Miami Beach Convention Center Being Transformed into COVID-19 Hospital

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Miami Beach Convention Center Being Transformed into COVID-19 Hospital:

450 beds that officials hope will never be used

Striking a tone of hope but be prepared, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, and Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber formally announced what had widely been expected – the Miami Beach Convention Center is being converted into an alternate care facility, if needed, for COVID-19 patients. 

Workers began staggered 12-hour shifts to meet an April 20 deadline set by the governor – the date some models indicate the area will hit its peak number of COVID-19 cases. The facility, one of 17 venues converted or in process of being converted to hospitals by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers nationwide, will initially include 450 beds in 250,000 sq ft – 400 10x10 feet general care pods and 50 negative-pressure intensive care pods. The 15x15 feet ICU pods can house two patients each. If needed, the temporary hospital can expand to 500,000 sq ft and 900 beds.

Contract doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists and medical personnel will staff the temporary hospital along with 184 Florida National Guard medical team members. 

In announcing the facility in Miami Beach, DeSantis said, “We want to protect our healthcare workers who are on the front line and we want to make sure that the health care system can absorb what this virus is portending for our community.”

The governor noted the use of contract personnel avoids depleting staff at local hospitals. “This is supplementing what’s already there but it’s not taking from what’s already there,” he said.

“I would much rather be prepared for the worst and the worst not come here than not be prepared,” he said. While hospital beds statewide and in Miami-Dade County are showing available bed capacity of over 40% as hospitals stop elective surgeries to make room for COVID-19 patients, DeSantis said, “We don’t know what a surge may bring, but we have to prepare for that so that we’re able to take care of people. So, I think this is the smart thing to do. I think it’s the responsible thing to do.”

Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, Chief of Engineers and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said, “We’ve been working in Florida for almost a hundred years on disaster response, Everglades restoration, beach renourishment. But I can’t think of a more noble task than saving the lives of the Floridians that have been affected by this virus.”

Semonite said the plan for the hospital was developed about three weeks ago. The Corps is using its lessons learned in building facilities in New York, Detroit, and Chicago as it deploys this latest hospital including best ways to do patient intake and discharge, how to provide showers and oxygen, and disposal of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

“This is a hard build,” Semonite said. “This is probably a three week build. We don’t have three weeks” which requires, he said, teams at the State, County, and local levels meeting problems head on to come up with what may not be the perfect solution, “but it sure is the mission essential solution so we make sure when the first patient needs to show up there’s a bed there.”


Like DeSantis, Gelber said, “We hope that this isn’t going to be used. We pray that it’s not used. But we’ve gotta still plan and so we are planning for the worst and we’re praying for the best. We will be ready.”

Gimenez noted what he’s seeing at this point “is not exponential. It’s not growing exponentially, it’s growing linearly. So, unless there’s some exponential growth that I haven’t seen then the capacity that we have in our hospitals should be sufficient, but some models show an exponential growth so we have to prepare for the exponential growth but, what I’ve seen right now, is linear growth and I haven’t seen a steep linear growth, I’ve seen a gradual linear growth in the number of cases.”

“There is a steady growth but not something which I would say is alarming. At this point. That could change tomorrow,” Gimenez added.

In a video message to the community at the end of the week, Gelber said, “This morning, Friday April 10, the State Department of Health has reported that COVID-19 cases in Miami-Dade County surpassed 6,100 and 108 people in our County have succumbed to the virus. While I still question the reliability of these infection numbers, they do, I believe, reflect trendlines. This week the growth of positive cases, for instance, has been more linear in that there is not a continuous upward increase in the number of new positive tests each day despite the fact that more testing is going on. Early on the numbers were increasing at a much higher rate, sometimes even doubling. That points to the possibility that our efforts are having a real impact and the peak of this pandemic may be on the horizon. But that would also mean this would be the worst time to ease up. If anything, please redouble your efforts at social distancing, wearing masks, washing hands, and most importantly staying home.”

Temporary Certificate of Occupancy
Regarding the issue with the lack of a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy (TCO) that many of you have asked about: The Convention Center has been operating without one since fully reopening for events following construction, using special events permits instead which require additional life safety personnel on-site during events. As the Convention Center has been closed during the pandemic, the City has used the time to test its life safety systems including the fire alarms. 

This week, City spokeswoman Melissa Berthier told us, “We performed the last ‘drop test’ [Wednesday] and expect to have TCO within a matter of days. We have had to accelerate our testing schedule to accommodate the alternate care facility and are working hard to meet the deadlines set by both [the Florida Department of Emergency Management and the Army Corps]. As the building’s occupancy permit is that of a convention center, we will still need to issue a special event permit for it to operate as an alternate care facility.”

Traffic Impacts Around the Miami Beach Convention Center
The alternate care facility will result in some traffic changes around the Convention Center. Convention Center Drive from 17th Street to Dade Boulevard will close and 18th and 19th Streets will be partially closed towards Convention Center Drive.

Additionally, drivers on 18th Street will only be able to travel from Meridian Avenue to the garage, and there will be no right turn out of the garage to 18th Street. All of Pride Park will be fenced in while the hospital is in use.

Photos: City of Miami Beach

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Susan Askew
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