Long Island field hospitals are ready for virus surge

Hospitals throughout Long Island have found successful ways to treat COVID-19 patients and have complied with New York's mandate to increase bed capacity. But staffing remains their main concern, especially in the event of another coronavirus surge.

"We were able to pull from a pool of staff across the country," NYU Langone Long Island chief medical officer Dr. Marc Adler said. "We don't have that luxury now because the rest of the country is going through the surges."

As of Monday, NYU Langone Long Island had about 40 COVID-positive patients. The 500-bed facility could accommodate another 200 to 250 patients in the event of a major uptick. After that, doctors say they may have to rely on one of two of Long Island's field hospitals, which were built in the spring by the Army Corps of Engineers but went unused after patient numbers declined.

"We certainly prefer using brick-and-mortar facilities," Adler said. "We're familiar with them, we're comfortable taking care of patients here."

State officials said that in the event of another surge, the field hospitals could open in phases over weeks and serve more than 2,000 patients.

But officials at Northwell Health said that the field hospitals should be considered for outpatient care in addition to inpatient.

"Anything from testing sites, to ambulatory opportunities for monoclonal antibodies," Northwell Health chief medical officer Dr. David Battinelli said.

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Doctors stress the importance of careful mask-wearing and hand washing for prevention as well as testing to get a better idea of how widespread the virus is.

"People are becoming sick because they're not paying attention to the behaviors that kept them safe in the tail end of spring," Battinelli said.

The field hospitals are canvas tents that include electrical systems to handle medical equipment. Only time will tell if they'll be needed.