Temple University’s Liacouras Center began accepting its first patients Monday as hospitals in the Philadelphia region are starting to fill with people with the COVID-19 virus.
The 10,000-seat arena, normally used to host basketball games, concerts and other events, has been transformed into a field hospital to handle an overflow of patients from area medical centers.
Right now, it’s set up to handle about 200 patients, though officials hope it won’t ever have to take in that many.
Hospitals that are overwhelmed or short-staffed are able to send coronavirus patients to the Liacouras Center for the final stage of their recovery, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said. People are not allowed to walk in for a test or treatment.
Farley said it will be used for patients who don’t need a ventilator but are not ready to go home. They will be able to stay for a period of five days and receive oxygen and medication, he added.
The Liacouras Center is being staffed by volunteer medical workers, contracted staff and supplemental support from the U.S. military.
Over the next 24 hours, it’s expected to admit “half a dozen or more” patients, Managing Director Brian Abernathy said at a Monday afternoon news conference.
Hospitals are feeling the strain from the virus, Farley said, and some are nearing capacity and have had to transfer patients to other medical centers.
There were 923 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Philadelphia as of Monday and a total of 1,737 in southeastern Pennsylvania. Over the past two weeks, the number of virus patients in the region’s hospitals has doubled, Farley said.
“The hospital data says that we’re not necessarily past the worst of this,” he added. “So, stay home. It’s still is the same message.”
Officials have not said which hospitals have had to divert patients.
Philadelphia reported 339 new coronavirus cases Monday and five additional deaths. So far, 9,553 residents have contracted the virus and 370 have died.
Farley said health officials will be closely watching the daily number of new cases as the week unfolds. Since the data comes in batches, it has, at times, been difficult to track the virus’ trends in the city.
Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday took his first steps in cautiously reopening the state’s economy, but Mayor Jim Kenney said the situation might be handled differently in Philadelphia.
Wolf announced that he would allow construction projects to resume across the state on May 8. He’s also giving car dealerships the go-ahead to begin selling vehicles online, and 176 state liquor stores started accepting orders Monday for curbside pick-up.
“I want to caution that we will not be resuming operations as they were in February,” Wolf said in a statement. “We’re going to continue to take precautions that limit our physical contact with others, and we will closely monitor this to see if it can be done safely.”
Kenney said he has been in close communication with Wolf and leaders in suburban counties to make sure any roll-out is tailored to the unique circumstances of the Philadelphia area.
“The southeast region of Pennsylvania has different challenges than a county in Central Pennsylvania or the northern tier, so I don’t suspect that on May 8 there’s going to be a light switched,” the mayor said.
Wolf’s administration has said it will not hesitate to reinstate restrictions if the changes lead to a surge in COVID-19 cases.