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As coronavirus spreads, so do pop-up hospitals

If we've seen anything over the past few weeks, it's the degree to which the novel COVID-19 form of coronavirus — once it's secured a toehold within a particular locale — has been able to totally overwhelm that area's entire medical capacity within a short matter of time.

The virus's speed and lethality, coupled with the Trump administration's bungled attempts to simply wish away the oncoming pandemic, have forced health care providers across the country to improvise and expand well beyond their normal operations to meet the needs of a population of infected patients that is growing at a rate far faster than our current infrastructure can match.

In New York City, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has helped the current No. 1 hotspot in the country convert its iconic Javits Convention Center into a makeshift hospital for 1,000 people in need of beds, as normal medical centers struggle not to become overwhelmed by coronavirus patients.

Just miles across town, Manhattan's Bellevue Hospital Center has created a makeshift ward of their own — not to house patients, but in anticipation of a massive influx of corpses as the virus spreads.

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The makeshift morgues — in use for the first time since 9/11 — are part of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's emergency declaration to prepare the city for weeks of increasing viral cases.

New York isn't alone when it comes to pop-up medical care in the face of the pandemic. In Massachusetts, physicians with the Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Program have converted an empty parking lot into a military-style tent facility capable of housing, isolating, and caring for resident's experiencing homelessness.

"Every person we can isolate here and make sure that they’re safe and not spreading the disease, is one more emergency room bed, one more hospital bed that is open for someone else," Dr. Josh Barocas explained to WBUR.

Similarly atypical locations have begun appearing all over the country, in coronavirus hot spots like Washington, where a soccer field has been converted into a 200-bed tent hospital in one of the states hardest hit by the coronavirus on the West Coast.

Even Carnival cruise lines — part of an industry reeling from the pandemic — has offered its massive ships "for use as temporary hospitals to help address the escalating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on health care systems around the world," according to a press release put out by the company. So far, no municipality has agreed to the offer.

However, on Friday, the U.S. Naval Vessel Mercy arrived in the Port of Los Angeles to serve as a floating hospital that can alleviate the stress normal medical centers are experiencing with the influx of coronavirus cases.

As the virus continues to spread, it's not a question of if, but when, more communities will begun to explore how they can treat their residents outside the confines of hospitals that may quickly find themselves overwhelmed.