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Vermont National Guard rebuilds surge site at the Expo

Published: Nov. 19, 2020 at 6:54 AM EST|Updated: Nov. 20, 2020 at 5:18 AM EST
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ESSEX JUNCTION, Vt. (WCAX) - With COVID cases and hospitalizations rising again, the Vermont National Guard Thursday began rebuilding a surge hospital at the fairgrounds in Essex Junction. Statewide, around two-thirds of all in-patient beds and all intensive care beds are now full, but officials want to be ready in case those numbers increase.

The Champlain Valley Expo is again turning into an overflow hospital. “In March, we did basically the very same construction that you see behind me,” said Vermont National Guard Maj. Matthew Lehman. He says when the surge site was taken down this summer due to a decline in coronavirus cases, they packed it up so it could easily be put back together. “We are using the same material as last time. There is some plumbing stuff, a little bit of electric stuff you can’t reuse, but other than that, everything is the same material that was all purchased by the state of Vermont in March, now we are just reusing it.”

The design will fit 200 beds total for non-COVID patients. Down the hall, in a separate part of the Expo, Lehman says they never took down the 50 beds they set up for patients with COVID. “That stayed up and they left that in place and ready to turn back on at a moment’s notice,” he said.

Spartan Arena in Rutland is also on call to be set up again as a surge site. State officials say this is all precautionary and there is not a need for the overflow hospitals for now.

Along with the two facilities, the state is actively looking for volunteers to help provide care as rising case numbers put strains on hospitals and long-term care facilities. “They call on us because we are supposed to be the back up for our local responders. When they are at capacity or exceeding capacity, our volunteer branch steps in to assist them,” said Heather Rigney, who is the state’s unit coordinator for the Medical Reserve Corps. She says the corps has around 700 volunteers statewide with or without a medical background, but they need more. “Right now, we are desperate for volunteers that willing to work long term and help out some of these hospitals or nursing homes for maybe a few weeks at a time.”

Back at the Expo, the Guard continues to put together the hospital site, a design made in Vermont and used in other parts of the country. “Our design was passed along to all the other states,” Lehman said. “I know Wisconson used it and constructed their own temporary facility.”

The facility is expected to be operational by Sunday.

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