By Tuesday, the white tents that had sprung up over the weekend in Manhattan’s Central Park had become a makeshift 68-bed hospital. The jarring scene of tents dotting a meadow on New York City’s affluent Upper East Side reminded New Yorkers of a movie set, or an eerie throwback to Central Park’s bygone Civil War days — yet another example of how familiar places in New York, and much of the globe, have been transformed by the deadly coronavirus.
The emergency field hospital in Central Park’s East Meadow will serve as a respiratory care unit, and begins taking patients on Wednesday. It is one of several makeshift facilities popping up in New York City, which has become the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. The project is a partnership between New York City’s Mount Sinai Health System and Samaritan’s Purse — an evangelical Christian organization based in North Carolina — as well as FEMA and state and city officials seeking to help ease the strain on New York City hospitals overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. Mount Sinai will decide which patients are transferred to the field hospital. The priority is to move patients from Mount Sinai Brooklyn and Mount Sinai Queens, according to Samaritan’s Purse.
“I have been around several disasters, but this is the first one in the United States,” Shelly Kelly, a family nurse practitioner and Samaritan’s Purse volunteer, told Yahoo News. Kelly is based in Tulsa, Okla., and has provided emergency medical aid in multiple crises abroad, including the deadly Ebola epidemic in West Africa.
“I never expected to be here in New York City.”
Along with doctors and other support staff, Kelly will be working in the field hospital’s intensive care unit, which includes 10 ventilators and ample masks, gowns and goggles — a precious resource as the city scrambles for ventilators and much-needed personal protective equipment. The hospital will be staffed by up to 70 workers who will remain in New York for three to four weeks, with a new rotation prepared to take their place in a month if needed. On Sunday, Franklin Graham, the president of Samaritan’s Purse and son of televangelist Billy Graham, tweeted a call for Christian doctors, nurses, paramedics and other medical professionals to volunteer.
Central Park is not the only iconic New York location being repurposed. The Army Corps of Engineers has transformed Manhattan’s Javits Center into a makeshift 1,000-bed field hospital, which will house patients who have not been diagnosed with COVID-19. The Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort, with 1,000 beds, has been docked in New York Harbor since Monday and will also treat non-coronavirus patients, freeing up city hospitals for the influx of COVID-19 cases.
And now, the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens — home to the U.S. Open tennis tournament — is also slated to become a makeshift hospital. Starting next week, the facility will house 350 beds and will take COVID-19 patients who do not need ICU care.
These makeshift hospitals are much-needed additions as cases in New York City continue to climb, with over 930 deaths as of Tuesday evening, according to Johns Hopkins University.
“We have about 20,000 hospital beds in all of New York City — that’s where we were, say, the beginning of this month, normal times. We project the potential that all of those beds, all 20,000, will have to be turned into intensive care beds to focus on COVID-19 patients who are really, really sick,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on the “Today” show on Tuesday.
“We have to look at this pattern and conclude that the worst is certainly in the next few weeks, minimum. I could see it going into May.”
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