RICHMOND (CBS SF) — Federal and Contra Costa County health officials were working Thursday to set up an emergency medical station at Richmond’s Craneway Pavilion to help handle the anticipated surge in coronavirus patients.

Contra Costa began the day with 250 confirmed positive coronavirus cases among county residents since the outbreak began in January. There have also been three deaths.

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Once it’s completely built, the Craneway facility will be able to handle 250 COVID-19 patients.

“After the site visit, it was very obvious that this would be a phenomenal facility to conduct such a mission,” said Dr. Ajit Dhillon, manager of the Craneway Pavilion. “So between Monday and right now is where we had everything squared away and made the right agreements and made the right protocol.”

The Craneway Pavilion, located in the Ford Building, was a Ford Auto Plant from 1928 to 1956 and switched to assembling jeeps, tanks and military vehicles during World War II.

“During World War II it was one of the final assembly points for Sherman tanks in the Pacific campaign. ‘Rosie the Riveter’ is home to it,” said Dhillon. “Now we’re doing national service again. So yeah, the building is blessed to do that.”

Hospitals would still get the severe cases; the old Ford Richmond Plant would be more of a triage ward for those with mild symptoms.

Beds and medical supplies were being brought in by the National Guard this week. The goal is to have the facility ready to receive patients by the third week of April, when health experts predict the Bay Area will see COVID-19 cases begin to peak.

“This is one more step to be better prepared for the anticipated COVID-19 surge,” said Candace Andersen, Chair of the Board of Supervisors. “We are very grateful for the cooperation of so many private and public entities that are making their venues available to serve the health needs of our community in this unprecedented crisis.”

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The federal medical station would serve as an alternate care site for COVID-19 patients who don’t need ICU-level care. It would be used only in the event local hospitals lack capacity to handle the surge. While equipment and supplies were being provided by the federal government, the county would coordinate medical staffing.

“Dedicated County physicians, nurses and other professional staff will provide vital medical care in this historic building to help prevent our local hospitals from becoming overburdened by an expected surge in patients” said Supervisor John Gioia, who represents the area where this site is located.

The County was also establishing other alternate care sites, including using hotels for homeless residents.

Contra Costa and other Bay Area counties recently extended a regional stay-at-home order through May 3 hoping that continued social-distancing measures will reduce the impact of COVID-19 on area hospitals.

The site will be secured and not open to visitors.

“The Craneway played an essential part in winning World War II,” said Richmond Mayor Tom Butt. “Today it is being repurposed to fight another global war. This facility will help not only our local communities but contribute to the overall effort to contain COVID-19.”

Wilson Walker contributed to this report.

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