Coronavirus and Meetings
to see Northstar Meetings Group’s comprehensive and continuing coverage of how coronavirus is affecting meetings.
Updated April 3, 2020, 9:38am EDT
The widespread cancellation or banning of gatherings as states, countries and organizations work to reduce the spread of COVID-19 has left most meeting venues empty. But as destinations struggle to respond to the escalating crisis and lack of resources, these unused spaces are proving vitally important. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced that the main showroom of New York City's Jacob K. Javits Center would be converted into four 250-bed hospitals, measuring 40,000 square feet each, as an effort to help alleviate the expected capacity strains on the city's existing hospitals.
"This was never an intended use, but you do what you have to do," Cuomo said, while visiting the center on March 23. "That's the New York way. That's the American way."
While it's one of the most prominent meeting venues to be tapped for emergency use, it is only one of a growing number of convention centers, hotels and other venues that are being repurposed. Here is a running list of venues that are coming to the rescue in the COVID-19 crisis.
Convention Centers Become Hospitals
The venue, with more than 605,000 square feet of exhibit space, has been established as a federal field hospital.
This venue is welcoming homeless members of the city's community. "By using the large space offered by the Convention Center and Golden Hall, we can spread folks out, swiftly remove anyone exhibiting symptoms and give individuals experiencing homelessness a fighting chance at staying healthy as we ride this pandemic out," said Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer.
This venue, with more than 90,000 square feet of exhibition space, is being converted into a 250-bed hospital for non-acute coronavirus patients.
The off-site and remote parking locations of this 7 million-square-foot venue are serving as temporary drive-through COVID-19 testing facilities. The venue has posted a page of the latest updates related to the crisis and its on-site preparedness and sanitation measures.
Chicago's largest convention center is currently being converted into a 3,050-bed field hospital, due to be ready by April 24.
On March 29, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced that this venue would be converted into a 1,000-bed hospital for COVID-19 patients who do not need ventilators or ICU beds.
The National Guard is currently turning the convention center, and the neighboring Hilton Baltimore Inner Harbor Hotel into field hospitals, operated through a joint partnership with the University of Maryland Medical System and Johns Hopkins. Together they offer 900 beds, with an additional 1,400 expected to be added soon.
"This is going to be a part of the surge capacity that we will need," Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said on March 24. "You're all doing incredible work. I'm anxious to see it get done. It is going to save lives. It's pretty amazing."
On April 1, Gov. Charlie Baker said there are plans to convert the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center into the second coronavirus field hospital in Massachusetts. The 2.1 million-square-foot facility will house 500 hospital beds for homeless adults who have tested positive for COVID-19.
This convention center in Worcester, Mass., is being converted into a 250-bed field hospital. “This will primarily be used for low-acuity patients that just need a little bit of oxygen, IV therapy,” said Dr. Eric Dickson of UMass Memorial Health Care.
Formerly known as the Cobo Center, offering 723,000 square feet of exhibit space, is expected to soon be designated as a field hospital by FEMA.
The convention center is being converted into a 2,000-bed hospital complex, with the Federal Emergency Management Agency constructing four 250-bed temporary hospitals inside the venue and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers planning to erect a fifth, 1,000-bed facility.
"This will be a backfill facility, where we can relieve some of the pressure and the tension from hospitals by using these beds," Cuomo said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is building four pop-up hospitals in New Jersey, three of them at the major convention centers listed above, as well as a state Urban Search and Rescue Facility to be determined. Each is expected to hold 250 hospital beds.
The Cincinnati convention center is being converted into an emergency hospital facility over the month of April, adding beds to help with the surplus of the city's patients. “Those will not be the beds for people who are COVID-19 positive, but for surplus other issues, because hospitals are in the best position to deal with people with coronavirus, who are having serious respiratory and ventilator issues,” Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley said.
This venue will serve as a "surge site" for overflow patients from four area hospitals.
Beginning March 20, this venue began providing shelter for up to 130 homeless community members.
The downtown Dallas convention center is being converted into the state's first field hospital, set up for 250 beds, which may be increased to 1,400 beds if needed.
The United Kingdom's National Health Service announced on March 23 that the convention center would be converted into a 4,000-bed hospital to handle the overflow of coronavirus cases. It will be staffed by a combination of military personnel and NHS staff.
The 190,000-square-foot facility is being converted into a 1,000-bed field hospital, to be ready for COVID-19 patients by mid-April.
This Birmingham convention center, with more than 167,000 square feet of exhibition space, will now serve as an emergency hospital with 500 beds, which may be expanded to as many 2,000 beds.
Firefighters and volunteers have turned a 15,000-square-foot hall in the convention center into an 880-bed hospital.
The convention center has been turned into a field hospital, which currently has a capacity of 1,300 beds and is expected to scale up to accommodate 5,500, including 500 for intensive-care patients.
Hotels as Isolation Spaces for Possible COVID-19 Cases, Homeless Population
Four Seasons stay for medical workers
Four Seasons New York has offered free stays to doctors, nurses and other medical personnel battling the coronavirus pandemic. The hotel is temporarily not taking reservations at least until April 15.
Chicago renting hotel rooms to COVID-19 patients
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced on March 23 that the city had reached an agreement with hotel operators to provide more than 1,000 rooms to individuals who either have a COVID-19 diagnosis or are awaiting test results, but who cannot safely return home and do not need hospital care.
"This will ensure these individuals do not put unnecessary strain on local hospitals and healthcare workers and will free up beds needed for more seriously ill patients," the mayor's office wrote in a statement.
San Francisco, Oakland renting hotel rooms for homeless
The state of California has rented a pair of hotels near Oakland's airport to serve as quarantine facilities for homeless people who may have the virus and is negotiating for up to 51,000 hotel rooms to serve the purpose.
"The whole idea with the hotel/motel conversions, at $50 million, is about bringing people inside with a door, a key and a lock — with as much supportive services as we can provide," California Gov. Gavin Newsom said of the effort.
Canada: Niagara Falls, Ontario hotels help health-care workers
Several hotels in this popular destination that have seen visitor-numbers free-fall are now serving as self-isolation venues for health-care workers who may be exposed to COVID-19 and do not want to risk bringing it back to their families. These properties include Oakes Hotel, Motel 6 Niagara Falls and others.
"What may not be known to people is the province has the right to commandeer hotels in times of crises," Doug Birrell, CEO at Oakes Hotel and executive director of the Niagara Falls, Canada Hotel Association, told the Niagara Falls Review. "They can do it; we're just making it easier for them. I think all of the major properties have embraced the idea."
United Kingdom: Hotels for the homeless
Empty hotels will be converted into emergency housing to protect the homeless from the spread of COVID-19, providing up to 45,000 "self-contained accommodation spaces" for those in need during the crisis. London Mayor Sadiq Khan's office is also said to be working with Intercontinental Hotels Group to book room blocks at a discounted rate for the next 12 weeks.
Philippines: Manila hotels for health-care workers
Manila's mayor has ordered the city's hotels and motels to open their rooms as quarantine spaces for Manila's health-care workers as the government works to crack down on the spread of COVID-19.