The National Guard has set up a treatment center at the San Mateo County Event Center in case of an onslaught of COVID-19 patients. The number of cases in the Bay Area has been significantly lower than those in New York, where (pictured here) Samaritian’s Purse setup beds in 14 tents in Central Park. (Courtesy photo)

National Guard sets up hospital beds at San Mateo County Event Center

The triage center is intended as backup if COVID-19 cases surge in the coming weeks

In a cavernous room at the San Mateo County Event Center, 250 hospital beds lie waiting for an emergency that county officials hope will never come.

County officials showed off the new treatment center for the novel coronavirus pandemic to reporters on Wednesday. The narrow beds inside have been placed 6 feet apart, with spare linens and pillows and bags of supplies, to take on potential overflow from hospitals or people who can’t go home for fear of exposing an elderly parent to the deadly virus.

The triage center was constructed with the assistance of the California Air National Guard. It is the fourth site statewide where they’ve established such a treatment center after setting them up in Santa Clara County, Los Angeles, and Coachella.

The next will be in Contra Costa County, where the National Guard was doing a site survey on Wednesday. The National Guard has also been deployed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to assist in food banks and other medical capacity, according to Lt. Col. Shane Patty.

“We are 100 percent committed to supporting the citizens of California,” Patty said.

The big challenge in getting the site up and running, if necessary, will be finding staff, said Travis Kusman, San Mateo County director of emergency medical services.

He said that how many staff might be necessary depends on need and the condition of the patients that are taken in there. No one accepted at the site will require a ventilator since it is not equipped for intensive care patients, so they would stay at hospitals while patients who are less sick would be housed at the event center.

Still, because it would need around-the-clock staffing, the facility would need substantial staff and volunteers to operate effectively.

But if residents of the county and region continue to follow social distancing guidelines, Kusman said the facility may never need to open.

“We’re hopeful this facility will never have to be used,” Kusman said.

The county is building a roster of volunteers and raising money for its response. Anyone interested in volunteering or donating can do so at smcgov.org.

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