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Utah ready to set up temporary COVID-19 hospital, but health officials hope they won’t need it

Photo of the temporary hospital at the South Towne Expo Center as it was when they set it up in April in case hospitals go overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

SANDY, Utah – Between April and June, the state of Utah set up a temporary hospital at The Mountain America Expo Center in Sandy in case COVID-19 overwhelmed the hospitals. 

Even though that did not happen, with record numbers of COVID-19 patients in Utah’s hospitals, health officials say they have already made backup plans. 

Joe Dougherty with the Utah Department of Public Safety says they can set up the temporary hospital, which they are calling an alternate care site, if need be. 

“There are two semis that remain [at The Mountain America Expo Center], so that we can very rapidly set that back up again,” Dougherty says. “The Department of Health also maintains a warehouse with a couple of semis that are pointed out the door, so they are also ready to set up the alternate care site.” 

The hospital would also have a pharmacy on site and could be rebuilt in less than a day. 

Currently, if a hospital is overwhelmed, they can move patients to other hospitals within the same medical system. 

Hospitals also have plans to shuttle patients between different hospitals in the same area. 

The state of Utah has contracts with three long-term care facilities that exclusively deal with COVID-19 patients as a backup to the hospitals.

But Dougherty is urging Utahns to take the threat of hospitals being overwhelmed seriously, and says the temporary hospital should be looked at as “a last resort”. Health officials are hoping they will not need it. 

He says one of the challenges would be getting enough doctors and medical staff quickly. 

“We know that there’s generally a shortage of nursing staff. We know that it’s easy for people to become overwhelmed,” Dougherty says.   

Dougherty says on any given day, 230 people or more are being treated for COVID-19 in Utah’s hospitals, and flu season is coming up. 

The University of Utah recently reported that its intensive care unit was at 95% capacity.

That’s why health officials are urging people to wear a mask, social distance, and take safety precautions. 

“We really have to get this turned around soon so we don’t overwhelm the hospital systems,” Dougherty says.  


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