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As a new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) swept through the world in 2020, preparedness plans, masking policies and more public policy changed just as quickly. WVXU has covered the pandemic's impact on the Tri-State from the very beginning, when on March 3, 2020, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine barred spectators from attending the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus over concerns about the virus, even though Ohio had yet to confirm a single case of COVID-19.

Duke Energy Center Is Being Turned Into A Hospital As Coronavirus Surge Nears

Courtesy of the
City of Cincinnati
Cincinnati and Hamilton County officials met with the Ohio National Guard Wednesday about setting up hospital beds at the Duke Energy Convention Center.

Updated 4/2/2020 at 5:00 pm: The Ohio National Guard will begin work soon to temporarily convert part of the Duke Energy Convention Center into a hospital as part of the coronavirus pandemic.

Guard officials met with Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, Hamilton County Commission President Denise Driehaus and others Wednesday about the plan.

City Council voted to provide up to $11 million for the conversion that could eventually be reimbursed by the state and federal governments.

"We've all been to the convention center a million times throughout our lives," Cranley said. "And looking at it today and realizing it's going to be converted to a hospital, is just one of those incredible moments of holy moly, what is happening?"

Cranley said the convention center would have at least 550 hospital beds and perhaps more than that. 

People with less severe coronavirus symptoms and other medical issues would be housed there, keeping beds at local hospitals available for the most serious COVID-19 cases.

The Duke facility is a cooperative effort between the Guard, the Health Collaborative, local hospitals and area emergency management agencies.

Cranley said officials will have two weeks to get the facility ready, which times with when Ohio health officials expect to see the peak of hospitalizations from COVID-19.

"The most likely scenario is that Ohio will see a peak of hospitalizations in the second week of May," Cranley said. "Having said that, they also believe that the surge, if you will, the rapid rise of hospitalizations, is essentially already begun and will accelerate greatly over the next two weeks."

Cranley said the best-case scenario is that the hospital beds at the convention center are never needed. But he said there's an equal chance that the space will be utilized.

It's also possible that local officials will use hotel rooms and dorm rooms for additional hospital beds.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said Shriners Hospital in Avondale was closed.  In fact, the hospital is still open and accepting new, local burn patients.  The hospital is expected to close in the first quarter of 2021, when operations will move to Dayton.

Jay Hanselman brings more than 10 years experience as a news anchor and reporter to 91.7 WVXU. He came to WVXU from WNKU, where he hosted the local broadcast of All Things Considered. Hanselman has been recognized for his reporting by the Kentucky AP Broadcasters Association, the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and the Ohio AP Broadcasters.