Boston’s biggest convention hall could soon become a recovery ward for coronavirus patients.
Governor Charlie Baker on Wednesday suggested the cavernous Boston Convention and Exhibition Center in the Seaport could be used to treat patients who are suffering from Covid-19, but aren’t sick enough to require acute hospital-level care.
Standing in Worcester’s DCU Center, a sports arena being converted to a 250-bed field hospital, Baker said state health officials are looking at sites for similar operations around the state.
“There are two for sure, one here and one at the BCEC in Boston," he said, as National Guard personnel set up cots in the background. "We’re also looking at other sites around the Commonwealth.”
A spokeswoman later said plans for the convention center have not been finalized. A spokesman for the MCCA said the Boston convention center has been designated as a field hospital site, but the authority does not yet have any other details. Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce CEO Jim Rooney, who previously ran the MCCA, said the sprawling complex has many features that make it well-suited to become a makeshift hospital.
The 2.1 million-square-foot BCEC has almost 12 acres of contiguous floor space, with room for 1,000 beds or more. Meeting rooms throughout the building could be used to isolate patients, he said, and there are relatively few entrances and exits, making it easy to secure. The center also has New England’s largest kitchen, and there are plenty of bathrooms.
The Back Bay’s Hynes Convention Center also could be retrofitted as a COVID-19 facility if needed, Rooney said, as could the MCCA’s MassMutual Center in Springfield, which sheltered hundreds of people in 2011 following a devastating tornado.
“We do have to make use of whatever facilities are available to support the hospitals,” Rooney said. “Right now, it’s all hands on deck.”
State officials are scrambling for sites to bolster capacity at Massachusetts hospitals ahead of a surge of coronavirus cases that’s anticipated to peak in mid-April. They expect that many patients will need medical care that doesn’t require them being admitted to a hospital.
Baker said Wednesday that large arenas and convention centers, with their open floor plans, may be more practical for this sort of care than hotels or university dorms. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has set up similar facilities in arenas and convention centers in other cities.
“That’s a much easier answer than trying to find a way to work within the confines and the framework of either dormitories or hotels,” said Baker, who added that hotels and dorms could be used to house health care workers or patients in need of isolation or quarantine.