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March 24, 2020

DCU Center to be used as surge coronavirus care space

Photo/Grant Welker The DCU Center in Worcester

Worcester's DCU Center will be used as extra medical care space with plans for between 150 and 200 beds, City Manager Edward Augustus announced Monday.

The city, which owns the arena and convention center, came to the decision to use the building after working with heads of the two Worcester acute-care hospitals, Saint Vincent Hospital and UMass Memorial Medical Center. The hospitals have enough capacity today, Augustus said, but medical researchers have forecast potentially drastic shortages in the months ahead if the coronavirus outbreak spreads as expected.

"It is wise for us as a community to find this time when there is plenty of capacity in the hospitals," Augustus said.

The DCU Center will be set up for patient care in the next few days, he said.

Saint Vincent and UMass Memorial have a combined roughly 1,000 patient beds, according to the Massachusetts Center for Health Information and Analysis. But relatively few of those beds are typically available at any given time to new patients, and few of them are in intensive care units for the most severe cases.

[Related: Worcester County has first coronavirus death]

Across Greater Worcester, a total of 425 beds are considered available to use, according to an analysis by the Harvard Global Health Institute. But if even 20% of the area's population contracts the virus, according to the institute, more than 1,800 area beds will be needed at the height of the crisis. The need for intensive care beds will also far outstrip existing capacity.

The city's decision to use the arena comes as the first Worcester County death was announced by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health on Monday, a woman who was in her 70s. There is a reported 777 cases across the state and 42 in Worcester County, up in one day from 646 and 37, respectively.

The city of Worcester itself as 16 cases, including three new ones announced Monday, Augustus said.

"We expect these numbers to continue to go up, and continue to go up in significant ways in the days and weeks ahead," he said.

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