Gallup high school gym to reopen as coronavirus hospital

The Associated Press

The first patients with COVID-19 may be admitted as early as April 25

GALLUP, N.M. (AP) — A high school in Gallup, New Mexico, will reopen its gym as a 60-bed alternative care facility to help hospitals treat an increasing number of coronavirus patients, a federal engineering agency said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expecting to turn over the keys to Miyamura High School to local and state health officials on Monday, about two weeks after construction began, the Gallup Independent reported.

"The majority of the big items are in," Project Manager Amanda Velasquez said. "Everything is more of the fine-tuning now."

Vinyl flooring and rubber pads were fixed to the gym floor, swamp coolers were placed on the roof to provide cool air, and two large exhaust ducts were installed to provide proper ventilation and separate dirty and clean air, said Lt. Col. Robin Scott, deputy commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-Albuquerque District.

"We came up with a simple design. This wasn't a time for us to get fancy," Scott said.

The gym now features 60 patient pods separated by medical curtains, which each include one electrical outlet, an Ethernet jack, lighting and oxygen, Velasquez said. Laundry sinks are also positioned throughout the gym as hand-washing stations.

Other places in the school are also being transformed, such as locker rooms to shower rooms, classrooms to medical staff lounges and storage and the snack bar to a pharmacy, Velasquez said.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham first announced that the high school was selected as the site for an auxiliary hospital in McKinley County on April 3. 

The first patients with COVID-19 may be admitted as early as April 25, local hospital officials said.

According to the state Department of Health, New Mexico had at least 53 reported deaths and over 1,798 reported coronavirus patients as of Saturday afternoon. 

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia,Wi and death.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers works in support of projects needed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in partnership with state, local and tribal government partners, Scott said.

In other coronavirus developments in New Mexico:

— Lujan Grisham agrees with some lawmakers that a special legislative session is needed this year to deal with the pandemic's impact but does not plan to call one soon, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

"As soon as it's safe to hold a special session, we will do so, but it's clear that time is not right now," Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett said Friday.

The governor also believes there needs to be more consensus among lawmakers on targeted economic relief plans and a better grasp on what additional federal funding might be available, Meyers Sackett said.

— The state Supreme Court announced Friday it will extend its suspension of jury trials until May 29 because of the continuing public health threat from COVID-19, the Santa New Mexican reported.

The court previously had issued an order suspending jury trials until April 29. 

Attorney Jennifer Burrill, vice president of the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, said she's concerned the continued delay will trample the rights of defendants awaiting trial in custody.

— A helicopter landing pad was constructed Friday in the parking lot of Milne Stadium in Albuquerque for possible use by Presbyterian Hospital while receiving COVID-19 patients.

The stadium is used for Albuquerque Public Schools sports events and for community events.

— University of New Mexico Hospital administrators told front-line medical workers they could face disciplinary action for publicly raising concerns about their safety while treating patients during the pandemic, the Journal reported.

Several employees raised concerns, primarily about protective equipment, during a protest outside the hospital and in interviews with the media and said they wanted more information.

A letter from a hospital administrator to at least one protest participant said the conduct wouldn't be tolerated and that further instances could lead to formal disciplinary action.

Hospital spokesman Mark Rudi said Friday the hospital has longstanding policies about media and public relations.