The vast Santa Clara Convention Center hall was supposed to be packed with virtual reality geeks browsing exhibits on spatial computing and artificial intelligence at the annual Augmented World Expo.
But like every other booking at the Silicon Valley events center, the high-tech conference originally scheduled for this week, called it off because of a widespread lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
Today, a massive exhibit space at the 302,000-square-foot facility off of Great America Parkway, looks more like a military operations hub.
Where vendors booths would have lined the concrete expanse, a few-dozen Air National Guard officers set up one row after another of 250 medical cots, draping them in white sheets and placing a plastic-wrapped yellow emergency blanket at the foot of each.
Santa Clara County public health officials took a handful of reporters on a tour of the facility to show where the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is helping local hospitals by setting up overflow capacity for people on the mend from COVID-19.
Dr. Jennifer Tong, who’s leading the county’s surge plan for public and private healthcare facilities, said she expects patients to start filling the beds by next week.
“The mission of this medical station is to help ensure our hospitals have the capacity to care for our sickest patients,” she said. “And so, therefore, patients who are COVID-positive who are well enough to leave the hospital but don’t have otherwise have a safe place to return can come here for ongoing care.”
That includes people who live in crowded homes or have no homes at all, explained Tong, the associate chief medical officer of the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.
As Tong spoke, the fatigues-clad men and women of the Channel Islands-based 146th Air Lift Wing stretched sheets over the metal cots, carried equipment across the hall in yellow forklifts and hoisted chairs to place at multiple nursing stations.
Dr. Tong said the patients assigned to the overflow facility would probably stay for two to three weeks after being discharged from a hospital. Because the hall is meant to be a low-acuity setting, she said they won’t require ventilators.
County spokesman Roger Ross said it’s unclear how long the facility will remain open.