Sports Facilities

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Sports Venues Switching Gears from Hospitality to Hospital

7 Apr, 2020

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

In the latest paradigm shift for the sports planning industry that has shifted so much over the past few weeks, venues that normally welcome soccer teams, cheer squads and even top tennis players are being repurposed as field hospitals, triage centers and health screening centers. The anti-COVID-19 fight is being taken to a new front, and destinations are all in.

“As the United States enters a new stage of the pandemic wave, hospital systems are being reconfigured in radical ways to handle the growing number of sick, and over the next few weeks, hospitals appear likely to look and operate very differently than today,” noted The Washington Post. “With the need for social distancing even among the sick, securing and configuring physical spaces large enough to handle the load has become one of the biggest challenges facing state officials and hospital administrators.”

Destinations are offering up whatever space they can, added the article. “Louisiana is renting cabins and trailers in state parks to isolate the ill. The county that includes Seattle is erecting a 200-bed facility on a soccer field. And New York is setting up a medical surge center inside the six-block-long Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on the west side of Manhattan — better known for hosting auto shows and Comic-Con.”

It's not just Javits, either. In Michigan, the Detroit Regional Convention Authority and TCF Center told USAE their venue would be used as “an alternate care center.” Chicago’s McCormick Place and the Baltimore Convention Center, as well as the Los Angeles Convention Center, New Orleans’ Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and Atlantic City’s Convention Center also noted that they expected to be – and were ready to be – called into service whenever the need arose. And that, some noted, could mean at least some employees who had been previously laid off would be able to return to work.

“We anticipate that our facility will serve to free up hospitals to care for the more serious and critical patients,” the Baltimore Convention Center said in a statement. “In support of medical station operations, Baltimore Convention Center workers, including employees of our business partners previously displaced, will return to provide food service, telecommunications, utilities and other services needed for the care of patients and to support the needs of care workers.”

In New York, green space in Central Park was hastily configured as a 68-bed makeshift hospital and the city also welcomed the USNS Comfort, a 1,000-bed Navy hospital ship as officials scrambled to bolster a medical system becoming overwhelmed by coronavirus.

"This is like an additional hospital just floated right up to our shores, and now it's going to help to save lives," New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told CNN.

Some cities are noting that patients in quarantine can be accommodated in hotels; hotels are also being used in other areas to hold recovering patients who can not yet go home. College dorms – all empty at this point – are also being used and some rec centers are hosting an especially vulnerable population: the homeless.

Sports-specific venues are being pressed into service as well. The U.S. Tennis Association hasn’t yet released a decision on whether its late August/early September flagship event, the US Open, will take place – but its grounds are currently in use as a temporary hospital site.

The Greensboro Sportsplex noted it was providing accommodations for those who had nowhere to go, such as the homeless or those who had been evicted. The Sportsplex, a news article noted, is an 110,000 square foot City-owned facility. Based on HUD and CDC spacing recommendations, single use beds are spaced at least six feet apart to help prevent the spread of the virus. Each person entering the facility, including staff, undergoes a screening process to check for symptoms of COVID-19. A dedicated space, off-site, will be provided for individuals who need to be quarantined.

Not far from Seattle, the Shoreline Temporary Field Hospital, at 19030 First Ave. N.E., will provide up to 200 beds, according to the city website. It will house “people exposed to, at risk of exposure, or becoming ill with the novel coronavirus.” And it’s located on a soccer field.

“It’s basically to relieve pressure on the hospitals and to free up beds for critical patients,” said Eric Bratton, a city spokesman. The hospital will be on a turf soccer field that is on school district property but is leased by the city, Bratton said. King County was also creating field hospitals at several locations for people who could not remain in their own homes or do not have a home. Washington State was one of the first places coronavirus cases were found.

In some cases, the demand for triage centers and other medical facilities has not reached critical mass yet, but sports facilities are pitching in anyway. Cedar Point Sports Center recently hosted a blood drive to assist with the war on COVID-19The blood drive was held in partnership with Firelands Regional Health System and the American Red Cross.

Community response was enormous. There were originally 101 time slots available which were filled in less than an hour. Due to the overwhelming response, Firelands then added additional slots which then were filled within 36 hours of the original posting of the event. 

“It was such a joy to see Firelands Regional Health System working together with the American Red Cross and Cedar Point Sports Center to host a blood drive in support of those in need. I heard one of our team members say ‘it takes a village.’ It’s good to know that even though there’s a crisis going on in the world, people are still willing to help care for their neighbor,” said Jordan Sternberg, Marketing Manager of Firelands Regional Medical Center. 

Additional measures were taken to ensure the facility was sterile and met the guidelines for social distancing, including checking temperatures of staff and donors before entering to ensure they were healthy and free of a fever; providing hand sanitizer for use before entering the blood drive and throughout the donation process; spacing beds and waiting areas to follow social distancing practices between blood donors and wiping down all tables, chairs, countertops, flat surfaces, door knobs, etc. with professional-grade sanitizing wipes. In Texas, Fair Park will see service as a mobile food pantry.

Other sports faciities are offering themselves up as testing centers; in Maryland, Pimlico Race Course, home of the Preakness, is now a drive-up COVID-19 testing center.

Community centers as well as high school and college gymnasiums, which have long been pressed into service as emergency shelters during natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes and mudslides, have also been preparing for an influx of patients, healthcare workers and others, and Athletic Business was offering such facilities a webinar to discuss emergency preparedness.

The adaptive reuse of existing spaces as sickbays is the latest step as a beleaguered sports business industry adapts to the new reality of COVID-19 life. Manufacturers who previously made athletic shoes and clothing, as well as other outdoor supplies, are pivoting to create masks, protective wear and even medical equipment like ventilators.

A distillery that has switched gears to make hand sanitizer, for instance, has noted that it’s all a part of survival, as well as chipping in.

“I think we all have our desert island skills,” Morgan McLachlan, co-founder and chief product officer at LA distillery Amass, noted. “As distillers, we’re usually creating little quotidian pleasures to help people get through the day — but now we’re keeping people safe.”

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