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Corps of Engineers Takes On 28 COVID-19 Bed Facilities

April 17, 2020 | BY Terri Moon Cronk , DOD News

The Army Corps of Engineers is on Day 35 of building 28 alternate-care facilities with about 15,800 beds, Army Lt. Gen. Todd T. Semonite, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers, said today.

The chief engineer conducted a Pentagon press briefing on the Corps's support to the Defense Department's COVID-19 efforts. 

"When I talked to you about 10 days ago, the number was 17," Semonite said of the facilities he originally planned to construct. "So in the last 10 days, the number has gone from 17 facilities up to 28." 

41:40

And within that number, the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. was added to the list, yesterday.

"We want to set the condition that hospital bed space is not a factor," he said.

"I knew when we started with [New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo] 35 days ago, there was no way we were going to solve it with a complicated solution," Semonite said of converting existing buildings into alternate-care facilities.

The Corps needed something extremely simple, he said, noting that the engineers designed a standard solution for COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 hospital bed facilities. 

Men wearing face masks, hard hats and safety vests speak to one another outside a convention center..
Design Discussion
Officials from the City of Denver, Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers discuss the design of the alternate-care facility in Denver. To address the state of Colorado’s request for additional hospital bed space for anticipated COVID-19 patients, FEMA directed the Corps to build out a temporary facility for up to 2,200 beds at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, April 14, 2020.
Photo By: Bonnie Garfias, FEMA
VIRIN: 200414-O-GS122-198C

Governors have been able to tell the Corps what's needed in their states, and the engineers have built many facilities with such accommodations as rooms with showers, pharmacies and x-ray departments.

The Corps has converted hotels and dormitories and other small spaces; in addition to large spaces, such as convention centers and field houses, Semonite said. 

"Once we got that approval through [Health and Human Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency], we built a lot of these."

Another 41 states, he added, have used the Corps's design to build their own.  

"And that's great. It takes a little bit of the workload off of us, and they're able to actually put their contractors to work."

A man in a military uniform stands at a lectern while gesturing with a pen. A graphic of the COVID-19 virus is on a screen in the background.
Press Briefing
Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, commander, Army Corps of Engineers, holds a press briefing in the Pentagon Briefing Room, April 17, 2020, on the Corps’s support of the COVID-19 response.
Photo By: Marvin Lynchard, DOD
VIRIN: 200417-D-FW736-1017

With the Corps's design being used in 41 states, he said, "I think that's a pretty powerful number."

The Corps converted a St. Louis, Missouri, hotel into an alternate-care facility with 118 beds in four days, the chief engineer said. Crews had to rip out the carpet from the hotel and modify a system to allow for adequate airflow in the new patient-bed spaces.

In Denver, the engineers are working on the city's Colorado Convention Center and a large horse arena to house bed space for patients. Eight inches of footing for horse competitive performance was dug up and replaced with a concrete floor, Semonite noted.

Metal frames intended to be converted into temporary hospital rooms are ready for the next step: adding the wallboard.
Temp Facility
To address the state of Colorado’s request for additional hospital bed space for anticipated COVID-19 patients, the Federal Emergency Management Agency directed the Army Corps of Engineers to build out a temporary facility for up to 2,200 beds at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, April 10, 2020.
Photo By: Daniel R. Green, FEMA
VIRIN: 200410-D-LW007-406

The convention center in Denver is the size of six football fields, he added, which is now built out with 600 beds — all constructed in 18 days, he added.

From the White House to the Defense Department, the Corps is getting overwhelming support from leadership, Semonite said. 

"This is the most important thing we're doing," he said of the Corps's variety of missions.