The good news is that so far, COVID-19 hospital cases haven't overwhelmed the country's hospital bed capacity yet. That's good news, as it means resources for field hospitals and US Navy hospital ships can be shifted to where they are needed most.
Gleaming new tent hospitals sit empty on two suburban New York college campuses, never having treated a single coronavirus patient. Convention centers that were turned into temporary hospitals in other cities went mostly unused. And a Navy hospital ship that offered help in Manhattan is soon to depart.
When virus infections slowed down or fell short of worst-case predictions, the globe was left dotted with dozens of barely used or unused field hospitals. Some public officials say that’s a good problem to have — despite spending potentially billions of dollars to erect the care centers — because it’s a sign the deadly disease was not nearly as cataclysmic as it might have been.
Many of the facilities will now be kept on standby for a possible second wave of infections. Some could even be repurposed as testing sites or recovery centers.
“It will count as a huge success for the whole country if we never have to use them,” said Simon Stevens, the chief executive of the National Health Service in England, where sparsely used field hospitals have been criticized as costly, unnecessary “white elephants.”
“But with further waves of coronavirus possible, it is important that we have these extra facilities in place and treating patients,” Stevens said.
In Italy and Spain, field hospitals were seen as crucial to relieving strain on emergency rooms as the disease exploded in March. Those countries rank behind only the United States for the largest number of infections and deaths, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.
Spain built at least 16 field hospitals, ranging from a few beds under tents to one with more than 5,000 beds at Madrid’s big convention center. That facility has treated more than 4,000 patients, accounting for 10% of the total infected population in the disease-ravaged capital.
As the crisis eases and permanent hospitals are able to better manage the load, some of Spain’s field hospitals are scaling back or shutting down. The Madrid facility halved its capacity and could close in two weeks if infection rates hold.
Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa said the field hospitals have been important and in some cases “essential.”
Surely Republicans will be infuriated at this, but they should be treating this as news that the COVID-19 resources we have on had are working for now, and additional resources are in place should things get truly bad, as I expect a second wave will in places like Georgia, Florida, and Texas.
We'll see if the curve flattens those states back, very soon I would imagine.