McCormick Place: How A Chicago Convention Center Became An Alternate Care Site During The Covid-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed medical professionals far and wide to reach their goals of patient care. An unprecedented event like this can cause strain and overage for hospital staff and patients, as well as medical resources. Alternate Care Sites, facilities temporarily used for healthcare during a pandemic, have led to the most familiar institutions, like convention centers, hotels or arenas, into becoming health-related shelters. McCormick Place, a convention center in Chicago, Illinois, is now an up and running field hospital.

Many standards need to be met before turning a non-medically fit place into one that is usable for healthcare. The process includes electrical and engineering practices, as well as creating patient rooms that are safe and enclosed, Negative Pressure Tents. A press release from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity revealed that through the combined work from FEMA,  Army Corps of Engineers, the Illinois National Guard and the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, they were able to complete Phase 1 of turning the convention center to an Alternate Care Facility.

The first phase provides 500 10’x10’ patient rooms, completely furnished with beds and other healthcare items, as well as nursing stations and medical staff. FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency published a timelapse video demonstrating the work put into setting up the medical units.

These initial 500 medical units are meant to care for non-acute patients, whereas the facility eventually plans to have 3,000 patient rooms. The following 1,750 will be utilized for low-acuity Covid-19 patients and the final 750 for critically symptomatic patients. Those 750 beds will have more intensive purposes and require a negative pressure isolation tent for each unit, specifically reserved for the third phase. 

At a time of social distancing, self-quarantining, and limited contact, Negative Pressure isolation Tents offer a safe and enclosed solution to a mass need for medical care, especially in a situation with growing patient numbers. These tents will have the purpose of treating patients with severe cases of COVID-19, meaning their features are out of the ordinary. It includes long walls and heavy-duty zippers to properly conceal, ventilator ducts built inside and walls including doors and windows for accessibility from medical staff.

The McCormick Place transformation from a convention center to a field hospital built from thousands of tents will ease the burden on crowded hospitals and provide aid in healthcare resources. It serves as just one example of a United States facility that has been adapted to an Alternate Care Site. 

For a closer look into the Negative Pressure Tents, check out this video posted by FEMA

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