Representatives of the Missouri National Guard and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers visited Columbia last week to consider whether the Hearnes Center or Mizzou Arena could be transformed into an emergency hospital for COVID-19 patients.

So far, the project is just in the planning stages. But if the coronavirus pandemic fills the approximately 1,200 beds in Columbia's four hospitals, either or both buildings could end up looking like the Javits Convention Center in New York, which has been turned into a 3,000-bed hospital by the Corps of Engineers.

The Guard published three photos from the Friday visit on Facebook and noted that it was here "to discuss and assess sites that could be used as Alternate Health Care Facilities."

The evaluation was made at the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Col. Anna Friedrich-Maggard, spokeswoman for the Guard, wrote in an email to the Tribune.

She did not say how many sites statewide are under consideration, but noted the evaluations are continuing.

"No construction would take place until sites are fully assessed and evaluated," Maggard wrote. "A site inspection does not mean a temporary medical facility would be built. The purpose of the site inspections is to give states options for alternate medical care locations, should the need arise."

The university is cooperating with the planning, said university spokeswoman Liz McCune.

"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," she said. "We haven’t made any decisions, but we let the state know we are here to serve Missourians in any way we can."

The evaluation came on the same day Parson mobilized the National Guard to assist in the state's response to the pandemic disease, which on Monday was known to have infected more than 1,000 Missourians and caused the death of 13.

While the worst outbreaks of contagion are in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas, Boone County has recorded 60 cases as of Monday, and there are known cases in Callaway, Cole, Moniteau and Randolph counties.

Boone, Cole and Randolph counties are under local stay-at-home orders.

So far, about 20 percent of those who contract COVID-19 in Missouri have required hospital care, state Department of Health and Senior Services Director Randall Williams said Monday. He did not give a number, but that would mean about 200 people are or have been inpatients for the disease.

Hospitals in Boone County draw from a wide region and putting a temporary hospital in one of the large arenas makes sense, said state Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia.

The proximity of the arenas to MU Hospital, the largest in the city, and Truman Memorial Veterans Hospital, which had the first hospitalized case of COVID-19 in the county, makes them natural choices for the evaluation, he said.

"It is a large arena that is going unused at this point, especially with the university's athletics shut down," he said. "It makes sense you would look to utilize a large space in a response like this."

State Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, also said he also understands why the arenas are being considered and trusts the decisions of the agencies that are involved because they understand the logistics of the project.

"Hopefully it doesn't get to that," he said.


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