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Army Corps, Partners Establish Alternate Care Facility at Javits Center; First Patients Arrive

Published April 1, 2020
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A patient care unit inside the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City March 27, 2020. The first patients began arriving Monday, March 30.

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Army Corps' New York Commander and District Engineer Col. Thomas Asbery (left) makes a point to Army Corps Chief of Engineers Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite (center) as officials look on March 27, 2020, New York City.

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An aerial view of patient care units under construction inside the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City March 27, 2020. The Javits Center site was selected, in part, due to its large expanse of open space.

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An Army Corps’ Deployable Tactical Operations System vehicle stationed outside the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City March 27, 2020. It is specially equipped to support emergency response operations

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District, under the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s mission assignment in conjunction with many state, federal and local partners, has made significant progress converting the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City to an alternate care facility to meet the demand for hospital beds created by the Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19).

New York City Epicenter

According to New York State figures, New York City remains the epicenter nationwide with more than 43,119 confirmed cases; New York State has over 75,000 cases total. Across the U.S., more than 189,000 cases have been reported. (Latest figures, April 1).

U.S. Navy Support

Patients began arriving March 30. That same day, the U.S. Navy’s floating hospital, Comfort, made its way through New York Harbor to dock at Pier 90 with an escort team that included the Army Corps’ drift-collection vessel, GELBERMAN. USNS Comfort will provide an additional 1,000 beds to help deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. The vessel was dispatched March 28 from Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia.

Secretary of Army, Chief Visit New York

Chief of Engineers Lt. Gen. Todd T. Semonite visited the Javits Convention Center to review progress converting the building into an alternate care facility to accommodate 1,000 Non-COVID-19 patients in four 250-bed units. Secretary of the Army Dr. Mark T. Esper also visited New York to observe operations.

Chief’s Perspective 

“It’s an unbelievably complicated task,” said Semonite, touring the facility with officials from New York State, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and New York City Office of Emergency Management and others, adding, “The Corps has been asked to visit 78 sites across the U.S.”

Unique Project

The work is unique in that it must be done at an accelerated pace to be ready for peak Coronavirus cases. Semonite said “a super simple solution” must be applied to complete a project of this magnitude in a very short period of time. To maximize efficiency, Semonite said plans and specifications developed for the Javits Center are a model being shared nationwide with states to leverage work already completed, shortening the time for building conversions.

Governor’s Presence

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo held several press conferences at the Javits Center in recent days, speaking about the magnitude of the crisis and the challenges facing New York and the region. Cuomo plans to have an alternate care facility in each of New York City’s five boroughs (Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Bronx and Staten Island). He praised the 62,000 volunteer retired medical professionals that have stepped in to help with the overwhelming volume of cases.

Emergency Response Vehicle

An Army Corps’ Deployable Tactical Operations System vehicle was stationed outside the convention center, a specially-equipped RV-like vehicle providing support for emergency operations. One of three owned by the Corps. New York District Commander Col. Thomas Asbery briefed Lt. Gen. Semonite inside the vehicle prior to touring the facility.

Care Units Constructed

Individual patient care units simulate a hospital setting with beds, privacy curtains, medical supplies, equipment, lighting and nurse’s stations. Viewed from above, a sea of units can be seen sprawled out over many thousands of square feet (the Javits Center was selected, in part, because of its vast floor space.) Additional units are being built to maximize capacity to accommodate an overflow of patients, if needed. Generators, sinks and portable trailers with bathrooms and showers were brought in by FEMA.   

Command Center

On the fourth floor, an Incident Command Center was operating with District employees from Construction Division collaborating with Corps partners to manage the building conversion. Semonite met with them during his visit. Army Corps personnel will maintain a strong presence throughout the conversion which calls for multiple floors to be converted.

Larger Picture

Under the FEMA Mission Assignment, one of eight assigned to the New York District, field assessment locations have been completed for 19 alternate care facilities in New York. Additional sites selected by New York State include the State University of New York at Old Westbury, Nassau County; State University of New York at Stony Brook, Suffolk County; and the Westchester Convention Center in Westchester County.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is the federal government’s lead public works and engineering support agency during emergencies. The Corps continues to coordinate at every level with federal and state stakeholders including U.S. Health and Human Services, New York State, National Guard and many others. Public safety is the Corps top priority.