Gov. Jared Polis spoke Friday just outside the main hall of the Colorado Convention Center, where the state is working with the Army Corps of Engineers to build a pop-up treatment facility. The field site will house 2,000 beds the state is creating to accommodate an expected surge in cases — if needed.
“I really hope that we don’t have to use this facility at all,” Polis said, sporting both a hard hat and his Colorado-themed face mask scrunched down while he spoke.
“But looking at the numbers, it’s certainly possible that there will need to be hundreds of patients here or dozens of patients here,” he continued.
The idea is to clear up space in the state’s hospitals so they can deal with the most critically ill patients.
He expects the facility to open initially with 300 beds by April 18. The beds at the Convention Center are meant for Tier 3 patients — people who still have a lingering illness and require regular medical checks but don’t need the most urgent care.
Inside the convention center after Polis spoke, military officials in camouflage fatigues walked with orange-vested construction workers through enormous hallways. Rooms that normally held artists’ booths or savvy salespeople echoed now with the clatter and clang of a mass construction project.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers started designing the facility on Tuesday, barely 72 hours prior, based on a template. Construction started on Wednesday. Now, the steel bones for hundreds of future hospital rooms filled most of one convention hall.
“This is working just like most of your manufactured homes, where you’ve got your design and you're laying it out,” said Lt. Col. Larry Dale Caswell, district commander for the Corps’ Albuquerque District.
All throughout the hall, workers assembled eight-foot lengths of metal framing. Some rooms were already fitted with drywall and electrical outlets, and the first lengths of copper tube to distribute oxygen hung over the site — a practically overnight project that normally could take years.
“It’s all there, ready to take care of our health care providers, make it as easy as possible to care for Coloradans,” Caswell said.
In addition to the Colorado Convention Center site, a facility is being set up at The Ranch complex in Loveland.
The field hospitals will be staffed by a mix of nurses, other medical professionals and volunteers, including people with and without medical training.
“If you need to send a runner down to the pharmacy, you may not need a trained nurse to do that,” Caswell said.
Caswell estimated the project will cost millions or tens of millions of dollars between the state and federal governments, but the price tag could change based on details still to be worked out. The California company ECC is the master contractor.
The design is based on a template from USACE that has been used at Javits Convention Center in New York City and elsewhere.
“It’s not something that happens unless you get into a flood or a hurricane-type approach, where you have massive amounts of rapid response,” said Bruce Gurney, contracting officer for USACE. “This is a very unique situation.’”
As has become his habit, on Friday Polis emphasized the need for Coloradans to comply with the state’s stay-at-home order while it’s in place, which is currently through April 26. Referring to the pop-up hospital, Polis said, “We are buying the time we need, by staying at home, to build this capacity."
The facility is temporary, but state and military officials haven’t set any date to tear it back down. A facility in Seattle stood for only a few days before it was removed to shift resources elsewhere. In Denver, the pandemic’s peak could arrive in a matter of weeks — and the convention center’s normal business has been canceled for months.
On Friday, Polis also announced a new state website for free resources, stayathomeco.colorado.gov. The governor said it will provide health resources, entertainment, and more to make staying at home “more bearable.” He mentioned a local company offering cooking classes to kids that will be available through the website.