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McCormick Place to become makeshift hospital for thousands of coronavirus patients

Army Corps of Engineers Commanding Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite at a Pentagon briefing Friday outlined plans to create a sprawling, makeshift hospital at McCormick Place.

Lakeside Center at McCormick Place
Officials plan to have thousands of hospital beds set up in McCormick Place by April 24.
Sun-Times file

Part of the McCormick Place convention center could be transformed into a hospital for thousands of coronavirus patients as soon as April 24, officials said Friday.

Speaking at a Pentagon news briefing, Army Corps of Engineers Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite announced plans to create a makeshift hospital in the sprawling 2.6-million square-foot convention center.

”Let me just tell you about Chicago because this is really out of the box,” Semonite said.

The entire hospital will be dedicated to COVID-19 patients, he said.

Hall C will hold around 500 patients with less serious cases of the virus, while Hall A will hold around 1,800 patients whose illnesses might be a little more severe, according to Semonite.

A third area — Hall B — will treat the most severe COVID-19 cases, holding about 750 patients who each need self-contained units, he added.

”I did not think we could meet the COVID standard in a massive big building, but my engineers are telling me we think we’ve got the capability,” Semonite said.

The project could take weeks, but Semonite said he hopes to have the hospital ready by April 24.

”We have a very narrow window of opportunity [to fight the pandemic], and if we don’t leverage that opportunity, we’re going to miss it,” Semonite said.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot visited the Lakeside Center at McCormick Place earlier this week to explore the possibility of setting up thousands of beds inside for hospital patients.

“It is part of our pandemic planning, but it is not something that I have ever wanted to consider seriously doing in Chicago,” she said. “But we’re talking about it — not in theoretical ways.”

Contributing: Fran Spielman