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As New York’s Coronavirus Cases Climb, Javits Convention Center Becomes a Hospital Complex

As New York’s Coronavirus Cases Climb, Javits Convention Center Becomes a Hospital Complex

By Mike Eisgrau

The Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, commonly known as the Javits Center in Manhattan, is being converted to a 2,000-bed hospital complex that will be used to handle patient overflow caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo toured the sprawling 1.8 million-square-foot complex Monday as the Federal Emergency Management Agency works to transform the site into four, 250-bed temporary hospitals.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working to construct another facility that will add a further 1,000 beds. The hospitals, each of which will cover about 40,000 square feet, will be staffed by about 320 federal medical professionals and fully equipped to handle the expected explosion of coronavirus cases.

As I write this, the NY Daily News is reporting that more than 3,700 have tested positive in New York City in the last 24 hours, raising the total in the city to more than 21,000.

After 9/11 Javits became a disaster relief center

That the Javits Center is being called into duty this way remindsme of another time when Javits and its staff stepped up to the plate. It was 9/11, almost 20 years ago.

Javits is eight minutes north of Ground Zero on Manhattan’s west side. At the time I was Director of Public Affairs, chief spokesman for the Center, handling the press.

We were, at first, set up as a morgue. But when a grim reality sank in – that there were no bodies – we pivoted to become a major emergency disaster relief center, the staging area for most all you saw at Ground Zero. 

We operated that way for the next five weeks, with FEMA in one of our giant halls, state and national guards in another, 500 state troopers (Javits is a New York State facility) in a third, and 5,000 volunteers.

Our giant kitchens turned out between 6,000 and 9,000 meals a day, 24/7.

One hall, a block long and completely dark with 900 cots, provided a resting place for weary workers who would come by truck from Ground Zero, fall down on the cots and get a few hours sleep. When they awoke we’d feed them and send them back down to continue their grim task.

Tony Sclafani, the guy who has my old job at the Javits, told the NY Daily News earlier this week, “Our workforce is proud to help during this unprecedented crisis. We’re all in this together.”

Yes Tony, we truly are all in this together. And I know you and the staff at the Javits Center – nearly two decades after 9/11 – will be up to the task.

ABOUT THE JAVITS CENTER:

The Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, commonly known as the Javits Center, is located on Eleventh Avenue, between 34th and 40th streets, New York City. It was designed by architect James Ingo Freed of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners. The space frame structure was begun in 1980, finished in 1986, and named for United States Senator Jacob Javits, who died that year.When the Center opened in 1986, it replaced the New York Coliseum as the city's major convention facility, making way for the demolition of the Coliseum and future construction of the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle. 

The Center is operated and maintained by the New York Convention Center Operating Corporation, a New York State public-benefit corporation. Home to auto shows, comic book conventions and countless trade fairs, the convention center has a total area space of 1,800,000 square feet and has 840,000 square feet of total exhibit space.It is billed as one of the busiest convention centers in the United States.

EDITOR'S NOTE:

Mike Eisgrau was director of public affairs at the Javits Center from 1996 to 2005.

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