TCF Center begins conversion to house 1,000 COVID-19 patients

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — Halls that annually have showcased the city's auto show are being converted into a temporary hospital this week to accommodate an overflow of patients with the coronavirus. 

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began construction at the TCF Center on Tuesday to create a quarantined hospital setting with 1,000 beds as the pandemic spreads rapidly in the city.

The Corps will adapt more than 250,000 square feet of the center on two separate floors for the additional hospital beds and medical personnel stations.

Hospital cubicles are built in Hall C at TCF Center.

This year's auto show was scheduled for June 7-20 at the center was canceled for use as an overflow site for patients. The event will return in June 2021, organizers said last week.

Patients will be divided between the two floors based on the severity of their condition. Officials are designating 600 beds on the upper level for the most acute patients and 400 on the lower level for recovering patients, said Nick Zager, chief of the corps' alternate-care facility project office.

"We've been working nonstop for the past week to prepare for this," he said. "We're working with hours, not days like we typically do. It's more on the concept level right now, but it's very detailed once it's completed."

By Tuesday afternoon, 10-by-10-foot partitions for patient rooms were being assembled. Materials used to construct the semi-private rooms are plastic, which can easily be cleaned between patients.

For every 25 rooms, there is one nursing station near the center; more than three miles of electrical wiring are being installed, officials said.

Robert Baumgart, of Clinton Twp., installs stabilizers on top of cubicles that help hold the walls in place as GEMS Detroit Local 687 carpenters build help build a temporary hospital at TCF Center.

Construction is expected to be completed by early next week, and health officials will begin furnishing the space and training staff. With the help of the National Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, workers are moving ahead of schedule, Zager said.

"It's given me a lot of hope in how we can come together as a community, state, federal (level to) ... execute this for the state of Michigan," he said.

The Corps' biggest obstacle has been coordination while under pressure as the virus spreads rapidly and preparing for an unknown period of time, Zager said.

GEMS Detroit Local 687 carpenters, including, Paul Grode, right, of Northville, install stabilizers on top of cubicles that help hold walls in place as they build a temporary hospital at TCF Center.

The corps' Detroit District is working under FEMA at the direction of the state to assess a list of potential care facilities, including the Henry Ford Detroit Pistons Performance Center and two Wayne State University dormitories in Detroit.

Zager said the Corps is working with  the state's Emergency Operations Center in Lansing to prioritize the next sites.

Michigan has roughly 27,000 hospital beds, according to state data, but more than 18,000 were in use for illnesses other than COVID-19, according to a March 2 inventory. Updated numbers on statewide bed availability were not immediately available.

Men walk among the medical cubicles during the carpenter's shift change as GEMS Detroit Local 687 carpenters build a temporary hospital at TCF Center.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Michigan has 7,615 confirmed coronavirus cases overall, up 1,117 from Monday, and 259 total deaths, according to the state's Department of Health and Human Services.

Of the 75 new reported deaths, 70 of them, 93%, were in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties.

The Detroit Health Department reported nearly two dozen more COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday, pushing its total to 73. The state's largest city reported 2,086 confirmed cases of the virus, according to its own data.

The US Army Corps of Engineers Deployable Tactical Operations System vehicle is parked in front of the TCF Center.

Staff Writer Beth LeBlanc contributed.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_