University of Michigan preps to turn indoor track facility into field hospital

Tuesday, March 31, 2020 - 3:30pm

The University of Michigan is preparing to turn the indoor track field into a hospital due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The University of Michigan is preparing to turn the indoor track field into a hospital due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Buy this photo
Allison Engkvist/Daily

Michigan Medicine presented projections on how social distancing will impact the number of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 at its peak and noted plans to convert an indoor track facility into a field hospital during a virtual press conference on Tuesday afternoon.

Vikas Parekh, associate chief for Medical, Emergency and Psychiatry Services at Michigan Medicine, said social distancing has beneficial long-term effects on the number of infected people. 

“The number of Michigan residents that will be infected with COVID-19 is likely to get worse before it gets better,” Parekh said. “There’s a high risk that it will overload our health care system. But this doesn’t mean that social distancing isn’t working — it just means we need to give it time to have impact.”

Keith Dickey, chief strategy officer for Michigan Medicine, said they expect to reach capacity at their hospitals in the next two weeks. 

In order to account for this surge in patients, Dickey said they are looking to create field hospitals. He noted this would be a “Step Down Unit” for patients who are generally stable but cannot return home. 

“We are now assessing locations outside of the four walls of our hospitals, on our athletic campus, for the potential to create a field hospital of 500 beds or more,” Dickey said. “The initial location we are evaluating and prepping for is in the indoor track at the facility on State Street.”

Dickey said they are aiming to have an initial field hospital up by April 9 or 10. 

Parekh noted the data and projections presented are based on worst-case scenario models where the most people possible become infected. 

The first model demonstrated that with “aggressive social distancing,” the peak would be on May 16 with 3,179 hospitalized, compared to a peak of 5,860 hospitalized on May 4 with less social distancing. Michigan Medicine is currently licensed for 1,000 beds, according to a press release. Aggressive social distancing could reduce the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients by 65 percent. 

Parekh explained social distancing works because it slows down what’s known as “doubling time.” He said Michigan’s doubling time right now is three days — meaning the number of cases doubles every three days. The second model shown depicts how social distancing can significantly increase doubling time. 

At 50 percent social distancing, the doubling time is approximately 7.7 days, according to the chart.

During a Q&A session, Parekh said these percentages could generally apply to hospitals all around the country, but the individual numbers would differ.

Marschall Runge, executive vice president for medical affairs and chief executive officer of Michigan Medicine, said in the press release that Michigan Medicine is doing all they can to prepare, but he noted the importance of social distancing as demonstrated by the projections.

“I want to reassure the public that we are doing all we can to prepare to care for COVID-19 positive patients as well as other patients who urgently require the highly-specialized, safe and reliable advanced medical care that Michigan Medicine delivers,” Runge said. “We have reached out for donations of medical equipment and received thousands of gloves, masks and more so we can better meet this challenge. We prepare constantly for emergencies like this and have some of the world’s top experts preparing for the problem. But we need your help, and these projections prove it.”

Parekh said they currently have enough personal protective equipment for Michigan Medicine staff but are testing ways to safely sanitize and reuse PPE if it becomes necessary. 

“The short answer is yes, right now we do feel that we have enough PPE,” Parekh said. “We have a robust system in place to track how much we use each day and what our inventory is. We are also taking aggressive measures to conserve and potentially reuse PPE when safe and effective.”

Parekh concluded by asking everyone to practice social distancing in order to reduce transmissions and stay healthy. 

“We want to reinforce our key takeaway messages here: the biggest takeaway is social distancing,” Parekh said. “So for everyone to do their part, stay at home, minimize contact with others, to not leave your home unless absolutely needed and obviously, at home and wherever you go — practice good hand-washing and maintain six feet of distance from others.”

Daily News Editor Emma Stein can be reached at enstein@umich.edu