'We need to support the community': Why the US Open complex is being turned into a temporary hospital

The home of the US Open tennis tournament is being converted into a temporary hospital to treat coronavirus patients as early as next week in New York City, the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S.

The 350 beds there will “go a long way” toward meeting the city’s growing need for hospital space, says Danny Zausner, Chief Operating Officer of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

The USTA, which is in Flushing, Queens, is just a few miles from that borough’s Elmhurst Hospital, which has been particularly overwhelmed with patients who have COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. The converted hospital at the USTA will treat patients with non-life threatening cases of the illness, Zausner said.

“We just know that as long as this virus is around we need to support the community,” Zausner told Yahoo Finance in an interview about the temporary hospital, which will be housed in the 12-court indoor training center that’s used for various public programs in addition to the Open.

A view of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Image courtesy USTA.

New York state has roughly 40% of the nation’s confirmed coronavirus cases, and Governor Andrew Cuomo noted last month that the city would need tens of thousands more hospital beds by the time the virus peaked. Cuomo contacted the USTA hoping to find more space for beds.

“This 350-plus beds will go a long way,” Zausner said, noting that 150 beds would be up and running next week and 200 additional beds available in the next three weeks.  

‘We just know we’re not at the end’

The decision to convert the hospital was made on Monday of this week, after two site surveys last week, and the transformation will be handled by New York City’s Emergency Management office. It’s not clear how long the temporary hospital will last at the USTA.

“Everyone's talking about when is this bubble going to burst, you know. Are we looking at two weeks, four weeks?” Zausner said. “But we're here to support them any which way. We're in April right now, one would like to think that the bubble [will] burst within 30 days and we could talk about what's on the back end of this. We just don't know that information at this point.”

Coronavirus cases are still on the rise. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)

For now, the USTA is operating under the assumption that the U.S. Open will kick off on schedule on Aug. 24 — but of course, nobody really knows what the coronavirus situation will be like then.

“I know the city of New York certainly hopes we do. We're an incredible economic engine for the city, over $800 million a year in economic activity. We don't want that to go away, nobody does, so we'll keep building for that,” Zausner said. “There's no decisions that need to be made in April and probably not even in May. But we'll just keep going and we'll just keep following what's going on. As I've told people, we don't know if we’re at the beginning or at the middle right now — we just know we're not at the end for sure.” 

In the meantime, as New York City continues to mandate social distancing and discourage team sports, USTA is encouraging kids to go to NetGeneration.com, a “Tennis At Home” program they developed for children to stay active amid the coronavirus shutdown.

“We don't want people going out to tennis courts,” Zausner said, “that's not what's in the best interest of the community right now.”

Lulu Chiang is a senior executive producer at Yahoo Finance.

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