In a development that some public officials are calling a “good problem” — albeit an extremely costly one — many emergency field hospitals erected in order to provide additional care for a forecasted influx of coronavirus patients ended up going largely unused, while some never treated a single patient. Some of those hundreds of millions of dollars-worth of field hospitals are now being taken down or left on “standby” in case of a “second wave” of COVID-19. One of them, a Navy hospital ship, is preparing to pull up anchor and cruise away from Manhattan.
“Gleaming new tent hospitals sit empty on two suburban New York college campuses, never having treated a single coronavirus patient,” The Associated Press reported Wednesday. “Convention centers that were turned into temporary hospitals in other cities went mostly unused.”
So why all the abandoned emergency facilities? The number of virus infections have either slowed down or, in many areas, failed to come even close to the “worst-case predictions,” leaving the U.S. and other places around the world “dotted with dozens of barely used or unused field hospitals,” the new agency explains.
Many of those now superfluous facilities will remain in a “standby” status in case of a feared “second wave” of the virus, while others may be repurposed as additional testing centers if officials deem it necessary.
“Some public officials say [the largely unused facilities is] a good problem to have — despite spending potentially billions of dollars to erect the care centers — because it’s a sign the deadly disease was not nearly as cataclysmic as it might have been,” AP notes. Others, Donald Trump among them, have pushed back on the wastefulness of the demands of various governors based on models that ended up being far off in their forecasts.
One of the field hospitals, hurriedly built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the order of Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo — who wanted at least four built — will officially close down on Friday after treating a little more than 1,000 patients.
The other three requested facilities were “completed and mothballed for possible future use, including ones on the campuses of Stony Brook University and the State University of New York College at Old Westbury on Long Island,” AP reports. At least two of those facilities cost over $100 million each, while another $100 million was spent on contracts for since-scrapped plans to build additional field hospitals.
The reason the $100+ million facilities were barely used, AP explains, is that the number of hospitalizations in connection to COVID-19 in New York “crested far below forecasts.” The forecasts predicted that 110,000 beds would be necessary. At the height of the outbreak, 18,825 beds, less than 20% of the predicted number, were needed.
And it’s not just in New York: Detroit built a 1,000-bed facility that treated “about three dozen people,” Chicago built a 500-bed, $64 million facility that has treated just 12 people, Philadelphia built a 200-bed hospital that has “never had more than six patients at a time.”
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