Meeting Venues to the Rescue: Convention Centers and Hotels Become Coronavirus Emergency Care Facilities

How meeting venues are helping alleviate the pressure on overcrowded hospitals.

New York City's Jacob K. Javits Center was converted into a 2,000-bed, makeshift hospital, where almost 1,100 patients were treated.
New York City's Jacob K. Javits Center was converted into a 2,000-bed, makeshift hospital, where almost 1,100 patients were treated.

Coronavirus and Meetings
Head here to see Northstar Meetings Group’s comprehensive and continuing coverage of how coronavirus is affecting meetings.

Updated May 15, 2020, 3:18 p.m. 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. A number of major convention centers, as well as hotels and other venues have been repurposed to serve as medical facilities to help handle the overflow of patients.

By late April, these facilities had provided treatment to hundreds of patients, and as the numbers of cases in a number of major metropolitan areas peaked and hospitals proved able to handle the capacity, a number of these makeshift medical facilities were placed on standby or returned to their original purposes. 

Here is a running list of venues that came to the rescue in the COVID-19 crisis.

Convention Centers Become Hospitals



Los Angeles Convention Center

The venue, with more than 605,000 square feet of exhibit space, has been established as a federal field hospital.

San Diego Convention Center 

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.

Santa Clara Convention Center

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. 


Colorado Convention Center

This venue became the site of more than 2,000 hospital beds, to help manage overflow from Denver hospitals beginning April 18.

The Miami Beach Convention Center now offers free COVID-19 testing daily.
The Miami Beach Convention Center now offers free COVID-19 testing daily.


Miami Beach Convention Center

Offering almost half a million square feet of exhibit space, this venue was converted into a 950-bed field hospital in April and as of May 8, has also been serving as a walk-in COVID-19 testing site, offering free testing to anyone over 18 years old (with capacity for up to 750 tests per day). It is also offering a drive-through mobile testing site.

Orange County Convention Center

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. 


McCormick Place

Chicago's largest convention center is currently being converted into a 3,050-bed field hospital, due to be ready by April 24.


Ernest N. Morial Convention Center 

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.


Baltimore Convention Center

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."


Boston Convention and Exhibition Center

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. By April 21, 290 patients had been treated in the facility. 

DCU Center

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.


TCF Center

Photo taken April 3 during the TCF Center's transformation into a 1,000-bed hospital
Photo taken April 3 during the TCF Center's transformation into a 1,000-bed hospital

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.

New York

Jacob K. Javits Center

The convention center was 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. By the end of April, the makeshift hospital had treated almost 1,100 patients and it was announced that it would soon close, as New York City hospitals had the capacity to handle the current levels of COVID-19 patients.

New Jersey

The Meadowlands Exposition Center, New Jersey Convention & Exposition Center, and Atlantic City Convention Center

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.


Duke Energy Convention Center

The Cincinnati convention center was 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

But while its additional 100 beds were available, it turned out the venue was not needed after all and on May 4, city officials announced that it would return to serving as a convention center without having been used by a single patient.

Greater Columbus Convention Center

This venue will serve as a "surge site" for overflow patients from four area hospitals.


Oregon Convention Center

Beginning March 20, this venue began providing shelter for up to 130 homeless community members.


Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center

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.



Vancouver Convention Centre

On April 9, this venue opened its doors as a 271-bed temporary hospital, complete with nursing stations, showers for patients and staff, oxygen and medical supplies.

United Kingdom

ExCeL London

The United Kingdom's National Health Service converted part of the convention center into a 4,000-bed hospital to handle the overflow of coronavirus cases. Opening on April 3, it handled about 50 patients in its first three weeks and by early May it was placed on standby, available to resume medical operations if needed.

Manchester Central Convention Centre

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. 

National Exhibition Center

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.


Austria Center Vienna

Firefighters and volunteers have turned a 15,000-square-foot hall in the convention center into an 880-bed hospital.


IFEMA Convention Center, Madrid

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

More than 1,000 of Chicago's hotel rooms will provide a safe place for those diagnosed with COVID-19 or awaiting test results.
More than 1,000 of Chicago's hotel rooms will provide a safe place for those diagnosed with COVID-19 or awaiting test results.


Innisfree Hotels opens up 6,300 rooms to healthcare workers

Innisfree Hotels, Northwest Florida's largest owner of beachfront hotels, announced that beginning the week of April 13, it would be making thousands of rooms available to doctors, nurses, EMTs, paramedics and other frontline medical staff — free of charge.  “It is an honor to offer the healthcare heroes in several of our communities a place to rest and recharge during this time,” said Ted Ent, president and CEO of Innisfree Hotels. “Our goal is to support individuals who would otherwise have to spend their own money on accommodations as a show of both thanks and compassion.” Up to 6,300 rooms will be donated to the effort.

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.