Larimer fairgrounds facility will be ready for coronavirus patients by April 20
Fort Collins Coloradoan
LOVELAND — A temporary alternative care site for coronavirus patients is being built quickly at the Larimer County fairgrounds complex and should be ready for use by April 20, county health director Tom Gonzales said Tuesday.
The Army Corps of Engineers started work Saturday on the temporary facility —designed for coronavirus patients whose symptoms are not acute — and already has walls, electrical connections and ventilation systems in place.
The First National Bank complex will have nearly 200 beds. Another 800 beds will be ready for use by April 29 in a second complex, the MAC Equipment Indoor Arena, Gonzales said during a tour of the site by Gov. Jared Polis.
The additional hospital beds are a critical piece of the governor’s plan to get the state’s economy running following a statewide stay-at-home order in place to slow the spread of COVID-19, Polis said.
The stay-at-home order expires April 26, although Polis has said he will expand its duration, if necessary.
“We really hope that this facility isn’t needed or is only needed minimally,” Polis said. “… As we move toward reopening our economy, it’s likely the incidence of the virus will increase again. It’s decreasing now, which is great. But we can’t stay closed forever.
“It’s going to increase again, and having this capacity in place is what gives us the confidence that we need to be able to allow people to earn a livelihood, go back to work and act in a more normal way.”
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The state of Colorado will run the facility under a lease agreement through January 2021, said Lori Hodges, Larimer County’s director of emergency management. The lease can be terminated sooner if the spread of the virus slows to the point where it’s no longer needed, she said.
The additional hospital beds, along with a similar temporary facility being built at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver and additional space being leased at existing medical facilities in Westminster, Pueblo and Grand Junction, should free up more than enough beds to treat the most seriously ill coronavirus patients at hospitals throughout the state, the governor said.
The alternative care sites are Tier 3 facilities, designed for patients who are recovering from the virus but still require a level of care below what they would receive in a hospital (Tier 1) or ambulatory surgical center, free-standing emergency department or critical access hospital (Tier 2). Polis said patients could require a Tier 3 level of care for anywhere from one or two days to as long as two weeks. Some, he said, might have to return to Tier 1 or 2 facilities if their conditions worsen.
Larimer County had 196 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and nine deaths, as of 4 p.m. Tuesday. Neighboring Weld County was reporting 884 confirmed cases and 55 deaths.
“We know that Northern Colorado is fast becoming a hot spot for COVID-19,” Polis said. “Weld County, tragically, has … one of the highest (death) rates in the state. … Having this capacity is key because we wanted to make sure we avoid, at all costs, a breach of the ability of our hospitals to be able to administer basic care for those whose lives can be saved.”
Contractors working under the direction of the Army Corps of Engineers are building simple hospital rooms with walls, electrical connections, beds and oxygen hookups in the two complexes at the county fairgrounds. Each complex will have nurses’ stations, bathrooms and showers, as well, said Joe Caracillo, a construction manager with the Army Corps of Engineers’ Denver office who is overseeing the project.
County Commissioner John Kefalas said “95 percent of the workers here are Colorado based” and that he’s been told the project is pumping about $65 million in payroll and construction materials into the local economy.
Lt. Gen. Todd Semoniti, the chief engineer for the Omaha Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said Colorado got started on plans for temporary facilities sooner than many other parts of the country, which are now scrambling to catch up. One of the most difficult issues the project faces has been the procurement of construction materials, Caracillo said, with so many other states, counties and cities trying to build similar projects.
The Budweiser Events Center is not being used for temporary hospital beds at this point but could be if more are needed, said Chris Ashby, the director of the fairgrounds.
The alternative care site is best viewed as an insurance policy, county commissioner Steve Johnson said.
“It’s sad to see that we’re facing such an epidemic,” Johnson said. “But it really is good news for Northern Colorado health care and hospitals that we have this insurance policy so that overflow from those hospitals can be treated in a really centrally located facility.
“You need to have life insurance before you need it. If you wait until you need it, then you can’t get it. It’s being prepared for the future and that’s what emergency preparedness is all about.”
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