outbreak. Erika Benitez, a spokeswoman for Miami-Dade Fire and Rescue, said the county requested 2,000 field hospital beds from Florida’s Division of Emergency Management. “This is the first module,” she said, “and we will add as necessary.”

She said there were no immediate plans to staff it since the county’s existing hospital system still has capacity. “If the situation in Miami-Dade deteriorates to the point that we need it, we will open,” she said.

A report from the county’s Emergency Operations Center described it as a “250 bed field hospital” but it’s not known if the facility is for coronavirus cases or patients with other needs diverted from emergency rooms.

The Youth Fair offered use of a tented area off Coral Way on the fairgrounds site, said Ray Casas, a spokesman for the Youth Fair, the nonprofit that rents the fairgrounds at Tamiami Park from Miami-Dade. Crews arrived Monday night for the emergency build, Casas said, and construction continued Tuesday morning.

“There’s a hospital going up right now,” he said.

Representatives of Miami-Dade were not available for comment.

Construction crews assemble a 250-bed field hospital at Miami-DadeÕs fairgrounds in Westchester, Florida on Tuesday, March 24, 2020. The hospital is being built in preparation for a surge of coronavirus cases.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez has issued emergency orders closing thousands of businesses, parks and entertainment options in an effort to reduce human contact and slow the spread of COVID-19 in order to ease pressure on hospitals.

Eddie Cora, president of the Youth Fair organization, said the tent was left over from the yearly March event that was canceled in the first emergency order Gimenez issued on the coronavirus on March 12. “If we can’t have a fair, at least we can help the community,” Cora said.

Cora said Miami-Dade plans on running the hospital if COVID-19 cases overwhelm existing facilities. He said the 250 beds would be separated, with special medical-grade laundry facilities, food-prep facilities and break areas for doctors and nurses.

“This is being built for an ‘if it is needed’ “ scenario, he said.