Health and Science

DOD is scouting contractors to set up potential mobile coronavirus hospitals in Florida as outbreak worsens

Key Points
  • The DOD is canvassing companies that can set up mobile hospitals to treat coronavirus patients across Florida.
  • The Army is helping the state in case it needs to quickly build out more surge capacity at its hospitals.
  • Potential bidders have to be able to build a temporary hospital unit with 10 days notice.
Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber tours the Miami Beach Convention Center as the Army Corps' builds a coronavirus field hospital inside the facility on April 8, 2020 in Miami Beach, Florida. The U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers is converting the convention center into a field hospital with 400 regular hospital beds and 50 ICU beds, with the ability to scale up to 1,000 beds if needed, as the region prepares for a possible surge of coronavirus patients.
Al Diaz | Getty Images

The Department of Defense is canvassing Florida for potential contractors and locations to set up emergency mobile hospitals to treat coronavirus patients across the state, according to a contract notice posted by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Army is helping the state in case it needs to quickly build out more surge capacity at its hospitals as Covid-19 cases continue to rise, seeking contractors who can build temporary facilities with 10 days notice. The state doesn't know how many facilities will be needed or where, but officials want to get an idea of how quickly they could build out surge hospital capacity, just in case, according to the notice.

The state is putting out a blanket call "to solicit and purchase any number of these facilities needed necessary to meet the State's need," according to the notice that was posted online Tuesday.

"Since Covid has come about, we've been working with emergency management departments across the country just to make sure they have the resources they need to respond," John Campbell, an Army Corps of Engineers spokesman in Jacksonville, Florida, told CNBC. Campbell deferred all questions about the potential need for more hospital capacity to the state of Florida. 

He added that the Army Corps of Engineers helped outfit the field hospital at the Miami Beach Convention Center in April. The corps has previously been called on to build field hospitals and surge capacity units in other hard-hit parts of the country, including New York City.

"We have been asked to see what capabilities are out there in the event that we do need more capacity," Campbell said in an interview. 

The notice comes as Florida battles one of the most rapidly growing coronavirus outbreaks in the world. As of Thursday, there were 9,422 people hospitalized across the state, and that number's growing, according to data from the Covid Tracking Project, an independent volunteer organization launched by journalists at The Atlantic.

Over the past seven days, Florida reported an average of 9,339 hospitalized Covid-19 patients, up 18% compared with a week ago, according to CNBC's analysis of data from the Covid Tracking Project. 

Covid-19 deaths in Florida are also on the rise. The state reported 173 new deaths on Thursday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Florida has reported more than 120 new deaths per day over the past seven days, up nearly 26% compared with a week ago, according to CNBC's analysis of Hopkins data. 

The document says contractors that respond may be given a notice to proceed "within 7 days of this sources sought notice."

The facility "needs to be available for immediate lease or purchase and delivered/set up to be fully functional" within 10 days of the notice to proceed, the document says. The notice was posted so the Army Corps can assess how quickly it can assemble "rapid response mobile hospital facilities," it says. Bidders have until Sunday to submit their responses.

Florida currently has one "mobile hospital unit" deployed in Winter Haven and another unit on "standby," Jason Mahon, spokesman for the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said in a statement to CNBC.

"These mobile units can be deployed to hospitals across the state to open up additional bed capacity," he said. "The state has asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to assist in identifying if there are other, similar mobile hospital units available nationwide."

The document says eligible bidders are expected to be able to provide 12 or more hospital beds "at an acute level" for Covid-19 treatment. The emergency hospitals "must be transportable" and "capable of being set up in a parking lot" or other area adjacent to a hospital. All bidders must be able to provide hard structures, not tents or fabric, "that can withstand typical Florida storms," including hurricanes.

Bidders with at least five years of experience "designing and constructing medical care facilities" are preferred, the document says.

Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Brett Giroir told reporters on a conference call Thursday that the administration is concerned about the surge in cases in a number of hot-spot states, adding that the data is beginning to show signs of progress. He said the percentage of Covid-19 tests nationally that turn up positive is beginning to tick down and that Covid-19 deaths should begin to fall in the "next couple of weeks."

However, he said that while nationally the outbreak could begin to improve, some particularly hard-hit states could continue to struggle for some time.

"We're all very concerned about the outbreaks which are occurring across the country, particularly in the Sunbelt states," Giroir said. "And we've all talked about California, Arizona, Texas and Florida, but we are seeing that our public health measures are starting to make a difference, and we are making progress."