As coronavirus spreads, Maryland officials begin turning Baltimore Convention Center into makeshift hospital

Flanked by Humvees and doctors, state officials and the Maryland National Guard unveiled more details Tuesday about their plans to build a makeshift field hospital at the Baltimore Convention Center.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young toured the 1-million-square-foot facility to inspect the plans as officials rush to add 6,000 more beds statewide ahead of an anticipated surge of patients suffering from the coronavirus pandemic.


“Look at New York. Look at Italy. Look at Washington State and California," Hogan, a Republican, said. “We don’t want to be like that. ... But we’re not that far behind some of those places. We just had our fourth death today. This is a serious thing."

Maryland now has about 350 confirmed cases of the rapidly spreading virus, and health experts believe there are far more people infected.


The federal government has pledged to deliver 250 beds for the downtown Baltimore facility, which will be jointly run by the University of Maryland Medical System and Johns Hopkins Hospital with help from medics from the National Guard. Hogan said the field hospital could be expanded to hold as many as 750 patients as the virus spreads.

About 100,000-square-feet of the convention center would be used for the hospital. That could be expanded to 300,000 square feet, officials said.

“There are places around the country where they’re looking at tents for field hospitals,” the governor said. “This is certainly a much better scenario.”

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan listens as Baltimore Mayor Baltimore Jack Young thanks him for the state's help to fight the coronavirus pandemic. They are in the Baltimore Convention Center where the National Guard is setting up a field hospital.  March 24, 2020.

Young said he was calling on the federal government to provide more help to cities.

“We’re all in this together,” the mayor said. “I think we need to call on the president to bail out cities. It’s going to be a financial disaster for all of us.”

In stepped-up efforts to fight the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, Hogan announced Monday the state was ordering all nonessential companies to close while dedicating millions of dollars to help save small businesses.

Reporters asked Hogan Tuesday about statements coming from President Donald Trump suggesting businesses could reopen after 15 days.

“The mixed messaging makes it more difficult,” said Hogan, who is chairman of the National Governors Association. “We’re making decisions and taking steps that are very difficult. We’re asking incredible things of businesses to close.”


When Trump sends a different message to the public about the seriousness of the disease, “that makes our jobs much harder,” Hogan said.

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The city-owned Hilton Hotel adjacent to the convention center, also will be used as part of the field hospital. The state already has freed up 900 more beds at hospitals statewide that are immediately available. Another 1,400 beds should be ready by early April.

The state also is reopening the closed Laurel Regional Hospital, which would be able to accommodate 135 patients.

Hogan said he was urging the federal government to deliver the beds for the field hospital at the convention center as quickly as possible.

“I want to see a truck rolling in here from FEMA. That’s what I’m waiting on,” Hogan told workers assembled there Tuesday. “I obviously want to see it done yesterday. I know you’re working as fast as you can. It is going to save lives.”

Maryland’s congressional delegation joined in the governor’s call Tuesday, writing a letter to Federal Emergency Management Agency regional director MaryAnn Tierney.


U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and the state’s eight congressmen urged “immediate” approval of 300 beds and more than 1,000 ventilators for use at the Baltimore Convention Center.

“Maryland is actively planning, preparing and operating off of several models led by Johns Hopkins University, Johns Hopkins Hospital and the University of Maryland. These models project a significant surge in infections in the state over the next few months, even after taking several actions and interventions to combat the spread of COVID-19,” the lawmakers wrote. “While Maryland is quickly moving to stand up additional sites in existing facilities, hospitals and clinics, the gap in available beds will still exist and requires immediate federal assistance.”