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Temporary hospital beds on Long Island campuses will sit empty, for now

Drone footage shows progress at Stony Brook University,

Drone footage shows progress at Stony Brook University, where a facility is being built to possibly house COVID-19 patients. Credit: New York District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Construction on the temporary hospitals at SUNY Old Westbury and Stony Brook University is scheduled for completion within the next two days, yet after more than $250 million in federal money was set aside to build them, they will lie empty — at least for now.

The hospitals, under tents and with a combined 2,024 beds, were part of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s plan last month to more than double the number of beds in the state amid what was at the time a rapid rise in the number of coronavirus cases. The state projected that tens of thousands of COVID-19 patients could be without hospital beds if more were not added quickly.

But the worst-case scenario did not occur, and the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations has begun falling.

"We’re still early on in the fight against this virus,” and the Stony Brook hospital could be needed if there is a second wave, despite officials' attempt to prevent one, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said Thursday. 

The state said wide compliance with social-distancing guidelines prevented as large a spike in cases as had been feared.

Other temporary hospitals also were built, and patients were treated at the Javits Center in Manhattan. In addition, Cuomo ordered hospitals to increase their bed capacity by 50% and canceled elective surgeries to free up space for COVID-19 patients.

Construction on the Old Westbury hospital is slated to finish Friday, and the completion date for the Stony Brook structures is Saturday, said Michael Embrich, a spokesman for the New York district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is spearheading the construction projects.

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There are four climate-controlled tents, totaling 207,000 square feet, being built at Old Westbury, and a gym was set aside to receive patients. At Stony Brook, more than 255,000 square feet was being built across five tents.

The Army Corps’ Old Westbury contract, with Los Angeles-based AECOM Technical Services, is for an amount not to exceed $116.5 million, Embrich said. The original Stony Brook contract, with Manhattan-based Turner Construction Co., was initially for an amount not to exceed $101 million. The number was increased on April 8 to an amount not to exceed $136 million once it became clear that more money was needed, he said.

Embrich said the buildings have features such as hospital-grade welded linoleum floors, multiple layers of insulation, electricity, telephone infrastructure, plumbing, Wi-Fi, showers, bathrooms and staff common areas.

“The only difference between this and a building is it has canvas walls and a roof,” he said. “Everything inside is the same as a building. If you think about all these things, and building something like this in the time it's needed to be built, working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, that can drive up costs.”

With Rachelle Blidner

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