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First 500 beds arrive as McCormick Place becomes field hospital

Crusader Staff Report

The 26th Annual Black Women’s Expo was supposed to be held at McCormick Place this weekend, but instead of fashion and beauty products and seminars, officials are rolling in 500 beds to serve thousands of coronavirus patients.

It’s part of a massive effort to convert McCormick Place, on King Drive, into a 3,000-bed alternate hospital to address the rising number of coronavirus cases at Chicago’s overcrowded hospitals.

The transformation comes as the number of coronavirus cases in Illinois climbs to over 5,000.

Health officials are predicting that Chicago will become the next epicenter of the virus. The current epicenter is New York City, where officials there are also building makeshift hospitals in Central Park and the Javits Convention Center on the city’s West Side.

The hospital at McCormick Place is expected to be completed by April 24. By that time, health official expect the number of coronavirus cases to at least double in Cook County.

Governor JB Pritzker, Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) made the project official during the governor’s daily press conference at the Thompson Center.

The governor said the temporary project will take up a portion of the largest convention center in North America.

The Alternate Care Facility (ACF) will treat COVID-19 patients with mild symptoms who don’t require intensive care.

“Based on science, data, and the guidance of health experts, our approach to fighting this virus is two-pronged: suppress the spread and increase hospital capacity to meet the need,” said Governor JB Pritzker.

“A critical component of increasing our capacity is identifying and building out additional facilities across the state to support our existing hospitals and healthcare system. In partnership with the City of Chicago and the U.S. Army Corps we are planning to increase capacity, so we’re prepared to treat patients and save lives.”

The state and city are working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA to build the temporary healthcare setting at McCormick Place to serve patients with low to mild acuity, but who may still need medical attention prior to returning to their place of residence.

Over the next several weeks, the McCormick Place campus will be transformed into an alternative medical facility treating those with COVID-19. This buildout will take place in phases, with up to 500 beds expected to be assembled by the end of this week.

“Given the anticipated needs of Chicago’s healthcare system in the coming weeks, the city is proud to partner with Governor Pritzker and state officials to establish surge capacity facilities to relieve the hospital system so it can focus on acute care patients,” said Mayor Lightfoot.

“Chicago is committed to providing our residents and healthcare workers with the resources they need in the face of the rapidly escalating COVID-19 crisis.  The conversion of McCormick Place marks another step forward in our plan to provide safe, secure sites so that Chicagoans can return to health.  We’re all in this together.”

Through a multi-phased approach, teams will be working around the clock to complete the conversion of several spaces on the McCormick Place Campus.

Between three different locations the facility will have capacity to care for up to 3,000 patients and will be made fully operational in a series of phases in order to accommodate increased demand for care as quickly as possible.

To expedite construction, Governor Pritzker has also activated 30 Airmen from the Illinois National Guard to assist with the general labor associated with the project. The buildout of the facility will be supported by $15 million in federal funding from FEMA to support the Army Corps’ construction plan.

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