Columbus Convention Center Transforms Into Makeshift Coronavirus Hospital

Apr 14, 2020

In a large convention hall, hundreds of makeshift hospital rooms are lined up in rows like curtained off cubicles. This pop-up sick ward is meant to backstop local hospitals if cases of COVID-19 surge.

The Greater Columbus Convention Center's transformation has been quick. Over the past two weeks, workers have rushed to get these structures built and installed.

Still, Mayor Andrew Ginther hopes that work won’t be needed.

“If we stay the course, we may never need to open this facility,” he said during a virtual press conference Tuesday. “And that would be an incredible victory for the people of Central Ohio.”

The so-called alternative care center is one of a number of overflow sites around the state. If it’s brought into service, Dr. Robert Falcone of the Central Ohio Trauma System says the site will handle non-critical COVID-19 cases for the Mount Carmel Health System, Ohio State Wexner Medical Center and Ohio Health.

“This facility will operate more like a field hospital than a typical hospital you might be used to,” Falcone said. “It will be used for COVID-19 patients who are not sick enough to require full hospital care but not well enough to go home. They’ll come directly from one of our Columbus hospitals after a period of evaluation.”

Mayor Andrew Ginther tours the coronavirus "surge" site at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.
Credit Greater Columbus Convention Center

Under the plan, no patients will go directly to the alternative care center. And Falcone explains hospitals aren’t currently facing a bed shortage. Since canceling elective procedures and surgeries in March, local hospitals have been able to open up more than 2,000 beds for COVID-19 patients.

If those beds fill up, hospitals can expand their internal capacity further by making use of rooms that aren’t typically used for patients. Only after that space hits capacity would the alternative care center be brought online.

Franklin County has 1,053 coronavirus cases as of Tuesday, according to the Ohio Department of Health. Of those, 210 people have been hospitalized, and 18 have died.

Across Ohio, 2,156 people have been hospitalized so far.

Inside a hospital "room" for coronavirus patients at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.
Credit Greater Columbus Convention Center

Columbus Public Health commissioner Mysheika Roberts says the quick action of local leaders to marshal resources stands in stark contrast to other states or regions that have been caught flat-footed as cases rose.

“That will not be the case here in Columbus,” Roberts says. “We stand ready, we are prepared. And as the mayor said, we’re hoping that we don’t need to use it, but I’d rather be ready and prepared than scramble to find a solution.”

Franklin County Commission president John O’Grady echoes her compliments for so many organizations coming together on short notice.

“This facility represents a $5 million investment by the county commissioners in our community’s good health and bright future,” O’Grady says. “But it also represents the way strong communities work together to take care of each other.”