Alaska Airlines Center set to house 150 patients as planners prepare for surge of cases

Beds lined up at the Alaska Airlines Center. Officials say they are prepared to from hold up to 150 patients needing non-critical care if traditional hospital beds are overwhelmed (Photo from Anchorage Office of Emergency Management)

The Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage has been converted into an alternate care site to cope with the surge in patients expected from the COVID-19 pandemic. Anchorage’s Office of Emergency Management said in a statement that the Alaska Airlines Center has been set up to provide care for up to 150 patients who need basic support, but not critical care. 

Audrey Gray, of the emergency management office, said officials prepared the site out of an abundance of caution.

“It’s hard to say whether or not it’s going to be needed,” she said over the phone on Sunday. “I know that we are very hopeful that it won’t be needed, but we also want to be very prepared for if it is needed.”

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Photos released by the city show dozens of evenly-spaced fold-out cots spread out on the floor of the Alaska Airlines Center, which normally hosts concerts and sports events. Wheelchairs and other medical supplies are lined up along the sides of the room, while the bleachers are pushed up against the wall. 

Gray said that it hasn’t been decided whether the center will be used to treat COVID-19 patients who aren’t gravely ill, or whether it will be used to treat patients with other medical problems in order to free up more space in the hospitals for coronavirus patients.

Medical supplies organized along the wall of the Alaska Airlines Center (Photo from Anchorage Office of Emergency Management)

Still, Gray said, that these plans have been long in the making. 

“Even starting as far back as H1N1 a lot of states recognized that, ‘Hey, there’s definitely gonna be a need for creating more capacity for the hospital system,’ so Alaska is one of many states who really took that to heart,” she said, referring to the H1N1 pandemic of 2009. 

Gray said that emergency planners identified the Alaska Airlines Center, plus four other sites around Anchorage, as potential alternate care sites. So far, she said, none of the other sites are being prepared, but that could change as the pandemic develops in Alaska.