The threat of coronavirus (COVID-19) can be underestimated due to the 3.4% fatality rate, reported by the World Health Organization for confirmed cases in early March. Many health authorities agree that the real fatality rate is likely lower, since the calculation does not include undetected cases. Coronavirus does not affect everyone equally, and around 80% of people experience mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. These cases are the least likely to seek medical attention, and they may recover without knowing they had the virus.

However, coronavirus is a global health emergency that cannot be taken lightly. Since the virus is highly contagious, it can easily overwhelm the healthcare system of a state or country, even with a low fatality rate. Persons with little or no symptoms must avoid contact with others, since they can infect someone vulnerable.

Facing Coronavirus: Faster Tests and More Hospital Capacity

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Coronavirus has overwhelmed healthcare systems in countries like Italy and Spain. Aware of this, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed measures to increase the capacity of the NY healthcare system in a short time:

  • Many buildings are not being used during the coronavirus outbreak, and they could be converted into temporary hospitals. These include hotels, college dormitories, gyms and event venues.
  • Governor Cuomo also sent a proposal to the Trump administration: mobilizing the Army Corps of Engineers to deploy temporary hospitals within a short time.

China used prefabrication to deploy two hospitals in Wuhan, in less than two weeks between January 24 and February 6. The same approach could be used successfully in the US, especially in densely populated areas like New York.

Consider that the full capacity of healthcare systems is not available for coronavirus. Other infectious diseases like common cold and the flu are always in circulation, and many patients require treatment for conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

On Monday March 16, Governor Cuomo tweeted:

Governor Cuomo also proposes a simpler testing procedure with less regulations, and with more approved methods. This would allow patients to be detected and isolated faster, slowing down the spread of coronavirus. A testing procedure that is subject to many regulations from the FDA and CDC is slower, making it harder to keep up with the virus. By authorizing local labs and approving automated testing methods, health authorities can track COVID-19 more effectively.

Using Empty Buildings as Temporary Hospitals for Coronavirus

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Many activities have been suspended due to coronavirus, including team sports and cultural events. Travel is also restricted, and educational institutions have sent their students home. This leaves plenty of empty buildings that can be used as temporary hospitals for COVID-19 patients. However, this goes beyond adding hospital beds and intensive care units. Patients must be isolated properly to prevent spreading the virus, and the ventilation system must ensure the highest possible air quality.

Ventilation systems in sensitive healthcare applications typically use three main strategies:

  • Keeping patient rooms under negative pressure, to prevent air from leaking out of the room. COVID-19 can spread through infected droplets, which are small enough to be carried by the air.
  • High efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters can capture 99.97% of particles with a size of 0.3 microns. Although the coronavirus is smaller, it is contained in larger droplets that can be captured by HEPA filters.
  • HEPA filters can be combined with Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation, or UVGI, which kills viruses and bacteria by destroying their DNA.

Keep in mind there is no single measure that controls a pathogen like coronavirus by itself.  These ventilation design features must be combined with adequate medical procedures and protective equipment when treating COVID-19 patients.

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