Vermont National Guard expects to complete Essex Junction field hospital by Sunday

It was all hands on deck Thursday as the Vermont National Guard began expanding a field hospital at the Champlain Valley Exposition Center to accommodate a potential need as COVID-19 cases rise.  

Vermont recorded 148 cases Thursday, the highest single-day count since the pandemic began. Vermont began October with fewer than 2,000 cases. The case count now stands at more than 3,300. Commissioner Michael Schirling with the Department of Public Safety says the need for the additional hospital beds isn’t urgent, but that could change.

“At this stage, as things are evolving nationally, we’re watching other states really begin to struggle with their hospital capacity,” he said. “We wanted to be way out ahead of any eventualities.”

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 The multi-purpose facility in Essex Junction will consist of 50-bed pods, equipped with electrical outlets, plumbing and nurses’ stations. The additional beds will be available for COVID and non-COVID patients.

A crew of 35 Guard members, down from 100 in the spring, were at work. “Most of the walls are already built and it only took a matter of hours,” said Major Mathew Lehman, officer in charge of the task force. “Yesterday, the materials arrived on site and we’ve already started building.”

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The Guard plans to have the facility complete by Sunday. “We built this thing last time in 96 hours,” said Flight Paramedic Tim Farrow. “So I’m not really surprised that we have this down to a fine science.”

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Schirling said Vermont has at least 400 of the state’s more than 1,300 in-patient beds available. About 40 of the state’s 140 ICU beds are available.

“It definitely means a lot to all of us that Vermont trusts the National Guard,” Farrow said, “not only for their healthcare but support during the pandemic. So I think that says a whole lot about the people that we work for.”

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