Covid Parking Garage Stories: Emergency Uses for Humble Structures

Covid Parking Garages. It’s unfortunate that it has even become a thing. But the underlying tale of resourcefulness in times of need and utilizing the extra capacity of everyday structures during a pandemic is one worth telling.

Parking garages have proven to be more agile than their imposing presence belies. The utilitarian structures have performed many functions beyond their original remit in recent years. The pandemic has elevated their abilities to a new level.

As hospitals and medical centers across the US ran out of room to treat an exploding number of Coronavirus patients, many used parking garages as areas for patient treatment and external reception centers away from the hospital core.

In Reno, Nevada, the Renown Regional Medical Center was searching for a way to quickly increase its ability to handle COVID-19. Patients. As the Reno Gazette Journal reports:

In just 10 days, Renown Regional Medical Center has increased its ability to cope with the spread of COVID-19 by about 173 percent. They’ve done this by retrofitting the regional trauma center’s Mill Street parking structure into a three-story temporary facility designed to hold 1,400 coronavirus patients at peak capacity.

…Rows of dozens of neatly-bedded cots crosshatch the structure’s expansive interior underneath a ceiling lined with the buildout’s exposed HVAC and electrical guts. There are no privacy partitions between the beds, and ventilated Sani-huts serve as backups for a handful of plumbed toilets on each floor.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, also set up a COVID-19 treatment center in a neighboring parking garage. The hospital corrected media reports that it was an “overflow” area. As the hospital said in a statement:

Like many other large academic medical centers, Vanderbilt University Medical Center has established an area that is away from the main emergency department to treat potential COVID-19 patients. The area, in an adjacent parking garage, is separated from the Adult Emergency Department to create appropriate distance from other patients and to protect from potential exposure to COVID-19.

As the virus spread rapidly in the early stages of the pandemic, parking garages became something of a Swiss Army knife as Covid treatment areas.

Image: NBC4 Washington. Sourced from here.

The bare bones interiors of the structures allow a rapid and scalable facility for emergency medical treatment. They are commonly set apart from neighboring buildings / medical enters by defined walls and barriers. In addition, they have dedicated entrances and exits and self-contained ventilation systems – all valuable assets to adequately double-duty as essential medical service areas.

As NBC Washington reported, in about 10 days, Mary Washington Hospital was able to repurpose a parking garage into a fully functional medical treatment facility:

They have the space set up to function nearly the same as their normal ER. There is a nurse triage station, laptops for accessing electronic medical records, an HvAC system and a room for X-rays.

So great was the desire for many hospitals to expand medical facilities into parking garages, that Walker Consultants issued a guidance article for interested hospitals: Can Your Parking Garage Provide Hospital Surge Space During the COVID-19 Pandemic? As the report begins:

Hospitals are seeking surge space to accommodate a variety of hospital functions during the current novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. At the same time, it’s possible that existing hospital parking garages are experiencing declines due to the cancellation of non-emergency treatments and the limitations of visiting inpatients. As a result, hospital parking structures may be suitable for certain non-parking uses during this time.

The goal for most repurposed “Covid parking garages” isn’t only patient care, it is a preventative measure to prevent the virus from spreading to other people in the medical complex by keeping Covid-19 treatment areas apart from other facilities.

The reuse of parking garages for these purposes is a potent reminder that there is additional capacity hidden in almost every element of the city. It is in moments of dire need that this becomes clear.

If repurposing urban structures and objects for additional use is of interest, you’ll love Reprogramming the City publications:

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