During periods of normalcy, Vancouver Convention Centre is usually home to meetings, galas, weddings, conventions, and trade shows. It was supposed to have hosted the Vancouver International Auto Show over the last few days, and next month the prestigious international TED Conference, but both events have been postponed due to COVID-19.
Over the coming months, there is now a possibility the unused convention centre could become a field hospital.
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During Thursday’s press conference, Mike Farnworth, the BC Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, confirmed the provincial government is now considering the use of the facility for overflow healthcare.
This was followed up by BC Minister of Health Adrian Dix’s comments on Friday, when he outlined the provincial government’s hospitalization demand and capacity modelling.
Currently, if the trajectory holds — if British Columbians continue to stay home and practice proper physical distancing — health officials are forecasting a South Korean-type of epidemic where the curve of cases begins to relatively flatten out. More broadly, an epidemic scenario of below or at a Hubei epidemic is deemed likely.
Under this at-or-below Hubei scenario, the provincial government currently believes there are sufficient critical care and inpatient acute care beds across all 17 hospitals in BC designated for COVID-19 primary care, including 914 total vent-capable critical care beds, with 190 beds within Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) and Providence Healthcare (PHC) facilities, and 200 beds within Fraser Health Authority (FHA).
There are also 5,610 acute medical and surgical inpatient beds across the province, including 1,320 within VCH and PHC, and 1,447 within FHA.
Normally, BC’s hospital beds are at 103.5% capacity, but health officials have been opening up capacity by deferring scheduled surgeries and moving alternative level of care out of acute care to prepare for the possibility for a sudden surge in coronavirus cases requiring hospital care.
As of today, there are 4,295 vacant hospital beds across the province. Of the total COVID-19 cases, 81 individuals are currently hospitalized, with 52 requiring intensive care.
But if BC’s coronavirus hospitalization cases were to deviate and shoot straight up, following the Northern Italy trajectory where the healthcare system has been completely overwhelmed, additional bed capacity would be required off-site from hospitals.
For weeks now, government officials have been urging the public and businesses to do everything they can to help flatten the curve, so that the number of coronavirus hospital patients never exceeds the capacity of the BC healthcare system.
However, under this bleak scenario, non-COVID-19 patients would be moved out of hospitals and into field hospitals, making space in equipped and staffed hospitals to be used to care for the escalating number of COVID-19 patients.
“If BC was to move to a northern Italy hospitalized trajectory, BC would use all sites and bed capacities, off site from hospitals for less acute and surgical inpatients to open up more capacity for COVID-19 patients in hospitals with ready access to critical care,” explained Dix, while noting that VCH will begin to prepare for temporary facilities over the coming days.
“While we’re absolutely determined to have the best results, we’re preparing for the worst possible scenarios,” he added.
This is where the Vancouver Convention Centre could come in, specifically its cavernous exhibition halls, with the West Building’s exhibition hall totalling 220,500 sq. ft. and the East Building’s (Canada Place) exhibition hall totalling 91,200 sq. ft.
The open and flexible space allows for the field hospital’s size to be scalable to meet demand, likely allowing for up to thousands of beds for non-coronavirus patients. As a venue for major events, there are also ample power connections for the complex hospital equipment.
The convention centre is operated by Pavco, the provincial crown corporation that also manages BC Place Stadium.
“Health authorities are planning for a cascading response, and they’re working on a balance between meeting the needs of COVID-19 patients and reducing the risk of unintended consequences of non-COVID-19 patients requiring acute and critical care,” said Dix.
“We intend on continue to move other patients out of the hospitals if our hospitals start to face challenges with overall care and COVID-19 patients.”
For the same reasons, health authorities in cities around the world that are already hard hit or expected to be pummelled by the coronavirus in the weeks to come are designating their convention centres and stadiums for similar uses.
The United Kingdom is turning London’s ExCeL convention centre‘s one-km-long exhibition hall into a COVID-19 hospital with up to 4,000 beds, complete with ventilators and oxygen supplies. British health authorities have also confirmed their plans for two additional field hospitals elsewhere in the country.
In Madrid, health authorities have converted IFEMA, the convention centre of the hard-hit Spanish capital city, into a 1,300-bed COVID-19 hospital. The temporary hospital within the exhibition hall can be expanded to up to 5,500 beds.
In the US, FEMA has turned the exhibition hall of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan into a 1,000-bed temporary hospital for non-coronavirus patients. The plan is to build similar additional overflow field hospitals in each of New York City’s boroughs, which is at risk of becoming the new global epicentre of COVID-19, given the high daily growth rate of severe cases.
In New Orleans, preparations are underway to transform the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center’s exhibition hall into a coronavirus overflow field hospital with about 1,100 beds.
And just down south in Seattle, the US military is turning the exhibition hall within the CenturyLink Field Event Center into a 248-bed tented field hospital for non-coronavirus patients.
The provincial government has also ordered municipal governments across BC to identify suitable public facilities and sites that can be used for pandemic-related operations.
“Local governments are key partners. To that end, local governments are being asked to identify and make available any publicly-owned facility that may be used for pandemic response, including facilities for self-isolation, medical care, and testing,” said Farnworth.
In a statement to Daily Hive, the City of Vancouver states it is “currently working with the province to assess the need and is making most city facilities available, if needed, as the health and safety of the community is our top priority. Those facilities that could be repurposed include community centres, recreation centres and sporting facilities.”