City braces for surge; will announce hospital site

By Updated: April 02, 2020 1:59 PM CT | Published: April 02, 2020 12:13 PM CT

An announcement is expected Friday, April 3, on the site of a 1,000-bed temporary hospital to accommodate the coming surge of COVID-19 patients, local leaders announced Thursday. 

Details were outlined during a COVID-19 Task Force update at noon Thursday.


Lee: Surge is coming, could overwhelm state’s health care system


City COO Doug McGowen said FedExForum has been discussed as a possible location, but there is a problem with the layout necessary for a hospital. He said the floor wouldn’t hold all 1,000 beds.

McGowen also said the city will need medical volunteers to staf the alternative medical site and a call will go out following the site selection.

So far, the number of ventilators, ICU beds and beds in general are in good shape at Memphis hospitals, McGowen said. 

Some projections show the peak won’t be as severe in some surrounding areas, but a surge is coming.

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McGowen said the number of beds in use would be what triggers alternative bed sites.

“We’ve reached the trigger already,” he said. “As soon as we identify the site for alternative care, or sites, we will begin the build-out.”

Dr. Manoj Jain added: “What we are beginning to see is a surge of patients coming into hospitals.”

Jain said two times more beds are needed statewide, three times more ventilators and four times the number of ICU beds. He said similar numbers are coming for Shelby County in the next few days. 

Jain’s ballpark estimate is 50 to 60 patients in Memphis area hospitals with COVID-19 and about half of those in intensive care. He said there will be an unknown percentage on ventilators.

More exact figures are expected in the next few days.

Jain said there are no specific numbers or estimate yet on how many could die in the metro Memphis area, but he compares it to 250 deaths from flu in metro Memphis area a year.

“What we are looking at with (COVID) is a factor greater,” he said. “It could be five or 10 times greater numbers of deaths we could potentially be looking at.”

But Jain emphasizes that factor is controllable and can be changed by social distancing.

“It is us, we who can dictate how high that peak will be as well as the duration of that peak,” Jain said.

During an update to county commissioners Wednesday, Jain and Shelby County Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter said the county needed to double its 3,000-hospital bed capacity in anticipation of the surge. He said the county also needs to increase the number of ICU beds by six to eight times.

Gov. Bill Lee said Wednesday a surge is coming in two to four weeks that could overwhelm the state’s health care system.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contacted the Memphis Grizzlies about possibly using FedExForum as a medical facility to deal with potential hospital overflow, according to sources, before it was determined it might not be a suitable site.


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FedExForum was apparently among multiple sites being considered. 

The source also confirmed a report from Gary Parrish on radio station 92.9 that Grizzlies controlling owner Robert Pera has made a donation to the Mid-South Food Bank that would provide 300,000 meals locally.

COVID-19 in Memphis and Shelby County: April

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coronavirus COVID-19
Bill Dries

Bill Dries

Bill Dries covers city government and politics. He is a native Memphian and has been a reporter for more than 40 years.


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