Military personnel visited Columbia last week to assess the potential use of arenas as emergency hospitals, with a plan for Governor Mike Parson to receive recommendations for the sites by Thursday.
The Missouri National Guard and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers examined Mizzou Arena and the Hearnes Center on Friday, the same day Parson mobilized the Guard to assist in the state’s response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Several pictures were posted to the Guard’s Facebook page showing the groups talking with state officials and the Missouri Hospital Association at the venues.
The meeting was made at the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which was confirmed by spokesperson Michael Cappannari in a statement to the Missourian.
Cappannari stressed in the statement that the project is only in its planning stages and that an inspection of the sites does not necessarily mean that emergency hospitals will be built there. But if a demand grows for more space as the outbreak expands, the plan may continue to be examined.
“No construction would take place until sites are fully assessed and evaluated,” Cappannari wrote. “A site inspection does not mean a temporary medical facility would be built. The site evaluations are continuing. The purpose of the site inspections is to give states options for alternate medical care locations, should the need arise.”
Guard spokesperson Col. Anna Friedrich-Maggard remarked that the state has conducted similar venue evaluations in Kansas City, St. Louis, Springfield, Joplin and Cape Girardeau, with a total of 11 sites statewide being examined.
Friedrich-Maggard said that Parson is expected to receive recommendations for what to do with the sites by late this week. If they’re approved for use, the sites would be available to hospitals after six weeks of preparation.
“The whole reason they’re doing this is to give the state options,” Friedrich-Maggard said. “It’s up to the state to go on their recommendations to decide what facilities they need. Things are kind of fluid, so they could change at any time. But hopefully by Thursday, they’ll be able to present something to the governor.”
There are three criteria that are taken into account when evaluating a site for possible emergency use, Friedrich-Maggard said: Being located in areas with deficient bed counts, having a venue large enough for patient populations and having the utilities available to start immediate construction.
The Southeastern Conference previously announced that all remaining regular season games were canceled for the 2019-20 academic year, with all other team activities suspended until at least April 15. With a lack of MU athletic events being held at the venues, the facilities would be open for emergency use if need be.
MU spokesperson Liz McCune provided a statement to the Missourian explaining that the school was in cooperation with the planning and that potential occupation of arenas for medical usage would indeed be an option if the situation arose.
“We met with representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers, Missouri Hospital Association, the Missouri National Guard and the state to discuss a possible overflow facility if needed for health care purposes,” McCune wrote. “We haven’t made any decisions, but we let the state know we are here to serve Missourians in any way we can.”
The Missouri Hospital Association, which leads hospital preparedness efforts in the state outside of the St. Louis and Kansas City metro areas, confirmed their presence at the meeting and said in a statement to the Missourian that they were “coordinating with hospitals and local, state and national organizations to identify surge capacity in Missouri.”
As of Tuesday evening, there are 66 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Boone County with one death, with over 1,300 cases and a total of 14 deaths across Missouri. Boone County has been under a stay-at-home order since March 25, with restrictions currently scheduled to continue until at least April 24.