Vermont National Guard members arriving at University of Vermont Medical Center to set up tents
Updated, March 24, 2020
More than a dozen Vermont National Guard members arrived in Humvees and other military vehicles in front of the University of Vermont Medical Center's Emergency Department Tuesday afternoon.
A Guard medical unit is setting up a facility to provide additional medical care, according to Capt. Mike Arcovitch, a National Guard spokesperson. Medics with the Northfield-based 186th Brigade Support Battalion will set up tents in the hospital lot, he said.
“We’re sending medical personnel there to assist and augment the hospital in whatever way they are needed,” Arcovitch said.“We’ll be prepared to receive patients as soon as they need us and for as long as they need us,” he said.
Members quickly got to work setting up mobile generators and installing tents on wooden platforms beside four drive-up aide stations under construction. The little M.A.S.H. unit — Mobile Army Surgical Hospital — was expected to be operational for “routine medical care” by the end of the day, Maj. Joseph Phelan said.
How many and what types of patients would be seen at the overflow center would be up to ER administration, he said.
Vermont is also preparing for a surge in new COVID-19 patients by asking the National Guard to help it establish three overflow medical facilities around the state.
Gov. Phil Scott announced the move at a press conference Monday as the state braces for a sharp increase in infections and patients. The number of positive coronavirus cases jumped from 29 on Friday to 75 on Monday; five people have died.
“While we hope we don’t have to use them, we must be prepared for this possibility," Scott said.
The governor did not describe the locations during the press conference, but Arcovitch later confirmed that the Guard has been instructed to begin setting up medical facilities at three locations across the state:
University of Vermont’s Gutterson Fieldhouse, Burlington. The 4,035-seat hockey arena is the largest indoor arena in the state.
Collins Perley Sports & Fitness Center, Saint Albans. Owned by Bellows Free Academy, the multi-use facility sits on 53 acres just off Interstate 89.
Barre Civic Center, Barre. A 1,856-seat multipurpose arena is used for high school basketball championships, among other events.
Arcovitch didn’t know how long it would take to set up medical services inside the buildings but said the task could be accomplished swiftly.
“It shouldn’t take too long to set up cots and have everything ready to go,” Arcovitch said.
Last week, the Guard had called up just seven members to active duty following Scott's emergency declaration: two medical planners and five logistics specialists to help with distribution of supplies from the strategic national stockpile in Colchester.
By Tuesday, that number will be up to 45, Arcovitch said.