Another convention center in New Jersey has been converted into a temporary field hospital so the state can fight against the coronavirus pandemic, even as the pace of infections has dropped.
Gov. Phil Murphy toured the facility at the Atlantic City Convention Center on Tuesday. It is the third site in New Jersey, with the others in Secaucus and Edison.
The makeshift facility has 258 beds and is meant to be a step-down site that will allow local hospitals to free space in their wards by sending less-sick patients to the temporary facility.
“We need the capacity,” Murphy said. “Whether we need it next week or a year from next week, we don’t want to be caught out again. This is going to be one piece in a broader puzzle for us.”
The site is opening at an interesting time. The overall pace of infections in New Jersey is slowing, but in recent days, areas in South Jersey — like the city of Camden — have seen a spike in coronavirus cases.
Health officials note Atlantic City’s site isn’t expected to be as busy as the ones in northern and central New Jersey, where the virus has spread stronger, but they indicate it will play a crucial role in housing patients who test positive in future months and need to be quarantined.
“As you increase your testing, and you find positive cases, there will be people that cannot go back home,” Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said Monday. “We’re not only preparing for right now; we’re preparing for the next 12 months.”
The site is equipped with a laboratory, pharmacy, and staff sanitation areas similar to a brick-and-mortar hospital. It was to begin accepting patients as early as Tuesday afternoon, Murphy said. Officials from Cooper University Hospital are providing technical assistance to staff running the South Jersey site.
Murphy noted the Atlantic City site is more sophisticated than the Garden State’s two other sites because the center itself is newer and officials have learned from opening the earlier locations.
“Even the beds are better,” Murphy said.
The first hospital opened at the Meadowlands Convention Center in Secaucus on April 2, while the second opened in Edison on April 8.
Since the beginning of New Jersey’s crisis, Murphy and health officials have made increasing hospital beds a priority, noting the state’s 18,000 beds would not be nearly enough to contain the surge of coronavirus patients their models predicted.
The three field hospitals provide an extra 1,000 beds, and allow brick-and-mortar spaces to repurpose freed-up space into isolation- and critical-care spaces needed for coronavirus patients.