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Chicago's McCormick Place Conversion Into COVID-19 Facility Will Be Rapid, Phased | Columbus Ohio Dump Trucks

COVID-19 and Construction

Beds will be turned over for coronavirus patients starting April 4, with completion planned April 24

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers personnel
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers personnel assisting with construction at McCormick Place in Chicago April 2.
Photo by Jeff Yoders/ENR
McCormick Place North Building
The North Building at McCormick Place has halls B and C in it, which are being turned into an alternate care facility for COVID-19 patients. Photo: Jeff Yoders/ENR

While many convention centers across the country are having partitions erected inside as makeshift facilities to alleviate strain on local hospitals dealing with COVID-19 patients, Chicago's McCormick Place is being prepped to handle only those ill from the coronavirus.

"We are assuming that every patient in McCormick Place is COVID-19 positive, so it is being constructed as a COVID-19 positive alternate care facility," says Col. Aaron Reisinger, commander and district engineer of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Chicago Division, which is constructing the conversion in partnership with the Chicago Dept. of Public Health and design-build contractor Walsh Construction.

[For ENR’s latest coverage of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, click here]

Reisinger said Halls A and C of North America's largest convention center will not change much, with cubicles constructed within them to become rooms for patients that have very low acuity of the virus—meaning they do not require oxygen.

Spaces will be three-sided hard cubes with a curtain front, bed, chair and lamp, but also with nurse stations and nurse call capability. Rooms will have typical shower or bathroom areas for privacy. The facility will accommodate those patients that were formerly recovering at home, but who will require more monitoring, plus patients released from advanced respiratory care hospitals to recover and convalesce. Having these beds available will provide the city's health and hospital system an alternative place for patients at low risk if they can't yet be discharged.

The convention center is well suited for conversion because "there's an access point, where you have water, electric, sewage and IT" in the floors every 20 to 30 ft area on center, says Reisinger.

Hall C will have 500 beds available by April 4 and another 500 by April 17. Hall A will open 1,250 beds by April 17. Hall B requires more columbus oh dump truck work for its 750 beds for moderate acute-care patients, with the Corps targeting April 24 for that area.

Delivering Oxygen

"[These patients] do not require ventilation, they're not in an intensive care unit and they're not being intubated, but they may require oxygen, and they may require oxygen on a continuous basis," Reisinger says. "They will be more prone to coughing, sneezing, vaporizing the virus. The virus is not an airborne virus, but it is contagious in respiratory droplets from coughs and sneezes."

He adds that "the reason for putting these patients in negative air pressure is to protect the healthcare workers and maintain and isolate the density of the virus within that isolation pod. Each of those patients would be in a contained isolation unit with negative pressure, a HEPA filter system fan that exhausts to a central bank and then exhausts out of the hall itself."

Each Hall B isolation pod will have in-line air to create steady air pressure and oxygen, medical air, power and light available, says Reisinger. Some mobile ventilators will be available, but if a patient's condition deteriorates, EMS services will be called to transport patients to a local hospital.

The Corps contract with McCormick Place is through the facility's state agency owner, the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, which hired Walsh as the design-build general contractor for patient cubicles and the in-line air distribution system in Hall B.

Reisinger added that the Corps is still working with the authority and Walsh to define contract scope and cost. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has provided $15 million toward the conversion cost.

"It's a pretty significant effort to build the infrastructure, distribute it on a consistent basis, and then be able to exhaust the air out of the tent into a central system and efficiently out of the hall," Reisinger says.

"While there's little doubt that we'll have halls A and C ready by April 17, for Hall B, we think we have a production rate of about 250 [acute care cells] per week, starting next week. That's going to take us right up to April 24 and maybe a little bit later. That's what we're targeting," he adds.