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The hastily built field hospital set up by the Army in Seattle's pro football stadium is shutting down without ever seeing a patient, so the service can shift resources where they're more urgently needed, Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee said.
Medical equipment at the CenturyLink Field Event Center is being returned to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for use elsewhere, but the governor cautioned against reading too much into the move.
"Don't let this decision give you the impression that we are out of the woods," Inslee said in a statement Wednesday. "We have to keep our guard up and continue to stay home unless conducting essential activities to keep everyone healthy." Washington state saw the first coronavirus death in the U.S. on Feb. 29.
The state asked FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers to convert the football stadium "before our physical distancing strategies were fully implemented and we had considerable concerns that our hospitals would be overloaded with COVID-19 cases," Inslee said.
"But we haven't beat this virus yet and, until we do, it has the potential to spread rapidly if we don't continue the measures we've put in place," he said.
Inslee joined Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan in praising the work of the Army's 627th Hospital Center out of Fort Carson, Colorado, in setting up the field hospital, which closed only three days after opening for patients.
"These soldiers uprooted their lives to help Washingtonians when we needed them most. Since then, it's become apparent that other states need them more than we do," Inslee said.
Durkan said the judgment has been made that the state's hospitals currently have the capacity to deal with the coronavirus threat.
"We are making the right decision to allow other cities to have these resources and capacity," she said. "While Seattle fought hard for these resources, it's clear other communities are in desperate need of this high-quality medical facility and personnel."
The decision to close the Seattle field hospital comes amid early signs that the number of new cases could be hitting a plateau in New York, the epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic in the U.S., and other states.
At a news conference Friday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, "Overall, New York is flattening the curve."
However, Army Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers, said at a Pentagon briefing Thursday that he is aggressively pushing ahead to build more field hospitals and convert existing facilities, such as convention centers, when directed by FEMA at the request of the states.
"So far, to date, we have been asked to do 914 different [site] assessments. … This could be all the way from 2,000-bed convention center down to a 100-bed hotel room," Semonite said.
"There are about 22 facilities, which we call 'Tentative.' The governors haven't decided, the mayors haven't decided," he said. "It's an area where we're concerned about a bed shortage, but we haven't actually been told to do anything yet. So we haven't contracted it, and FEMA has not turned us on.
"This virus is deciding where it's going faster than normal, where it's leveling the curve, and so the actual build-out schedule -- we just kind of see how this thing actually has to play out," Semonite said.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.