Van Cortlandt Park is one of the largest parks in New York City, a center for sports and recreation in the Bronx. But now, in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, the park is about to become something entirely new: A field hospital.
Councilman Andrew Cohen broke the news Sunday afternoon, announcing the field hospital would house 200 beds across 12 acres in the park, a joint operation between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The Army Corps and FEMA began work on the field hospital Saturday, and Cohen expects it will open within the next three weeks.
Unlike original plans at some of the other field hospitals opened by the two federal agencies in the city over the past week, a FEMA representative confirmed to The Riverdale Press this field hospital will indeed accept patients who have tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19.
The Vannie field hospital will join the Javits Center in Hell’s Kitchen, a temporary 2,500-bed hospital initially meant only for non-COVID patients, but is now only accepting those who have tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Also expected to accept COVID-19 patients is the USNS Comfort, the military ship docked at Pier 90, offering 1,000 beds.
Mount Sinai Hospital partnered with controversial Christian organization Samaritan’s Purse to open a 68-bed field hospital in Central Park to treat overflow patients, but is not expected to treat coronavirus patients.
Stephanie Ehrlich, executive director for the Van Cortlandt Park Alliance, said the organization and the park were “happy to do our part” to alleviate the coronavirus pandemic in the area.
Cohen told The Press he was not aware of any hospitals working with FEMA and the Army Corps on the Van Cortlandt field hospital. Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, however, speculated on social media the hospital was being opened in conjunction with Montefiore Medical Center in Norwood. Montefiore officials did not return a request for comment.
“I think it’s a sign of how serious and widespread this is going to be,” Cohen said, “and how difficult the upcoming weeks are going to be. Van Cortlandt Park is a tremendous resource to this community, and if it can be a resource in helping to turn the tide on this, that’s an admirable use.”
Dinowitz agreed the park was an invaluable resource in the crisis.
“We are facing the worst crisis in our lifetimes, and we need more hospital beds,” the Assemblyman said. “Van Cortlandt Park is ideally suited because it’s a wide-open space. And as a person who has always been extraordinarily protective of Van Cortlandt Park, I support this.”
New York remains the leader in terms of confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, which reached just over 122,000 cases as of Tuesday. Beginning this past week, however, the number of new hospitalizations began to drop, although the number of people succumbing to the disease has been up and down over Monday and Tuesday.
Jim Malatras, president of SUNY Empire State College, said during a recent briefing that New York may be entering its peak of infections, although Cuomo said that the peak could look more like a plateau, with a long period of infections not increasing or decreasing.
“What is the significance of that?” Cuomo asked during a recent daily briefing. “It’s too early to tell. The interesting blip, maybe, in the data, or hopeful beginning of a shift in the data, and the number of cases.”
Total intensive care unit admissions also were down Saturday, although Cuomo said it’s too early to know what the numbers will mean long-term.
“The operational challenge for the health care system is impossible,” Cuomo said, “because the system is over capacity, all over the board.”
It is possible the city wouldn’t need as many beds as were being prepared, Dinowitz said, but that “every indication” showed that every extra bed would be necessary.
The northwest Bronx is already home to a drive-through testing site at Lehman College. The site is by appointment only and reserved only for symptomatic people who have had close contact with an infected person, or health care workers and first responders.
Even if the city is approaching a statistical peak or plateau in terms of new infections, there’s still no way to know which way the pandemic will go, Cuomo said during his April 6 briefing. And even with the possibility of cases evening out, the situation is unsustainable as hospitals across the city are already at capacity.
“Getting 200 additional beds in the park will save lives,” Dinowitz said. “And the lives that are saved could be someone that we know and love.”