Using Lessons Learned, Army Engineers Build Enhanced Care Site in DC


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers unveiled its latest alternate care site in the nation’s capital Monday, which its commander called one of the best built since their COVID-19 response began nearly two months ago.

Constructed inside the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, the makeshift hospital has more than 430 patient beds to assist local hospitals in the district, which has seen about 6,400 positive cases and over 320 deaths to the virus.

“I can’t think of a more noble calling than to be able to build up a facility like this … to help keep people alive,” Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite said at a press briefing.

To date, Army engineers, along with local and federal partners, have constructed 37 alternate care sites across the country that provide more than 15,000 patient beds.

The Corps has also given about 40 other designs to states, so they can build their own facilities that can hold another 13,000 beds, he added.

Almost 1,100 Corps members are currently deployed in support of the ongoing mission, with another 15,000 members supporting it, according to Corps officials.

Besides construction, Army engineers have also completed 1,145 assessments on facilities to decide how and whether to build a care site to treat COVID and non-COVID patients at a certain location. Those assessments have included college dorms, hotels, sports arenas and convention centers, officials said.

As the virus swept through New York City in March, Army engineers built a large care site inside the Javits Convention Center in Manhattan. The site treated about 1,100 patients before that mission phased out earlier this month.

Pulling from lessons learned at that site and others, the latest facility in Washington, D.C., includes an array of capabilities.

“I’ve been through an awful lot of these facilities, but this one is probably the best one we’ve ever built,” Semonite said, “because it’s the one that is the most current and we rolled all of those other capabilities in.”

At the new site, each bed is inside a 10-feet by 10-feet pod that has electricity, a place for a laptop with information technology connections, a code blue button that goes directly to a nearby nurse’s station, a temporary toilet, as well as an oxygen supply in about half of the pods.

If a patient needs emergency care, there are also six rapid treatment pods that are 20 feet by 20 feet.

“So if there is a problem with a patient, they bring them in here where the nurses and the doctors have a little bit more room to be able to work,” he said.

The site has areas with negative pressure to ensure that the virus does not spread to other parts of the convention center.

There is also a pharmacy, a large backup generator so the center never loses power, an oxygen production plant, as well as several nurse stations.

Construction included 37 miles of electricity wiring, 17 miles of IT cables, and a half mile of oxygen pipes running through the convention center, he added.

“We can see the innovations of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers here and how they’re brought to bear in response to this pandemic,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said at the briefing. “We consider this site our insurance policy. We hope that we will never have to use it, but it is here and staffed for when or if we do.”

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