In just 10 days, the University of Vermont's Patrick Gymnasium has been transformed from an athletic facility to a medical surge center intended to treat coronavirus patients.
The site, which can serve up to 100 patients, could be operational within a week.
"We'd be totally fine to not have to use this place, and that's actually our goal," said Daniel Hudson, a nursing director at UVM Medical Center who works at the facility. "But if we do need to use it, we believe we're ready to do it. We believe the patients will be safe."
The arena is still festooned with championship banners and larger-than-life posters of UVM athletes, but the memorabilia is incongruous with its new surroundings. The basketball court is covered with a green tarp, and 50 cots are spaced out and sectioned off with makeshift walls meant to contain the virus.
During a press tour on Tuesday, every person working at the gym was wearing a face mask, including two men who were delivering a refrigerator from a local hardware store. Reporters were screened for a fever and other coronavirus symptoms before they were allowed inside.
The Burlington site is one of several temporary medical centers set up across the state to free up hospital beds for patients that need more acute care. Other sites, such as the 400-bed facility at the Essex fairgrounds, will only take "low acuity" patients with other medical needs. Personnel at Patrick Gym, on the other hand, will treat people with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 symptoms, Hudson said.
Most patients with mild coronavirus cases can recover at home, while those with severe cases may need treatment in an intensive care unit. The Patrick Gym site will serve patients in between, Hudson said.
"They might need a little bit of oxygen. [Doctors] might not want to send them home on that oxygen, but we might want to keep a closer eye on them and understand how they're progressing," he said.
A sign in the men's locker room
The center will be staffed by up to 70 personnel, including doctors, nurses, a pharmacist and "runners" who will bring patients snacks and help them get to the restrooms. Per diem employees and retired medical professionals have also volunteered to help out, Hudson said.
The men's locker room has been repurposed as a lounge so that the workers — who will put in 12-hour shifts — have a quiet place to recharge, but signs of a basketball season cut short remain. Placards with UVM players' names still hang above their lockers. A whiteboard with the message, "We are winning the Championship" hasn't been erased — though the season has been.
The tennis courts, too, have been altered for their new purpose. That section of the gym is now the "clean space" where the hospital will store unopened medical supplies, towels, bottles of Lysol and boxes of Snack Pack pudding cups.
"We'll have a large amount of people back here, coordinating all the logistics from supply delivery to food delivery ... into the containment area," Hudson said.
Hudson is impressed that the effort came together so quickly, but to him, the rush only underscores the severity of the crisis.
"Just knowing just the reason we're doing it, there's sorrow attached to that," he said.