Vermont National Guard members erecting walls inside the exhibition hall
The Vermont National Guard was rapidly building out a 400-bed overflow hospital inside the halls of the Champlain Valley Exposition on Saturday, and beds should be ready as soon as Sunday.
Dozens of Guard members wielded nail guns and power saws inside the bustling Robert E. Miller Expo Centre, which smelled of sawdust. Men and women muscled segments of wooden walls into rows that were quickly taking shape in the cavernous building.
This room will be a finished hospital by Monday.
The surge facility is designed to be the relief valve for hospitals should they experience an influx of patients with COVID-19. The facility would not take people with the new coronavirus but would treat "low acuity" patients with other medical needs. It will be staffed by about 75 Guard personnel who are surgeons, nurses, physician assistants and medics, said Lt. Col. Chris Gookin, the Guard's deputy state surgeon.
Members of the public cannot simply show up for care. People should go to local health care facilities and could be directed to the overflow facility.
The hospital, which is being constructed in eight 50-bed pods, has been under construction since Thursday. By later Saturday, 150 beds would be turned over to medical personnel, and the rest of the construction should be completed Monday, said Maj. Jason Villemaire.
"This team that's been here the last few days to do this has been absolutely incredible," he said.
The Guard has also helped set up smaller surge sites at University of Vermont's Patrick Gymnasium in Burlington (96 beds), the Barre Municipal Auditorium (50 beds) and the Collins Perley Athletic Complex in St. Albans (50 beds). And the Guard is currently handling triage and screening of patients arriving at the UVM Medical Center in Burlington.