With COVID cases rising, Memphis alternate care site ready for call to use

Coronavirus

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — With the number of COVID-19 cases rising and to handle more patients, many wonder if Memphis and Shelby County leaders are moving closer to opening the doors to the alternate care hospital, formerly the Commercial Appeal building on Union Avenue.

Shelby County’s count of reported COVID-19 cases jumped Wednesday to 10,208 total—an increase of 204 cases since Tuesday. Altogether, there have been 192 deaths in Shelby County.

Those numbers are why Randle Walker wears a mask.

“This is a pandemic,” Walker said. “It’s something serious, so I think we as a whole should think about that.”

WATCH: Video shows former Memphis newspaper office’s transformation into COVID care site

Dr. Richard Walker is University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center chairman of emergency medicine and CEO for the alternate care hospital on Union Avenue.

“We are prepared to use it, the alternate care site, and it takes a few days once that decision has been made to get the staff in place and get everything mobilized,” Dr. Walker said.

With numbers trending up, the facility’s role could be expanded to serve as a regional hospital for Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi.

“Currently, the plan is to accept people from the greater area in that healthcare coalition in an effort to keep the main hospitals up and running,” Dr. Walker said.

READ MORE: At least 45,315 coronavirus cases confirmed in Tennessee; 27,900 in Mississippi; 21,197 in Arkansas

With the July 4th holiday approaching and fewer people expected to practice social distancing, Dr. Walker has a warning for Mid-Southerners.

“There are going to be COVID cases that are going to occur because people got together in large groups and all the things that come with that, including fatalities, so that’s the strong caution I would have,” he said.

Health experts hope they’ll never have to open the hospital.

Residents like Anthony Irizarry want others to wear face masks.

“I think it’s disrespectful if somebody who doesn’t have a mask talks to me,” Irizarry said. “I think having a mask is about respect.”

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