Novant, Atrium now say they need 600-bed field hospital in uptown Charlotte; Mecklenburg County closes park gates

Charlotte hospitals now say they need 600-bed field hospital; Mecklenburg County closes park gates -

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (The Charlotte Observer) - Novant Health and Atrium Health are now asking Mecklenburg County to build a 600-bed field hospital in or near uptown Charlotte — not the 3,000-bed hospital previously requested.

Last week the two hospital systems had asked the county to set up a 3,000-bed facility at UNC Charlotte.

“Since Friday, conditions have changed in some very important ways. First, both of our hospital systems have done extraordinary work” in increasing capacity, county Manager Dena Diorio told Mecklenburg County commissioners Tuesday night.

Diorio said the county has learned the Federal Emergency Management Agency will not send North Carolina assistance up front in staffing a mass care field hospital. But she said county funds could be eligible for federal reimbursement.

“We should not anticipate additional support, and now we’re looking at alternative sites, including on our sites, to see what may be available,” said Atrium CEO Gene Woods.

There’s evidence the county’s stay-at-home order has helped to “flatten the curve” slightly, according to Public Health Director Gibbie Harris. She urged residents to continue to stay home and follow social distancing guidelines to prevent overwhelming the local hospital systems.

Woods said both hospital systems are working to expand hospital capacity after hearing news that state and federal agencies will not provide support for a field hospital.

The 600-bed hospital would bring Mecklenburg’s hospital bed total to 6,784, Novant CEO Carl Armato said. The field hospital would require a staff of about 700, he said.

UNC Charlotte offered six of its dorms as emergency space for state and local efforts last week.

Now, Diorio says the field hospital would need to be located in or near uptown. That’s because Atrium and Novant employees would need to staff the field hospital, Armato said.

MORE RESTRICTIONS

Mecklenburg County’s local stay-at-home directive expires on April 16, though it will likely be extended into May, Diorio said.

Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order remains in effect until April 29 for all North Carolina residents.

“We’re certainly going to be aligning with what the governor is thinking,” Diorio said. “We’ve heard he may want to extend his order.”

Diorio announced Tuesday that Mecklenburg will close gates at public parks, limiting access to those who can walk into the spaces. Park rangers will step up enforcement of the new guidelines, she said.

Officials have lamented overcrowding at parks and greenways since the stay-at-home order took effect. But Diorio has tried to keep the parks open for the well-being of Mecklenburg residents, who are permitted to exercise outdoors under the local directive.

“These actions are the final step before we take aggressive actions to close our parks and greenways,” Diorio said. “We think the actions that we’re taking will help reduce the number of people, especially in our larger parks.”

TRACKING CASES

Commissioner Mark Jerrell requested that Mecklenburg Public Health release more rigorous data outlining which communities and industries are more vulnerable to the novel coronavirus.

“We’re always careful about the numbers,” Harris responded. “We balance the need of the community to know what’s going on with the protection of individuals’ rights.

The county, for example, has released limited details into the eight coronavirus-related deaths in Mecklenburg, disclosing only their ages and whether they had underlying health conditions. By contrast, Mecklenburg has disclosed demographic information — including race and ZIP codes — to capture the scope of the 800 known coronavirus infections.

Beyond first-responders and healthcare workers, Harris said she hasn’t seen coronavirus “clusters” among different businesses. But Harris also admitted Public Health staff has its “hands full” tracking the spread of positive cases and investigating possible COVID-19 exposure.

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