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Duggan says coronavirus field hospital at TCF Center closed because Detroiters did a good job social distancing


The TCF Center in downtown Detroit has been converted into a 1,000-bed hospital to treat coronavirus patients. - COURTESY OF TCF CENTER
  • Courtesy of TCF Center
  • The TCF Center in downtown Detroit has been converted into a 1,000-bed hospital to treat coronavirus patients.

At the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, officials canceled the first-ever summertime North American International Auto Show to turn the TCF Center into a 900-seat field hospital for COVID-19 patients.

But on Thursday, officials said the field hospital is closing down after never operating at full capacity.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan called the closure "a point of great celebration" and "a remarkable accomplishment," and proof that social distancing efforts worked to keep the virus at bay.

Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Duggan said that when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Guard started building the field hospital at the beginning of April, the numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths in Detroit were on a rapid upward trajectory.

"At the time that it opened, we were on a straight line up," he said, pointing at a chart. "It was a very reasonable conclusion that we were going to need 1,000 more hospital beds."

Duggan said the field hospital never had more than 15-20 COVID-19 patients at a time. The cases dropped steadily "because the people of this city did something remarkable in really committing to social distancing standards."

"Had Detroit been like many other cities in this country and this trend line continued up, we would have needed it," he said. "But they dropped almost immediately."

Duggan also praised Dr. Jenny Atas, the head of the regional emergency response, for her decision to treat only COVID-19 patients at the TCF Center, and not general hospital patients as other cities have done. In New York City, the U.S. epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, the 1,000-bed U.S.N.S. Comfort was initially sent to take non-coronavirus patients from NYC's hospitals, and in fact was barred from accepting COVID-19 patients. But with the stay-at-home order in place, NYC saw a dramatic drop in injuries that would require a hospital. Within days, the ship changed its mission.

"Dr. Atas had us on exactly the right path," Duggan said.

For now, Duggan said the TCF Center will be "on reserve" in case coronavirus cases flare up in Detroit.

"Right now, things are going our way," Duggan said. "But if we decide to abandon with the warm weather the social distancing, we'll need those beds over at the TCF Center again."

As of Wednesday, more than 1,128 Detroiters have died after getting COVID-19. In Michigan, more than 4,250 have died.

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