A field hospital in Central Park doesn’t feel that strange

I’ve seen them in war zones, I’ve come across them after natural disasters, but never have I seen a field hospital anywhere like Central Park.

And yet in some ways the sight of white hospital tents sitting in the shadow of Manhattan’s skyscrapers, doesn’t feel all that strange. In these times, nothing surprises.

They started putting it up on Sunday afternoon – by the time you’re reading this, the first coronavirus patients will be inside, being treated by medics more used to hurricanes, earthquakes and conflict.

The field hospital is the work of the Samaritan's Purse organisation
Image:The field hospital is the work of the Samaritan’s Purse organisation

A 10-bed intensive care unit will treat the most poorly; 54 more beds will take patients out of the Mount Sinai health system.

In a few days it will become another centre of this spreading global crisis, but all the while New Yorkers will continue to jog, walk their dogs and wheel their children around it. Bizarre.

In some ways it was a good start to the week for New York – not only will the field hospital help relieve pressure but the opening of a vast convention centre with 2,500 beds, and the arrival of a hospital ship with 1,000, should collectively give some needed respite to the overwhelmed medical system here.

The USNS Comfort arrives at Pier 90 in New York City
Image:The USNS Comfort arrives at Pier 90 in New York City

Having watched Governor Cuomo’s daily press conference on television without fail for the past two weeks, we finally managed to attend one in person.

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Sky's Alistair Bunkall asks Andrew Cuomo about coronavirus numbers in New York

Coronavirus numbers ‘beyond staggering’, Cuomo tells Sky News

They’ve become appointment-to-view in much of America. His frank fact-based approach, illustrated with on-screen graphics and statistics, contrasts uncomfortably with President Trump’s off-the-cuff optimism.

The two regularly use their respective television occasions to fire off insults at the other – sometimes blatant, sometimes subtle.

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The television audiences might be large, but the journalists present are few. This hasn’t gone the way of Downing Street media events yet – via tele-conference – but our chairs are placed a strict two metres apart and monitored by the watching National Guard.

Cuomo doesn’t mince his words. He’s a New Yorker.

“Are you avoiding a tangle with President Trump?” one local reporter asks.

“How long have you known me?” Cuomo shoots back. “Twenty years. And in 20 years, have you ever known me to resist a tangle?”

He’s not a man afraid of confrontation, but now is not the time for politics.

Trump: ‘The peak in the US is in two weeks’

I ask him what he makes of the White House’s estimate that the final death toll could be between somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000.

“Whatever the number is, it’s going to be staggering. The number is already staggering. A human life is a human life.

“We’ve lost over one thousand New Yorkers. To me we’re beyond staggering already, we’ve reached staggering and the only point now is do everything you can to save every life possible.”

That’s what they’re doing – in the hospitals, on a ship, in the middle of Central Park, they’re doing everything they can to save lives, however unorthodox. Will it be enough though?

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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