Editor’s note: With our coronavirus coverage, our goal is not to alarm you but to equip you with the information you need. We will try to keep things in context and focus on helping you make decisions. See a list of resources and frequently asked questions here.
CINCINNATI - The Duke Energy Convention Center could soon become a makeshift hospital once the peak number of COVID-19 patients in the area is reached.
City leaders unanimously voted to set aside $11 million for that purpose Wednesday should it become necessary.
Wednesday afternoon, Hamilton County leaders and the Ohio National Guard along with the Army Corps of Engineers walked through the building to determine whether it could be turned into a medical facility in case of an emergency.
“Looking at it today and realizing it’s going to be converted into a hospital is just a moment of ‘holy, moly - what is happening,’” Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley said.
Medical experts expect the surge of COVID-19 cases to accelerate in the next week or two, according to Ohio's Department of Health.
“There could be a time when there aren’t enough hospital beds to go around,” Cranley said.
Hamilton County Emergency Management Director Nick Crossley was one of the people who joined the Ohio National Guard as they surveyed the convention center.
“Up to maybe 500 extra beds," Crossley said about the available space in the center. "You’ll see some basic medical equipment – these would not be the severe cases. It’s just an overflow area. The COVID-19 patients would be treated in-hospital … We’d have to have a place to bring in ambulances. We have to have a kitchen so we can feed everybody.”
County officials said the planned setup won't be anything fancy -- they're focusing on making it functional.
“It’s going to look like bed to bed to bed, with spacing obviously for distancing, throughout the floor of the convention center,” Hamilton County Commissioner Denise Driehaus said.
Although the Cincinnati City Council approved the use of $11 million to convert the convention center into a medical facility, it's doubtful they'll have to spend that money.
“It is very, very likely that most, if not all, of the money used to convert the Duke Energy Center will be paid for by federal funds, FEMA, and the state,” Cranley said.
Driehaus said the City of Sharonville has offered the use of its convention center, should it be needed. Right now, planning for the worst seems like the best course of action.
“The surge will not likely hit for the next couple of weeks, but we definitely want to be ready to go once it does come,” Driehaus said.
“There is a decent hopeful chance that the Convention Center won’t even be needed, Cranley said. "And we clearly have a couple weeks to get it ready. But there is an equal chance that it will be needed.”
Hamilton County's Emergency Management director hopes to survey the Sharonville Convention Center with the National Guard later this week.
County and city leaders must wait for the National Guard's official assessment of the Duke Energy Convention Center before they can move forward with any plans to convert the space for medical use.