Temporary COVID-19 hospital on Staten Island reopening as new hot zones pop up

A man speaks to healthcare workers before taking a test for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Staten Island, New York
A man speaks to healthcare workers before taking a test for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), as the spread continues to rise, in Staten Island, New York, U.S., November 10, 2020. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

The current surge of COVID-19 cases across Staten Island forced New York state to reopen the temporary hospital it established in the borough at the height of the pandemic’s first wave back in the spring.

The South Beach facility, adjacent to Staten Island University Hospital at the defunct South Beach Psychiatric Facility, had the capacity for up to 262 beds, according to the Staten Island Advance, when it was established in March as COVID-19 cases exploded citywide and hospitals filled with patients. 

But just over 100 patients were served at South Beach during the pandemic, noted Gareth Rhodes, deputy superintendent and special counsel to the governor. The anticipated onslaught of patients never came as New Yorkers were able to flatten the curve through mask-wearing, social distancing and restrictions on social and business activity.

Now, nearly six months later, South Beach is being pressed into service again as Staten Island deals with a major COVID-19 wave. The borough has been split into two zones, yellow and orange, due to the varied severity of the cases.

The orange zone encompasses southern areas of Staten Island that have been the hardest hit thus far, with 7-day positivity rates there approaching 6%. Tottenville (5.89%) and Great Kills (5.45%) are the epicenter of that outbreak, according to state Health Department data.

The surge of COVID-19 cases have tripled the number of hospitalizations on Staten Island over the last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo said Monday, from 33 to 91.

“Staten Island is a problem,” the governor said of the surge. “Staten Island has such an issue that it has triggered a hospital capacity issue, and the hospitals have contacted us and they say they need emergency beds on Staten Island.”

That necessitated the reopening of the South Beach temporary hospital, which will be used solely for COVID-19 patients, according to Cuomo.

“This was a planned emergency facility in the spring, we didn’t use it,” Cuomo said. “Now we need it.”

Still, the worst might be yet to come — and not just for Staten Island.

The second wave of COVID-19 is crashing down upon New York state hard, though the numbers remain lower than other states for the time being. The hospitalization rate has gone up 122% over the past three weeks, with more than 2,700 people now hospitalized statewide as of Nov. 22.

Cuomo has expressed fear that big holiday gatherings over the next six weeks will only drive the COVID-19 rates higher — and pave the way for further sickness and death.

“At the same rate of increase, if Thanksgiving did nothing, if the Christmas season did nothing, if we don’t bring down the current rate, we go to 6,000” hospitalized in three weeks, Cuomo added.